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August 10, 2009

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Osama took credit openly and to the media for past attacks, and that should be enough

He did that openly in the time period after the attacks and before negotiations began? Really? My memory might be fuzzy here, but that's not what I recall.

I checked Wikipedia and it confirms that OBL publicly denied responsibility for the attacks in mid september. On December 13, a tape was played in the media showing OBL claiming responsibility (or at least foreknowledge). The US invasion started about a month after the attacks.

especially given the amount of evidence linking AQ to the attacks that was available.

At the time, I don't recall there being a lot of publicly available evidence linking AQ to the attacks. Especially since much of the publicly available evidence was sourced from the US government. Again, my memory might be completely wrong here. I'm sure there was a strong case inside the US government from day one, but I doubt the US was willing to share sources and methods so I imagine any evidence presented would have been based on public knowledge.

More to the point, there are lots of countries that believe the US government lies a lot about, well, everything. This does not strike me as an insane absurd notion. Certainly, I'd want to have some evidence if the US government told me something. And I have trouble believing the US government was all that willing to share said evidence with the Taliban.

Well, I think we could have toppled them and then bugged out (leaving behind a certain amount of assitance/trainers/etc).

At the very least, it would let the Taliban know that if they harbored AQ again, they would pay a price. Seeing as how the Taliban doesn't care much for international matters, it is quite feasible that they would have chosen to ditch the troublesome foreign interlopers. At which point, we could live with their resurgence, as long as it was AQ free.

He did that openly in the time period after the attacks and before negotiations began? Really? My memory might be fuzzy here, but that's not what I recall.

He had already taken credit for the Cole and Embassy bombings. Many, many months before.

At the time, I don't recall there being a lot of publicly available evidence linking AQ to the attacks.

There was. And it certainly wasn't exclusively from the US govt. Germany was providing info. Pakistan was providing info. Hell, Libya was providing very valuable stuff!

And like I said, if you harbor a known terrorist that has taken credit for a series of attacks against a foreign power, and then another attack occurs that points to that same terrorist, sorry, you don't get to demand the same level of proof as you would under normal circumstances.

Eric

I just wanted to say thank you (again?). I believe that your threads (on this blog) in particular have not only helped me to better understand the rationale behind recent concerns on the Afghanistan war (as distinguished from general opposition to the war), but to better clarify my own position.

Our disagreement seems to come down to something rather simple: on the original mission of the war, I would say "make sure Taliban doesn't return to power" would be a central corollary of "supporting an alternate government within reason".

Does this seem right? If so, I look forward to when I can hopefully give some defense to it.

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.

But of course you do. That's why the US hasn't surrendered all manner of violent terrorists to other countries. If you're suggesting that this is a norm that other nations must adhere to which we will ignore, that's fine, but you need to be explicit about that.

Well, I think we could have toppled them and then bugged out (leaving behind a certain amount of assitance/trainers/etc).

Do you think that outcome was ever politically feasible? I mean, do you think that Republicans circa early 2002 were confident that if the US military bugged out and the Taliban retook the country, they would not pay a serious political price? That would not be subject to demagoguery about 'losing Afghanistan'?

It seems that if the Taliban were able to retake the country, there would be some bragging in the international media that our own media would find difficult to ignore, which would raise the political pressure to "do something"; after all, our brave soldiers being forced to come home before the job is done by cheese-eating-surrender-monkeys makes a nasty campaign ad, don't you think?

In my experience, Americans don't like having their nose rubbed in the fact that they're not militarily capable of permanently extinguishing a rag tag group of losers like the Taliban. But perhaps Americans would have quietly accepted that.

My only point here is that if the policy you advocated was never politically feasible, then your only choices are no-invasion or quagmire. Right?

He had already taken credit for the Cole and Embassy bombings. Many, many months before.

Are you saying that either of those justified an invasion? Or are you saying that because OBL claimed responsibility for those attacks, that was sufficient evidence to assume that he was responsible for 9/11?

There was. And it certainly wasn't exclusively from the US govt. Germany was providing info. Pakistan was providing info. Hell, Libya was providing very valuable stuff!

They were providing publicly available information in the month right after the attacks but before the invasion? I don't remember any of that. I'm sure they provided such evidence eventually, but in less than 4 weeks after 9/11?

And like I said, if you harbor a known terrorist that has taken credit for a series of attacks against a foreign power, and then another attack occurs that points to that same terrorist, sorry, you don't get to demand the same level of proof as you would under normal circumstances.

"Points to" is doing a lot of work in that sentence. Points to in whose eyes? The US?

I'm not saying the Taliban are innocent of anything. I'm just suggesting that maybe there was not sufficient publicly available evidence from neutral parties publicized within the first month immediately after the attacks to justify the requirement that the Taliban had to accept that OBL was responsible.

Our disagreement seems to come down to something rather simple: on the original mission of the war, I would say "make sure Taliban doesn't return to power" would be a central corollary of "supporting an alternate government within reason"

Sounds like a decent distillation, but the essential backdrop is the cost/benefit analysis applied to those objectives.

I'd rather the Taliban never come back to power. Am I willing to spend $1 trillion and multi-decade occupation on the gamble that we can set Afghanistan up such that this doesn't happen?

Different answer.

"I'd rather the Taliban never come back to power. Am I willing to spend $1 trillion and multi-decade occupation on the gamble that we can set Afghanistan up such that this doesn't happen?"

The million dollar question (or the trillion dollar one, rather).

And just as we get to it, I start getting swamped (ugh!). I look forward to discussing it more fully when I have the time, or possibly in another thread.

Point-

Point taken. I used our agreement that raising the spectre of having to build states all over the globe to fight terrorism based on our obligation to do so in Afghanistan is a non-sequitur in the absence of another major attack as a jumping-off point for my own view that even if such an attack occurred, debate about whether we would again respond by toppling regimes, with the attendant responsibilities and our budget the way it is, would be far more contentious than it was when we were in shock at being sucker-punched in 2001. That is my hope and belief in any case. But perhaps we'd lash out with even less forethought.

In any case, we agree that fulfilling our responsibilities in Afghanistan does not logically lead to our spontaneously deciding to undertake similar efforts in countries where attacks have not originated and whose regimes we have not taken it upon ourselves to change.

But of course you do. That's why the US hasn't surrendered all manner of violent terrorists to other countries. If you're suggesting that this is a norm that other nations must adhere to which we will ignore, that's fine, but you need to be explicit about that.

First, I've argued for deporting the Cuban terrorists to Cuba or Venezuela, so I'm consistent (argued in multiple posts on the subject). Second, those Cuban terrorists are not active anymore, and were under house arrest for some time. Not unlike the al-Qaeda ops held in Iran. Not that this changes everything, but a slight differentiation.

Do you think that outcome was ever politically feasible?

More feasible than not invading/toppling the Taliban in the first place.

Are you saying that either of those justified an invasion? Or are you saying that because OBL claimed responsibility for those attacks, that was sufficient evidence to assume that he was responsible for 9/11?

First, yes, they probably justified some form of military incursion in their own right. They are acts of war. Second, because he claimed responsibility, the evidentiary standard is lowered. So, no, that alone was not sufficient evidence. But that, coupled with the readily available evidence, and what we did include in our communiques, suffices because of the lower standard which attaches to an admitted and active terrorist.

I'm just suggesting that maybe there was not sufficient publicly available evidence from neutral parties publicized within the first month immediately after the attacks to justify the requirement that the Taliban had to accept that OBL was responsible.

Doesn't even matter because we already had the right and moral ground to demand his extradition based on the Cole and Embassy bombings. The ones he had already taken credit for. After that, 9/11 evidence was icing. And it wasn't really in such short supply.

Second, they could have asked Osama. But they weren't really looking for evidence, now were they?

"I'd rather the Taliban never come back to power. Am I willing to spend $1 trillion and multi-decade occupation on the gamble that we can set Afghanistan up such that this doesn't happen?

Different answer."

There is a place, at the intersection of our national security, the security of our international partners and the desires and needs of the individuals in a nation, where it becomes difficult not to say we should act. I believe Afghanistan was one of those instances, both previously and from the facts cited here.

The criteria is different each time based on those interests competing with the domestic interests, monetary constraints and military constraints in place at the time.

I believe we need to, working with the local government, define a specific set of achievable goals that, once achieved, allows us to turn full control and responsibility back over to a local government.

We have not set achievable goals in Afghanistan and, it seems, we have assumed eternal responsibility. Those goals should not include ensuring the safety and tranquility of Afghanistan forever. Nor should these goals include chasing down terrorist groups we can't effectively find or fight.

The last lesson we learned from Vietnam, or I thought we had, was that we should not pretend to represent the "people" in a country we have invaded. They see us as the cause of the ravages of war, no matter how high mindedly we think of our goals.

In the end, their most fervent hope is that we will go away. Perhaps preferably when they can defend themselves, but, even if they can't, the war might end.

Setting specific criteria for when we might have the confluence of events that creates the decision to use that power again is challenging in this regard: We are trying, as evidenced here, to determine "What" might happen, what we will know publicly versus what the government might know, and the strategic and tactical weighting, at the time, of those drivers.

I prefer to start with the assumption that it is always a bad idea and hope that we are never faced with a reason that is important enough to override that assumption.


"I would say 'make sure Taliban doesn't return to power' would be a central corollary of 'supporting an alternate government within reason'."

Two points:
a) "within reason" plays a key role in this sentence, and more closely defining what "within reason" means is the center of the whole debate.

b) I'd narrow "make sure Taliban doesn't return to power" to "make sure a Taliban government willing to support attacks outside its bordersdoesn't return to power" is closer to what our goals should be, if "within reason" for the larger goal isn't very much within reason.

Otherwise, sucky as it is for Afghanis, they're not in a much different place than the Burmese or Zimbabwese, or Somali, or a lot of other people around the world who live in terrible situations under terrible governments, or lack of them, are, but which we don't propose to go in, occupy, and attempt to spend decades and trillions of dollars to nation-build.

Yes, we bear some special responsibilities in Afghanistan that we don't in these other places. But there remain those "within reason" limits.

"I mean, do you think that Republicans circa early 2002 were confident that if the US military bugged out and the Taliban retook the country, they would not pay a serious political price?"

As Bush said, he had lots of political capital, and he intended to spend it. I don't think fear of domestic political response had much to do with Bush administration decisions about Afghanistan; if they did, they would have been more of a factor when that administration began to shift resources out of Afghanistan to prepare for Iraq, and as they continued that process.

So I think that, yes, they could have withstood that political price, if they were of a mind to, which isn't particularly relevant since they weren't.

Since we're talking hypotheticals, suggesting that another reasonable part of the hypothetical be part of the overall hypothetical is, um, reasonable. YMMV.

It seems that if the Taliban were able to retake the country, there would be some bragging in the international media that our own media would find difficult to ignore, which would raise the political pressure to "do something"; after all, our brave soldiers being forced to come home before the job is done by cheese-eating-surrender-monkeys makes a nasty campaign ad, don't you think?

In my experience, Americans don't like having their nose rubbed in the fact that they're not militarily capable of permanently extinguishing a rag tag group of losers like the Taliban. But perhaps Americans would have quietly accepted that.

I think there's an excluded middle in there.

"...My only point here is that if the policy you advocated was never politically feasible"

That's your own conclusion. So, no, I don't agree that "then your only choices are no-invasion or quagmire. Right?" follows. Sorry.

"Or are you saying that because OBL claimed responsibility for those attacks, that was sufficient evidence to assume that he was responsible for 9/11?"

I think that that, combined with plenty of other evidence in the public sphere, was sufficient for a reasonable person to give reasonable credibility to the then governmental claims regarding al Qaeda's responsibility. As the facts, I think, turn out to have indisputably (in my view) proven that these claims were, in fact, true, I think such a conclusion was, in fact, reasonable, even if you either didn't agree so then, or if you do not agree now.

"I'm just suggesting that maybe there was not sufficient publicly available evidence from neutral parties publicized within the first month immediately after the attacks to justify the requirement that the Taliban had to accept that OBL was responsible."

Or maybe there was. Probably one of those things some people will have to agree to disagree about.

"Am I willing to spend $1 trillion and multi-decade occupation on the gamble that we can set Afghanistan up such that this doesn't happen?"

I suppose I'm willing to support somewhere between $1 and $5 billion a year on the gamble, off the top of my decision-making input into Treasury decisions.

As the case for spending more cash, and more American troops, goes up, my skepticism rises in proportion.

Mind, those figures are off the top of my head; I'm willing to listen to arguments about other numbers, and am apt to back away when the discussion turns to general recommendations as to how the overall U.S. budget should be allocated, although, yes, I do think we could do with a tad less military spending.

General cite.

Marty, your 03:48 PM was very good. Kudos.

First, I've argued for deporting the Cuban terrorists to Cuba or Venezuela, so I'm consistent (argued in multiple posts on the subject).

Do you agree that Venezuela or Cuba would be justified in bombing the US for refusing to deport him?

First, yes, they probably justified some form of military incursion in their own right. They are acts of war. Second, because he claimed responsibility, the evidentiary standard is lowered.

I'm sorry, I still don't understand what you're saying here. OBL claimed responsibility for the Cole/Africa attacks. He disclaimed responsibility for 9/11. So, are you saying that because he claimed responsibility for the Cole/Africa attacks, we must assume that he's guilty of any later attacks? And we must demand that other nations accept this presumption and bomb them if they don't? Isn't that...ridiculous?

This logic would never fly in criminal law. It seems kind of insane that we would have a much lower standard for arresting someone than for bombing and invading a country. I mean, shouldn't sane people require high standards before going to war?

But that, coupled with the readily available evidence, and what we did include in our communiques, suffices because of the lower standard which attaches to an admitted and active terrorist.

Have you seen these communiques? I have not. Can you tell me where I can find them? I thought such things were still classified.

You keep talking about readily available evidence, but I don't recall any at the time. Can you tell me what specific evidence you're talking about that was (1) not sourced by the US government and (2) made available to the public within 4 weeks of the attacks?

Doesn't even matter because we already had the right and moral ground to demand his extradition based on the Cole and Embassy bombings. The ones he had already taken credit for. After that, 9/11 evidence was icing. And it wasn't really in such short supply.

So, any country has the right to bomb any other country in the world that refuses to deport a terrorist that has killed people? Is that right? That sort of thinking is appealing, but I'm not sure why you think it is compatible with international law.

Second, they could have asked Osama. But they weren't really looking for evidence, now were they?

This is a non-sequitur. First, why do you think they didn't. Secondly, even if they did, what does that tell us about anything? Do you have evidence proving that they did ask and that OBL told them the truth?

Do you agree that Venezuela or Cuba would be justified in bombing the US for refusing to deport him?

If he was actively planning further attacks on Cuba, and broadcasting that intention in the media, then yes. Not Venezuela because they have no moral privity.

I'm sorry, I still don't understand what you're saying here. OBL claimed responsibility for the Cole/Africa attacks. He disclaimed responsibility for 9/11. So, are you saying that because he claimed responsibility for the Cole/Africa attacks, we must assume that he's guilty of any later attacks? And we must demand that other nations accept this presumption and bomb them if they don't? Isn't that...ridiculous?

No, I'm saying there was a lower standard, not that we "must assume" that he's guilty. Or that "we must demand" that another nation accept such an assumption (which we shouldn't make in the first place).

But that's not even close to describing the situation. There was no paucity of evidence. Really.

So, any country has the right to bomb any other country in the world that refuses to deport a terrorist that has killed people? Is that right? That sort of thinking is appealing, but I'm not sure why you think it is compatible with international law.

It is compatible with international law! And no, not any country and any other country. A country that was attacked does have the right to attack militants in another country if and when those militants claim credit for the attack, and vow future attacks. It's called self defense.

Can you tell me what specific evidence you're talking about that was (1) not sourced by the US government and (2) made available to the public within 4 weeks of the attacks?

There was substantial evidence about Atta and the Hamburg Cell's activities that was provided directly by the German govt. Actually, the US had scant evidence itself on these activities in Germany, and most of it came from the Germans. The Pakistanis also provided reams of evidence on the activities of al-Qaeda and the passing in and out of Af/Pak of the hijackers, as they were the ones most in the know. The Yemenis also cooperated with some info on those same comings and goings. You can do the research to see how much made it into the public sphere as specifically sourced to those countries. But either way, it's not like the Taliban were fools. And that every other intel shop (even the Libyans!) in the world was swapping info on how AQ did it, but the Taliban couldn't catch wind of it from anyone.

Really, it wasn't a big mystery at the time. You make too much of this chin scratcher of a "whodunit." It was obvious. And the obvious turned out to be obviously true.

Gary:

I'd narrow "make sure Taliban doesn't return to power" to "make sure a Taliban government willing to support attacks outside its borders doesn't return to power" is closer to what our goals should be, if "within reason" for the larger goal isn't very much within reason.

Agreed.

I think that that, combined with plenty of other evidence in the public sphere, was sufficient for a reasonable person to give reasonable credibility to the then governmental claims regarding al Qaeda's responsibility.

AQ was responsible. I assume we all agree on this point.

However, I'm not sure that there was sufficient credible evidence in the public sphere immediately after 9/11 to justify invading the Taliban. Can you point to any?

Again, the question is not: should a rational American believe that AQ was responsible for 9/11. The question is: did a rational non-American who distrusted the US government have such overwhelming evidence available to them publicly within 4 weeks of 9/11 that they would have to conclude that AQ was responsible for 9/11. So far, you and Eric have insisted this must be true without actually explaining why. If you have any evidence, I'd like to see it.

As the facts, I think, turn out to have indisputably (in my view) proven that these claims were, in fact, true, I think such a conclusion was, in fact, reasonable, even if you either didn't agree so then, or if you do not agree now.

The fact that we now know that AQ was responsible does not prove that the Taliban acted irrationally or in bad faith for refusing to believe that in October 2001.

Or maybe there was. Probably one of those things some people will have to agree to disagree about.

Or, we could agree to believe in claims that have evidence behind them. Now, since I'm a pretty conservative sort who thinks that wars should not be waged when reasonable efforts can prevent them, I'd suggest that the onus is on those insisting that war is justified.

Now, since the evidence was so overwhelming, if the US had acted reasonably, it would have only had to wait a month or so before launching the war. Then again, if it waited a month so that the Taliban could see OBL's taped confession, there might not have been a need for a war. I'm not sure why it was so vitally important that the war begin precisely when it did (rather than a month later). I would think that avoiding unnecessary wars is so important that even a small chance of doing so would justify waiting a month in what turned out to be a decade long effort.

I believe we need to, working with the local government, define a specific set of achievable goals that, once achieved, allows us to turn full control and responsibility back over to a local government.

Doesn't this sound awfully familiar? Weren't there all these targets about how many units of the Iraqi army were going to be combat ready, and then we'd find a month after the target had nearly been met that actually they were just paper numbers?

The brutal fact is that a competent and non-corrupt government/military is not an achievable aim in Afghanistan. If you look at how long it has taken any country in the world to evolve a non-corrupt government system, we're talking decades if not centuries. You've got to change an entire ruling class ethos.

I don't know whether you could even get a reasonably competent (if brutal and corrupt) national army functioning in Afghanistan in the short term. How long did it take to build the Pakistini military, for example?

If you set targets for withdrawal it seems to me you then have three options: you can fake that you've achieved targets, you can set goals so minimal that you can pass them trivially (a 'successful' election, a paper-strength army) or you can prepare to stay there for decades.

The question is: did a rational non-American who distrusted the US government have such overwhelming evidence available to them publicly within 4 weeks of 9/11 that they would have to conclude that AQ was responsible for 9/11.

With those non-Ameircan's being well aware that AQ had already:

1. Claimed responsibility for two terrorist bombings of US embassies in Africa

2. Claimed responsibility for bombing the USS Cole.

3. Vowed, publicly and repeatedly, to continue attacking the US.

4. Were training terrorist in training camps on Afghan soil with the blessing of the Taliban.

That changes a lot. It wasn't an incident that occurred in a vaccuum. The allegations didn't come out of left field. The Taliban knew they had a terrorist org committed to attacking the US training on their soil.

So, there was an Islamic terrorist org that had been attacking the US, vowed to keep attacking the US and then, a group of 19 Muslim hijackers attacked the US - hijackers that the Pakistanis, Yemenis, Germans and US all say passed through AQ camps in Af/Pak.

The Germans provided evidence that the hijackers were based in Hamburg and had contact with AQ.

And...what? We're gonna quibble on the right evidentiary standard that applies to this? Feh.

Now, since the evidence was so overwhelming, if the US had acted reasonably, it would have only had to wait a month or so before launching the war.

There is credible evidence and argumentation that the US waited too long as is, and that in the process, key AQ members were able to escape. Time was most certainly of the essence.

Then again, if it waited a month so that the Taliban could see OBL's taped confession, there might not have been a need for a war.

This, of course, operates under the very heavy assumption that the Taliban were perfectly willing to turn over bin Laden IF ONLY they felt comfortable with the evidence.

I'm not sure why I should believe this. After all, the Taliban already knew that AQ had attacked the US, was planning on attacking the US again, and was training and equipping on their soil in order to attack the US again.

But all that was OK until AQ actually did attack (again). And then they would have willingly turned them over?

"Now, since I'm a pretty conservative sort who thinks that wars should not be waged when reasonable efforts can prevent them, I'd suggest that the onus is on those insisting that war is justified."

I'm not insisting. (I'm assuming we're still talking about the decision in 2001 to invade Afghanistan.) I think you're entitled to believe what you like. And you are entitled to think what you like about onus, too.

Allow me to dramatize the scenario:

US Govt: Hey, Mr. Taliban, you know that terrorist organization that has set up training camps in your country?

Taliban: You mean al-Qaeda?

US: Yeah. Well, you know how they've already conducted a series of terrorist attacks on us?

Taliban: Yeah. They brag about it all the time.

US: Using those same training camps that you've let them operate.

Taliban: Yeah, well, they put them to good use at least.

US: Well, it looks like they've done it again, on a massive scale, and now we'd like you to extradite the leaders of that terrorist group that's been attacking us while training on your soil.

Taliban: Ah, but what evidence do you have that al-Qaeda was behind this terrorist attack against you?

I mean, Uncle Sam, I know they've done this to you before on multiple occasions in the past few years, and I know they've vowed to keep attacking you, and I know they've been training to attack you again in our country with our blessing...but...how can we be sure?

US: ?

There is credible evidence and argumentation that the US waited too long as is, and that in the process, key AQ members were able to escape. Time was most certainly of the essence.

I would prefer to occasionally let a few AQ members escape in exchange for reducing the probability of engaging in warfare. Our bungling of the war lead to many more AQ members escaping, so I'm not sure waiting would have constituted a significant loss compared with rushing to war and being incompetent.

This, of course, operates under the very heavy assumption that the Taliban were perfectly willing to turn over bin Laden IF ONLY they felt comfortable with the evidence.

As I said, this was a possibility not a certainty. I think that avoiding unnecessary wars is a sufficiently important goal that we should be prepared to make reasonable sacrifices in order to secure the possibility of avoiding a war. Don't you agree in principle?

I'm not sure why I should believe this. After all, the Taliban already knew that AQ had attacked the US, was planning on attacking the US again, and was training and equipping on their soil in order to attack the US again.

Well, I imagine that the US might be perfectly willing to shelter Carriles so long as he kept his terrorism to small scale activities but might be willing to hand him over if he started playing in the big leagues. Does that seem strange to you?

But all that was OK until AQ actually did attack (again). And then they would have willingly turned them over?

I mean, the US was not so perturbed by the Cole/Embassy bombings as to cut off the Taliban from their opium eradication funding, were they? Or do I have the dates mixed up?

Eric, why are the training camps relevant at all? So far as I know, the training camps were not needed for 9/11. I'm not even sure they were used. Now if AQ members engaged in a bunch of gun fights in the US using weapons skills they practiced at the camps, I could see the relevancy, but that didn't actually happen.

Turbo: the camps are useful for providing a central location for networking, collecting money, indoctrination, testing loyalty, testnig commitment, further radicalization. They are not essential, but they help.

But I don't get your point anyway. Should we not be bothere by countries allowing AQ to set up camps in their country because 9/11 could have been pulled off without a training camp?

Well, I imagine that the US might be perfectly willing to shelter Carriles so long as he kept his terrorism to small scale activities but might be willing to hand him over if he started playing in the big leagues. Does that seem strange to you?

The embassy bombings were the big leagues. And Carriles played in the big leagues too.

Our bungling of the war lead to many more AQ members escaping, so I'm not sure waiting would have constituted a significant loss compared with rushing to war and being incompetent.

I don't think waiting would have helped at all. What would have happened? Those that escaped would have escaped anyway, only more. We didn't lose some because we rushed, we lost some because we didn't want to commit too many ground forces at Tora Bora, and so we trusted the Pakistanis. Not rushed, just poor judgment.

I'd also point out that the Taliban government, 6 months before 9/11, had destroyed the Bamiyam statues of Buddha. Recalling that there were only 3 governments that recognized the Taliban, Pakistan, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, if the Taliban were simply innocent bystanders, they left themselves in a pretty bad position.

"we lost some because we didn't want to commit too many ground forces at Tora Bora"

As I recall. there was debate as to how many U.S. ground forces were practically available to deploy then and there. I'm not sure I've ever seen an absolutely definitive answer to that point. (And I'm about to go out to pick up prescriptions and do other shopping, so won't be looking for one at present.)

Allow me to dramatize the scenario:

Bush: We need to bomb the @#$!@ out of someone. How about Afghanistan?

Cabinet: OK

Powell: Um, shouldn't we make a pretense of negotiation before we start bombing...you know, just to help get international support and shut the Pope up?

Cheney: No. The last thing we want is for them to give us Osama. We need to send a message.

Rummy: Also, I've got these awesome theories about how we can crush any country in the world using only a toothpick, some tin foil, a silver dollar and my own brilliance. We gotta put that @#% on display. How else will people recognize my brilliance?!

Powell publicly offered to give the Taliban a dossier proving that OBL was responsible for 9/11 but then publicly backed away.

Really Eric, we could both write cute little made up dramatizations all day, but I don't think it advances the discussion.

Really Turbo?

But yours is not based at all in fact, whereas nothing I wrote departed from known facts. For example:

1. al-Qaeda had camps in Afghanistan.
2. The Taliban knew and permitted that.
3. al-Qaeda had attacked the US on multiple occasions while using those camps.
4. The Taliban knew and permitted that.
5. al-Qaeda vowed to continue attacking the US, while using those training camps.
6. The Taliban knew and permitted that.

What material facts, exactly, did I make up? None actually. I advanced the discussion by illustrating just how absurd it is to think that we would need to provide beyond a reasonable doubt type evidence to the Taliban given the circumstances.

Yours, on the other hand, makes several assertions that are either known to be false, or not supported by any known facts. Thus, not very helpful.

For example:

1. Bush didn't want to bomb Afghanistan first, he and his cabinet were interested in Iraq. Tony Blair convinced them of the need to take on al-Qaeda first.

2. Cheney was never frightened that they would hand over Osama. This is a complete fabrication - unless you're privvy to some intel that is not commonly known.

In fact, the only thing you got right was Rummy's theory on war, but that wouldn't have mattered since Rummy was going to be in charge regardless of the steps taken before the war.

But other than that, yeah....good, um, point.

Gary:

One of them was Brig. Gen. James N. Mattis, the commander of some 4,000 marines who had arrived in the Afghan theater by now. Mattis, along with another officer with whom I spoke, was convinced that with these numbers he could have surrounded and sealed off bin Laden's lair, as well as deployed troops to the most sensitive portions of the largely unpatrolled border with Pakistan. He argued strongly that he should be permitted to proceed to the Tora Bora caves. The general was turned down. An American intelligence official told me that the Bush administration later concluded that the refusal of Centcom to dispatch the marines - along with their failure to commit U.S. ground forces to Afghanistan generally - was the gravest error of the war.

link

"Allow me to dramatize the scenario"

Except that we have a bunch of accounts of what actually happened from people who were entirely unsympathetic to most everything else Bush did, such as Richard Clarke, Lawrence Wilkerson, the folks who talked to Ron Suskind, Steve Coll, Jane Mayer, and so on, so I'm not following why we should ignore a well-documented set of matching accounts from a variety of people who seem unlikely to have colloborated in a false account that's overall incredibly unflattering to Bush.

Eric, although I'm inclined to dispute a number of your statements regarding my little dramatization, I don't think arguing about fictional plays advances the discussion. As I explained earlier.

To move the discussion back to something both concrete and relevant, would you mind answering the questions I raised earlier, specifically:

Have you seen these communiques? I have not. Can you tell me where I can find them? I thought such things were still classified.

I am indeed very curious about your sources for information on these mysterious communiques.

"To move the discussion back to something both concrete and relevant, would you mind answering the questions I raised earlier...."

I'll go back earlier in the discussion, where you asked:
"The question is: did a rational non-American who distrusted the US government have such overwhelming evidence available to them publicly within 4 weeks of 9/11 that they would have to conclude that AQ was responsible for 9/11."

And I'll point out that we had been demanding of the Taliban that they hand over bin Laden, and engaged in fruitless negotiations with them, since the Clinton administration.

September 11th was just the final trigger to jump ahead to the military contingency, rather than continue the combination of not-quite-engaging-in covert attacks that were planned and canceled at the last minute, and negotiating with the Taliban.

As I've pointed out, there are books and books and books about all this. Coll, Clarke, Suskind, and so on. Plenty of additional testimony in public by various involved figures, as well (Richard Haas is another I failed to mention). I don't know if you've read any of the relevant books, but if not, I recommend you do.

"I'd narrow "make sure Taliban doesn't return to power" to "make sure a Taliban government willing to support attacks outside its borders doesn't return to power" is closer to what our goals should be, if "within reason" for the larger goal isn't very much within reason."

We may very well not do justice to this discussion*, and I don't have as long as I'd hoped, but here's my attempt:

First, considering the relative youth of the Taliban government and the other powers available, it's not unreasonable to seek out making sure they don't rise again to power. (Though, sadly, it seems it is unreasonable to expect a new government that is a huge improvement on civil rights, even if it may not be possible to do worse.)

More importantly, even if a renewed Taliban government was unwilling to repeat its mistakes, it would be a weaker disincentive to other nations who may be so inclined.

It's the difference between saying "if your regime harbors international terrorists who attack the US, you may find yourselves fighting for its survival, and you won't want to do it again even if you win" and "if your regime harbors international terrorists who attack the US, it will cease to exist".

I think that it's enough of a difference to be worth the effort, but I could certainly see points being made against them. Though I'd still enjoy reading them.*

*(for another post, perhaps?)

"First, considering the relative youth of the Taliban government and the other powers available, it's not unreasonable to seek out making sure they don't rise again to power."

"Taliban" covers a wide variety of factions; I don't think it's helpful to consider everyone who might willingly describe themselves as "Taliban" as a unitary collective of like mind on all matters of significance.

That would be confusing the label with the reality. Everyone who is Taliban is not Mullah Omar.

I think it's more useful to, if we're going to, discuss which Taliban factions and individuals one wishes to refer to, rather than "the Taliban government" as if it once, let alone now, consists of a single collective mind, which it never did, let alone that they're considerably more factionalized and divided than ever today.

The current Afghan government has been negotiating with various "Taliban" factions, tribal groupings, families, and individuals, and giving amnesties to some, and reach agreements with some, and not with others. It behooves us to differentiate at least as much as they do.

Even some of the most senior, and repellent, factions have reportedly engaged in negotiations.

Good general rule of thumb in life: whenever a discussion turns to discussion of a They or a Them, start asking specifically whom you're talking about. It's pretty rare to find that whomever is being referred to are Borg.

(Note: this refers to "the U.S. government" as much as any other They.)

A memorable example of a former Taliban, to demonstrate optimistic possibilities.

"It's the difference between saying "if your regime harbors international terrorists who attack the US, you may find yourselves fighting for its survival, and you won't want to do it again even if you win" and "if your regime harbors international terrorists who attack the US, it will cease to exist"."

Translated point: it's worth a trillion dollars to be this guy:

"I don't think it's helpful to consider everyone who might willingly describe themselves as "Taliban" as a unitary collective of like mind on all matters of significance."

A well taken point. Wish I had time to go into it more.

"Translated point: it's worth a trillion dollars to be this guy:"

Uh, which guy?

It's the difference between saying "if your regime harbors international terrorists who attack the US, you may find yourselves fighting for its survival, and you won't want to do it again even if you win" and "if your regime harbors international terrorists who attack the US, it will cease to exist".

The US government faced a choice between a quick withdrawal that might have permitted the Taliban to retake the country and a grueling, seemingly indefinite fight to eliminate the Taliban. For the moment at least, it has chosen the latter. But the message that has been sent is not "because you attacked the US, we will make you cease to exist" but rather "because you attacked the US, we will try to make you cease to exist, but we will prove that the US government is really really really incompetent and will thus mostly demonstrate how little you have to fear."

This is one of the problems of signaling as described in modern international relations theory. You might think your actions unambiguously signal a particular message to your adversaries, but in reality, they may interpret a very different message. Right now, non-state actors might very plausibly interpret the US as signaling:

(1) the US lacks the financial and military capability to seriously invade other countries for many years because it will be bogged down in Afghanistan for the next 5-10 years,

(2) one can easily goad the US to act in irrational ways that cause it to expend vast sums of money and resources at very small costs

Neither of these messages is really consistent with the message that you (Point) suggested we were broadcasting, namely that committing acts of terrorism that kills Americans ensures your elimination. The more we commit ourselves to staying in Afghanistan no matter the cost, the more we incentivize other actors to attack the US. Those incentives promote more attacks against Americans rather than fewer.

Right now, non-state actors might very plausibly interpret the US as signaling...

We're talking about bin Laden and guys like him, right? Are these really "incentives" kind of guys?

the US lacks the financial and military capability to seriously invade other countries for many years because it will be bogged down in Afghanistan for the next 5-10 years

And yet we had the money and the time to fuck with Iraq on the side. Which we're now leaving. Funny that.

We're talking about bin Laden and guys like him, right? Are these really "incentives" kind of guys?

I meant to include "and national governments that might assist them" in that sentence.

Beyond that, Point was the one who introduced the notion of signaling and reputation effects as a justification for staying in Afghanistan. I'd suggest you take it up with him. My only point is that if you think signaling bolsters the case for staying in Afghanistan, then a serious look at IR theory should convince you that signaling bolsters the case for NOT staying there indefinitely. If you think that signaling and reputational concerns don't make sense in this context, I respect that, but your dismissal of signaling must be symmetric: you can't reject signaling when it suggests we should leave but accept it when it says we should stay.

And yet we had the money and the time to fuck with Iraq on the side. Which we're now leaving. Funny that.

Not really. The Chinese government had the money to loan us to engage in that little adventure, and even then, we were unable to completely pacify Iraq. And what little we did required us to dramatically lower the standards of our own military. The sheer number of officers and NCOs that have left the military because of Iraq suggests that our "fucking with Iraq" has massive costs that we'll be paying for years to come. Good NCOs don't grow on trees. When you drive out the ones you have, well, you're left with nutty ideas like automatically promoting everyone every year or two whether they deserve it or not.

Turb

I think you* may be confusing the Taliban and other state and/or quasi-state actors -- which I'm talking about -- with Al Qaeda and other similar non-state actors.

So TBC -- at 8:33, I was not talking about dis-incentivizing terrorist organizations, but regimes that would give them sanctuary.

Now I happen to think that's one of the more important things you can deprive ambitious international terrorist networks like AQ of. FWIW, Eric disagrees. You might also. We've discussed this point -- the importance of sanctuaries -- on previous threads.

But the point remains that I was talking about "regimes", who are subject to the logic of international relations. Not Al Qaeda.

*Of all people! (not to put to fine a point on it...)

And as soon as I get it posted, you give a correction -- damn you hypertext!

All I really have time to say right now to clarify is:

I wouldn't lump together the incentives for AQ and those for the Taliban. These are different organizations, ISOE.

Oh well, until next time...

Point, see my previous correction at 10:07. I would appreciate it if you could explain why we should remain in Afghanistan when doing so signals other regimes and non-state actors that the US has extremely limited ability to project military power (compared to its pre Iraq/Afghanistan state) and can be easily manipulated into acting against its own interest. Or, are you willing to withdraw your claims about the benefits of signaling resulting from our spending another decade or trillion dollars trying to eliminate the Taliban?

"Signalling" is an interesting way of looking at the problem, but it also means that the 'signals' are not solely directed at other opposing regimes and non-state actors, but also at regimes that are undecided and allied regimes as well as signalling to domestic audience(s). The signals sent to those groups must also be taken into account. In addition, as Gary has pointed out, the signals to the opposing regimes should not be considered as going to a single receipient, but a range of recipients, with their own rationales and agendas. I'd certainly agree that if signalling meant going it alone for another decade and another trillion dollars, it is not worth it. But a decade and a Marshall plan like amount (about 100 billion in adjusted dollars?), it might be worth it.

Heretical thought: to what extent does a Taliban resurgence conflict with actual Western interests?

To the extent that the Taliban do not simply function as a tribal militia for the most numerous tribe in Afghanistan, they have a Salafist ideology. Salafism has a lot of followers in the Muslim world right now, (al Qaeda follows the Salafist line, but so do many moderate Islamic resistance movements). As long as it has a wide appeal, Salafiam has the potential to pose a serious problem for the "West". But if the Salafists have their way and fail in an impoverished and out of the way state (Afghanistan comes to mind), the allure of the ideology, and its ability to make converts who could make themselves a serious nuisance (say in Germany) diminishes.

It may seem cold to treat a nation of human beings as a test subject in this way, but given that so many of the people of the country in question want to try the experiment, and will in fact kill (us) to try it out, I think a pretty good, rational strategic argument exists for letting the Afghanis (or at least the Pashtuns) have what they want, and letting the rest of the world, particularly the Islamic world, learn from their experiences.

Turb: Obviously, I don't have classified communiques, but Gary provided sources that are trustworthy.

And regardless, these facts are indisputable:

1. al-Qaeda had camps in Afghanistan.
2. The Taliban knew and permitted that.
3. al-Qaeda had attacked the US on multiple occasions while using those camps.
4. The Taliban knew and permitted that.
5. al-Qaeda vowed to continue attacking the US, while using those training camps.
6. The Taliban knew and permitted that.

Then 9/11 happened. Under those circumstances, the Taliban were not in a position to demand rock solid evidence that the latest terrorist attack was an al-Qaeda attack. All the US had to do was provide a prima facie case, or none at all - just based on the Cole and the embassies, we were in a position to demand extradition.

Thems the breaks. They shouldn't have harbored al-Qaeda and let them operate and maintain training camps while conducting numerous attacks on the US and swearing repeatedly to keep attacking the US.

That's how you get got.

"Thems the breaks. They shouldn't have harbored al-Qaeda and let them operate and maintain training camps while conducting numerous attacks on the US and swearing repeatedly to keep attacking the US."

I will just throw into this conversation that it is different to:

1) harbor, or refuse to extradite, a few terrorists, or

2) to allow the terrorists to run training and international command and control from within your borders.

One of these is not like the other. Most of the comparisons I have seen in this thread seem to miss the difference. Disrupting the enemies planning, command and control is a basic tenet of effective response when attacked.

The "moral" ambiguity in this case is relatively small. It seems to be one of the few times we had the justification to go in, take out what we could, disrupt the enemy and just leave. As we should today.

Good point Marty

I will just throw into this conversation that it is different to:

1) harbor, or refuse to extradite, a few terrorists, or

2) to allow the terrorists to run training and international command and control from within your borders.

Marty makes a perfectly valid point here. For decade, Syria has harbored political leaders of Hamas, and has had a history of allowing other "non-working" former Palestinian and Lebanese terrorists/leaders/politicians to reside in Syria (as well as themeselves engaging in state terrorism against Lebanon, but that's a limited and somewhat different question, and the Syrian-Hezbollah relationship should be its own topic).

Similarly, Iraq also allowed formerly active terrorists against Israel, plus members of Hamas, as well as Abu Nidal, as well as a few who acted against the U.S., such as Abdul Rahman Yasin, who was involved in the 1993 attack on the U.S. (Ramzi Yousef, another plotter of that attack, allegedly arrived in the U.S. with an Iraqi passport, but that's a matter of dispute, particularly as to whether he ever resided in Iraq), to reside in Iraq prior to our 2002 invasion.

But in both cases of Syria and Iraq, none of the terrorists residing in those countries were themselves sufficient reason for the U.S. to go to war against these countries (setting aside the continued quasi-war against Iraq that the U.S. enaged in post-1991 through 2002, which was over other issues); we restrained ourselves to diplomatic responses of protests and sanctions and the like. We didn't believe that harboring terrorists, or former terrorists, or people who continued politically to support terrorist, but that weren't actively engaging in terrorism against U.S. citizens or facilities, a reason to invade. (The issues between Israel and these groups, and Hezbollah, and Hamas, are a separate issue and history.)

Then September 11th and the Bush administration Changed Everything, and the Bush Doctrine of preventive war was inaugurated, as well as Cheney's 2% Doctrine.

These were mistakes.

And, of course, we reached diplomatic solutions with Libya, and at least half-seemed/half-mutually-pretended to have done so with Pakistan, which at least seems to have done its part in keeping their own Taliban and Islamic terrorists from striking U.S. forces, civilians, and facilities, outside the Afghan/Pakistan arena. (Though not issuing such restraint as regards India, to be sure.)

Then there's the fascinating case of Victor">http://amygdalagf.blogspot.com/2004/05/good-old-victor-bout-our-russian-arms.html">Victor Bout, arms dealer whom Thailand continues to refuse to extradite to the U.S. despite among his many dealings being some allegedly supplying the Taliban.

We're not threatening to bomb Thailand, are we?

I've missed any threats to bomb Great Britain, as well.

@John Spragge:

To the extent that the Taliban do not simply function as a tribal militia for the most numerous tribe in Afghanistan, they have a Salafist ideology. Salafism has a lot of followers in the Muslim world right now, (al Qaeda follows the Salafist line, but so do many moderate Islamic resistance movements). As long as it has a wide appeal, Salafiam has the potential to pose a serious problem for the "West". But if the Salafists have their way and fail in an impoverished and out of the way state (Afghanistan comes to mind), the allure of the ideology, and its ability to make converts who could make themselves a serious nuisance (say in Germany) diminishes.

As I brought up in the later thread: um, no. The Taliban movement is not a Salafi movement. It shares doctrinal points with Salafism, but it also includes more than a little local "innovation". You can pooh-pooh this as nitpicking, but you're talking about collective identity within fundamentalist religious movements. A group of "heretics" failing at a goal that others in a related movement share is hardly a sure bet to ruffle the confidence of said others.

To stretch for an analogy, it's as if you argue that the attack on the Branch Davidians in Waco in '93 seriously undermined Dominionist credibility regarding the illegitimacy of "secular" American government.

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Whatnot


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