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August 10, 2009

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For a long time now i had an idea that only effective counter against guerilla tactics is strategic guerila tactic. Afganistan as country where most of the fighting occurs with civilians that retreive to their villages after the fight and pretend to be on the side of the US untill the next chance is impossible to win. Only way is to completely abandon Afganistan and gather inteligence while Taliban and AL-Queda reorganize and feel comfortable to show their faces. Then attack again in full force and disasemble the terorist organisation alone, not fighters. Retrieve and repeat. Strategic guerilla tactic

This post deserves more, but I'm a little stretched for time. So at the risk of sounding trite or blunt:

When Somalia, Yemen, or the Caucases not only give AQ sanctuary, but serve as the base for a successful massive terrorist attack* -- and then refuse to cooperate with the US in apprehending them -- then we can both overthrow them and rebuild the nation so that they do not return to power.

We're a rich country, so we can find the money; and I seriously doubt we would lack the political will.

Again, sorry if this isn't up to standard -- like I said, strapped for time.

*I believe we've talked about this term before.

When Somalia, Yemen, or the Caucases not only give AQ sanctuary, but serve as the base for a successful massive terrorist attack* -- and then refuse to cooperate with the US in apprehending them -- then we can both overthrow them and rebuild the nation so that they do not return to power.

We're not that rich.

i love the phrase "nation build-a-mole." captures the problem pretty well

I guess the politics is what worries me. Seems like the GOP has Obama in a tough spot (and Obama has put himself in a tough spot through campaign rhetoric).

If he stays and things keep getting worse (which they inevitably will), he can criticized. But if he pulls out, he can be criticized. There's really no good answer, politically.

In an ideal world, we wouldn't think about this stuff. But you have to expect he will

I guess the politics is what worries me.

That's actually my biggest concern.

"If he stays and things keep getting worse (which they inevitably will), he can criticized. But if he pulls out, he can be criticized. There's really no good answer, politically."

Maybe, as I remember it, Gary's description of the general task becomes a very expensive "Where's Waldo" game. If so, and I agree strongly, the President should spend some political capital and exit.

More important, he shouldn't increase troops. He should descope the task to current troop levels to protect those that are there and then plan the exit.

Andrew Bacevich has an http://www.commonwealmagazine.org/article.php3?id_article=2609>article in "Commonweal" pursuing a similar argument -- let's be realistic about our interest in Afghanistan. If we really want to try nation-building, there are other, better candidates.

Eric, I ask this as a serious question. Most of your recent posts on Afghanistan have been saying that we need to get out of Afghanistan and that we need to get out yesterday. There seems to be an assumption in all of these posts that once U.S. troops are out of Afghanistan, it will no longer be our problem.

But I'm really, really failing to see how leaving a country to an organization that is joined almost at the hip with AQ is sustainable in anything but the short run. Do you just seal off the Pashtun regions of Afghanistan? Pull out and drop bombs on the AQ sanctuaries that form? Or just leave and assume that things will somehow work themselves out?

When Somalia, Yemen, or the Caucases not only give AQ sanctuary, but serve as the base for a successful massive terrorist attack* -- and then refuse to cooperate with the US in apprehending them -- then we can both overthrow them and rebuild the nation so that they do not return to power.

Let me see if I've got this straight: any time some tiny group of losers anywhere in the world decides to launch a nontrivial terrorist attack that kills a bunch of Americans, assuming they live someplace where the government does not fully cooperate with us, we're going to invade and spend one or two trillion dollars. In other words, for every group willing to blow $500K killing Americans, we'll blow $1T "improving" their country.

Do I have it right? If so, this is a great illustration of the perils of asymmetric warfare, but I don't think it really helps your point. Also, this strikes me as kind of...insane. Like Eric said, we don't have enough $1T piles of money lying around to play this game very often, if indeed, we can even afford it once.

We're a rich country, so we can find the money; and I seriously doubt we would lack the political will.

There is lots of political support for kicking ass, but that's not the same thing as political support for a decade(s) long commitment that costs over $1T. I mean, my wife happily supported my 'let's eat ice cream' plan last night, but I don't think she'd be so supportive if I offered that plan for every meal every day for the next 30 years.

But I'm really, really failing to see how leaving a country to an organization that is joined almost at the hip with AQ is sustainable in anything but the short run.

This overstates the case in at least a couple of ways. We could and would continue to support the Afghan government, and it is entirely feasible that they could play the Taliban to a stalemate, with each retaining certain territory.

Second, the Taliban are a heterodox amalgamation of elements, and not all are "joined at the hip" with al-Qaeda. In fact, very few - if any - are. Historically, al-Qaeda and the Taliban have had a tenuous and contingent relationship, marked by what were, in essence, bribes from Bin Laden to stay in the Taliban's good graces.

Recently, these groups have made common cause which increases interdependence and relations, but without us pushing them closer together, that would wane. Especially if the Taliban believes life would be made easier for them without al-Qaeda around.

Pull out and drop bombs on the AQ sanctuaries that form

If AQ sanctuaries form, then you strike at them with the most efficient means available.

Put another way, currently, Petraeus says there is no real AQ presence in Afghanistan. Rather, that presence is in Pakistan. So let me ask you: what are we doing to disrupt the AQ sanctuaries in Pakistan? Has it been effective - if not, how many attacks have we suffered as a result? If so, we could do the same in Afghanistan where we would enjoy even freer range of motion/action.

If I can interject (all too briefly) --

The reason I had a asterix next to "major terrorist attack" is that I've talked about it before (I think on this blog -- but unsure), coming to the conclusion that this level of attack is very rare.

It has happened only once in a developed nation -- arguably only once, ever -- on September 11, 2001.

Again, sorry I can't spend more time on this. But to the point of cost concern, I would say this only becomes a problem if we're seeing thousands of Americans murdered by these organizations every decade or so.

And if we ever get to that point, we've got bigger problems than spending too much on nation building.

I love the normative assumption that Afghan lives don't matter at all. It's all about Americans. It always is.

Substitute "war on drugs" for "war on terror" and you have another important post about US foreign policy failures.

And if we ever get to that point, we've got bigger problems than spending too much on nation building.

Really? So spending $50 trillion on nation building - which we're not very good at anyway, and may not work regardless - and suffering the deaths of many thousands of US soldiers over the next couple of decades is worth it if it means that we can save the lives of 6,000 Americans that aren't soldiers?

Such that we shouldn't consider those costs because they're not even a factor when compared to the possible loss of 6,000 Americans that aren't soldiers?

I disagree.

What the US needs is to consider the mistakes of 2001-before and after 9/11, and how to redress them.

Bush misunderestimated the importance of acting on his daily intelligence briefings as the American people/ US Supreme Court had misoverestimated the capacity of George Bush to serve as President.

In 2001 Osama won the lottery. Ever since America has behaved as if there is a high likelihood of Osama repeating. While recognizing the terrible potential consequence, the real problem is that US has not focused on reducing risk. Instead in the homeland feel good efforts of screening shoeless grandmothers and forcibly discarding water bottles numb the public without addressing the greater potential risks (eg container ships).

Abroad Bush was so cowboy eager to bomb something that the Taliban government wasn't given time to figure out how to violate their cultural norms of hospitality and encourage Osama to leave. They might have if given a chance.

Much of the subsequent terrorist activity can be seen as the unintended consequences of Bush's crusade against predominantly Muslim countries.

Getting involved in other people's civil wars is not a good idea (how can you forget Viet Nam so quickly?)

I find myself in agreement with Marty: "More important, he shouldn't increase troops. He should descope the task to current troop levels to protect those that are there and then plan the exit."

The real problem is finding a facesaving way to do it.

The reason I had a asterix next to "major terrorist attack" is that I've talked about it before (I think on this blog -- but unsure), coming to the conclusion that this level of attack is very rare.

You can't know that it is very rare going forward. Technological development favors the attackers, not the defenders.

The last time you brought this up, I presented a couple of terrorist attacks that would be cheaper and easier than 9/11 and would result in similar death tolls.

And if we ever get to that point, we've got bigger problems than spending too much on nation building.

Not really, no. Over a decade, something like 4M people will die from smoking related illnesses. If we're losing an extra 3K due to terrorism, that's tragic, but it does not significantly change the death rate for Americans.


I love the normative assumption that Afghan lives don't matter at all. It's all about Americans. It always is.

I love the normative assumption that Bangladeshi lives don't matter at all. I mean, if you're going to insist that the US has to blow a few trillion dollars nation building in Afghanistan, you're also implicitly insisting that the US not blow that cash helping people in places where we can get far more bang for the buck.

Wanting to spend money to help suffering people in foreign countries is a noble thing. Insisting that it be done in the least cost effective way possible is morally problematic. To say the least.

Well, Eric, I think that the current strategy for Waziristan, viz., dropping bombs into the living rooms of the bad guys while leaning on Pakistan to at least keep the Taliban from expanding out of Waziristan, is the least bad option. But having (Pakistani or "flipped" Pashtun) boots on the ground would be much better.

And I suspect that in the event that the Taliban took over southern Afghanistan a similar strategy might at least keep the bad guys underground. But if you think that the civilian casualties in Afghanistan make the U.S. unpopular now, how much worse would it be to say, "The nation building ends now. From here on out it's bombs."

And it's mighty optimistic to assume that the Taliban and AQ would split in the absence of NATO forces. The Taliban and AQ are heavily intermarried by this point, and, when a Pashtun war leader does turn against AQ or the centralized Taliban leadership, he and his whole family are generally killed in pretty short order (look at how successful the hopefully late Mehsud was over the last few years in Waziristan).

And you know, for all the differences between Haqqani, Hekmatyar, the Taliban proper, and random groups like the disaffected lumberjacks of Korengal, there's still a strong ideological core to the Taliban and nothing suggests that they wouldn't be the ones calling the shots if they ruled southern Afghanistan.

"far more bang for the buck."
Turbulence, what a warmongering metaphor!

"Such that we shouldn't consider those costs because they're not even a factor when compared to the possible loss of 6,000 Americans that aren't soldiers?"

Eric

I think we may be talking past each other here -- you refer to "possible losses" and "saving thousands of lives". I'm not talking about that. I apologize if I gave you that impression.

Rather, I refer only to those regimes whose relationship with organizations like AQ have already cost a large number of American lives (say 500 or more) -- in other words, I am not supporting any kind of pre-emptive nation building.

My point -- when saying that a country can be militarily overthrown and rebuilt if it serves as the basis for a successful massive terrorist attack on the US -- was primarily to point out the unique position of the Taliban, as opposed to potential sanctuaries in Somalia and the like.

I love the normative assumption that Afghan lives don't matter at all. It's all about Americans. It always is.

What on Earth does this mean?

Do you not realize that the US is currently killing Afghans - lots and lots of them.
Further, the point of sending more troops to Afghanistan is so that those extra troops can kill even more Afghans. By the thousands.

But to oppose that is to disregard the value of Afghan lives?

During the Bush administration (an administration that clearly "cared" about Afghan lives, unlike me), they had a rule that a military in the field could authorize any airstrike that would kill up to and incluind 30 innocent Afghan civilians. They could still conduct airstrikes that would result in the loss of more innocent Afghan lives, but they'd need to get upper level sign off.

Such tender compassion.

I doubt the ROE are any different now. Because we care.

But if you think that the civilian casualties in Afghanistan make the U.S. unpopular now, how much worse would it be to say, "The nation building ends now. From here on out it's bombs."

I'm not sure our popularity is the most important concern considering how unpopular we are already (59% of Afghans consider us the biggest threat). But our nation building exercise will end one way or the other - either after a long expensive failure, or sooner. After that, there's a good chance we'll have to strike at terrorist groups/camps. It's not ideal, but it's the best path available.

And it's mighty optimistic to assume that the Taliban and AQ would split in the absence of NATO forces.

I don't assume this necessarily. It's possible, and if not, we take action as needed.

Eric, so am I correct in reading your prescription of pulling out and then dropping bombs when and were AQ appears to be setting up shop? Because while that is a pretty efficient way of killing bad guys, it's absolutely awful to every single Afghan who's going to have the video recording of his head getting sawed off distributed throughout the Islamic world. That's a lot of Afghans to write off to being tortured to death. I as a voter and taxpayer am not terribly keen on dealing with our Afghan allies in the same way we dealt with the Hmong and with the Iraqi Shi'ites of 1991.

Moving back to the issue of the pragmatic, making war on the bad guys from the sky is, in general sub-optimal. You can't really capture folks to interrogate, it's much harder to verify who's dead and not dead, and the ability to hit them is contingent upon American SigInt and HumInt. The more real estate over which AQ has free rein, the harder it is to hit them. We've had the devil's own time with AQ in Waziristan--do you think they'd be easier to hit if they had several thousand square miles more of territory in which to stay out of sight?

That's a lot of Afghans to write off to being tortured to death.

So, do you believe we have an open ended commitment to ensure that no one anywhere on Earth ever gets tortured to death by their government? If not, why should we start by helping the people in Afghanistan rather than those in, say, Burma? Or the Uigers? Or the Egyptians?

We could help a lot more people for a lot fewer dollars if we were willing to do so in parts of the world that weren't Afghanistan....

I as a voter and taxpayer am not terribly keen on dealing with our Afghan allies in the same way we dealt with the Hmong and with the Iraqi Shi'ites of 1991.

Well, if they're getting their heads sawed off on video specifically because they allied with America, then yes, as a country, we do have a pretty strong obligation to make sure that doesn't happen.

Why should *anyone* work with the U.S. if they know that at the first sign of difficulty they'll get thrown overboard?

Well, if they're getting their heads sawed off on video specifically because they allied with America, then yes, as a country, we do have a pretty strong obligation to make sure that doesn't happen.

Are there any limits on that commitment? Are you saying that because Bush invaded a country, we have to remain there no matter how much time, money, and manpower are needed to secure it?

Why should *anyone* work with the U.S. if they know that at the first sign of difficulty they'll get thrown overboard?

I don't know. Why do you think *anyone* should work with the US if they know that the US goes around starting pointless wars that kill a million people? I can't think of a good reason, can you?

Well, Turbulence, I'm glad you're willing to look into the question of how many people the U.S. should accept will be tortured to death. My counter-question to you is what the maximum number of people tortured to death you'd be willing to accept in order to undo Bush policies. Because you've acknowledged that there is such a number. Is it less than 100? Less than a thousand? Or whatever it takes?

Moving back to the issue of the pragmatic, making war on the bad guys from the sky is, in general sub-optimal.

Yes. Counterinsurgency is also sub-optimal - and it costs exponentially more.

You can't really capture folks to interrogate, it's much harder to verify who's dead and not dead, and the ability to hit them is contingent upon American SigInt and HumInt.

Yes, and yet this sub-optimal approach is being used where AQ is now, and we haven't been attacked again.

do you think they'd be easier to hit if they had several thousand square miles more of territory in which to stay out of sight?

But if they're staying out of sight, isn't that the goal? I mean, the whole point of denying them real estate is so they can't form training camps. Well, if they're hiding from us, no camps. If they come out of hiding to build a camp, then we bomb the camp.

it's absolutely awful to every single Afghan who's going to have the video recording of his head getting sawed off distributed throughout the Islamic world.

Two thoughts:

1. It's also absolutely better for all the Afghans that we don't kill by continuing the occupation.

2. Given your position, is there ever a point at which it would be appropriate for the US to leave? What if it cost us $10 trillion over the next three decades? Would you make the same argument to me then?

If, on the other hand, you have a limit, what is it?

it's absolutely awful to every single Afghan who's going to have the video recording of his head getting sawed off distributed throughout the Islamic world

I also did not say abandon the Afghans that have allied with us. I've endorsed providing them with aid, arms, training and other support so that they are not overrun. As I mentioned upthread, it is feasible to think they can fight the Taliban to a standoff.

Also: Afghans are, right now with us in country, being killed by the Taliban for siding with us. We are not preventing this from happening by being there. We do not have that much power/control, and we never will.

Eric, I'd be more than happy for the U.S. to leave Afghanistan if we had an Afghan National Army and Police force sufficient to keep control of the country and more or less keep the Taliban east of the Durand line. And even all of NATO's work at nation building is also dedicated to that end, with the assumption that it will be easier to keep the Taliban from taking control of Afghanistan if the people of the country are invested in their government.

Now, it may prove impossible to form an ANA and police force that aren't so mind-bendingly corrupt that they send people into the arms of the Taliban. But most of your posts seem to assume the impossibility of doing this has been proven.

Likewise, by any metric there were too few troops in Afghanistan from 2002 to present. It doesn't follow from that that Afghanistan can't be won and so there should be no troop increases.

Well, Turbulence, I'm glad you're willing to look into the question of how many people the U.S. should accept will be tortured to death.

Well, what can I say: I'm a grownup.

My counter-question to you is what the maximum number of people tortured to death you'd be willing to accept in order to undo Bush policies.

I'd be willing to pay an awful lot in order to undo the killing of a million plus Iraqis. I'd probably be willing to see at least half a million people tortured. Doesn't that seem like a fair trade to you? I'd rather see no one tortured.

Because you've acknowledged that there is such a number. Is it less than 100? Less than a thousand? Or whatever it takes?

Since I'm not the one suggesting that the US must stay in Afghanistan indefinitely, I don't think the burden is on me to explain my moral commitments. I think the burden is on you. So how about, instead of asking me more questions, you answer the ones I asked you at 5:07? Would that be too much to ask?

I'm a grownup...I'd probably be willing to see at least half a million people tortured.

Nice.

But seriously, if you're going to claim that it's impossible ever to put together Afghan Security Forces capable of maintaining control of the government, I'd like to see some evidence of that before simply throwing everyone associated with us overboard.

Now, it may prove impossible to form an ANA and police force that aren't so mind-bendingly corrupt that they send people into the arms of the Taliban. But most of your posts seem to assume the impossibility of doing this has been proven.

What we are talking about is a gamble. On the one hand, we're gambling on an army/police structure that has never existed in the country. An army under centralized control that will, in the process, upend Afghanistan's traditional decentralized, tribal societal alignment.

And we'll be gambling on that army's ability to completely eradicate a movement that is closely identified with, and championed by, the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan (with numbers on the other side of the Durand Line as well). As if it is possible to push that many Pashtuns into Pakistan, as if that wouldn't create unthinkable human hardship and as if it wouldn't massively destabilize Pakistan.

This is a goal that we, the US army, has not been able to achieve. Not by a long shot.

All this, while Pakistan prefers the Taliban and will be supporting them in order to keep a proxy/ally in Afghanistan. Even though we have scant success - if any - at such projects historically speaking. And nothing over the past 7 years of occupation has indicated our ability has improved.

And this gamble will cost at least $1 trillion dollars. At least.

Let's just say I'm very skeptical, and at that price tag and duration of commitment, it doesn't add up.

Andrew R, does this mean that you're unwilling to answer the questions I asked you at 5:07? I mean, I took the time to answer your questions, so is there some reason you can't answer mine?

Well, Turbulence, if someone could show rather than assert that beating the Taliban is impossible, yes, I'd be willing to admit that there are better uses of U.S. resources. But no one has shown that yet.

Andrew, my questions at 5:07 do not depend in any way on whether or not the Taliban can be beaten. I'll just assume that you're not willing to engage meaningfully in discussion and act accordingly.

Eric, there has in living memory been a pretty decent Afghan Army. Prior to 1979, the country had a military that was pretty strong (and also tended to lean Communist for a variety of reasons).

This Afghan military was eventually beaten fighting a force that was funded and equipped not by some opium growers and Saudis with fat checkbooks, but by the wealthiest nation on the planet earth (and the PRC, and the Kingdom of Saudia Arabia, and most of the rest of the Islamic world as well).

And the U.S. military has shown that it can train and professionalize militaries pretty well. To give just one example, Eritrea's military was able to fight Ethiopia's to a standstill in the recent unpleasantness, which, as someone I know once pointed out, is like Canada holding off an invasion by the U.S.

Seriously, Turbulence, you asked if there were limits that I would want to see placed on the U.S. commitment and I gave them. There are all kinds of reasons I could think of to place limits on the commitment to Afghanistan. Karzai or his successor could ask us to withdraw, we could see a deep and truly popular support of the Taliban manifest, the ANA could be showing itself to fight competently, or, I don't know, a North Korean invasion or war with Iran could require all available U.S. troops.

But you seem to prefer to engage the straw man of "indefinite commitment."

Seriously, Turbulence, you asked if there were limits that I would want to see placed on the U.S. commitment and I gave them. There are all kinds of reasons I could think of to place limits on the commitment to Afghanistan.

We've spend the better part of a decade and a few hundred billion dollars trying to pacify Afghanistan with no end in sight. I'm asking you to explain how long we should continue this campaign and how much we should be willing to spend before we say "this isn't worth it"; I mean, if still hadn't "succeeded" after another 12 years and 2.3 trillion dollars, would you insist that we still had to keep trying? What exactly is the threshold in time and dollars after which we say "no more"? Or is there no such threshold?

If you've explained the answer to this question above, my apologies, I didn't see it, so please humor me and repeat it. But I don't think you have. But if you can't describe a threshold, then I don't see how your proposal differs from "stay in Afghanistan indefinitely". Training an army is not the same thing as building major state institutions or seriously reducing corruption in a desperately poor country with no real tradition of not-massively-corrupt governance.

Why is nation-building in Afghanistan (as opposed to any of the other places which might be able to use it) a critical American priority?

nous caught a hint at 4:07. Essentially:
war on terror + war on drugs = massive mission creep.

If it were not for the insane American drug policy, combined with the fact that opium is one of the few economic export products of Afghanistan, something a whole lot more like the hit and run we did on bin Laden's folks when they were headquartered in Africa would have been done here. As it is, I suspect we will be stuck there until our drug policy comes to its senses. Unless an absolute miracle occurs, of course.

Just FTR, I have some time now

The most sad aspect to this article is that Al Qaeda has been aware of the Build a Mole strategy AND is baiting our government into bankruptcy chasing them across the four corners of the Earth. The more often we throw our military into these meat grinders, the harder it will be for any president to justify delaying an attack against Iran. And the Beat goes on.....

Why should we care if rich Americans have to pay a few bucks more in taxes and a volunteer American military faces relatively small risks of bodily harm compared to every woman in Afghanistan enslaved? Frankly, I don't think the moral calculus is even close.

There's going to be a lot of Afghan death either way.

"Why should we care if rich Americans have to pay a few bucks more in taxes and a volunteer American military faces relatively small risks of bodily harm compared to every woman in Afghanistan enslaved?"

How much of the world do you want to save?

What if they don't want saving?

And last but not least, what makes you think guns are going to solve the problem?

Judging by the massive deterioration in the rights of women in Iraq since our arrival there, you'll forgive my skepticism regarding our magical abilities to transform societies with our magical military men. Looking there, it certainly seems like everything we touch turns to ash.

Look, I would love to believe that given the vast piles of money we funnel into our "defense" department and given the unbelievable sacrifices our soldiers make, we should be able to do damn near anything, but our military really isn't good for much besides destroying large concentrations of enemy weaponry. They're not good at creating governmental institutions or at building a civil society.

Bacevich:

"why start with Afghanistan? Why not first fix, say, Mexico? In terms of its importance to the United States, our southern neighbor—a major supplier of oil and drugs among other commodities deemed vital to the American way of life—outranks Afghanistan by several orders of magnitude.

If one believes that moral considerations rather than self-interest should inform foreign policy, Mexico still qualifies for priority attention. Consider the theft of California. Or consider more recently how the American appetite for illicit drugs and our liberal gun laws have corroded Mexican institutions and produced an epidemic of violence afflicting ordinary Mexicans. We owe these people, big-time.

Yet any politician calling for the commitment of sixty thousand U.S. troops to Mexico to secure those interests or acquit those moral obligations would be laughed out of Washington—and rightly so. Any pundit proposing that the United States assume responsibility for eliminating the corruption that is endemic in Mexican politics while establishing in Mexico City effective mechanisms of governance would have his license to pontificate revoked. Anyone suggesting that the United States possesses the wisdom and the wherewithal to solve the problem of Mexican drug trafficking, to endow Mexico with competent security forces, and to reform the Mexican school system (while protecting the rights of Mexican women) would be dismissed as a lunatic. Meanwhile, those who promote such programs for Afghanistan, ignoring questions of cost and ignoring as well the corruption and ineffectiveness that pervade our own institutions, are treated like sages.

The contrast between Washington’s preoccupation with Afghanistan and its relative indifference to Mexico testifies to the distortion of U.S. national security priorities induced by George W. Bush in his post-9/11 prophetic mode—distortions now being endorsed by Bush’s successor. It also testifies to a vast failure of imagination to which our governing classes have succumbed.

This failure of imagination makes it literally impossible for those who possess either authority or influence in Washington to consider the possibility (a) that the solution to America’s problems is to be found not out there—where “there” in this case is Central Asia-but here at home; (b) that the people out there, rather than requiring our ministrations, may well be capable of managing their own affairs relying on their own methods; and (c) that to disregard (a) and (b) is to open the door to great mischief and in all likelihood to perpetrate no small amount of evil. Needless to say, when mischief or evil does occur—when a stray American bomb kills a few dozen Afghan civilians, for instance—the costs of this failure of imagination are not borne by the people who inhabit the leafy neighborhoods of northwest Washington, who lunch at the Palm or the Metropolitan Club, and school their kids at Sidwell Friends.

So the answer to the question of the hour—What should the United States do about Afghanistan?—comes down to this: A sense of realism and a sense of proportion should oblige us to take a minimalist approach. As with Uruguay or Fiji or Estonia or other countries where U.S. interests are limited, the United States should undertake to secure those interests at the lowest cost possible."

I think that about covers Andrew R's questions.

Regards, Steve

Turbulence, my thoughts on the Afghan war effort can be summed up by Ben Kingsley's answer to the question of what he thought of western civilization, namely, that it would be a good idea. If a genuine, non-half-assed effort is made to secure Afghanistan and put an Afghan National Army in place and fails after a few years, I'd be more than happy to concede that it's probably not worth doing. But up until very, very recently, Washington and Brussels haven't been putting much effort into doing much beyond barely holding in Afghanistan.

Andrew, so, are you suggesting that we ignore Afghanistan until we find some way to radically remake Washington and Brussels? I believe the old man said, you go to war with the political-military-institutions that you have, not the political-military-institutions that you wish you had....

More to the point, I'm sure you have all sorts of fascinating ideas for how we should transform government institutions in DC and in Europe. However, I can't help but notice that it is extraordinarily unlikely that the changes you seek will be made, so we're going to be stuck the same institutions we have in place now. And since you seem convinced that those existing institutions aren't up to the task, I really don't see why we're wasting our time in Afghanistan.

But hey, maybe you have a feasible plan for this radical transformation of Washington and Brussels: do tell!

Well, Turbulence, unlike many on the intertubes, I don't actually think that I can see more clearly than the experts. I do, however, think that the folks currently in the White House know what they're doing. I'm curious as to why you don't.

Well, Turbulence, unlike many on the intertubes, I don't actually think that I can see more clearly than the experts.

Really? You just said that these same experts have failed to effect a genuine non-half-assed effort to secure Afghanistan. Clearly you can see more clearly than many of these experts, not just in Washington, but Brussels too! Or am I misreading you?

I do, however, think that the folks currently in the White House know what they're doing. I'm curious as to why you don't.

I'm sure they know what they're doing, and what they're doing is not committing political suicide by withdrawing right away.

I'm sure they know what they're doing, and what they're doing is not committing political suicide by withdrawing right away.

I'm glad to see you're confident that Obama is lying to America.

If I have any claim to see more clearly than anyone it's that I'm not looking at Afghanistan in terms clichés about invincible third-world guerrillas and the graveyard of empires. You should try it sometime.

The house router has been down all day, so I'm catching up late again.

Bacevich and Marc Lynch make good points.

"But I'm really, really failing to see how leaving a country to an organization that is joined almost at the hip with AQ is sustainable in anything but the short run."

This was true in 2001; it doesn't seem particularly true or relevant today. The leadership of AQ is disrupted, and shows no signs of being able to organize major attacks; what's left are its inspirational effects, and the brand name, and franchises, and occupying Afghanistan does nothing positive to restrict those; if anything, it's counter-productive.

Bacevich argues for maintaining pinpoint attacks, and forgetting about nation-building.

We can continue to supply humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, as desired, and we can even offer minimal military aid, if the government warrants it, without attempting to rebuild a working nation there.

Eric: "Second, the Taliban are a heterodox amalgamation of elements, and not all are 'joined at the hip' with al-Qaeda. In fact, very few - if any - are. Historically, al-Qaeda and the Taliban have had a tenuous and contingent relationship, marked by what were, in essence, bribes from Bin Laden to stay in the Taliban's good graces."

Eric is correct.

Turbulence: "this is a great illustration of the perils of asymmetric warfare"

Turbulence is correct.

Andrew R: "Pull out and drop bombs on the AQ sanctuaries that form?"

That.

Pithlord: "It's all about Americans. It always is."

Yes, isn't it?

You weren't around when I made this point here to Charles Bird approximately 1000 times.

"That's a lot of Afghans to write off to being tortured to death. I as a voter and taxpayer am not terribly keen on dealing with our Afghan allies in the same way we dealt with the Hmong and with the Iraqi Shi'ites of 1991."

But how is this logic different from saying we should still have 500,000 troops in Vietnam?

Eric: "I doubt the ROE are any different now."

Supposedly they are, according to articles I don't feel I have the time to google to link to just now. FWIW.

Andrew R.: "Why should *anyone* work with the U.S. if they know that at the first sign of difficulty they'll get thrown overboard?"

This is hardly the first time anyone's asked this question, with good reason. People around the world will continue to answer it in the future as they see fit. It's not, itself, sufficient reason to keep fighting a major war.

Eric, there has in living memory been a pretty decent Afghan Army. Prior to 1979, the country had a military that was pretty strong (and also tended to lean Communist for a variety of reasons).

This Afghan military was eventually beaten fighting a force that was funded and equipped not by some opium growers and Saudis with fat checkbooks, but by the wealthiest nation on the planet earth (and the PRC, and the Kingdom of Saudia Arabia, and most of the rest of the Islamic world as well).

That was the Soviet Army, not the Afghan Army; the Afghan Army had already essentially collapsed prior to significant American and Pakistani and Saudi Arabian money and arms; America had given a trivial amount of money to insurgents prior to the Soviet invasion; it wasn't until considerably after the Soviet invasion, and essentially a Soviet take-over, that America, matched by Saudi Arabia dollar for dollar, supplied the Pakistanis the money and arms to give some of to Afghanis after the Pakistanis skimmed off as much as they thought they could get away with (which was a lot, because we were in no position to audit them, and even so there was a lot of fraud we were aware of).

It has happened only once in a developed nation -- arguably only once, ever -- on September 11, 2001.

Not sure how this affects the argument either way, but for the record:

Madrid March 11, 2004, 190 dead, more than 1400 injured.

London July 7, 2005, 56 dead, 700 injured.

Oklahoma City April 19, 1995, 166 killed, hundreds more injured.

Tokyo March 20, 1995, Aum Shinri-kyo sarin attack, 12 killed and 5,700 injured.

NYC February 26, 1993, WTC bombing #1, only 6 dead but 1,000 injured.

All of this is just developed countries. It also excludes the more or less constant back-and-forth in the middle east, and also excludes IRA activity in the UK.

If also excludes more minor acts, where victims number in the single or double digits, as well as attacks on aircraft.

Seriously, this stuff goes on pretty frequently. And Yemen, Somalia, and the Caucasus are home to lots of the folks involved. Along with lots of other places.

I'm not saying we should rush into any of those places, I'm just saying that Afghanistan is not that unique.

"As it is, I suspect we will be stuck there until our drug policy comes to its senses."

We've at least renounced the insane poppy eradication program in Afghanistan.

I think a problem between Turbulence and Andrew R's arguments is that it's quite possible the Best Answer lies somewhere in the middle ground between their perspective, but if so, it's not really knowable by us at present where that might be, were this so. This is just a hypothesis.

Turbulence: "Judging by the massive deterioration in the rights of women in Iraq since our arrival there"

It doesn't seem fair to mention this and neglect the improvement, overall, in women's rights in Afghanistan.

And having come to this thread late, I'd suggest -- yes, me, of all people -- a dialing down of sarcasm all around is probably in order. Also demands that questions be answered, etc.

Gary, my brief brief response is that at the siege of Jalalabad, the Communist Afghan Army held on for longer than anyone thought they would, and they were only beaten decisively when the Soviets pulled the plug. And the Mujahedin were riding a wave of success and at the top of their power.

The Taliban has much less strength than that. Building a military that can hold them off is not an insurmountable obstacle.

It doesn't seem fair to mention this and neglect the improvement, overall, in women's rights in Afghanistan.

Right now, we believe that the massive changes we've started introducing in Afghani society will improve the status of women in the long term. For many years, we believed the same thing about Iraq. We were wrong about Iraq. And yet Iraq was a society that we had more insight into than Afghanistan: consider the number of Arabic speakers in the US compared to the number of Pashto. Alternatively, recall that Iraq is a largely industrial society with an educated urban population while Afghanistan is a largely rural country where adult literacy is well under 40%.

Americans certainly think they know how to mold and remake societies in radical ways. I mean, they're generally not willing to countenance social engineering on such a vast scale when the targets are Americans. And Americans have no real record of successfully effecting such massive change in societies that differ so much from our own.

But hey, maybe, even though (1) we've never done this successfully before and even though (2) we'd never have the confidence to engage in social engineering half as massive on ourselves and even though (3) we thought we had successfully done such engineering in Iraq but our perceptions were so fracked that we were completely wrong, maybe, in spite of all that, this time we'll get it right. Maybe this time our perceptions are not as fracked as they were before. Perhaps we as a society have suddenly become far more perceptive and capable of massive social interventions.

Anything is possible. We might as well gamble. After all, neither our society nor our lives are on the line. Other people, generally browner people, will pay the price if our gamble fails. As it usually does.

Sorry, this is a little late, I forgot the captcha, so I hope I'm not throwing gas on the fire.
=====
The argument against US forces in Afghanistan given by Turbulence seems to be similar to Sebastian's against government health care: we've screwed it up before so we can't be trusted to do it right this time. Admittedly, there are a few more data points supporting the take here, but it's not really addressing the situation.

I made a comment in an earlier thread that might have been missed. I had asked about info on mercenary deployment in Afghanistan and then wrote

"Eric has strongly argued how we should get out of Afghanistan with all due speed, but the differing deployment points to differing motivations behind the two fronts. Eric has argued that the 'denying terrorists a base' is a mistaken motivation, and I've argued that while that is presented for domestic consumption, the reality is that the US commitment in Afghanistan is predicated on perhaps two basic realities, which are domestic public opinion viewing a withdrawal as a defeat, the necessity of maintaining operations in Afghanistan in order to pressure Pakistan to deal with the various fundamentalist forces. This suggests a third, which is that NATO allies, while not deeply invested in Afghanistan, will view a US withdrawal as evidence of an inability to provide true follow thru on foreign policy goals, a point on which Obama has to distinguish himself from the previous administration."

Of course, this kind of argument can descend into one where I'm accusing you of advocating bugging out of Afghanistan and you accuse me of wanting a McCain like 1000 year occupation, but between those two poles, there seems to be some room. At some point, developed nations are going to have to develop better COIN capabilities because the gap between the haves and the have nots will not be changing very quickly in the immediate future, and rather than putting that off to some future, afghanistan seems like as good a place as any.

In this regard, the comparison to Mexico is a bit misleading. We have a range of contacts with various levels of the Mexican government and the meetings are basically equals meeting. I don't think we have anything like that in Afghanistan (Would anyone mistake a meeting of Obama, Karzai and Soomro for the current 3 amigos meeting?) I don't believe that Afghanistan has the structure in place to imagine the type of meetings that routinely take place between Mexico and the US)

My own views are influenced by my cousin, who served two tours of duty with the SAS in Afghanistan. He felt that there were a lot of possibilities for making a difference in Afghanistan. Of course, that was quite a while ago, and it may be that we can't uncrap the bed, which I think is a valid objection.

However, I believe a piece of evidence Eric cited was McChrystal appointment as he was a 'hunter-killer' rather than a COIN based strategist. However, recently, even he has changed strategies, suggesting that, hopefully, those planning the strategies are not so tied to their previous reputations that they are unable to change. Of course, the title of the above WSJ link may support your take.

I will say that if the US turns to mercenaries because we can't increase the number of troops on the ground, and/or is unable to get more support from NATO allies in the coming year or so, I think it will argue against this take, but it seems to me that at some point, we have to reconfigure our force structure to do COIN and do it well. Withdrawal at the speed and volume that is argued for basically kicks that can down the road.

Al-Qaeda (or what we call al-Qaeda) could easily migrate to Somalia, to Yemen, deeper into Pakistan, into the Caucasas, into Africa --- into a near infinite potential pool of ungoverned or semi-governed spaces with potentially supportive environments. Are we to commit the United States to bringing effective governance and free wireless to the entire world?

But we're not doing that in Afghanistan for our health -- ie to fight Al Qaeda. Yes, we're fighting Al Qaeda (or that which we perhaps don't even bother to call Al Qaeda) while we're there, but that's not what's keeping us there. What's keeping us there is the responsibility we took for the country after overthrowing its government in 2001, and the fact that we never fully undertook to rebuild a minimally functioning state, something that is the fiduciary duty of a country that chooses to invade another country, depose its leadership, and occupy it militarily. We are continuing to try to achieve that goal in order to further the rehabilitation of our nation in the international community's eyes as a responsible global power. Perhaps we shouldn't have invaded, but since we did, we are fulfilling the responsibilities incurred by that decision. That's what we're doing there.

So no, of course we won't be undertaking nation building in all of the places that could still serve as the launching ground for terrorism. Such terrorism we will combat using the means rejected by the Bush doctrine and resulting actions: diplomacy, intelligence cooperation, police/security service cooperation, military force far short of invasion/regime change as a very last resort. Surely it is somewhat curious to suggest that we would be engaging in nation building in countries with a functioning authority that is not us -- our options there are restricted to that which flows from interface with those authorities. In some cases, to be sure, we may well find it in our interest to offer assistance to various states (or the closest thing that exists in teh territory in question) to help build counterterrorism capabilities --something that might be very much in our interest in a place like Somalia if a suitable partner could be found, or, as we have done, in Pakistan. But it is incoherent rhetoric to pose the question of why we wouldn't engage in nation building in all the places where Al Qaeda could operate from since we are also engaged in nation building in Afghanistan. This confuses our interests in Afghanistan (fighting terrorism among a few others) with our obligations incurred to to invasion and overthrow of the government (rebuild a functioning state).

"the improvement, overall, in women's rights in Afghanistan."

Doesn't exist.

8 July 2009 – Violence against women, including rape, is widespread in Afghanistan, according to a new United Nations report, which details the extent of the problem against a backdrop of impunity and a failure by authorities to protect women’s rights.

“This report paints a detailed and deeply disturbing picture of the situation facing many Afghan women today,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said of the 32-page report issued jointly by her office (OHCHR) and the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).

“The limited space that opened up for Afghan women following the demise of the Taliban regime in 2001 is under sustained attack, not just by the Taliban themselves, but by deeply engrained cultural practices and customs, and – despite a number of significant advances in terms of the creation of new legislation and institutions – by a chronic failure at all levels of government to advance the protection of women’s rights in Afghanistan.”

...It focuses on two principal issues – the “growing trend” of violence and threats against women in public life, and rape and sexual violence.

...Although the Afghan Constitutions includes a 25 per cent quota for female members of parliament – one of the highest such quotas in the world – the report also notes that “a number of female MPs have already indicated that due to the prevailing security situation and death threats they repeatedly receive, they will not be contesting the next national assembly elections in 2010.”

The report also details numerous attacks on girls’ schools, and on girl students – including gas and acid attacks – by “anti-government elements.”

When it comes to sexual violence, the report states that rape is both widespread and taboo, and it is the victims that are more likely to be punished than the perpetrators. “Only in a few isolated cases have public institutions taken appropriate action. In many instances, victims seeking help and justice are further victimized… Government action to address rape is woefully inadequate.”

The report notes that there is no explicit provision in the 1976 Afghan Penal Code criminalising rape, and a survey of convicted rapists in one Afghan prison indicated that they did not know that rape was a criminal offence.

In addition, police and judicial officials are often not aware or convinced that rape is a serious criminal offence, the report states, and “investigating a rape case is rarely a priority.”

The happy talk about women's rights in Afghanistan is just PR.

Regards, Steve

"Right now, we believe that the massive changes we've started introducing in Afghani society will improve the status of women in the long term."

We do? I hate it when people do this. The idea of speaking in the first person plural without specifically naming which people you're deputized to speak for has long been mocked on Usenet.

Either you've actually been deputized by specific people, or you're self-appointing yourself.

Typical responses include "do you have a mouse in your pocket you're speaking for?" or "which organization appointed you?" And so on.

And people do this because it's a way of accusing people without specifying who you're accusing, and lumping together people who don't deserve to be lumped, regardless of whatever your intentions are in choosing to claim you're speaking for a bunch of unspecified people.

In any case, I urge you to quit this habit unless, of course, you are speaking for a named organization or named group of people.

Because I don't believe what you say "we" believe, and I'm standing right here, and I object to your claiming to speak for me, and since you haven't narrowed down who "we" are, you appear to be claiming to speak for me, and I object.

Anyone who wants to say you're speaking for them, more power to them and you. But please try to be specific if you're being plural as to who the "we" are that you're spokesperson for. Thanks.

Alternatively, name a bunch of people, or groups, in the third person, you wish to characterize: this technique works quite well, honest.

Also here:

And if we ever get to that point, we've got bigger problems than spending too much on nation building.

Really? So spending $50 trillion on nation building - which we're not very good at anyway, and may not work regardless - and suffering the deaths of many thousands of US soldiers over the next couple of decades is worth it if it means that we can save the lives of 6,000 Americans that aren't soldiers?

Such that we shouldn't consider those costs because they're not even a factor when compared to the possible loss of 6,000 Americans that aren't soldiers?

I disagree.

You're completely missing Point's point. He's not advocating invading someplace every time we get attacked. He's saying that our modus operandi, and only for one attack, seems to be to invde and occupy only after we are attacked. So we'll be rebuilding Somalia, Yemen, etc., if at all, only after we've experienced a devastating attack launched from one of those places -- and hopefully such invasion would be subject to much greater debate and a higher standard of expected efficacy because of what we learned in this decade. So he's saying you're setting up a straw man by saying somehow that staying in Afghanistan means we'll be rebuilding other places inevitably too. He's saying it would take a 9/11-style attack to even raise the possibility, and even then I'd wager the scales would be tipped against, certainly more so than in 2001. You're acting like he's advocating for such things; you've completely missed his point.

There is of course the economy of scale. It's obviously unfair to judge by the price tag if there are only 1 or 2 nations built at the same time. If the US would expand, the cost per nation would go significantly down. My estimate is that the break-even point would be closer to 15 than to 50. A proper market analysis would have to determine, whether there are enough nations in need of proper rebuilding and in how many a partial rebuilt would do. How many competitors to the US are there that could take away parts of that market? And since outsourcing is the secret to all success, the nation-building should be first delegated to trusted subcontractor states and in those to private entities with the US as general supervisors.The only thing that could go wrong is with too many regulations on the private subcontractors (or attempts to include universal healthcare as part of the package).

Russell

Glad you brought up the death and injury tolls of other recent terrorist attacks.* I'll admit, when I looked at other attacks by non-state actors, to see how often this level of attack happened, I wasn't looking at the injury numbers -- those don't psychologically affect the population in nearly the same way, doesn't "terrorize" them, if you will...

When Timothy McVeigh and his co-conspirator(s) killed 166, there wasn't even an overwhelming push to stamp out the survivalist militia movement. When over 200 were killed in American embassies in 1998***, there was no push to declare on AQ then. But when over a dozen times that number were killed on 9/11, it became inevitable.

And, looking at the death tolls of other terrorist incidents, only one other event made me think "If this kind of thing was done to Americans on our soil" -- and I want to emphasize that phrase -- "it might justify another Afghanistan". No other terrorist incident, other than 9/11, had a death toll of more than 500; this killed 796. It was the 2007 bombings in Qahtaniya targeting the Yazidi population.**

*Weird thing to say, I know...

**And, FTR, yes, I do see the irony. If I haven't already said so (which I somehow doubt) Iraq was a stupid, immoral war.

***Not in a developed nation, I know, but on their soil, technically...

"So he's saying you're setting up a straw man by saying somehow that staying in Afghanistan means we'll be rebuilding other places inevitably too. He's saying it would take a 9/11-style attack to even raise the possibility, and even then I'd wager the scales would be tipped against, certainly more so than in 2001. You're acting like he's advocating for such things; you've completely missed his point."

Mike

I'm appreciate that you wanted to better clarifty my point (seriously), but I feel now that I have just made a mesh of it.

But, in a sense, I am advocating in this post for the modus operandi -- but almost entirely for the purpose of defending the invasion and rebuilding of Afghanistan.

But you're absolutely right that it would take a 9/11 style attack to even raise the possibility of applying this to other nations, and this application seems to be a "straw man" (if it weren't, we'd have bigger problems, etc.).

One way of clarifying my position -- and, TBC, I don't say this at all lightly -- is that I agree with the first incarnation of the Bush Doctrine:

"we will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them"

And to be further clear -- I take a narrow definition of "harbor", and see only a major attack as warranting a state of war*. (see last post)

* And essentially every further development of the doctrine was negative (it just got crazier and crazier).

Americans certainly think they know how to mold and remake societies in radical ways.

True dat.

Hey, it worked in Germany and Japan post WWII. All we (and a handful of our friends) had to do was reduce both nations to utter and complete rubble first.

And, of course, it helped that the governments we replaced were hideous violent authoritarian fascist militarist dictatorships. That stuff is only popular as long as you keep winning. Once you start losing and bombs begin to fall, folks are open to a change of management.

I wasn't looking at the injury numbers -- those don't psychologically affect the population in nearly the same way

I don't agree. It depends.

IMO what puts the fear in terrorism is less whether everyone dies or is merely injured, and more the randomness of it -- the undermining of the sense that you can engage in everyday life safely.

I'd also call your attention to the response of Spain and the UK to the train system attacks in their countries. Although a smaller number of people were killed, those were brutal, savage attacks by any measure.

Neither country responded by going to war. Both nations treated the attacks as, basically, the actions of a criminal organization. A military response to terrorism, at any scale, is not inevitable nor is it a necessity.

One of the unique things about 9/11 was the clear alignment of Al Qaeda with the Taliban government of Afghanistan. It meant that there was an actual national government that was clearly at least partially culpable. That's actually kind of unusual.

Finally, I note that there was a military response to the African embassy bombings. The military response was generally condemned by folks who thought Clinton's sex life to be a much more pressing issue than Al Qaeda.

Building a military that can hold them off is not an insurmountable obstacle.

Well then, what are we waiting for?

Why should we care if rich Americans have to pay a few bucks more in taxes and a volunteer American military faces relatively small risks of bodily harm compared to every woman in Afghanistan enslaved?

Aren't you a Canadian?

We do? I hate it when people do this. The idea of speaking in the first person plural without specifically naming which people you're deputized to speak for has long been mocked on Usenet.

Gary, I was speaking only for people like Pithlord who believe that continued American military involvement in Afghanistan is vital to protect the status of women in that country.

I am not very interested in hearing about social norms on usenet, given that usenet as an institution was completely unable to sustain itself as a medium for discussion. Completely failing at one's purpose is not a ringing endorsement.

In the case of Germany and Japan it also helped that people were used to a centralized and on average (non-rabid)conservative government. Both contries were industrialized quite some time. They were also needed by the US as allies against the new enemy, the Soviets.
As for the UK, van Crefeld has an interesting comparision between the UK vs. the IRA and the US vs. the Iraq/Afghan insurgents (with Assad vs. the Muslim Brotherhood as tertium comparationis) in his book The Changing Face of War (new 2005 edition). Clue: the prospects for the US in that field are not actually promising.

But you're absolutely right that it would take a 9/11 style attack to even raise the possibility of applying this to other nations, and this application seems to be a "straw man" (if it weren't, we'd have bigger problems, etc.).

You keep talking about a 9/11 style attack as a threshold for future action, but I don't think this concept means much. The impact of a terrorist attack on the population depends on many factors. Sending anthrax, or even backing soda through the US mail can paralyze the mail system and make lots of people and businesses stop functioning. Two guys shooting random people in the DC area can have a massive effect. The right attack, even if much smaller and cheaper than 9/11, can easily create political conditions where the government "needs" to invade a country.

I'd suggest you define precisely what you mean when you use "a 9/11 style attack" as a threshold: does that mean no less than 3000 dead? Financial damage no less than $100B? What? Would synchronized car bombings in 10 different cities count?

"we will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them"

The United States is harboring known terrorists. Do you think we should invade the US? Or at least bomb Washington?

If not, why not? Is it because non-American lives are inherently less worthy than American lives? Or is it just that the terrorists we're holding haven't managed to pull of attacks that exceeded the 9/11 threshold yet?

These Afghan women are telling us to leave. Pithy, how can that be?

http://bravenewfilms.org/blog/?p=71606

"I don't agree. It depends... Although a smaller number of people were killed, those were brutal, savage attacks by any measure. Neither country responded by going to war."

I think we may have to agree to disagree on this; just to reiterate, I think that 9/11 was a whole different category of attack from the Madrid or London bombings. (I've been calling this caliber a "massive terrorist attack", though I've also seen it referenced as a "9/11 style" or "9/11 level attack".)

"One of the unique things about 9/11 was the clear alignment of Al Qaeda with the Taliban government of Afghanistan. It meant that there was an actual national government that was clearly at least partially culpable. That's actually kind of unusual."

This is a very good point.

"Finally, I note that there was a military response to the African embassy bombings."

Well, I'd offer my apologies and thank you for pointing out my error, but I didn't remember that. What was the military response again?

What was the military response again?

A series of cruise missile attacks in Africa and Afghanistan.

Turb

My 7:59 alluded to a definition of an MTA -- 500 dead or more is a very good indication. Injuries and financial damage are certainly not as central to the question of whether regime change level military action is warranted.*

Another way of thinking about this: a nation that actively provides sanctuary to an organization is, to at least some extent, culpable for that country's actions. For me, that means that if a power protections something like AQ, and that something like AQ carries out an attack, that protector country shares the culpability. From there, it's just a question of whether the attack warrants a war. 9/11, I believe, did; a backpack bomb on a subway probably wouldn't.

*FTR, attributes of the attackers themselves also matter in this -- I'm just talking definition of the attack itself.

Thank you Eric.

The United States is harboring known terrorists. Do you think we should invade the US? Or at least bomb Washington?

Seriously? You're asking if we should bomb ourselves? Even if we stipulate that our government is responsible for the deaths of those who terrorize overseas --

If not, why not? Is it because non-American lives are inherently less worthy than American lives?

So... our government doesn't have a particular obligation to protect the lives of its citizens? To do that is to make some kind of category error?

Quent: I think the point being made is that there are terrorists in several countries/territories. Such as England, France, Germany, Spain, Saudi Arabia and, even and including, the United States.

However, using the military to strike at these terrorists is an option that is reserved for only "certain" countries. Never Western Europe. Never Canada. Never close allies.

(Turb, Quent, Eric thread)

Right, but that gets back to what "sanctuary" is (as opposed to just being located there).

Russell made a good point at 8:44, and I think it bears some repeating at this p-- er, juncture:

"One of the unique things about 9/11 was the clear alignment of Al Qaeda with the Taliban government of Afghanistan. It meant that there was an actual national government that was clearly at least partially culpable. That's actually kind of unusual."

Also, just want to say how much I'm enjoying this.

Right, but that gets back to what "sanctuary" is (as opposed to just being located there).

Point, the US is providing sanctuary to a wanted terrorist who has killed many people. The US government refuses to deport him to the countries whose citizens he viciously murdered.

Just so we're clear, are you trying to say that provided that Carriles managed to rack up a body count over 500, either Cuba or Venezuela would be justified in bombing Washington until they stopped giving him "sanctuary"? Or would that only occur if Carriles managed to kill over 500 people in one terrorist act rather than spreading the killings across a campaign of terrorism?

"I am not very interested in hearing about social norms on usenet, given that usenet as an institution was completely unable to sustain itself as a medium for discussion. "

I'm not very interested in hearing about "Usenet as an instititution," since each newsgroup and sub-hierarchy functioned and functions on its own, with its own norms and subcultures; like blogs, each is about its own thing and has its own culture; some are successful, some are failures; some ran their course, some continue today; generally that depended on whether people chose to take responsibility for maintaining their own culture when they were under threat; I'm interested, as always in taking away any lessons that work from anywhere appropriate.

I'm particularly interested in lessons as regards what does and doesn't work well, or badly, in maintaining a non-toxic culture of reasonably courteous, reasonably friendly, space for online written discussion. One can find these lessons from not just Usenet, but from the history of emailing lists, moderated and unmoderated, from early BBS, and even from the culture of earlier printed fanzines, and their interaction. One can find lessons for all manner of written interaction, and, of course, even some from in-person culture, though written interaction has its own, unique, flaws, problems, solutions, and aspects.

Being clear about whom we are or are not speaking for, and not claiming to speak for other people without a clear proxy, is one of those practices that help.

It meant that there was an actual national government that was clearly at least partially culpable.

I'm not sure I believe this. Culpability generally requires knowledge, right? Now, if the US government (1) negotiated in good faith, (2) provided convincing evidence to the Taliban that OBL was guilty, and (3) refrained from threatening the Taliban with death and destruction unless they complied, I'd agree that a war might be justified. But given the quality of American governance at the time and given the desperate need that Americans had for a war, to say nothing of the desperate need the President had for a war (gotta be a war time preznit to be truly great dontcha know), I'm skeptical that conditions (1), (2), and (3) actually held.

Another way of thinking about this: a nation that actively provides sanctuary to an organization is, to at least some extent, culpable for that country's actions.

So, is the US culpable for various atrocities committed by sociopaths that we actively supported, funded, trained, and sheltered in the the civil wars in Latin America during the 1980s? Right wing paramilitary organizations that we supported killed a whole lot more than 500 people, usually by slaughtering. Does that entitle Nicaragua or Guatemala to bomb Washington? I mean, why should it matter whether the killers murder people on airplanes or raze entire villages? Either way, they sought to accomplish political goals through violence and intimidation of the population.

So, is the US culpable for various atrocities committed by sociopaths that we actively supported, funded, trained, and sheltered in the the civil wars in Latin America during the 1980s?

FWIW, my opinion on this is "yes".

And by our own standard, were Nicaragua, Costa Rica, etc etc etc capable of mustering a credible military response at the time, they would have been justified in employing it.

But they were small, so we could feel free to push them around.

"I'm not sure I believe this. Culpability generally requires knowledge, right?"

In a word, no. It requires foreseeable outcomes.

Also, FWIW, I agree with Russel's last post.

In a word, no. It requires foreseeable outcomes.

Are you claiming that the Taliban foresaw the 9/11 attacks? Attacks that were planned in Germany and executed in the US? By people who were not from Afghanistan? The same attacks that the US government did not foresee?

"Are you claiming that the Taliban foresaw the 9/11 attacks? Attacks that were planned in Germany and executed in the US? By people who were not from Afghanistan? The same attacks that the US government did not foresee?"

The overall theme here is that people are individuals. In the "U.S. government" there are many individuals with some knowledge of what was coming. In Afghanistan, there were some individuals that knew what was coming, and helped the plan come into being.

The September 11th Commission Report is helpful on details. Chapter 5 in particular goes to your first two questions.

To attempt to pull some relevant quotes without running overlong:

[...] 5.1 TERRORIST ENTREPRENEURS

By early 1999, al Qaeda was already a potent adversary of the United States. Bin Ladin and his chief of operations, Abu Hafs al Masri, also known as Mohammed Atef, occupied undisputed leadership positions atop al Qaeda's organizational structure. Within this structure, al Qaeda's worldwide terrorist operations relied heavily on the ideas and work of enterprising and strong-willed field commanders who enjoyed considerable autonomy. To understand how the organization actually worked and to introduce the origins of the 9/11 plot, we briefly examine three of these subordinate commanders: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), Riduan Isamuddin (better known as Hambali), and Abd al Rahim al Nashiri. We will devote the most attention to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the chief manager of the "planes operation."

[...]

Bin Ladin, apparently at Atef's urging, finally decided to give KSM the green light for the 9/11 operation sometime in late 1998 or early 1999.16

KSM then accepted Bin Ladin's standing invitation to move to Kandahar and work directly with al Qaeda. In addition to supervising the planning and preparations for the 9/11 operation, KSM worked with and eventually led al Qaeda's media committee. But KSM states he refused to swear a formal oath of allegiance to Bin Ladin, thereby retaining a last vestige of his cherished autonomy.17

At this point, late 1998 to early 1999, planning for the 9/11 operation began in earnest. Yet while the 9/11 project occupied the bulk of KSM's attention, he continued to consider other possibilities for terrorist attacks. For example, he sent al Qaeda operative Issa al Britani to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to learn about the jihad in Southeast Asia from Hambali. Thereafter, KSM claims, at Bin Ladin's direction in early 2001, he sent Britani to the United States to case potential economic and "Jewish" targets in New York City. Furthermore, during the summer of 2001, KSM approached Bin Ladin with the idea of recruiting a Saudi Arabian air force pilot to commandeer a Saudi fighter jet and attack the Israeli city of Eilat. Bin Ladin reportedly liked this proposal, but he instructed KSM to concentrate on the 9/11 operation first. Similarly, KSM's proposals to Atef around this same time for attacks in Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, and the Maldives were never executed, although Hambali's Jemaah Islamiah operatives did some casing of possible targets.18

[...]

KSM acknowledges formally joining al Qaeda, in late 1998 or 1999, and states that soon afterward, Bin Ladin also made the decision to support his proposal to attack the United States using commercial airplanes as weapons. Though KSM speculates about how Bin Ladin came to share his preoccupation with attacking America, Bin Ladin in fact had long been an opponent of the United States. KSM thinks that Atef may have persuaded Bin Ladin to approve this specific proposal. Atef's role in the entire operation is unquestionably very significant but tends to fade into the background, in part because Atef himself is not available to describe it. He was killed in November 2001 by an American air strike in Afghanistan.38

Bin Ladin summoned KSM to Kandahar in March or April 1999 to tell him that al Qaeda would support his proposal. The plot was now referred to within al Qaeda as the "planes operation."39

[...]

Bin Ladin also soon selected four individuals to serve as suicide operatives: Khalid al Mihdhar, Nawaf al Hazmi, Khallad, and Abu Bara al Yemeni. During the al Matar meetings, Bin Ladin told KSM that Mihdhar and Hazmi were so eager to participate in an operation against the United States that they had already obtained U.S. visas. KSM states that they had done so on their own after the suicide of their friend Azzam (Nashiri's cousin) in carrying out the Nairobi bombing. KSM had not met them. His only guidance from Bin Ladin was that the two should eventually go to the United States for pilot training.41

[...]

After obtaining the necessary visas, they received Slahi's final instructions on how to travel to Karachi and then Quetta, where they were to contact someone named Umar al Masri at the Taliban office.90

[...]

Binalshibh remembers that when he arrived at the Taliban office in Quetta, there was no one named Umar al Masri. The name, apparently, was simply a code; a group of Afghans from the office promptly escorted him to Kandahar.

[...]

Nor were Bin Ladin's assets in Sudan a source of money for al Qaeda. When Bin Ladin lived in Sudan from 1991 to 1996, he owned a number of businesses and other assets. These could not have provided significant income, as most were small or not economically viable. When Bin Ladin left in 1996, it appears that the Sudanese government expropriated all his assets: he left Sudan with practically nothing. When Bin Ladin arrived in Afghanistan, he relied on the Taliban until he was able to reinvigorate his fund-raising efforts by drawing on ties to wealthy Saudi individuals that he had established during the Afghan war in the 1980s.114

[...]

It does not appear that any government other than the Taliban financially supported al Qaeda before 9/11, although some governments may have contained al Qaeda sympathizers who turned a blind eye to al Qaeda's fundraising activities.121 Saudi Arabia has long been considered the primary source of al Qaeda funding, but we have found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded the organization. (This conclusion does not exclude the likelihood that charities with significant Saudi government sponsorship diverted funds to al Qaeda.)122

[...]

Before 9/11, al Qaeda spent funds as quickly as it received them. Actual terrorist operations represented a relatively small part of al Qaeda's estimated $30 million annual operating budget. Al Qaeda funded salaries for jihadists, training camps, airfields, vehicles, arms, and the development of training manuals. Bin Ladin provided approximately $10-$20 million per year to the Taliban in return for safe haven. Bin Ladin also may have used money to create alliances with other terrorist organizations, although it is unlikely that al Qaeda was funding an overall jihad program. Rather, Bin Ladin selectively provided startup funds to new groups or money for specific terrorist operations.127

Who in the Taliban did or didn't know what remains, so far as I know, unclear from the public record. Certainly knowledge of the specific targets would have been as tightly held as possible.

But that's not really the point. We don't blame only those with knowledge in advance of which wedding party in Afghanistan/Pakistan is to be struck for the strike.

Gary, I'm trying to tease out what you're claiming (that is relevant to the discussion at hand). Can you tell me if this is what you're saying?

(1) There is no evidence in the public record that the Taliban knew that AQ was going to launch the 9/11 attack.

(2) However, there is evidence showing that the Taliban knew AQ engaged in terrorism, and therefore, the Taliban should be held responsible for whatever acts of terrorism that AQ committed.

Is that what you're saying? Or are you trying to say something else?

With respect, your comments would be clearer if you included less verbatim copying of material that can be easily linked and more explicit explanation. Your closing allusion to wedding parties is unclear to me.

I think it's reasonable to argue that a government that is harboring a terrorist outfit that is committing ongoing terrorist attacks against another nation shares in some of the responsibility for those attacks.

I mean, what could the Taliban say: sure, we knew they were blowing up the embassies and the Cole, but we never thought they'd kill more than a couple hundred a pop? That was the tacit agreement?

I think it's reasonable to argue that a government that is harboring a terrorist outfit that is committing ongoing terrorist attacks against another nation shares in some of the responsibility for those attacks.

Sure, shares in some responsibility, but not necessarily enough to justify invasion unless the conditions I described here hold.

"Sure, shares in some responsibility, but not necessarily enough to justify invasion unless the conditions I described here hold."

Well Turb, it seems we'll just have to agree to disagree on this.

I tend to disagree as well turb. On that issue at least. I just think that the invasion/nation building exercise has drifted and crept from an achievable mission to an unrealistic one without a terminus and without a cap on expenditures.

Point and Eric, which bit are you disagreeing with? Are you claiming that the criteria I suggested are not an acceptable threshold for invasion? Or are you claiming that such criteria are a reasonable threshold but you have confidence that the US government met them?

If you disagree with the criteria I suggested, can you explain why? As in, which elements do you feel are inappropriate or what elements should be added?

Turb

I am claiming that your additional criteria for invasion (in particular the 3rd) are not only unrealistic, but not morally required.

If a country is morally permitted to invade, overthrow, and rebuild another in a set of given circumstances, it can absolutely (and probably should) make their intentions clear.

And given, as it's been pointed out, that AQ had a history of violence against the US, the level of evidence needed to be "convincing" shouldn't have been that high -- though, FWIW, we had OBL, on tape, celebrating the 9/11 attacks, and implicating himself.

Turb,

If a group is harboring a terrorist organization that is openly taking credit for attacks on the US, and then that group attacks the US again - then we don't need all of these steps:

Now, if the US government (1) negotiated in good faith, (2) provided convincing evidence to the Taliban that OBL was guilty, and (3) refrained from threatening the Taliban with death and destruction unless they complied, I'd agree that a war might be justified.

We need #1 only.

#2 is not necessary since Osama took credit openly and to the media for past attacks, and that should be enough - especially given the amount of evidence linking AQ to the attacks that was available. Incidentally, shortly after the US attacked he took credit for 9/11 too!

Point being, when you start harboring terrorist groups attacking foreign nations, you don't get to demand proof of each such attack when there is already a track record of attacks and a good amount of evidence readily available. That's one of the things you sacrifice by your choice of houseguests.

As for #3, same deal. You actually deserve to be threatened, and if you don't like being threatened, don't harbor terrorist groups that are openly touting their ongoing campaign of attacks against another country.

Just TBC, I've been talking about what I see as the criteria for invasion and rebuilding are since the beginning of this thread.

"Can you tell me if this is what you're saying?"

I'm offering information; frequently I prefer to do that, rather than tell people what conclusions I think they should draw.

I will, however, repeat that "the Taleban" is no more a group mind than "Obsidian Wings" is, or "the US government" is; different individuals get informed of different things, some overlapping, and come to different conclusions, some overlapping. Individuals take actions, some under "orders," some more voluntarily, and some less.

How individuals wish to accord responsibility, and to what degree they think it wise to lean towards individual responsibility, or collective responsibility, on the part of othters, is a matter for individuals to draw their own conclusions about. People, I've noticed, have different tendencies in this regard; some people are more consistent, and others less so.

"Your closing allusion to wedding parties is unclear to me."

There have been cases of what turned out to be wedding parties in Afghanistan, and Iraq, struck my air strikes from U.S. forces of one sort or another; debate then typically ensued as to whether they were the terrorist gatherings originally alleged by the U.S. Air Force or military, or not, or maybe only a little bit; or were they purely massacres of innocent civilians, or maybe just largely?; more often than not, evidence in the public record, plus admissions from U.S. investigations often tended to reveal that Errors Had Been Made and innocent civilians killed after all.

My point was that people generally don't just hold those in the U.S. military who made the targeting choices, or pushed the buttons, as responsible for those killings, but instead hold "the U.S. military" as a whole as responsible, or "the U.S." as responsible; whether this is right or wrong seems to me comparable to whether or not "the Taliban" should be held responsible in general, rather than the exact individuals who did certain exact things in the September 11th attack.

Regarding exactly what conclusion one should draw in either case is not something I'm making a pronouncement about. I'm merely making an argument in favor of some consistency in one's conclusions and attitudes about individual responsibility versus collective responsibility.

I don't think there's A Single Correct Answer to the questions that arise from these issues.

I'm instead all about corrupting the children.

I just think that the invasion/nation building exercise has drifted and crept from an achievable mission to an unrealistic one without a terminus and without a cap on expenditures.

Eric, a sincere question here: what was, in your view, the original "achievable mission"? You seem to suggest that it was something short of outright invasion and regime change--so just what was it?

UK: Disrupt al-Qaeda, kill its members, scatter them, and break down its command and control. Topple the Taliban and make them pay a price for hosting al-Qaeda. Support an alternative Afghan government within reason and means, and subject to local exigencies.

OK--thanks, Eric. I'm still left wondering how "toppling the Taliban" in a country with so little history of centralized, national authority wouldn't leave us on the hook for a good long (and expensive) bout of nation-building.

As time goes on I'm moving closer to thinking that once we went for regime change, we were good and stuck, and if we didn't want to get bogged down we should have stopped well short of any toppling. (NB: I'm not addressing whether the Taliban deserved to be toppled here, only whether there was any real possibility of it happening without a quagmire.)

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Whatnot


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