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August 11, 2009

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What we don't know is if a successful Al Qaeda attack on New York and Washington would discredit the regime to the point that it would be forced out of power or if such an attack would be used to discredit the opposition, causing Americans to close ranks behind their extremist leaders.

we've been bombing the Afghanis for 7 (?) years now. surely by now they should've risen-up and demanded regime change, no ?

Though it doesn't really come into the real question of why we're in Afghanistan*, it's certainly a sobering analysis knowing you can't really do anything to improve a people's prospects.

And, sometimes, what you do to defend yourself makes things worse for them still.** There's nothing then to do.

*(see thread of previous Eric post)

**Not that it's even my call, but I'd like this thread to stay about the post -- if anyone disagrees with the noted sentence, could this be taken up on the last thread?

"With a 1 in 55 chance of mothers surviving delivery, Afghanistan has been, and still, is the second most dangerous place for women to give birth. "

So typically 54 mothers out of 55 die during childbirth? Really?

" Afghans who survive these attacks often flee to cities, where overcrowded refugee camps strain to accommodate them."

No survivors = fewer refugees.

So we should make sure there are NO survivors of these Predator attacks? Maybe a second round of Hellfire missiles, just to ease the strain on the refugee camps?

So we should make sure there are NO survivors of these Predator attacks? Maybe a second round of Hellfire missiles, just to ease the strain on the refugee camps?

Spoken like someone who "cares."

What the passage in question highlights is that even those that survive the direct attacks are suffering and dying in large numbers. It's a valid point to make, and the solution is not to make sure to kill more civilians in the initial attacks - though I'll grant you an attempt at tongue in cheek humor, it fails for lack of actual underlying point.

So typically 54 mothers out of 55 die during childbirth? Really?

She mixed up the numbers, but Afghanistan does have the second highest death rate for women giving birth. According to UNICEF, the rate is a staggering 1 in 9.

http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/007150.html

Not. Good.

The US is involved in Afghanistan because the Taliban protects al-Queda. Before the 9-11 attacks, the US was not at war with the Taliban.

At no time has the US gone to war to liberate women, specifically, from tyranny. Any comments that the Afghan war is "For women" is obviously to be considered normal political baloney and not seriously considered.

Showing how the US is failing to liberate Afgan women is a straw man (straw woman?) argument.

Showing how the US is failing to liberate Afgan women is a straw man (straw woman?) argument

Which would be a good point unless you were at all aware of the prior thread on Afghanistan in which there was a repeated invocation of the liberation/safety of women and Afghan civilians.

What might have also helped would have been clicking through the links and realizing that the piece I cited was in direct response to a group calling for a continuation of the war based on the theory that it would liberate Afghan women.

See, also, rhetoric used to sell the war, 2002-2009.

Laura Bush, as it were, was fond of political baloney. On rye:

http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1P2-494842.html

So the real number of Afghan women who die during childbirth is approximately 11% but this article reports a mortality rate of better than 98%.

This, to you, is "She mixed up the numbers"?

Why do I get the feeling that if someone on the Right had "mixed up" a statistic by almost 900%, you would not be so "la-dee-dah, just a little mix-up" about it?

tomaig:

The pertinent point made is one that she is that she is 100% correct about: that Afghanistan has the second highest rate of death of women in childbirth in the world. Of all other countries, it is the second worst.

That is the crucial point. Her numbers were wildly off, and that is a bad mistake. I hope she corrects it. But I'm concerned about the correct numbers, not her wrong ones, because the correct numbers are horrific.

I don't care if the person is "on the Right" or "on the Left." I care that so many women are dying in Afghanistan during childbirth. Even if I made a big deal about the error, and jumped up and down pointing to it (what could have been, in effect, a typo or other missed transcription), how would that add to the discourse or analysis of the crucial issues.?

Oh please, tomaig. It's a factual error that has been noted and the real numbers provided. It's not central to the argument being made, which is that Afghanistan remains a third-world shithole, and ongoing warfare isn't helping Afghan women.

I don't really care about that argument b/c I wasn't involved in the prior discussion and I've never heard much about our invasion of Afghanistan being justified by advancing woman's rights. I always saw it as a punitive expedition/man-hunt, with a side of misguided nationbuilding (which is where the woman's rights stuff creeps in, I guess).

We must bomb them until they wuv us as much as we wuv ourselves

How come this nonesense keeps getting published and idiots like Paul Johnston are not subject to continue ridicule. Why doesn't the military historian guild boot his *ss out

"The US is involved in Afghanistan because the Taliban protects al-Queda."

You use the present tense here; can you give us some cites from the past year, or the past two years, as what you are referring to that has taken place within this time period? That would be clarifying. Thanks.

So when you see a glaring error such as this in an article, does that not make you wonder about the veracity or accuracy of the entire article?

Does such a whopper of a claim (108 out of 110 Afghan women die during childbirth) not give you even a moment's pause?

Or is it just, "Oh well, her heart's in the right place so I'm sure all the other claims she makes are accurate."

So when you see a glaring error such as this in an article pedantic commenter nitpicking over a fact not in question, does that not make you wonder about the veracity or accuracy of the comments?

Fixed. No charge

So when you see a glaring error such as this in an article, does that not make you wonder about the veracity or accuracy of the entire article?

Do you think maybe she just transcribed the stats wrong? She was 100% correct about the fact that Afghanistan is second worst in the world in this metric. She was also right about this: "Afghan infants still face a 25 percent risk of dying before their fifth birthdays."

Which I fact checked based on the error that you pointed out. So yeah, an error like that should lead you to fact check the piece. But if the rest is factually accurate, I won't throw out the entire piece based on one stat that was in no way essential to the points being argued.

In fact, it was so ancillary to the discussion that I didn't even notice it on the first couple of reads.

I mean, should I just pretend like the war has been great for Afghan women because one writer made an error in one stat cited, which she correctly identified as amounting to the second worst total in the world, but was just wrong about what those totals were?

The U.S. is there to try to secure the country against violence and establish a stable political order. It would be nice if we could improve to lot of women and children, but life in Afghanistan has been socially and materially harrowing for them for centuries; it was wrong to frame our efforts there in a way that suggests we could transform that fact outright. I didn't see so many references to such in the previous thread. I think it's far more likely that you simply have a mental category of "Nice-sounding things warmongers put forth to justify imperial warmaking," which includes both "nation-bulding" and "improving the lot of women" among others, so that when one of those gets pinged, the entire category lights up and all items within in come into play in your mind. That's just a hunch.

I didn't see so many references to such in the previous thread.

Mike: I linked to the Laura Bush speech on the subject, and in the previous thread, there were multiple invocations of humanitarian concerns - and each was responded to with occasional re-re-buttal.

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

here

"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."

here

and here

and here

This one is specifically on the plight of women:

"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."

I think you're right, though, that these arguments tend to bother me.

thanks for this piece, Eric. I posted it over at the Abu Muqwama COIN website, where the discussion is over which coin theories to practice on the heads of the Afghans. The stark reality of the actual, real situation there vs the COIN debaters magical thinking needs to be made sometimes.

"I think it's far more likely that you simply have a mental category...."

These sorts of speculations, tempting as they are to all of us, and not that I plead to having always been immune to posting some, are usually not a great idea to post, as opposed to keep in one's own head, or in private discussions, as they rarely read to useful discussions.

As a rule, we tend to put stuff categorized as "mind-reading" out of bounds. They're unprovable, and apt to make for more heat than light. And they're prone to make people feel defensive, and respond in kind.

They tend to head in the direction of posting rules violations.

(This, too, incidentally, was an old Usenet custom, at least in some newsgroups, long before -- well, I think it was me who introduced the meme here, actually.)

There are ultra-leftists with XX chromosones everywhere, who refuse to see a difference between greater and lesser evils. No doubt the Talban could find female spokespersons if they were interested in doing so. It doesn't prove anything.

It's true that the Afghan was was not initiated simply to end the enslavement of women. Similarly, the US Civil War was not initiated to emancipate black slaves. And of course it's also true that we can't ignore prudence and liberate everyone who deserves to be liberated.

But the piece you approved of in the last thread was explicitly saying that even if Afghan women obtained the level of equality of Swedes or Danes, you wouldn't give a shit because it wouldn't make you personally safer. That's a different proposition entirely.

Today, women in the vast majority of Afghanistan live in precisely the same conditions [as under the Taliban], with one notable difference: they are surrounded by war.

In addition to the ultra-leftism of the first clause, there's the historical revisionism of the second. There was no time during the Taliban's rule when Afghanistan was free from war.

There are ultra-leftists with XX chromosones everywhere, who refuse to see a difference between greater and lesser evils.

You missed the point. What they're saying is that to the extent that things are better on paper, they aren't actually better in real life for almost all women in Afghanistan. Further, because of the war, they're actually worse for most. That's actually a greater evil, not lesser evil.

No doubt the Talban could find female spokespersons if they were interested in doing so.

Are you accusing these women of being Taliban spokespeople? Did you read their bios? Wow.

But the piece you approved of in the last thread was explicitly saying that even if Afghan women obtained the level of equality of Swedes or Danes, you wouldn't give a shit because it wouldn't make you personally safer. That's a different proposition entirely.

No, that's dead wrong, and I'm pretty sure you know it. What the piece said was this:

It will be extremely difficult - approaching impossible - to remake Afghanistna into a liberal democracy along the lines of Sweden and Denmark. Further, even if we do somehow manage that impossible task, even under the ideal circumstances created thereby, it still wouldn't eradicate the threat of al-Qaeda because they would just move elsewhere.

So, no, it's not that Lynch or I wouldn't give a shit. It's just that:

1. We don't have the ability to make Afghanistan like Sweden or Denmark.

and, worse still...

2. Even if we somehow did, the threat from al-Qaeda would persist.

So if you're justifying the war on counterterrorism grounds, it doesn't make a lot of sense. Not, I REPEAT NOT, that me and Lynch wouldn't care if we made Afghanistan into New Swedenmark. That outcome would be an unmitigaed good. But the proposition that we should spend trillions trying to create that impossible outcome is a different question than if it happened would I give a shit.

In addition to the ultra-leftism of the first clause, there's the historical revisionism of the second. There was no time during the Taliban's rule when Afghanistan was free from war.

Large portions of the country were free from battle and relatively stable. The Taliban were popular to some because they brought order. They were less corrupt than the current government. That's one of the challenges we face: overcoming that corruption.

Oh look, the United Nations, another Taliban mouthpiece:

http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=31401&Cr=Afghan&Cr1=Women

There are ultra-leftists with XX chromosones everywhere, who refuse to see a difference between greater and lesser evils.

And there are those ultra-neocons who think torture, extra-judicial murder and collective punishment are lesser evils.

Pithlord, you seem to be suggesting that the women quoted in the post are wrong, and that life has improved substantially for Afghan women. May I ask how you presume to know the conditions of Afghan women better than...Afghan women?

Why do I get the feeling that if someone on the Right had "mixed up" a statistic by almost 900%, you would not be so "la-dee-dah, just a little mix-up" about it?

Because Republicans in government and in the media will repeat false numbers long after they've been corrected. (See John McCain re "overhead projectors", just for one small example). When they start behaving like civilized adults, we'll treat them as such.

US militarism is so reflexive that it needs to be said:

Military campaigns must justify themselves; the burden of proof is on those who would rob our treasury, harm our families, and sap our industry: What good do the proponents of the Afghan campaign bring to this nation, a struggling republic, with this proposition?

It is a high burden of proof: not one founded on complex causation, vague potentials, and fueled by anything other than necessity.

The Afghan campaign is not imminently vital to our self defense, nor one that achieves the stringent standards for a just humanitarian intervention. Therefore, the grant of militarist violence is void.

Obama pursues this campaign for domestic political reasons; he and his supporters in this matter do not have a sufficient cassus belli.

As republican citizens, we are not content to defend the interests of the US as an inherent good, but only promote the republic.

Aha! Wikipedia, as usual, comes to the rescue - according to their figures, the rate of maternal mortality in Afghanistan is around 1.9 percent ("1,900 deaths per 100,000 live births"), which is quite close to the ratio of "1 in 55" (.01818...) - i.e. the "1 in 55" chance seems to be, for Afghan women, their chance of dying from, rather than surviving childbirth.

Which still sucks, as the rates for most "developed" countries are so desultory as to make postpartum mortality virtually a statistical fluke, rather than the sad fact of life it is in Afghanistan.

FWIW, this war as all others has a political end. In traditional power politics terms, apart from the moral case against any war, that the ultimate justification of a war depends on how far the political end serves the national interest, and whether the war can realistically lead to attaining the political end.

The war in Afghanistan has as its end the defeat of political Islam, specifically the doctrine of Salafist Jihad. Preventing the Taliban from coming to power prevents them from setting up a Salafist state. But Salafist doctrine depends on a religious miracle. If the Salafists get their miracle, conventional politics will prove unable to resist them, and if they do not, they won't succeed. Bluntly, allowing the Salafists to fail and get turned out of power by their own subjects serves the political interests of NATO a lot better than trying to thwart them militarily.

The Taliban can make life miserable for a lot of creative, nonconformist and independent thinkers in Afghanistan. The question remains: will they make life more miserable than a protracted war? Even more to the point, would allowing the Taliban to try to govern and fail in Afghanistan lead to more misery than repressing a dozen Salafist movements throughout the Muslim world by force for an indefinite period? Put that way, the issue does not seem at all clear.

As I understood it, the issue was specifically the framing of the effort in terms of improving the plight of women. I shouldn't have included the "and children," because the woman part was the part I was responding to, and that I thought you were reacting to. I don't think we can change the cultural mores over there. I think we can do some things to improve the overall humanitarian situation, and to be too specific about that raises the bar above our capabilities. There seemed to be basically one comment specifically to the issue of women's situation over there, with an ensuing debate. It's a fair point, and I did acknowledge that the initial effort was couched in that rhetoric, which in retrospect was a mistake. I don't know that women's rights currently plays such a role in the defining of our objectives. I'm sure if the Sec. of State has anything to say about it, it would. There remains always the distinction between what is said for domestic U.S. consumption and what is in fact a driving consideration by those who make and, more to the point, follow policy on the question.

@Eric:
The reason the US went after the Taliban is because it was defending al-Qaeda. I don't have recent photos of Taliban standing guard over Osama bin Laden, but that was the origin of the conflict. That, and not feminism. And not because they were Muslim, either.

It seems certain, though, that if the Taliban were replaced by something else, Afghani women would be freer and safer. But this is a side effect.

We note that the orginal al-Qaeda is still resident in areas controlled by the Taliban, and they seem to have followed them over the border into Pakistan. It seems only reasonable to believe there is still an alliance between the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

A lot of baloney about defending Afghani women is still just baloney. High level baloney is still baloney.

A certain amount of baloney is normal in politics on all sides, as you may have noticed.

Fred, that is fine. I don't disagree with any of that, and never have. Other than this:

It seems certain, though, that if the Taliban were replaced by something else, Afghani women would be freer and safer.

That is not certain, and even then, the process of replacing can itself make Afghan women less free, less safe and more dead.

Fred:

"The reason the US went after the Taliban is because it was defending al-Qaeda."

From Wikipedia:


"The Taliban offered to turn over bin Laden to a neutral country for trial if the United States would provide evidence of bin Laden's complicity in the attacks. U.S. President George W. Bush responded by saying: 'We know he's guilty. Turn him over',[98] and British Prime Minister Tony Blair warned the Taliban regime: 'Surrender bin Laden, or surrender power'.[99]

"Soon thereafter the United States and its allies invaded Afghanistan, and together with the Afghan Northern Alliance removed the Taliban government in the war in Afghanistan."

The evidence suggests that, after 9/11 and at gunpoint, the Taliban viewed Al Qaeda as a liability and a bargaining chip, but not an organization worth defending in the face of US threats.

@John Spragge:
The war in Afghanistan has as its end the defeat of political Islam, specifically the doctrine of Salafist Jihad. Preventing the Taliban from coming to power prevents them from setting up a Salafist state.

[...]

Even more to the point, would allowing the Taliban to try to govern and fail in Afghanistan lead to more misery than repressing a dozen Salafist movements throughout the Muslim world by force for an indefinite period?

This is a lovely little theory you propose, but it would be a wee mite more convincing if, ya know, the Taliban movement was a Salafi movement. Just sayin'.

Seriously. The Taliban may have some things in common with Salafi movements, and share some beliefs and traditions with them, but it is not Salafism. It is viewed as being "innovative" in the religious sense, and with cause. Failure on the part of the Taliban to seize or maintain power would not be particularly discrediting to Salafi political aspirations.

Nombrilisme Vide: I agree that it does not do to describe the Taliban itself as strictly Salafist, but I would argue that it belongs to a set of Muslim movements intent on imposing a strict interpretation of Islamic law, and it probably shares the long-term weaknesses of these movements: a combination of obnoxious intrusiveness and economic iliteracy.

If the Taliban force their way into to power and Afghanistan turns into an economic disaster and failed state, many Salafists will not abandon their point of view. Indeed, even if an explicitly Salafist party gets into power in a Muslim country and fails, a core of true believers will insist that Salafism didn't fail; the regime in question just didn't get it right. People in the West will make exactly the same kind of arguments about fascism, communism, and French monarchism. But the spontaneous failure of a governing philosophy does teach lessons, and people do learn them. We don't have to convince everyone in the world that imposing a system of strict Islamic law won't work; if enough people see the experiment fail, the project will lose any hope of mass support, and without mass support (or at least wide-spread tolerance) terrorists will find it very difficult to function.

@JS:

What you say is generally true. However, I think one very important point you neglect is the utility of Afghanistan in particular for driving this point home. Afghanistan has essentially been at war for the last three decades. It is already an economic and political shamble, with a quite divided heterogeneous population. In short, it is not a nation wherein a governing system's failure is likely to be viewed as spontaneous. It is far from clear that a Taliban government's failure to thrive would be viewed as resulting from it being a Sunni Islamist government, and not simply an Afgan government.

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