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September 29, 2009

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Well, in our national discourse the only thing we know for sure is that leaving = losing, and losing means we will end up speaking Pashtun and living under burkas. Just like we've been speaking vietnamese and eating pho (not so bad) these past 30 years or so since that liberal godless commie pinko President Carter pulled the troops out of vietnam and surrendered to Uncle Ho. Actually, maybe that makes Vietnam the loser.

In any event, I think Obama is leaning towards the least bad choice, reducing our footprint, and the only thing holding him back is domestic political consequences, to our eternal shame.

but Obama seems to be faced with two rival strategy approaches. The first is a counterterrorism approach focused on taking out bad guys. The second is a counterinsurgency approach (COIN, etc.) that focuses on winning the population.

Well, I don't think that this is the either/or. We should be engaging in counterterrorism to get the bad guys regardless of any other considerations. The either/or is whether we try and deal with the problems of Afghanistan on the ground, or we stand off and try and deal with the problem from a distance. Gates has said that we have to have boots on the ground to get the intelligence that we need to correctly and effectively target them. Some suggest that Pakistan has better intelligence, so we can rely on them, but I think almost everyone here has pointed out that Pakistan has its own objectives. This WaPo gives a good view of the two options here. Key grafs

The all-in approach as envisioned by McChrystal involves fundamental risks: More troops will die. The corrupt and incompetent Afghan government may be unable, for quite some time, to hold territory that has been cleared by NATO forces. Bureaucratic infighting could hobble efforts to integrate civilian reconstruction experts with military units. And as the casualties and costs rise, driven by a redoubled Taliban response, patience back home may erode further. Fifty-one percent of respondents in two Washington Post-ABC News polls conducted this summer already said the war is not worth fighting, the highest level of disapproval since the war began in 2001.

McChrystal's supporters contend that his strategy offers the only chance of accomplishing the administration's core goal of denying al-Qaeda's return while creating the sort of Afghanistan that the Bush administration pledged to build after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks but never fully resourced: a nation where girls can attend school, where farmers grow wheat and pomegranates instead of opium-producing poppies, where infant mortality is no longer among the world's worst. They argue that counterterrorism was the focus of the Afghan mission until 2005, and it didn't work.

The fold approach -- to engage simply in counterterrorism operations -- is riddled with its own drawbacks: The Taliban would effectively control the country's south and east, and a civil war would probably resume among it and ethnic Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras for control of the west and the north. Counterterrorism missions would be hindered by a lack of on-the-ground intelligence. Pakistan could be further destabilized as the Taliban reverses its operations and starts using Afghanistan as a base from which to launch attacks across the border.

Have they tried strategic hamlets yet?

Gates has said that we have to have boots on the ground to get the intelligence that we need to correctly and effectively target them.

This is so self-evidently true! I mean, no one can speak perfect unaccented Pashto while blending into remote village life like US Military Academy graduates. If there is one thing that the last 8 years have proved beyond a doubt, it is that the US government is just spectacular when it comes to collecting advanced intelligence on foreign cultures speaking foreign languages and that, moreover, the US military is the most skilled group in the government when it comes to accomplishing this trivial task.

Man, I can't wait until they add more troops to Bagram...just think of what awesome new intelligence we'll get from the interrogators there! Sure, we might end up obliterating a few taxi drivers, but those guys had it coming anyway.

lj: We should be engaging in counterterrorism to get the bad guys regardless of any other considerations.

Like how many Afghan civilians this approach kills?

Unlike in Iraq, where we have a pretty clear idea of how many Iraqis have been killed because the US invaded, in Afghanistan we don't. In Iraq, we know from two independent studies, over a million people have died since the US first attacked in 2003. The Iraqi Body Count, using the method first proposed by Professor Marc Herrold in 2002 for Aghanistan, has a high-end estimate of 101,835 - 1/10th the actual figure.

By 2002, Marc Herrold had estimated that at least 3000 Afghans had been killed by the US. It seems likely, given what we know about the deaths in Iraq, that the actual figure was more like 30,000.

How many since? Who keeps track? Even the Herrold method is unlikely to be that useful, given how much of Afghanistan is too dangerous even for journalists.

This website lists the Afghan civilians known to have been killed by US forces since Obama took office. (An earlier page lists the victims since 2004, when the Afghan Victims Memorial Project began.)

"Regardless of any other considerations" is as weasel a phrase for mass death as I ever heard...

The either/or is whether we try and deal with the problems of Afghanistan on the ground, or we stand off and try and deal with the problem from a distance.

The "either/or" is whether the US will continue to kill Afghans to "get the bad guys", or whether it will ever stop.

"This website lists the Afghan civilians known to have been killed by US forces since Obama took office."

Correction: the site records (attempts to) the civilian victims of the foreign occupation, not just of the US forces. The most recent named victims listed were killed in June:

Hajji Gholam Jaan and Gol Ahmad
In the early morning of June 19, 2009 in the Qala Arban district of Farah City, Farah Province. Foreign occupation forces raided the home of the Nowruzi tribal leader, Hajji Gholam, killing him and another man. Some months ago, Hajji Gholam, 65, had had his house raided in Khak-e-Safed and one person was killed. Since then he had shifted to live in Farah city.

Killed in a ground raid by foreign occupation forces. Information about the killing from an interview with Belqis Roshan, a member of the Farah provincial council, in Afghan Islamic Press.

We should be engaging in counterterrorism to get the bad guys regardless of any other considerations.

This statement implies that you agree with the following:

(1) We should engage in CT even if the elected government of Afghanistan demands that we stop.

(2) We should engage in CT even if we're not effective at doing so or lack the capabilities to do so effectively.

(3) We should engage in CT even when the cost of doing so exceeds the benefits we gain.

(4) There is literally no number of Afghan civilians that our CT efforts might exterminate which should cause us to reevaluate our CT efforts.

Do you actually agree with those statements? If not, would you care to withdraw and modify your original statement?

Turb,
if you accept Eric's argument that Pakistan has its own agenda and reasons that are orthogonal to the US, and that Pakistan might calculate that transferring animosity to the US might be a benefit to Pakistan (or at least factions within Pakistan), then you have to consider the benefits of actually having our own intelligence rather than taking the Pakistanis word for it.

Jes,
Actually, publius didn't limit where counterterrorism was being carried out, so I assumed that he wasn't limiting it to Afghanistan, but just arguing that this was the either/or choice. I do think that not just the US, but all western nations have to engage in counterterrorism, which I take to mean actions ranging from signals intelligence, human intelligence and the possibility of armed interdiction (please note that this does not mean I support anything so long as it is labeled counterterrorism). I'm not sure if you feel that the act of gathering intelligence is something western nations should relinquish or if you think counterterrorism only occurs when people are killed.

If we accept that counterterrorism in Afghanistan versus an increase in troops is the either/or choice that is at issue, then your argument that counterterrorism becomes simply killing afghan civilians is even more to the point about deciding whether to reduce forces or increase them.

If you think that the either/or is killing or not killing, (and presumably being in Afghanistan or not being in Afghanistan), you could posit it and ask if publius agrees with that formulation (we may want to leave Eric alone for a bit, though I'm not sure what the traditional period for honeymoons is).

Turb,
Sorry, I didn't see your later comment. I'm not sure if my restatement fulfills your request, but I'd first ask for a definition of counterterrorism that we can agree on. I generally take it to me the range of activities done to counter terrorism, but I suppose the work could be taken to mean utilizing terrorism to counter terrorism.

I do think that not just the US, but all western nations have to engage in counterterrorism, which I take to mean actions ranging from signals intelligence, human intelligence and the possibility of armed interdiction

In context, your "counterterrorism" came across as "continuing military occupation of Afghanistan", but I'm happy to know that's not what you meant.

but I'd first ask for a definition of counterterrorism that we can agree on.

That strikes me as important, too.

If "counterterrorism" means "any actions taken by governments with the intention of preventing terrorism" then it's not morally possible simply to agree that all counterterrorism is worth supporting - Israel's attack on Gaza was justified by Israel as "counterterrorism": Bush & Co justified torturing prisoners as "counterterrorism": in effect this makes counterterrorism the new anti-Communism.

If we include under "counterterrorism" only actions that have a realistic possibility of reducing terrorist activitity, then plainly the continuing foreign military occupation of Iraq and of Afghanistan is no more "counterterrorism" than the torture cells at Bagram Airbase or the cages at Guantanamo Bay or the Israeli attack on Gaza: rather the reverse.

We then only have to agree on what would realistically reduce terrorism...

Thanks for pointing that out. I often think that a failure to define terms is responsible for more arguments than anything else.

I'm not trying to ding publius here, but it is interesting that he uses counterterrorism to stands as the opposite of COIN. Ideally, COIN is counterterrorism if it empowers the civilian population to resist attempts by disaffected groups to utilize terrorism, because the actionable intelligence on those groups allows authorities to move in before rather than after and it says something about my blind spots that I accepted the CT vs COIN notion without a blip.

lj, I salute you and I wish I had some of the language skills you have to show support for your position. Unfortunately, I don't.

Suffice it to say I agree with just abbout everything you have written. It is too bad that some p[eople just see it in black and white (stay and kill civilians or leave). One of the things that I do appreciate about Obama (even when I disagree with him which is not infrequent)is that I believe he is not making impulsive decisions.

He realizes that the real world is complex and is fully aware of unintended consequences. He is also aware, as publius points out, that the decision he makes in this case, once implementation begins, is not going to be easily changed.

First, we have to assume that we can pull this off with less troops than counterinsurgency theory suggests we need. Second, we have to assume that Karzai's government will not only get their act together, but will be perceived differently (and more favorably) by the actual population.

The second point is the best argument against the counterinsurgency approach. It's Yglesias' "assume a canoper" point. I had hoped (schedule allowing) to have a post on the subject yesterday, but my schedule didn't allow. Perhaps you'll spur me to write something later today.

The first point isn't quite as relevant, because the insurgents have shown themselves to be co-opt-able and everyone envisions a massive build up of Afghani security forces (including critics of the Afghanistan surge). The third point begs the question. What does "control over the countryside mean"?

OK, I'll try to get a quick, but decent, point in here:

The argument that "with the counterinsurgency approach... too many things have to go right for it to work" needs to be weighed against the understanding that, with counter-terrorism minus COIN could be simply unworkable.

LJ, paraphrasing Gates, already beat me to it, but it bears repeating: "we have to have boots on the ground to get the intelligence that we need to correctly and effectively target them".*

*There was, it seems, an argument on this thread to the effect that the US Military was incompetent at gathering on the ground intelligence. All I have to say on the subject is if anyone can think of a more reliable way for the US to gather intelligence on AQ so as to destroy them, I would like to hear it.

To address LJ's point, I could have been more clear. I should have written "exclusive CT strategy". I understand that CT will continue. But if that's all we're doing, it seems like we need less of a footprint to avoid radicalizing population, having accidents, creating more targets, etc.

Von - I didn't fully understand the "countryside" point until I spent some time reading this weekend. I think some people think that we're asking for a troop increase to take the fight to the Taliban, etc. My understanding, though, is that we're getting more troops to protect winnable cities and withdrawing from many areas of the east/south even WITH more troops. The plan is to establish control in cities and build out from there.

First, we have to assume that we can pull this off with less troops than counterinsurgency theory suggests we need.

How many troops does counterinsurgency theory suggest we need? I'm not disputing that we have too few, but I'm curious what this number is. You write as if there were a widely accepted "counterinsurgency theory" with which everyone is familiar. I'm not sure anyone knows how many troops would be required, and I'm not sure anyone else does either.

Historically speaking, I don't think there's a lot of success stories to point to in terms of modern COIN theory. The only example anyone gives is the British in Malaysia. (Please do not cite the US in Iraq). People have conquered other people since time immemorial, but that typically involved the massacre of populations and cities, which is off the table for obvious moral reasons. Even the Malay Emergency involved some fairly brutal methods, like the public display of severed heads. The point being that history and human nature do not suggest there's any friendly way to conquer a foreign nation.

Publius seems correct about controlling the countryside. Simply sending patrols through the countryside won't be sufficient to control the area. The only way to do that would be to round the people up and put them in camps. The British did this in Kenya, and I believe we did it in the Philippines. But that was morally dubious then, not to mention the fact that concentration camps have taken on a much more sinister connotation since. So basically, to control the countryside you just have to wait and hope they give up.

Point: All I have to say on the subject is if anyone can think of a more reliable way for the US to gather intelligence on AQ so as to destroy them, I would like to hear it.

Really, almost any way of gathering intelligence on al-Qaeda would be more reliable than putting large numbers of US soldiers into the military occupation of a foreign country where the vast majority of them do not speak any of the local languages and have neither understanding of or respect for the local cultures.

But, since you ask, probably the most reliable method is to have intelligence operatives working for your country who want to do away with al-Qaeda, who have the knowledge/understanding able to blend in with the local al-Qaeda groups, and who speak fluent Arabic and Pushto: and pay attention to what they have to say.

Gates' claim that large numbers of US soldiers are necessary to acquire intelligence is just such bollocks, though. What? How?

if you accept Eric's argument that Pakistan has its own agenda and reasons that are orthogonal to the US, and that Pakistan might calculate that transferring animosity to the US might be a benefit to Pakistan (or at least factions within Pakistan), then you have to consider the benefits of actually having our own intelligence rather than taking the Pakistanis word for it.

If I accept all that, it does not logically follow that we are capable of getting our own intelligence nor that we can develop that capability. Language competency, cultural understanding and plain old legitimacy are in short supply when it comes to the US military.

Sorry, I didn't see your later comment. I'm not sure if my restatement fulfills your request, but I'd first ask for a definition of counterterrorism that we can agree on. I generally take it to me the range of activities done to counter terrorism, but I suppose the work could be taken to mean utilizing terrorism to counter terrorism.

I take CT to cover activities focused on finding and eliminating known terrorists along with anyone who sympathizes with them or in any way supports them or anyone who refuses to cooperate sufficiently with Americans in their goals of finding and eliminating terrorists. This goal necessarily includes all force protection work needed to carry out the finding and elimination of terrorists.

From this perspective, killing a taxi driver found driving outside Bagram is certainly a CT operation: the Army believes that he has vital information relating to either force protection that is necessary to continue the CT mission or that he has vital information about terrorist plots themselves. Either way, he is a legitimate target. Right?

Now, CT in general includes much more beyond this. It covers using financial and legal wizardy to track and disrupt AQ funding sources, using electronic surveillance to uncover information on AQ plots, and using the legal system to prosecute terrorists in real courts of law. But none of that is particularly controversial, is it? This post isn't focused on CT in general but on the choice over whether our military efforts in Afghanistan should be focused on CT or on COIN.

LJ, I'm curious: how much have you contributed to our great mission in Afghanistan? I know you're very supportive of it and I know you insist that I and my fellow taxpayers pay for what you think to be vital necessary policy, but have you found a way to help defray the costs yourself?

Suffice it to say I agree with just abbout everything you have written. It is too bad that some p[eople just see it in black and white (stay and kill civilians or leave). One of the things that I do appreciate about Obama (even when I disagree with him which is not infrequent)is that I believe he is not making impulsive decisions.

Asking whether we have the capability to do the things we have set out to do is now black and white thinking? Really? And now it is impulsive as well? Fascinating.

I do not admire your more nuanced shades of gray approach to thinking to the extent that it refuses to consider whether or not we are capable of doing what we set out to do. No doubt that is merely more black and white thinking on my part though.

Actually, Turb, reviewing to see if we have the capability to do the things we would like to do is not black and white thinking. It involves a lot of nuance and assessment. It requires the ability to look at all possible consequences no matter which direction we take.

Tell me where I refuse to assess capability?

The question here is what is our goal, both stated and unstated (because we really don't want to always be totally explicit).

Only once that is determined can an assessment be made as to capability.

Regarding boots on the ground helping gain intelligence, there is a very practical matter to that. It is not only the number of boots on the ground but they way they are used. The greatest source of intelligence is the local population. If we go around beating the locals up to gain information, or drop a bunch of boms on them, then that is the wrong use.

If we use the troops on the groun d to protect the locals and help them understand they won't face reprisals, we have a better chance of gaining intelligence that has value. And if the troops serve as a protection force for non-military assistance, they serve the same need.

I am not saying all of this is going to work.

And how you came to the conclusion that I consider questioning capability as impulsive is beyond me. I was refering to the previous adminstration that appeared never to think things through.

I recommend the attack without mercy because "nothing in this world is more surprising than the attack without mercy"

It might also be worth considering what Pakistan's reaction to a NATO departure might be.

I suspect that, at that point, they would suddenly get real interested in taking real action, not only in their own border regions, but in Afghanistan as well. Because (accurately or pure paranoia) they worry about India building an alliance with an Afghan government.

What that kind of action would would mean, for Afghanistan as a whole, for the Taliban, and for al Queda, is worth a whole lot of consideration. I suspect that it might be nothing like what those in the U.S. who scream about "surrender" expect.

There was, it seems, an argument on this thread to the effect that the US Military was incompetent at gathering on the ground intelligence. All I have to say on the subject is if anyone can think of a more reliable way for the US to gather intelligence on AQ so as to destroy them, I would like to hear it.

You really don't get it do you? If we don't have a certain capability, then screaming that we must have it to accomplish some goal will not bring it into existence. We're not good at getting local intelligence out of Afghanistan. There are lots of reasons why that fact is true. But its mere inconvenience does not alter its veracity.

Actually, Turb, reviewing to see if we have the capability to do the things we would like to do is not black and white thinking.

My apologies then. You'll forgive my confusion because it sounded like you were criticizing the people on this thread who disagreed with you for black and white thinking. Since you were so non-specific and since everyone here who disagrees with you has raised the capability issue, and since neither you nor LJ have seen fit to address it, I assumed your critique covered the mere asking about capabilities. Reviewing your comment, I now see that you did not explicitly include people on this comment thread, so my apologies again.

The question here is what is our goal, both stated and unstated (because we really don't want to always be totally explicit).

Indeed, if our government was explicit about its goals in foreign affairs, then citizens might be able to effect some control of their government. That would be disastrous.

Only once that is determined can an assessment be made as to capability.

No, this is not true. There is no reason whatsoever why questions about capabilities must be restricted to come after decisions about goals. Any sane person calibrates their goals to their capabilities. Reasonable adults can discuss both subjects concurrently.

Regarding boots on the ground helping gain intelligence, there is a very practical matter to that. It is not only the number of boots on the ground but they way they are used. The greatest source of intelligence is the local population. If we go around beating the locals up to gain information, or drop a bunch of boms on them, then that is the wrong use.

How exactly would the locals share information with American soldiers who don't speak their language? And why exactly would they want to help Americans who may have killed members of their family? Why should they help a bunch of foreigners that hate their values to kill a bunch of locals who do share some of their values?

If we use the troops on the groun d to protect the locals and help them understand they won't face reprisals, we have a better chance of gaining intelligence that has value. And if the troops serve as a protection force for non-military assistance, they serve the same need.

We have to keep the troops in place to ensure that they paint lots of schools protect NGOs who will paints lots of schools for them? Well, I guess this argument is at least novel.

We can't effectively protect civilians in Afghanistan because we can't eliminate terror networks there because we can't acquire local intelligence. Just like we can't eliminate organized crime networks in Afghanistan or Baghdad or New York.

How many troops does counterinsurgency theory suggest we need? I'm not disputing that we have too few, but I'm curious what this number is. You write as if there were a widely accepted "counterinsurgency theory" with which everyone is familiar. I'm not sure anyone knows how many troops would be required, and I'm not sure anyone else does either.

From Steve Simon (most excellent analyst) and Richard Clarke:

According to metrics developed by Gen. David Petraeus, a counter-insurgency campaign in Afghanistan would require 1.3 million troops for a decade. That is five times the size of US, NATO, and Afghan government forces today. No one thinks this is feasible and we are not attempting to do so. A classic counter-insurgency strategy therefore is not in the cards.

That is why I disagree with Von's statement re:

The first point isn't quite as relevant, because the insurgents have shown themselves to be co-opt-able and everyone envisions a massive build up of Afghani security forces (including critics of the Afghanistan surge).

Not if we're using the infamous Petraeus manual as a guide.

RE: either/or.

Publius is right in that a true COIN mission will often find itself at odds with an active CounterT mission operating in the same theater since the latter has less regard for several key concerns of the former.

Attempting to do both is likely to end up badly.

Eric, I appreciate your willingness to contribute useful numbers and all, but....shouldn't you be spending time with a woman who is far more attractive and whose company is far more pleasant than this bunch of losers (myself most definitely included)?

Turb,
I'm not suggesting that we are going to suddenly have a batallion of fluent Pashto speakers because we decide to stay. But I'm going to prefer intelligence that a US soldier gets from indigenous sources than from a pakistani connected with ISI who might have reasons of his own for saying he wants us to bomb some place. The McChrystal report has this

In order to be successful as counterinsurgents, ISAF must alter its operational culture to focus on building personal relationships with its Afghan partners and the protected population. To gain accurate information and intelligence about the local environment, ISAF must spend as much time as possible with the people and as little time as possible in armored vehicles or behind the walls of forward operating bases. ISAF personnel must seek out, understand, and act to address the needs and grievances of the people in their local environment. Strong personal relationships forged between security forces and local populations will be a key to success.

You wrote
I take CT to cover activities focused on finding and eliminating known terrorists along with anyone who sympathizes with them or in any way supports them or anyone who refuses to cooperate sufficiently with Americans in their goals of finding and eliminating terrorists. This goal necessarily includes all force protection work needed to carry out the finding and elimination of terrorists.

Taking this definition of CT, I hope it is clear why I would opt for the 'or'. This is the approach that I see taken if we aim to reduce our footprint in Afghanistan. Smaller numbers will feel more threatened and will choose to offer less of a target, only going out in heavily armoured patrols. Taking this road guarantees that Afghanistan is a lost cause, imo. It also has the effect of ostentatiously washing our hands of Afghanistan while still setting up the conditions for more and more killings of Afghans. Out of sight, out of mind, I suppose.

LJ, I'm curious: how much have you contributed to our great mission in Afghanistan? I know you're very supportive of it and I know you insist that I and my fellow taxpayers pay for what you think to be vital necessary policy, but have you found a way to help defray the costs yourself?

I'm still a US citizen and I still pay taxes when my salary exceeds a certain amount (or the exchange rate tanks) or when my deduction is reduced because I spend time in the US, which I have been doing a lot of recently because of family health problems. But I'm not sure why my argument depends on my financial situation and I think it is a bit of a cheap shot to ask.

I have also noted that my take is informed by my relative who did two tours of Afghanistan, as well as a few friends who did Peace Corps tours in Afghanistan long long ago, and me following the Taliban since before 9-11. They (the Taliban, not my friends) strike me as very similar to the Khmer Rouge, with the added fillup of a utopic religious view, which I think is really bad news because it often brings a crew of foreigners who end up being enforcers (this pdf notes this occuring in Helmand province). This is not to accuse people who support a withdrawal as being objectively pro-Taliban, but I think that a Taliban rule over major population centers like Kandahar and Lashkar Gah would be expected and would be horrific, and if the Taliban returned to Herat and Mazar-e Sharif, you'd see groups like the Tajik and the Hazaras really suffer. And Kabul might be the center of a huge battle where India pours resources into the current government while Pakistan supports a Taliban takeover.

Since you were so non-specific and since everyone here who disagrees with you has raised the capability issue, and since neither you nor LJ have seen fit to address it, I assumed your critique covered the mere asking about capabilities.

You know, I've tried to answer every query that has been put to me, so I really don't appreciate this 'seen fit to address' bs. I've argued that because Afghanistan has been the second theatre of the war, it has gotten the short shrift, so I don't think that the capability as demonstrated thru the Bush admin is a fair measure of what is possible. I also argued that we need to develop that capability because future conflicts are going to be COIN centric, so at some point we are going to have to bite the bullet. Unless, of course, we choose to do COIN in Kentucky.

On the other hand, you and others have not addressed questions of India's participation (thanks to wj for finally suggesting that it might factor in), Balouchistan independence, Chinese work in Gwadar or potential control of mineral wealth. But I don't toss off comments about how you haven't seen fit to address those points. I accept that I'm not in the majority here, but I haven't questioned anyone's sincerity or financial stake in this so I'm trying to figure out why my arguments are so threatening to you. I've noted that there are points that support Eric's arguments and I think that discussing them is a useful exercise. But the need to try and suggest that I'd argue differently if my situation was different or that because I am purposefully ignoring points is nothing but the guy coming up and poking his finger in your chest to get a reaction. What gives?

this thread certainly requires another slow read.....but lets say "counterterrorism" IN PRACTICE will be suppressing by any means nesscessary resistance to foriegn occupation and the corrupt, ineffective and unpopular government that (as of this AM) the main occupying power supports.
As said way above- whats next? Strategic hamlets? And thier concomitant free fire zones?
More later.

I'm not suggesting that we are going to suddenly have a batallion of fluent Pashto speakers because we decide to stay.

Especially when we're still drumming talented linguists out of the military for being gay. Sigh...if only the Democrats were in charge...oh well.

On a more serious note, LJ, I'm not interested in your personal financial situation in the least, but I do want to know (a) how much this is going to cost, and (b) how it's going to be paid for. I'm beginning to feel like a broken record here, but I'm getting really tired of advocates of "boots on the ground" talking about their wish lists without so much as mentioning the do-re-mi that's involved. It's as much an intrinsic part of our "capabilities" as anything else being discussed here, so please oblige me: what taxes do you raise, what government services do you cut, how much of an increase in the debt is tolerable? And how do you sell all that to the public?

I'm not suggesting that we are going to suddenly have a batallion of fluent Pashto speakers because we decide to stay.

That's good because we won't.

But I'm going to prefer intelligence that a US soldier gets from indigenous sources than from a pakistani connected with ISI who might have reasons of his own for saying he wants us to bomb some place.

I prefer having a billion dollars over having one hundred dollars. However, my preference does not mean that I actually have a billion dollars or that it is reasonable to believe that I ever will have a billion dollars. Why are you talking about your preference without first explaining why your preference is feasible?

To gain accurate information and intelligence about the local environment, ISAF must spend as much time as possible with the people and as little time as possible in armored vehicles or behind the walls of forward operating bases. ISAF personnel must seek out, understand, and act to address the needs and grievances of the people in their local environment. Strong personal relationships forged between security forces and local populations will be a key to success.

I agree with that in a sense: strong personal relationships may be necessary in some cases for success. But they are clearly not sufficient. And I don't see how the mere presence of US soldiers translates into strong personal relationships. Clearly, having soldiers not spend anytime with the locals means they can't develop relationships, but spending time with the locals does not ensure that relationships will be developed. It is tough to build a relationship when you don't speak the same language.

I really don't understand why we think that the military has lots of people that are good at this work. What is being described here is something that the CIA struggles with, and the CIA has a lot more institutional focus on these skills.

Smaller numbers will feel more threatened and will choose to offer less of a target, only going out in heavily armoured patrols.

The flip side is that larger numbers include more people of lower quality and skill level who are thus more likely to respond to potential threats with lethal force, which will generate more attacks, etc. Of course, the more people you keep in theater, the more you have to sacrifice training and recovery time and the more sick and disabled soldiers you have to send back to fight.

Taking this road guarantees that Afghanistan is a lost cause, imo.

I don't see why we should assume that our goals our feasible if we don't take that road. If you only consider benefits and ignore costs, then your cost benefit analysis becomes a benefit analysis which is...less than useful.

It also has the effect of ostentatiously washing our hands of Afghanistan while still setting up the conditions for more and more killings of Afghans. Out of sight, out of mind, I suppose.

Americans don't care about the lives of Afghans. Just like they don't care about the lives of Iraqis. I mean, if Americans as a people were capable of feeling anguish at the loss of, say, Iraqis, don't you think the Iraqi translators that risked their lives to protect American soldiers would all have been safely relocated to the US? If we can't manage to save the lives of people who put their necks on the line to keep our own soldiers safe, why do you think we'd care about a bunch of undistinguished foreigners?

Now, it would be awesome if Americans cared about the lives of Afghans, but that doesn't change the fact that we don't. If you want to engage in massive feats of social engineering, try changing the American culture so that Americans give a frak about Afghans. Or Iraqis. That will be a much easier social engineering project than trying to make Afghan communities treat women with respect.

But I'm not sure why my argument depends on my financial situation and I think it is a bit of a cheap shot to ask.

You can think what you like. The point remains: you advocate an extraordinarily expensive course of action. I have to pay for this policy. You (it seems) have to pay much less. Perhaps if you had to pay as much as I do you might rethink your decision. I don't see why it is a cheap shot to suggest that people respond to incentives and might change their policy preferences based on how much it costs them. I mean, would you advocate continued involvement in Afghanistan if the cost of doing so meant having your entire family murdered?

I have also noted that my take is informed by my relative who did two tours of Afghanistan, as well as a few friends who did Peace Corps tours in Afghanistan long long ago, and me following the Taliban since before 9-11.

Your access to anecdotes is impressive, but irrelevant.

They (the Taliban, not my friends) strike me as very similar to the Khmer Rouge

Indeed, except for the genocide, they're practically identical. Given that the US brought about the death of a million Iraqis for no apparent reason, I think I should be more focused on limiting US aggression rather than the theoretical genocide that the Taliban might engage in at some unspecified future date. But perhaps you have different priorities.

with the added fillup of a utopic religious view,

A utopian religious view does not seem very different than the view that the American military can magically restructure alien societies in complex ways.

You know, I've tried to answer every query that has been put to me, so I really don't appreciate this 'seen fit to address' bs.

My apologies LJ; there's no reason to become upset or overly emotional. I'll note however that you have not addressed the capabilities issue yet. I don't know why you have so much difficulty making the case that the US military has the capability to achieve the goals we're discussing. Perhaps it is an impossible case to make.

I've argued that because Afghanistan has been the second theatre of the war, it has gotten the short shrift, so I don't think that the capability as demonstrated thru the Bush admin is a fair measure of what is possible. I also argued that we need to develop that capability because future conflicts are going to be COIN centric, so at some point we are going to have to bite the bullet. Unless, of course, we choose to do COIN in Kentucky.

This history of COIN campaigns suggests that is extremely unlikely that the US can win them, especially if we only wish to fight campaigns where benefits exceed the costs. This remains true no matter how the US military trains.

On the other hand, you and others have not addressed questions of India's participation (thanks to wj for finally suggesting that it might factor in), Balouchistan independence, Chinese work in Gwadar or potential control of mineral wealth.

I haven't seen you raise those questions here. Moreover, if we lack the capability to accomplish our goals in Afghanistan, I don't see why they're relevant.

But the need to try and suggest that I'd argue differently if my situation was different or that because I am purposefully ignoring points is nothing but the guy coming up and poking his finger in your chest to get a reaction. What gives?

I'm being asked to spend a lot of my money to kill a lot of random people in Afghanistan. I've got better uses for the money. You're one of the people asking. And you're not paying up. If you want to put your money where your mouth is, I'd find your argument a little bit more respectable. I'm sorry if that bothers you, but people advocating for more war, no matter how pointless, never have to worry about paying for it. I find it especially galling that someone who doesn't have to pay much in the way of US taxes insists that I pay for their pointless war.

Given that the US brought about the death of a million Iraqis for no apparent reason, I think I should be more focused on limiting US aggression rather than the theoretical genocide that the Taliban might engage in at some unspecified future date.

Yup.

For those who advocate a long term COIN campaign in Afghanistan, do you disagree with Petreus' metrics that require 1.3 million soldiers in Afghanistan for a decade? Or do you think we need to bring that many soldiers for any chance of success? If we can't produce those troop levels, do you think we should abandon the effort?

But I'm going to prefer intelligence that a US soldier gets from indigenous sources than from a pakistani connected with ISI who might have reasons of his own for saying he wants us to bomb some place.

The Afghans killed are dead either way.

It was "indigenous sources" who sold all those "Taliban fighters" and "al-Qaeda operatives" to US soldiers to be tortured in Bagram airbase and sent to Guantanamo Bay.

If the US military is in Afghanistan bombing "targets", that means Afghan civilians are going to get killed.

Taking this definition of CT, I hope it is clear why I would opt for the 'or'. This is the approach that I see taken if we aim to reduce our footprint in Afghanistan. Smaller numbers will feel more threatened and will choose to offer less of a target, only going out in heavily armoured patrols. Taking this road guarantees that Afghanistan is a lost cause, imo. It also has the effect of ostentatiously washing our hands of Afghanistan while still setting up the conditions for more and more killings of Afghans. Out of sight, out of mind, I suppose.

Afghans are being killed by the US military "out of sight, out of mind" in Afghanistan now. And have been being killed, "out of sight, out of mind", for the past eight years. More US military in Afghanistan means more and more killings of Afghans.

What would be good would be if the US were prepared to pay for what they broke - my own fantasy plan in which the US pulls its military occupation out of Afghanistan and then instead of paying more and more to break Afghanistan more and more and more, actually starts paying out to Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, as we seem even here to be locked in an option between the argument that the US military has got to stay and kill bad Afghans, and the US military has got to leave to save the US money, either way, it's not going to happen.

Fair trade poppies...

I'm being asked to spend a lot of my money to kill a lot of random people in Afghanistan. I've got better uses for the money. You're one of the people asking. And you're not paying up. If you want to put your money where your mouth is, I'd find your argument a little bit more respectable. I'm sorry if that bothers you, but people advocating for more war, no matter how pointless, never have to worry about paying for it. I find it especially galling that someone who doesn't have to pay much in the way of US taxes insists that I pay for their pointless war.

This is an absolutely fruitless line of argument. I am paying far more than you are for this war, as I will actually be going to fight it. Even if it's just in terms of money, I'm also in a reasonably high income bracket, so I certainly pay taxes, and as a reservist I will be losing quite a bit of my normal income when I go on deployment. However, I am not going to deny your right to argue your case because you have no skin in the game.

Rich taxpayers do not have the right to a louder voice on political issues than poor ones. Non-military voters have just as much right to voice their opinions on military affairs as military ones.

The Afghans killed are dead either way.

It was "indigenous sources" who sold all those "Taliban fighters" and "al-Qaeda operatives" to US soldiers to be tortured in Bagram airbase and sent to Guantanamo Bay.

If the US military is in Afghanistan bombing "targets", that means Afghan civilians are going to get killed.

Jes, why so dogmatic? Why is every single atrocity in Afghanistan our fault? Do you really believe that if we left, the Taliban and the Tajiks and the Hazaras would put down their weapons?

Afghans are being killed by the US military "out of sight, out of mind" in Afghanistan now.

Far more are being killed by the Taliban, "out of sight, out of mind." Do they not count because an American didn't squeeze the trigger?


http://unama.unmissions.org/Portals/UNAMA/human%20rights/09july31-UNAMA-HUMAN-RIGHTS-CIVILIAN-CASUALTIES-Mid-Year-2009-Bulletin.pdf

What would be good would be if the US were prepared to pay for what they broke - my own fantasy plan in which the US pulls its military occupation out of Afghanistan and then instead of paying more and more to break Afghanistan more and more and more, actually starts paying out to Afghanistan.

Just asking - who would we pay? Which Afghans, through what institutions? Who would never, of course, be forced to give our money to the Taliban, because the Taliban would never do anything mean like take hostages for ransom or to extort money from aid organizations.

Fair trade poppies...

Seriously, just stop it. The Senlis Council report on this was silly to start with.

http://cria-online.org/3_6.html

Rich taxpayers do not have the right to a louder voice on political issues than poor ones.

Did someone say otherwise?

There are many legal actions that one might take that I won't respect. Since I'm not dictator of the universe, my disrespect does not constitute formal censure.

To gain accurate information and intelligence about the local environment, ISAF must spend as much time as possible with the people and as little time as possible in armored vehicles or behind the walls of forward operating bases. ISAF personnel must seek out, understand, and act to address the needs and grievances of the people in their local environment. Strong personal relationships forged between security forces and local populations will be a key to success.

Can I just point out that this was what the UK forces tried to do in Basra and southern Iraq when they were first there - patrolling on foot, without helmets, trying to make friends with the locals. And there was quite a lot of British pride at the time about how our army was better at this kind of thing than the US, more subtle etc.

The problem is, they soon had to abandon this approach, becuase soldiers having this kind of close contact with the locals makes them very vulnerable if there are enemies among the population. If you are asking soldiers to do this, you are asking them to stake their life that they are right that the smiling villager inviting them into the house isn't then going to trap and kill them/kidnap them. You can't build up a relationship of trust with the local population if you can't be sure you can trust them. You can treat somebody as a threat or you can treat them as a potential ally - you can't successfully treat them as both at the same time.

This brings up a wider problem. There seems to be a lot of statements that certain tactics have been wrong and better ones should be adopted, but there hasn't been a careful look at why the 'wrong' tactics were adopted in the first place. And when you do look back and consider why particular choices were adopted, you often find that it's because it's easier or more feasible to adopt those tactics. Maybe what the army needs is a few of the type of people that some IT developers have who look at why people keep on making the same repetitive mistakes.

Far more are being killed by the Taliban, "out of sight, out of mind." Do they not count because an American didn't squeeze the trigger?

Forgive me if I don't feel inclined to take your word for it. After watching the US military shred its credibility during every conflict in my lifetime when it comes to casualties, I'm a bit gunshy. And yes, as an American, deaths caused by agents of the US government are a bigger problem for me than deaths caused by people that are not working for the US government.

Just asking - who would we pay? Which Afghans, through what institutions? Who would never, of course, be forced to give our money to the Taliban, because the Taliban would never do anything mean like take hostages for ransom or to extort money from aid organizations.

Fortunately, right now, none of the vast sums of money we give to Afghanistan ever touches any Taliban hands. The central government has unbelievable integrity don't you know. Of course, much of the money is siphoned off to pay evil warlords, but since some of those warlords aren't openly aligned with the Taliban, that's OK, even if their views don't differ much in practice.

I for one am glad that the sociopathic warlords we currently support do not extort money from air organizations and have never held hostages for ransom.

Lack of formal censure does not make your argument reasonable. You claim to believe that LJ's opinion matters less than yours because you pay more taxes. This is silly.

tequila - "Far more are being killed by the Taliban, "out of sight, out of mind." Do they not count because an American didn't squeeze the trigger?"

True, and this is a tragedy. But this is a fact, not a policy analysis.

What can be done to prevent this sort of killing? What are the ramifications of what we can do to stop these killings? Are we preventing or delaying these killings? What are the long term costs of these actions? How will US actions be viewed by the different poplulations involved in the conflict? Will the populations who view our actions with good will have any power to stabilize the situation once we leave?

I understand the urge to act, but action and good policy are not the same things.

I just don't think it's a very useful point to argue over. The arguments pro and con various strategies in Afghanistan are the subject of the discussion, not the people making them. A useful open discussion requires starting from the position that your interlocutors are arguing in good faith. The position that LJ is taking is one that many US-residing citizens take, so the accusation that he's taking it only because he doesn't live in the US doesn't hold water. The point of the discussion is to compare the relative strengths of the various arguments, and to the extent that people are arguing in good faith, I don't think their precise circumstances are important. Basically, if you think LJ is ineligible to take his position, fine, but then why bother arguing with him?

Anyway, on point, the "things aren't black and white" viewpoint is always true but not much of a useful guide to action when faced with situations that demand binary choices.

We really screwed the pooch with Karzai, it looks like; if there was one thing we could have done that would have helped it would have been ensuring that the elections were seen to be free and fair. But that's the problem with interfering with the internal business of other countries. Nobody blames the US for the corrupt election in Iran but they sure do for the election in Afghanistan.

Jacob's last point is one of the better on this thread, the last paragraph in particular.

I'm not sure on whether it's too late or not, but a runoff b/w Karzai and Abdullah with heavy international oversight may be a much needed "Hail Mary"...

We really screwed the pooch with Karzai, it looks like; if there was one thing we could have done that would have helped it would have been ensuring that the elections were seen to be free and fair.

Considering the overwhelming corruption of the 2002 loya jirga that first gave him the post, the recent elections were really a bit late to be worrying about a veneer of democratic legitimacy for Karzai's rule. The recent corruption just renewed existing convictions that we still don't give a damn about the will of the people so long as we can keep a pliable man in the capital.

I mean, yeah, it would have been helpful to regional perceptions of the US for Karzai's victory to have been seen as fair, but even that would only do so much given the historical background that put him in place to run as an incumbent.

Again, the time difference makes it rather difficult to answer all of the points and give me time to have a life.

As far as money goes, I find it difficult to see the US suddenly declaring poverty, especially given the level of our military spending. We spend more than the next 7 nations combined on military, so claiming poverty is not really an option.

As far as capabilities, I have tried to address that, so merely stating I haven't is bs. The point version
-don't judge capabilities by what was done under Bush
-if we don't have those capabilities, we had better develop them, cause COIN is the future
-if we are going to spend as much as the next 7 nations combined, it doesn't make a lot of sense not to have that capability
-capabilities don't just exist in the ether, they come about thru the use

As far as military credibility goes, if you argue that the US military can never do the job correctly, then say so and stop trying to generate other arguments to soft pedal the first. The argument is that the moral character of the armed forces makes it impossible for it to fulfill the mission that we require it to do in Afghanistan. Adding Pashto fluency to the mix is just an attempt to run away from the logical corollaries of that argument.

As far as numbers, the same piece that Eric quotes (linked here) has this

Yet this is what administration officials have proposed: a counter-insurgency program, creation of a national government, a national army, a democratic process, an economy not based on narcotics. If our goal is foster a strong central government, then we are knowingly pursuing something essentially at odds with Afghan history. A strong Afghan national army would mean doubling the number of trained Afghan military personnel that the US is now struggling to field.

First of all, I'm not sure that 'strong central government' should be on that list, as long as the local population centers are strong enough on their own. We have discussed the idea that Afghan history somehow prevents this, which seems like cherry picking to me. But those other points seem like part of our debt to Afghanistan and if you argue that we can't make the payments, (and by we, this should include the NATO nations) how do you propose we discharge our debt?

As for the danger involved, yes, I'm aware that it is much more dangerous, but I don't believe that McChrystal is submitting some fake bill of goods and when the actual strategy is carried out, it's going to be completely different. If there are other ideas on how to repurpose the military so that it develops the ability to fight in low-intensity situations, put them forward, but I fail to see how such a capability can be developed without actually trying to do it.

The last point, about corruption and Karzai, is the best argument, but we went with Karzai because we couldn't be seen supporting a non Pashtun and I'm not sure what other candidates there could have been. I've acknowledged that given the history, we might find ourselves so far down the road that we can't go back, but I think there is a moral requirement to make an attempt. I don't see that the attempt has even been made.

NV's link came up after I posted, and it makes a good case against COIN, but there are a few notes that I think are false. It says
It matters little whether the Pashuns stayed home primarily out of disgust for the Kabul government or out of fear of Taliban reprisal. Either motivation indicates that despite the additional investment of tens of thousands of U.S. troops to secure the country prior to the election, the Pashtuns have little confidence in the process or the counterinsurgents' ability to secure them during the process. Again, these are indications of failure among the population mostessential to ending the insurgency according to COIN doctrine.

I think this matters a great deal. If we, thru our neglect of the situation in Afghanistan, have created a situation where the threat of Taliban reprisals prevent people from going to the polls, that's our fault.

The article goes on to argue that the policy in Afghanistan is basically a straight line since 9/11. I'm not sure how that can be the case.

The last paragraph indicates that the author feels that COIN will never work. If that is the philosophical base of the argument, the only response is 'well, I think it can'. But I find it hard to imagine that we won't face another situation where we need a COIN capability, so if it doesn't work, I'm not sure what is going to substitute for it.

Forgive me if I don't feel inclined to take your word for it. After watching the US military shred its credibility during every conflict in my lifetime when it comes to casualties, I'm a bit gunshy. And yes, as an American, deaths caused by agents of the US government are a bigger problem for me than deaths caused by people that are not working for the US government.

Yes, but I would think that yourself and Jes and most other people would like to see fewer Afghans civilians die overall, even if a small number of them are killed by Americans as a result.

Fortunately, right now, none of the vast sums of money we give to Afghanistan ever touches any Taliban hands. The central government has unbelievable integrity don't you know. Of course, much of the money is siphoned off to pay evil warlords, but since some of those warlords aren't openly aligned with the Taliban, that's OK, even if their views don't differ much in practice.

Compared to when we leave? Certainly some money and weapons finds its way to the insurgency. But if we leave, we essentially condemn Afghanistan to either (best case) a civil war as non-Talib Afghans fight to hold on to what they can, or a Taliban government. Not a whole of lot of humanitarian aid going in then in either case.

What can be done to prevent this sort of killing? What are the ramifications of what we can do to stop these killings? Are we preventing or delaying these killings? What are the long term costs of these actions? How will US actions be viewed by the different poplulations involved in the conflict? Will the populations who view our actions with good will have any power to stabilize the situation once we leave?

What can be done? Perhaps we can add troops to bring security to the towns so there are fewer bombs being planted on roads. Perhaps we could secure urban areas and create space for the Afghan government to install a working administration rather than being assassinated by Taliban.

If we stay and strengthen the Afghan government and security services, perhaps we can avoid a Taliban takeover or a major civil war. Iraq has a high level of violence for most places, but it's positively peaceful compared to 2006-2007. Afghanistan has not experienced that level of violence since the 1990s, and hopefully if we can turn back the Taliban they can avoid that.

In terms of long term costs, they will be heavy, for sure. Things will get worse before they get better. But as with the financial crisis, sometimes the best decision to avoid disaster is the most costly one, or at least the one with the most up-front costs. The Fed stimulus, TARP, and the fiscal stimulus cost trillions --- but they averted another Great Depression and stabilized the banking system. The Ron Paul solution wouldn't have cost much upfront and would have stuck it to the bankers, but it would have destroyed the economy as well.

As far as money goes, I find it difficult to see the US suddenly declaring poverty, especially given the level of our military spending. We spend more than the next 7 nations combined on military, so claiming poverty is not really an option.

The US is a rich country. It has lots of money. However, the disbursement of those funds is not based on "what LJ thinks we should spend money on." It is based on what is politically feasible. The US spends a lot less on foreign aid than its peer nations. And yet Americans think that their government is too generous with foreign aid. So even though the US has lots of money, there is no rational basis for believing that the US can (or will) significantly increase its spending in Afghanistan, especially spending that doesn't primarily benefit the US military.

As far as capabilities, I have tried to address that, so merely stating I haven't is bs.

You have yet to write a coherent explanation that engages with the arguments presented here. Merely repeating the same text does not qualify.

-don't judge capabilities by what was done under Bush

How about I judge capabilities by examining those that we actually have? Right now, we don't have sufficient language support. We don't have sufficient cultural understanding (which makes sense -- people don't join the armed forces because they long to engage in field anthropology). We don't know how to control organized crime gangs in the US and we certainly don't know how to do it abroad.

-if we don't have those capabilities, we had better develop them, cause COIN is the future

There is no evidence to support this. Even if COIN wars were the future, it does not follow that we should develop those capabilities. One response to future conflicts might be to say that even with the best COIN capability in the world, the costs will exceed the benefits because COIN is always extraordinarily expensive and time consuming. There are lots of problems in life that do not have military solutions.

-if we are going to spend as much as the next 7 nations combined, it doesn't make a lot of sense not to have that capability

A real COIN capability is not something that you can just purchase off the shelf from Boeing. Yes, we spend tons of cash right now, but the kind of COIN capability we need in Afghanistan would cost even more than that.

And let's face it: we're not going to redirect cash from our current defense priorities to support COIN. We're going to continue to spend our cash on fancy hardware because the military-industrial-congressional complex is real. The fact that you think COIN is more important will not cause funds to be reallocated. Defense contractors are going to get paid no matter what -- the DOD budget is how the US does industrial policy.

-capabilities don't just exist in the ether, they come about thru the use
Only when they're feasible to begin with. I can run all I want, but I'm never going to develop the capability to run a marathon in ten minutes. I think this point exposes your green-lanternism: if we just try hard enough then capabilities will magically appear!

It doesn't work that way. Institutions have limits. People have limits. Cultures have limits. The US Army is spectacularly good at destroying opposing Armies. They're not so good at being the CIA. Or the Peace Corps. That's why we have organizations called 'the CIA' and 'the Peace Corps'.

The argument is that the moral character of the armed forces makes it impossible for it to fulfill the mission that we require it to do in Afghanistan.

I honestly don't know what you're talking about here.

Adding Pashto fluency to the mix is just an attempt to run away from the logical corollaries of that argument.

No idea what you're talking about here either. Language competence is a problem. You can't do COIN if you can't communicate with the locals. And if your communication has to go through a bunch of self interested interpreters, well, that sounds like it would bring the same problems as getting your intelligence from the Pakistani government.

As far as numbers, the same piece that Eric quotes (linked here) has this

You haven't addressed Petreus' numbers at all. Is Petreus wrong about the 1.3 million soldiers? If not, then aren't our COIN efforts doomed to failure?

By the way LJ, I'm still confused about why you think the Taliban are very similar to the Khmer Rouge, given the lack of genocide and all. Perhaps you can clarify.

Iraq has a high level of violence for most places, but it's positively peaceful compared to 2006-2007.

Yes, and the mass ethnic cleansing is mostly responsible. When you exterminate 1 million Iraqis and force another 4-5 million Iraqis to flee their homes and become refugees, violence will go down. For a time. This is not a strategy that we should import into Afghanistan though. Conflict resolution through ethnic cleansing is morally problematic.

In terms of long term costs, they will be heavy, for sure. Things will get worse before they get better. But as with the financial crisis, sometimes the best decision to avoid disaster is the most costly one, or at least the one with the most up-front costs.

Petreus' numbers indicate we need 1.3 million soldiers in Afghanistan for ten years. We currently have about 70K soldiers and it is costing us about $4 billion per month. So that means we're looking at a total cost of $10 trillion. Yeah, I'd say that $10 trillion is a "heavy cost". If you think you can build political support for blowing $10 trillion for eliminating a few thousand losers in caves (in the popular imagination), then good for you! But in the real world, that's insane.

The Fed stimulus, TARP, and the fiscal stimulus cost trillions --- but they averted another Great Depression and stabilized the banking system. The Ron Paul solution wouldn't have cost much upfront and would have stuck it to the bankers, but it would have destroyed the economy as well.

The fiscal stimulus was way less than a trillion dollars. TARP currently looks like it will earn the government a profit, but even if it doesn't the total cost will much less than the $700 billion quoted earlier. I don't have numbers on the Fed stimulus off the top of my head, but given that you're currently batting 0 for 2, I don't feel like looking them up. In any case, I'm pretty sure they're a good deal less than $10 trillion.

Yes, but I would think that yourself and Jes and most other people would like to see fewer Afghans civilians die overall, even if a small number of them are killed by Americans as a result.

Certainly I want fewer Afghan civilians to die. That's why I want the US military to withdraw from Afghanistan. Completely, leaving not a torture cell behind.

If we stay and strengthen the Afghan government and security services, perhaps we can avoid a Taliban takeover or a major civil war.

An Afghan government and "security services" which can enforce their will only by means of US military power is a situation in which there will be, firstly, a vast number of Afghans killed by the US military, and a major civil war when the US withdraws. Eventually.

The worst-case scenario here is: US military stays in Afghanistan for years, killing Afghans. Eventually, the US military withdraws, by which time whatever forces the US has supported have become so hated that either the Taliban or something worse takes over.

Having read the various threads on Afghanistan here on ObWi and in other places over the last couple of weeks, it seems to me that nobody really has any freaking idea of what do regarding Afghanistan, the Taliban, or Al Qaeda.

It certainly seems clear that the military approach we have been taking is getting a lot of Afghan civilians killed, which seems like a pretty bad idea. Especially for them.

It also certainly seems like Karzai is a pretty corrupt actor, or at least is unable to rein in the corrupt actors around him.

It's also pretty clear that the military and intelligence communities in Pakistan, which we subsidize to the tune of billions, have no particular love for us and don't mind spending our money to support folks who kill Americans in uniform if it helps keep India on its toes.

It's not a train wreck that we necessarily asked for, nor is it a train wreck that we've done much to prevent. But a train wreck it is.

Can you do the kind of development work that Jes talks about without a basic level of security?

Can you have a basic level of security in a nation like Afghanistan, particularly under a guy like Karzai, without a US and NATO military presence?

Is there a way to ease Karzai out of the picture? Is there anyone to replace him?

Is there anything like a consensus in Afghanistan that the Taliban are undesirable? Or does it depend on what tribe you come from?

Is there a meaningful history of Afghanistan as a functional nation, where the various ethnic and linguistic groups aren't at war with each other? If so, is there anyone alive there who remembers that, or is that an idea that will have to be re-introduced (if possible)?

In short, is it actually possible to un-sh*t this particular bed? And if so, do we have any meaningful contribution to make to that project?

I don't see anything like an ideal outcome being remotely possible in any of our lifetimes. That might be a little pessimistic, but if so I doubt it is by much.

I'm just trying to get my head around what's actually feasible.

I can understand the position of jes. I think it is unrealistic, but it is morally coherent. It argues that the harm from foreign troops being there is far greater than any good that can come about. I disagree, but it is a position based on what jes feels is moral. It is also a position that makes isolationism the goal. Again, I disagree, but I don't think that jes is misleading herself by putting forward such arguments. Russell asks if the development aid can take place without basic security, but Jes has been pretty clear that this is a 'fantasy', so I am thinking that she is acknowledging what the likely outcome is.

However, I find other positions a contradictory blend of morality and realism, invoking one in place of the other. Like russell, I am also thinking what is feasible, and also thinking that what is likely is not going to be good. Obama is starting his push with the NATO allies now and I have noted that what he is proposing is what he campaigned on. I've also noted that it is different in aims and goals from the previous administration.

I see a lot of the arguments here similar to when someone wants to break up with their boy/girlfriend, but wants to avoid thinking that they had anything to do with it. Thus, it is something inherent in the nature of Afghanistan, it is some external circumstance like budget or ability, it is convincing oneself that they would be better off without them. If you truly believe that, you can't be arguing for some limited footprint, sort of an 'isolationists with benefits' pose. That kind of situation, where the US says we aren&t doing anything, but is behind th scenes doing stuff is responsible for the worst excesses of US foreign policy. There is also the scent of "I'm not the right person for him/her, I can't possibly change" when we get the trope about how the armed forces can't possibly do this job. Clearly, we can only contemplate a COIN operation if the natives speak English.

There is a partial parallel to be drawn to the US presence in South Korea. The 'tripwire', or more painfully, the 'meatshield', is basically a force that is there to prevent worse things from happening. Worse things in this case could be a proxy war between India and Pakistan, full fledged support of Pakistan by China, a second takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban that would make the first look like a picnic. If you accept that a withdrawal means a withdrawal, then how precisely are we supposed to work to prevent those things from coming to pass. Or do we let everything blow up and say 'sorry, not my table'

I don't think the Korean thing is a perfect parallel, but I do think it underlines the fact that the US can't go back to some sort of isolationism and is going to involve itself. If that involvement is simply over the horizon drones and cruise missiles, it looks to me that we just kicked the can down the road and are creating the same structural conditions that led to 9/11.

I also find the linkage between popular support and spending the money to support vehement arguments for withdrawal rather ironic. If it were 'I can see that we have a moral obligation, but I don't think the American people can be convinced of that', I don't think I'd be having to make so many extensive arguments for my position. But to use the potential inability of the American populace to support this kind of action as evidence for the correctness and morality of the course is using it as a cover to avoid actually reflecting on what would occur if a over the horizon CT approach was taken.

Thus, it is something inherent in the nature of Afghanistan, it is some external circumstance like budget or ability, it is convincing oneself that they would be better off without them.

You can shorten this by just saying "You don't subscribe to green lanternism!" or perhaps "You refuse to believe that WILL can conquer all". And in that regard, you're right. We go to war with the crummy third rate populace and popular morality we have. Our country killed a million people for no reason. And we don't care. And now you're arguing that our body politic will happily pay $10 trillion to help a tiny impoverished country as way of erasing our moral debt. Are you high?

Answer me this question please: why would Americans care about the lives of Afghans when they don't care about the lives of Iraqis?

But to use the potential inability of the American populace to support this kind of action as evidence for the correctness and morality of the course is using it as a cover to avoid actually reflecting on what would occur if a over the horizon CT approach was taken.

This is absurd. There is zero support for spending $10 trillion on Afghanistan. None. Zilch. Nada. Is that immoral? I have no idea. Compared to other things the US has done in the last few years, it doesn't strike me as particularly immoral. But again, US foreign policy has never been based on morality. I doubt it ever will be.

Even if I thought we had a moral imperative to spend trillions of dollars completely reengineering Afghan society from the ground up, that doesn't mean we're actually capable of doing so. Some problems go away when you throw money at them and some just don't. Historical experiences of counterinsurgency suggest that Afghanistan will be harder than any successful cases this century. Almost all of them end in failure.

LJ, instead of talking about boyfriends and girlfriends, can you tell me whether you agree with the Petreus numbers (1.3 million soldiers for a decade)? I mean, that question seems far more relevant and this will be the third time I've asked you about it.

Answer me this question please: why would Americans care about the lives of Afghans when they don't care about the lives of Iraqis?

Because too often, we refuse to argue for caring for the lives of others. By this metric, you argue for policies that value American lives over all others. Why you do this, I don't know, but based on previous arguments, I suspect it's that you don't like to back down rather than from some belief in American exceptionalism. This is precisely the same mindset that got us into this mess after 9/11. I am willing to acknowledge this American exceptionalism is a problem. You, on the other hand, argue that it is a reason to hold this position.

can you tell me whether you agree with the Petreus numbers (1.3 million soldiers for a decade)? I mean, that question seems far more relevant and this will be the third time I've asked you about it.

Given that you seized on this number because Eric quoted it, I think you are just holding the number like a talisman. Assuming that the 1.3 million represents the entire country, one might think that engaging in the COIN operations in specifically targeted areas with a higher population density, so we may be able to cut that 2/3rds, which would be about 400,000. Adding current Afghan military and police to US and NATO troups gives us about 200,000 currently there. Total NATO strength is currently about 3 million under arms. I'm not sure how many the US would supply (if all the NATO nations refused to supply any troops, I am not advocating that the US go it alone, I hasten to point out), but the numbers that have been given are between 30-40 thousand and goals for Afghanistan police and military to be equipped and trained are to add another 80-90 thousand. The petreus numbers are for pacifying the entire country by the end of the decade. I know that I've mentioned enough times that I am not advocating a whole country pacification strategy, but I will say it again and hope you might take heed, and note that this means that 1.3 million for the decade is not applicable.

Of course, most COIN experiences, especially in Afghanistan, do not succeed. And US forces don't have many Pashto speakers. And the American people have grown tired of Afghanistan, so they want to leave. None of these reasons addresses why you argue it is morally wrong to do this, yet you seem to argue that it is our moral duty to withdraw. Like I said, when Jes says that, it makes perfect sense. But when you say that, I hear you saying 'In brightest day, in blackest night,
No evil shall escape my sight...'

The question here is what is our goal, both stated and unstated (because we really don't want to always be totally explicit).

Only once that is determined can an assessment be made as to capability.

By all means, let us focus on our goal. Our goal is to prevent al Qaeda from carrying out another terror attack on the United States.

Does nation-building in Afghanistan contribute to that goal? No. Even if we do somehow manage to transform Afghanistan into some sort of liberal democracy, al Qaeda can just move to Somalia or Sudan or even stay where it is in Pakistan.

So Obama has reached an even more basic crossroads than Publius says: do we pursue our current nation-building policy, despite its irrelevance to American security, or do we call it a day?

I see a lot of the arguments here similar to when someone wants to break up with their boy/girlfriend, but wants to avoid thinking that they had anything to do with it.

LJ, if you're going to use a cheesy relationship metaphor: Afghanistan's just not that into you.

As far as money goes, I find it difficult to see the US suddenly declaring poverty, especially given the level of our military spending. We spend more than the next 7 nations combined on military, so claiming poverty is not really an option.

Well, at least I finally got an answer to my question. "How are we going to pay for it?" "Who cares--we're rich."

Because too often, we refuse to argue for caring for the lives of others. By this metric, you argue for policies that value American lives over all others.

I gotta say, that's a really ugly insinuation, lj, and I've seen nothing in what Turbulence has written to warrant it.

As Eric Martin has repeatedly pointed out, the vast sums of money you're talking about spending in Afghanistan could do enormous good for the lives of people in other countries. I, for one, would be thrilled if we were talking about spending hundreds of billions of dollars on fighting malaria and bringing clean water to people who don't have it. But of course that's just crazy: even the paltry sums we spend on foreign aid, relative to what we spend on preparing for and waging war, are considered too high by many Americans. But hundreds of billions for "Vietnam Redux: No, Really, We've Got It All Figured Out This Time!"? Eh, we can cover it. We're rich!

And yet you dare to ride your high horse, talking about our "moral debt" to keep waging war in a country we've already turned into a meat grinder, and tossing off accusations of "American exceptionalism" at anyone who begs to differ. Like I said, it's just ugly--and very revealing.

But if we leave, we essentially condemn Afghanistan to either (best case) a civil war as non-Talib Afghans fight to hold on to what they can, or a Taliban government.

and

If we stay and strengthen the Afghan government and security services, perhaps we can avoid a Taliban takeover or a major civil war.

The thing is, by any objective measurement, Afghanistan is already in a civil war. And if we strenthen one faction sufficiently, it won't avoid a continuation or escalation of that civil war - even if it tilts the field in favor of one side.

Sasha, that's a strange thing to say after 8 years...

I don't know why I bother: Jim Henley explains it all for you, better than I ever could.

Because too often, we refuse to argue for caring for the lives of others. By this metric, you argue for policies that value American lives over all others. Why you do this, I don't know, but based on previous arguments, I suspect it's that you don't like to back down rather than from some belief in American exceptionalism.

LJ, I honestly have no idea what on earth you are talking about here. Your words simply do not make sense to me. Do you really think that the reason Americans don't care about foreigners is because "we" refuse to argue that they should? Really?

I've argued repeatedly that American exceptionalism is utterly wrong, so I can't really imagine what flight of logic leads you to conclude that I'm a secret American exceptionalist.

Given that you seized on this number because Eric quoted it, I think you are just holding the number like a talisman.

Seriously, what does that even mean? You seem to be sputtering nonsense and gibberish now.

Assuming that the 1.3 million represents the entire country, one might think that engaging in the COIN operations in specifically targeted areas with a higher population density, so we may be able to cut that 2/3rds, which would be about 400,000.

I might find this plausible if you can show me a cite in FM 3-24 where they discuss this option. I don't think you can though. Low density areas require more, not less manpower to secure than population might suggest.

Adding current Afghan military and police to US and NATO troups gives us about 200,000 currently there.

Uh huh. Are these the illiterate poorly trained Afghan troops who are working for the highly corrupt warlords that we've decided to call a government? They're taking orders from a guy who literally stole an election while the world watched, right? I think you've got it wrong: the more Afghan soldiers and police deploy, the worse Afghanistan's problems get. The soldiers and police are themselves corrupt and are working for crooked corrupt officials. Everywhere they go, they're going to spend some of their time harassing locals for bribes or protection money. "Training" will not resolve these problems. They'll become a walking advertisement for the Taliban. People do not like being governed by crooks. They do not like being harassed by crooks with guns.

I suppose that they might be as skilled as Iraqi soldiers and police when it comes to COIN operations. After all, their training was directed by Petreus himself. But those guys turned out to be...not so useful.

Total NATO strength is currently about 3 million under arms.

This is a joke right? No one can possibly think this way....

NATO countries are generally unwilling to let their armies actually fight. They're also unwilling to put them in a position where they'll take casualties. Because political support for foreign wars is, contrary to your personal feelings, very low. Having lots of soldiers who can't fight and must avoid casualties does not actually benefit a COIN campaign.

Of course, I'd like to see a reference to the 3 million number. Men under arms is an irrelevant number here. Sailors on French nuclear submarines will not be of much help in Afghanistan and its not like you can just transfer them away from their sub patrols. In general, sailors and airmen will not contribute meaningfully to a COIN campaign. And many members of NATO forces constitute support staff that will not be useful in a COIN campaign either. You need boots on the ground but those boots have to be able to fight or they're nothing but targets.

Frankly, given our experiences in Rwanda, where genocidal forces correctly reasoned that if they could kill a dozen Belgians they could force Belgium to pull out its soldiers, I don't think it is reasonable to expect a significant increase of NATO forces or a significant effect if forces are increased. If a couple of guys with machetes can force a well trained well equipped European contingent to run in terror, what do you think the Taliban will do?

When you exterminate 1 million Iraqis and force another 4-5 million Iraqis to flee their homes and become refugees, violence will go down. For a time. This is not a strategy that we should import into Afghanistan though. Conflict resolution through ethnic cleansing is morally problematic.

Do you think the U.S. military killed 1 million Iraqis and expelled people from their homes? No. The overwhelming majority of these people were expelled and killed by fellow Iraqis because the U.S. military could not and would not provide the security necessary to prevent this.

The U.S. military has spent enormous effort and blood and treasure at stopping ethnic cleansing, not perpetrating it.

I agree that conflict resolution via ethnic cleansing is problematic. Not sure why you advocate a strategy which would expose large Tajik and Hazara populations to such treatment at the hands of the Taliban.

Petreus' numbers indicate we need 1.3 million soldiers in Afghanistan for ten years. We currently have about 70K soldiers and it is costing us about $4 billion per month. So that means we're looking at a total cost of $10 trillion. Yeah, I'd say that $10 trillion is a "heavy cost". If you think you can build political support for blowing $10 trillion for eliminating a few thousand losers in caves (in the popular imagination), then good for you! But in the real world, that's insane.

We don't have 1.3 million soldiers to send and FM 3-24 doesn't say that we need that many. In an optimal situation we would have that many, maybe, but we didn't need that many to bring violence down in 2007 in Iraq. Several insurgencies were defeated without that level of troops - for instance the Filipino insurgency in 1899, Sri Lanka in 2008, the Chechen insurgency in 2005, the PKK in southeastern Turkey in 1999, etc. BTW, do you really think that we need that many American soldiers to win? The vast majority of all COIN fights are won and primarily prosecuted by host nation forces. Afghan police and army count here too, and typically will far outnumber coalition forces on the ground. They also don't cost anywhere near as much - $10 trillion is just a bit high.

The fiscal stimulus was way less than a trillion dollars. TARP currently looks like it will earn the government a profit, but even if it doesn't the total cost will much less than the $700 billion quoted earlier. I don't have numbers on the Fed stimulus off the top of my head, but given that you're currently batting 0 for 2, I don't feel like looking them up. In any case, I'm pretty sure they're a good deal less than $10 trillion.

When did I say each one cost a trillion? The one you didn't bother to look up, the Fed's quantitative easing, has been by far the largest of the three, upwards of $2 trillion in the wake of the crisis.

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601103&sid=aGq2B3XeGKok&refer=news

The cost of Afghanistan will not come anywhere close to $10 trillion, surge or no.

Certainly I want fewer Afghan civilians to die. That's why I want the US military to withdraw from Afghanistan. Completely, leaving not a torture cell behind.

Does the Taliban or ISAF kill more Afghan civilians, Jes? Honestly. You can use the UN link I provided to check your stats.

Alas, torture cells will remain --- only they will be operated by the Taliban. Also the US military will leave behind thousands of schools and clinics which serve women and children in Afghanistan every day --- which will be closed or destroyed by the Taliban.

I gotta say, that's a really ugly insinuation, lj, and I've seen nothing in what Turbulence has written to warrant it.

You mean things like:

LJ, I'm curious: how much have you contributed to our great mission in Afghanistan?

or

since neither you nor LJ have seen fit to address it

or

Your access to anecdotes is impressive, but irrelevant.

I don't know about you, but this is pretty tiresome and it is not civil. I know Turb isn't a troll, so he must think that the morality of his argument is so clear cut that I am somehow deficient for trying to argue with him. I've not claimed that this is some sort of magic bullet, nor have I said that success is guaranteed. But it seems to me that we are leaving to return to precisely the same place that we were at before 9/11. If you or anyone can tell me how things are going to be different from the situation before 9/11, where we feel that we can disrupt terrorist groups with the odd cruise missile, I'm all ears.

I've said time and time again that it is more than possible that we may be too late on this, but I'm having a hard time seeing how McChrystal is opting for the status quo. In fact, his report suggests a transformative change in the military that you apparently think Obama is completely incapable of advocating, rather odd given that Obama relieved the previous Aghanistan commander, McKiernan, over his objections to replace him with McChrystal. George Packer's take (who I know you don't think much of) on the report is worth noting here.

Obama’s strategy-review team didn’t want to go looking to get America deeper into the mess in Afghanistan—they looked at all the alternatives and decided that the narrower approaches wouldn’t work against an Al Qaeda network that’s so entrenched and interconnected with other groups in the region.

Regardless what you think of Packer, this seems like a logical point.

I again acknowledge that this is not a knock down argument. It's like this famous linguist who used to, when he gave a talk, end up giving both the reasons that supported his school's take and the reasons against such a take, so that at the end of the talk, someone else who did the same linguistics said 'well, he had 6 reasons for and 5 against, so I guess it's for.' But I think that there is an argument there that is not related to 'we have to beat the Taliban' and 'we can't be seen as losing'. In fact, my feeling about all this is quite close to the one you expressed here. But taking that position means that I'm not going to pretend that the moral option is to withdraw so we can make sure that we have 65 billion for the Raptor or even 4.5 billion for the USS Bush the Elder. Cause it ain't.

The U.S. military has spent enormous effort and blood and treasure at stopping ethnic cleansing, not perpetrating it.

Unsuccessfully. It went on for years regardless. And continues to this day, and will continue for many years.

Also, we were the proximate cause, so we spent an enormous amount setting those events in motion as well.

I agree that conflict resolution via ethnic cleansing is problematic. Not sure why you advocate a strategy which would expose large Tajik and Hazara populations to such treatment at the hands of the Taliban.

Not sure what this means. We can't stop a civil war, haven't been stopping a civil war and won't be able to stop a civil war. To the extent these factions want to fight, they will.

But it seems to me that we are leaving to return to precisely the same place that we were at before 9/11.

We may very well be. But since you're the one arguing for an enormous expenditure of blood and treasure on the part of your fellow citizens, I think the onus is on you to show that the benefits will outweigh the costs. A lot of people who seem to know what they're talking about have said that 9/11 could have been planned and perpetrated very easily whether the Taliban was offering al-Qaeda a safe haven or not. How do you respond?

Moreover, you seem to be operating from the assumption that if we do what you advocate, the worst that could happen is that it doesn't work. So why not at least make the attempt, right? Unfortunately, this isn't true, because there is a distinct possibility that our presence actively makes things worse. Does the term "blowback" mean nothing to you? Are you aware of the history of al-Qaeda? Do you really think that we've somehow evolved and smartened up to a point where we can make "the enemy of my enemy is my friend...for now" a workable foreign policy?

Frankly, I understand Turbulence's frustration, because the costs are something you've been all too willing to blithely dismiss, or simply obfuscate with something like this:

But taking that position means that I'm not going to pretend that the moral option is to withdraw so we can make sure that we have 65 billion for the Raptor or even 4.5 billion for the USS Bush the Elder. Cause it ain't.

I'm not trying to be flip or nasty or borderline trollish here, lj, but I haven't the foggiest idea what the hell that means. Again, you seem to be slipping into arguing against people in your head rather than the ones on this thread.

Anyway, let's try to get back to the original post. Thus spake Bacevich:

If we could wave our magic wand today and transform Afghanistan into whatever it is the COIN [counterinsurgency] advocates think they can achieve there, the threat posed by jihadism would still exist and would not even be appreciably diminished.

I have yet to see you address this point. What do you know that Andrew Bacevich doesn't?

I've gotta say, the more you write, the more I keep being brought back to the selling of the Iraq invasion. The neocons bounced effortlessly from one casus belli to the next--WMDs; getting rid of our former client, Saddam "Worse Than Hitler" Hussein; "cauldronizing" the Middle East; throwing some crappy little country against the wall because we can; and so on. Now I'm seeing you oscillate between Afghanistan being the central front in the war on terror (highly dubious, as Bacevich points out), and paying off our moral debt to the Afghan people (whether they like it or not), and developing our COIN capabilities for future wars (I find it kind of difficult to square "turning their country into a giant military proving ground" with "doing the right thing for the Afghan people," but that's just me).

I think we're coming from fundamentally different places here and it's probably not worth our while to continue this. The long and short of it, as I see it, is I (and a number of others) sincerely believe that we've been down this road before. You keep arguing that it's different this time, because...well, I'm not sure why, exactly. I only know that I'm not buying it.

Eric, you say civil war, but that implies that both sides have a relatively substantial level of support, not simply enough men to continue fighting. Do you think that the Taliban is supported to the level that we should regard them as a 'legitimate' opponent? For example, the Irish Civil war is really a period from 1916 to 1923, and I'm not sure if one would call 'The Troubles' a civil war (though I'm sure that Jes and magistra will correct me if I am wrong). On the other hand, Sri Lanka would be classified as experiencing one, perhaps because the Tamil minority were actively supporting the Tamil Tigers. In Afghanistan, do you feel that a large enough population of Afghanistan actually supports the Taliban? Or are you looking at this as Pashtun against Tajik et al?

Uncle Kvetch, you admitted that you were on the fence. I am similarly conflicted, but (or perhaps so) I think there are reasons to support the McChrystal proposal and I've tried to lay them out. For my troubles, I get told that my finances are suspect, my anecdotes are irrelevant and I am arguing with voices in my head. Sweet.

Discussing these things rather than resorting to appeals to authority would be nice, but now I have to argue that I know more than Bacevich in order to discuss this. Given that Richard Clarke and Steve Simon have been trotted out, it's interesting to note what they advised candidate Obama to do

As government officials in the 1990s,we advocated US military intervention in Afghanistan and advised candidate Obama on the need for increased US resources and troops for Afghanistan in 2008. Specifically, we recommended and Senator Obama proposed adding two brigades, about 8000 personnel. Since then, President Obama has authorized over 30,000 additional troops.

So, they advised Obama that there needed to be increased resources, but don't increase them too much? Or was there some goldilocks medium that wasn't too many and wasn't too few?

Bacevich has the same point as Chalmers Johnson, which is the argument that the US military is an imperialistic force and I think there is some truth to that. Again, if you argue that, then any use of US forces for anything other than preventing invasion fleets from landing is wrong and that seems to be a bit too far for me and anyone else who accepts US troops in NATO, in Korea, or anywhere other than the US. Bacevich goes further, arguing that we should engage in a new Cold War. I wasn't too impressed with the last Cold War, so I don't think this is a better option. This is isolationism writ large.

I would also point out that I'm not arguing that there is some Saddam like figure that we need to take out and that we have to eliminate the Taliban to be safe and if you have taken that as my belief, I have not been clear enough. I think we need to set up a somewhat functioning government that can control the major population centers, but I'm not arguing that we do this to be safe and secure, but because we have an obligation to Afghanistan. That's why it is different this time. The neocon argument for going into Iraq was not that it was a failed state, but that it was an evil state. I've disagreed with the arguments that we have to stay in Afghanstan because we can't let the Taliban win. I do think that there are a range of geopolitical considerations that make it impossible to imagine the US adopting a completely isolationist stance. If you rule complete isolationism out, the George Will proposal seems to be the most likely one, but I don't think it is a very good one. How much would you rachet up Will's proposal so that it is acceptable without getting us in a quagmire?

I also do think that we have to develop a COIN capability, but if we take that seriously, as the McChrystal report lays out, we don't improve our military ability, we actually degrade it in some very specific ways, and count on doing things like synchronizing humanitarian aid better. I pointed out that improving our ability to do COIN means specifically not doing things in the most efficient military manner. So if you take my position that the military has to be able to kill more efficiently because that is what COIN is about, I have not made myself clear.

It has been pointed out many times before that a 21st century military needs to be more of a police force than a military force and it is not altogether certain if that is even possible. But I'm not sure there is an alternative. But there is certainly no alternative organization that could operate in policing a failed state. We could go with the Kucinich proposal of a Department of Peace replacing the Department of Defense, but I think that fails the possible realities test.

But returning to Bacevich's Cold War proposal, I don't see how isolationism is going to solve any of our problems. We deal with other nations and look to integrate globally by making sure that every country has a stake. Afghanistan has not had a stake in the world economy since the 80s, and it's that situation that we have to deal with.

At any rate, if you think that none of this makes any sense, please consider the questions rhetorical with no requirement to answer them.

But it seems to me that we are leaving to return to precisely the same place that we were at before 9/11.

No a thousand times. And then no a thousand times more.

Even if we removed every last troop today, and cut off every last dollar to Afghanistan at the same time, the US will be in a drastically different position vis-a-vis terrorism and al-Qaeda.

Night meet day.

We have hardened our targets, trained enormous amounts of intel resources on al-Qaeda, began coordinating between intel outfits (foreign and domestic), unleashed economic warfare, and, in general, woken up to treat al-Qaeda as a top priority from an intel/law enforcement perspective.

Whether or not we fight a war in Afghanistan will not change that.

In fact, such "liberal" outfits as the RAND corp have argued that fighting wars is a singularly inefficient and even counterproductive way to address terrorist threats.

So ceasing to fight one such war would not be an abandonment of anti-terror efforts, but an optimization thereof.

If you or anyone can tell me how things are going to be different from the situation before 9/11, where we feel that we can disrupt terrorist groups with the odd cruise missile, I'm all ears.

Before 9/11 we literally sent the odd cruise missile into training camps, but failed to do so at times we knew bin Laden was there because so too were other Saudi Royals.

Today we have rules of engagement regarding missile strikes that are arguably too loose, but in any event NOTHING like before 9/11. We don't hesistate. If anything, we're too trigger happy.

Since 9/11, we have literally killed hundreds of al-Qaeda operatives via missile strike. Before then? 0-5...tops.

At the moment, we have commando teams that are dispatched to places like Somalia (just nabbed an al-Qaeda big there a couple weeks back), Iraq, Pakistan, Indonesia, Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere.

Before 9/11? Not so much.

The hardening of targets, use of intel and law enforcement, and the targeted, precision use of military assets is the best way to fight terrorism - at least according to just about every expert worth his/her salt (neocons need not apply).

In Afghanistan, do you feel that a large enough population of Afghanistan actually supports the Taliban?

If they don't they've got an amazing ability to make it look as if they do. In other words, if they lack support, why are they still a problem? In fact, why are they gaining ground in places like Nuristan and other outposts (the North in particular)?

Point being: if they don't have indigenous support, then indigenous support is overrated, because we are not "winning" the contest with them at the moment.

If they don't they've got an amazing ability to make it look as if they do. In other words, if they lack support, why are they still a problem?

Do you also think that when criminal organizations and gangs take over neighborhoods, it is because they have significant indigenous support, or that the population is afraid?

Do you also think that when criminal organizations and gangs take over neighborhoods, it is because they have significant indigenous support, or that the population is afraid?

That depends on the context. I mean, at least back in the day, if you went to Bensonhurst or certain neighborhoods of Staten Island, you would find tremendous indigenous support for the Mafia.

So I'd have to look at each example in context.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban enjoy committed support in many regions. Keep in mind, certain Tajik factions are now considered Taliban when tallying the "us vs. them" scorecard. These Tajik factions are, well, primarily Tajik and very popular in the regions where they live.

Ditto many of the Pashtun groups.

That depends on the context.

I suppose that in 1830 in the US, the local state militias were more popular locally than the federal army...similar to how local militias in Iraq are often more trusted than the Iraqi military or especially police.

But I don't know if that equals support for a cause, vs trust of the neighbor you know, rather than the stranger you don't.

The same with criminal organizations that provide stability and structure. People may not support the cause, but appreciate the stability. Which would be the basic premise of COIN, disrupt the insurgent's ability to coopt the population by providing services and structure, provide structure and stability yourself.

It should also be pointed out that the population doesn't exactly support the current government of Afghanistan either. So if those are the two sides to choose from, support is a fairly fluid and uncommitted quality for much of the Afghan population.

The same with criminal organizations that provide stability and structure. People may not support the cause, but appreciate the stability. Which would be the basic premise of COIN, disrupt the insurgent's ability to coopt the population by providing services and structure, provide structure and stability yourself.

I don't disagree with this.

One big problem, though, is our outsider status. We, by virtue of being foreigners, are ourselves provoking much resistance.

It's the stuff COIN-guru David Kilcullen wrote about in Accidental Guerrilla (the premise of his book, really). The thesis is that many insurgents are "accidental" insurgents - inspired, not by some deep ideological attachment, but by nationalism/anger at an occupying power. But either way, there they are shooting at the occupying forces.

Other big problems: As you alluded to, the Taliban are setting up shadow governments that are providing basic services more efficiently and effectively than the Afghan government.

You know, we refer to the Taliban as a "criminal" organization, but almost all Afghans view the current government as hopelessly corrupt and as...a criminal organization if you will.

Meanwhile, the Taliban have a reputation for incorruptibility. So they are not viewed as criminal necessarily, just puritanical and ruthless. I mean, their brand of Sharia justice is cruel in my opinion, but it is incorrect to call it criminal.

It should also be pointed out that the population doesn't exactly support the current government of Afghanistan either.

Which I think is the more relevant point: Far away central governments have to be excellent to displace local rule that is adequate or almost adequate. It is not enough for central government to be better. And this is why we will fail: not because of local support for the Taliban, but because we can't make the central government excellent.

I like the scene in Last of the Mohicans where the British are trying to raise a local militia: the British provide little or nothing tangible to the colonials, and some therefore see no reason to support the Crown.

In the end, that worked out poorly for the Crown.

like the scene in Last of the Mohicans

Which affords me the opportunity to remind the world that Daniel Day Lewis is the greatest living actor.

David Kilcullen has argued recently that counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency require almost the same footprint in the countryside. The theory that is we won't get actionable intelligence if we are only in the big cities or on bases. It takes time for information to go up the chain, decision making time, orders going down, preparation, and then add travel time. He said anything beyond a short helicopter flight would likely be too slow to capitalize on the information. He also said that the intelligence collection to strike time of a cruise missile is 24 hours.

David Kilcullen has argued recently that counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency require almost the same footprint in the countryside.

But does past experience bear that out? I'm thinking of missile strikes in Yemen that killed al-Qaeda bigs, the recent strikes in Somalia, and other raids in Pakistan pre-big troop commitment.

LJ - "Again, if you argue that, then any use of US forces for anything other than preventing invasion fleets from landing is wrong and that seems to be a bit too far for me and anyone else who accepts US troops in NATO, in Korea, or anywhere other than the US."

I just want to point out that your framing here elides Afghanistan and Iraq with (The Republic of) Korea and Western Europe. I think this may be a problematic comparison for a lot of obvious reasons. I would hope that we can both agree that our military bases in the latter countries have a very different political role from our presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. And even if we agree that both the RoK and Germany started out as US wars, I think we can agree that our presence in both those countries at the cessation of hostilities was better supported by the social structures on the ground there than they are in either of our current military-political ventures. Yes?

The hardening of targets, use of intel and law enforcement, and the targeted, precision use of military assets is the best way to fight terrorism - at least according to just about every expert worth his/her salt (neocons need not apply).

That's an interesting mode of argument. You start by defining "expert" to exclude anyone who disagrees with you, then point out that all of the "experts," so defined, agree with your position.

Petreus' numbers indicate we need 1.3 million soldiers in Afghanistan for ten years. We currently have about 70K soldiers and it is costing us about $4 billion per month. So that means we're looking at a total cost of $10 trillion.

That's 1.3 million in country, right, so our military would have to be a lot larger than that. Even if we were willing to spend the money, it would take several years to increase the size of the army that much, and I'm not sure we could do it at all without instituting a draft.

That's an interesting mode of argument. You start by defining "expert" to exclude anyone who disagrees with you, then point out that all of the "experts," so defined, agree with your position.

No, I excluded neocons. Believe it or not, there are some non-neocons that disagree with me.

But by all means, please provide a citation for a counterterrorism expert with differing views, and let's discuss the merits of his/her argument. I'm all ears.

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Whatnot


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