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November 10, 2005

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The war is not over. Withdrawing from Iraq may decrease the body count, but won't end the war. I don't know how to win the war.

I don't know how to win the war.

first, you define "win". clever pols will define it in terms of things that are easily accomplished and leave the political opposition in the position of having to argue for something more difficult.

clever pols will define it in terms of things that are easily accomplished

Blame Canada?

You need an update, Hil. Zarqawi's group claimed responsibility. Jordanians are pissed that Zarqawi crapped in his own backyard.

A bunch of links from Athena

Just as a note, the Zarqawi claim is seeing coverage outside of the NY Post.

You need an update, Hil. Zarqawi's group claimed responsibility. Jordanians are pissed that Zarqawi crapped in his own backyard.

Do you mean that average Jordanians view him as a good guy for having attempted to overthrow their government and set up a Caliphate? Not being sarcastic, just trying to get a feel for what you meant. I know the government there, at least, has had him on their No Christmas Cards list for quite some time.

Just as a note, the Zarqawi claim is seeing coverage outside of the NY Post.

A niggling detail, Slarti. It was an AP report picked up by the NY Post.

According to CNN, Jordanians are marching in the streets chanting for Zarqawi to "Burn in hell."

When I get really pessimistic about the struggle against Islamism, when it seems Bush has found yet another way to turn the people of the Middle East against us, I remind myself that the Islamists always eventually shoot themselves in the foot.

Most of the people in Afghanistan were glad to see the Taliban go, and the people of Iran despise their government. We may yet fail in Iraq just like we failed in Vietnam, but like the Communists, the Islamists are on the losing side of history. It may take another forty or fifty years, but their time will end.

...the Islamists are on the losing side of history

got any investment tips ? ;)

ThirdGorchBro: Most of the people in Afghanistan were glad to see the Taliban go

Most of the people of Afghanistan would probably have been gladder if the US had not ensured the conditions for the Taliban to come to power in the first place. I can go into it at more length if you like, but in extreme summary: the US ensured the Taliban could come to power because of the paranoic fear of any government calling itself Communist. The CIA (under Carter, then Reagan) supported the Islamists in Afghanistan because they were reliably anti-Communist - because the Afghan Communists were for such evil practices as equal education for women, and women going about without a burqua, and land reform, and so forth. So Carter supported the Islamists because they were anti-Communist, and Reagan stepped up that support, and I doubt it ever occurred to any one in either administration that the women of Afghanistan would probably rather the evils of Communism than the evils of fundamentalist Islam.

So, to defeat the Communists, the US paid the Islamists. Result: ten years or so of civil war with the equivalent of a September 11 (in proportionate terms given the size of Afghanistan and the US) every day: and a shattered country, abandoned by the US as of no further interest. The rule of the warlords in Afghanistan was so vile that the Taliban were (I gather) actually an improvement - and it is the rule of the warlords to which the US has since returned Afghanistan.

Now the US thinks "Islamists" as the ultimate evil, and is paying support to any group that will fight with the US against the "Islamists". As we already know, that means the US supports terrorists and dictators and torturers (just as the US once supported terrorists and dictators and torturers in the name of anti-Communism) because they're on the "right" side.

I have no idea precisely what harvest of evil the US is storing up for itself somewhere in the world by its support of evil now in the name of "anti-Islamist", but we can be sure it is being stored, somewhere.

ThirdGorchBro, I pray you are right. In my optimistic mood (most of the time), I agree, though I wish we would stop making things worse (and hence the time line longer).

This reminds me of a conversation I had with someone I met on Political Animal on the topic of nuclear weapons. He told me an old joke, "how many terrorists does it take to build a nuclear weapon? 7 generations (due to the deaths)."

The saving grace of our situation is that most of the terrorists are pretty dim. The trouble is that there are a few evil geniuses.

As for Afghanistan, the beginning inspired hope but I fear we are on the wrong path there, mostly due to neglect. And, alas, as Jes points out, we had no small hand in creating the situation that led to the Taliban.

"The CIA (under Carter, then Reagan) supported the Islamists in Afghanistan because they were reliably anti-Communist - because the Afghan Communists were for such evil practices as equal education for women, and women going about without a burqua, and land reform, and so forth."

Once again, Jes, you write a post I almost entirely agree with, making a bunch of points I basically agree with, describing things in ways that are reasonably fair, if necessarily simplified for length, and write a paragraph whose point I otherwise quite agree with, but bury inside it one single ludicrous over-stretch, and thus utterly unnecessarily damaging an entire set of otherwise essentially sound points.

"The CIA (under Carter, then Reagan) supported the Islamists in Afghanistan because they were reliably anti-Communist - because the Afghan Communists were for such evil practices as equal education for women, and women going about without a burqua, and land reform, and so forth."

Everything else you wrote in that post: more or less fine by me. This? Sheesh. It wasn't that the goal was simply to hurt the Soviet Union? No? No. In your world, it was because the CIA and Jimmy Carter and the U.S. government hate and oppose "equal education for women, and women going about without a burqua, and land reform, and so forth."

Um. Why stick this nonsense in, and damage your credibility when you were otherwise making completely defensible and essentially sound points?

How counter-productive. How erroneous.

got any investment tips ? ;)

Buy Enron! Wait, nevermind.

OK, let's talk about Afghanistan. I read Ghost Wars too, and I am well aware that the rise of al'Qaeda and the Taliban was an unintended consequence of the 1980s war against the Soviet occupation, and the jihad we helped create to fight it. I do think it's important to remember that this all occurred in the context of the Cold War, not in a vacuum. And for what it's worth, I think helping the Afghans was a noble cause, despite the fact that the whole thing went off the rails later on. We certainly shouldn't have ignored what was going on in Afghanistan in the 1990s, but I also don't think we should be held entirely responsible for the Taliban, either. They were much more a creation of Pakistan than of the United States.

ral, I too have concerns about our relative neglect of Afghanistan, but at least we haven't totally abdicated our interest like we did in the 90s.

The Islamists aren't the "ultimate evil," but they certainly are the evil of the day. The Cold War arose out of unfinished business from WWII, the current struggle began in part as a consequence of decisions made during the Cold War, and we may yet face "a harvest of evil" as a result of the fight against Islamism. Such, unfortunately, is a consequence of our job: maintaining a stable and relatively liberal international order.

They were much more a creation of Pakistan than of the United States.

Yes, and they still are.

The Cold War arose out of unfinished business from WWII, the current struggle began in part as a consequence of decisions made during the Cold War, and we may yet face "a harvest of evil" as a result of the fight against Islamism.

By and large, I agree with this.

Such, unfortunately, is a consequence of our job: maintaining a stable and relatively liberal international order.

This, however, is flat-out wrong: it can be a consequence of maintaining a stable and relatively liberal international order, but it (probably) doesn't have to be. I've a much longer riff that I'm too sick to expound upon at the moment, but the short version is that our foreign policy has become more and more degraded in the compromises it's been willing to make, and less and less understanding of the long-term consequences of which you spoke. Afghanistan's a key example here: there was no reason for us to effectively abandon the Afghans to the wolves after the Soviets withdrew -- not for lack of money, for example, or lack of manpower, only lack of compassion and foresight -- but we did and now we're reaping the whirlwind. And Afghanistan's just the tip of the iceberg, too; there are myriad other places (Iran, Indonesia, Pakistan, pretty much all of Latin and South America) where we made a hash of things that we'll be dealing with for some time to come.

This actually relates to something Gary and I are talking about on the open thread: once we'd set Communism up as the Greatest Evil That Ever There Was, anything we did became justifiable and the notions of "necessity" and "expediency" became blurred to the point where I doubt many people can look at our past policies and tell the difference. That, more than anything, was our sowing of the wind; and, regretfully, I don't see any signs of it changing (see, e.g., Graham's amendment below).

Gary, being more charitable than is normally my wont, I think you're misreading Jes there: The CIA (under Carter, then Reagan) supported the Islamists in Afghanistan because they were reliably anti-Communist - because the Afghan Communists were for such evil practices as equal education for women, and women going about without a burqua, and land reform, and so forth.

She's not saying that Carter and Reagan were anti-Communist because the Communists were for a, b, and c; she's saying the Islamists were anti-Communist because the Communists were for a, b and c.

Phil: she's saying the Islamists were anti-Communist because the Communists were for a, b and c.

Exactly.

And whatever anyone's opinions of Communism, anyone who would like to argue that it was better for Afghans to have the Taliban than it would have been for them to have a Communist government, has a really weird sense of values. And is almost certainly male.

ThirdGorchBro: And for what it's worth, I think helping the Afghans was a noble cause

Helping Afghans make their country a better place would have been a noble cause: helping fanatic Islamist Afghans keep Afghan women in total subjection was not a noble cause, not even done in the name of being "anti-Communist".

"Such, unfortunately, is a consequence of our job: maintaining a stable and relatively liberal international order."

This is more directed at Anarch, but I lacked an appropriate quote.

For the time being, I think a competence in one section of the world probably implies problems popping up in another. The tradeoffs and compromises made in the last 50 years of foreign policy may not have been the best, but no scenario would not have included tradeoffs and compromises, brushfires and conflagrations.

However, I can admit to an amazing optimism, that an "end to history" is in sight. I can imagine stabilizing and developing the rim nations, and the world disarming. Part of my "hawkishness" on Iraq is based on what I consider a fact, that a world at perpetual peace (excluding terrorism, etc) is not a hallucination or pipedream but an achievable goal.

The tradeoffs and compromises made in the last 50 years of foreign policy may not have been the best, but no scenario would not have included tradeoffs and compromises, brushfires and conflagrations.

There's a difference between "not have been the best" and "funding and arming mass-murderous (or outright genocidal) lunatics and then loosing them upon the world", usually accompanied by the ever-popular "lying through our teeth about what we've done", "blame it on someone else (or necessity, if all else fails)", and "since we're better than the other guys by definition, what we did must have been right!"

Such, unfortunately, is a consequence of our job: maintaining a stable and relatively liberal international order.

Pardon me, but I've been a little out of touch over, say, the last few decades ...

When did we get this "job"?

Who gave it to us? Why?

Who else applied for it? Who made the short list? What was the final vote?

What are the terms of the contract? What are our specific responsibilities, and what are we getting out of it?

Are there performance bonuses?

Who arbitrates if there is some dispute over the precise details of the contract, and our implementation thereof?

Is it renewable? Is there an option year? Our option or theirs?

Please forgive me if this has all been covered elsewhere in the thread. At my age, one tends to forget things ...

dr. ngo, I think I had a conversation with Jesurgislac a while back in a different thread about the benefits of a relatively benign hegemon. I was heavily influenced by Louis Halle's opening chapters in The Cold War As History regarding the necessity of a stable world order and the dangers of power vacuums. I know we more or less backed into our current position as hegemon, and that many (perhaps most) Americans don't hold the same views as me.

There have certainly been other applicants for our job - Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union gave us some pretty tough competition for a while. Our application, however, was typed up neatly with bullet-points, while theirs were written in crayon, so we edged them out. ;)

Anarch, you may have a point about compromising our morals too much during the Cold War. I think it's a lot easier to say that with the benefit of hindsight, though. The relatively peaceful collapse of the Soviet Union somehow makes the threat they presented seem less real, but it sure didn't look that way in the 1950s. At the time, a lot of reasonable people in both parties believed we had to oppose the spread of Communism at any cost.

"When did we get this 'job'?"

1945.

"Who gave it to us?"

We're self-employed. And we have contracts with lots of folks.

"Why?"

Pretty little country you have here; be a shame if anything happened to it, you know.

"Who else applied for it?"

The Soviet Union. The People's Republic of China. France. Enever Hoxha. And Kathie Lee Gifford.

"Who made the short list?"

The Soviet Union.

"What was the final vote?"

Balloting is still taking place in Nepal and other outlying districts.

"What are the terms of the contract?"

Rules? There ain't no rules in a knife fight.

"What are our specific responsibilities,"

Once upon a time, things like Bretton Woods, the United Nations, the World Bank, and many other treaty obligations and implied duties.

But we've moved beyond all that now. We've had to grow as a person nation, and we have to do what's right for ourselves. Don't try to hold us back, you little jealous nations! We are too beautiful!

"and what are we getting out of it?"

People keep loaning us money.

And the benefits package is just the best.

Are there performance bonuses?

My wife tells me that I have the habit of doing something that I feel needs to be done and then getting pissed that no one else pitches in to help. She suggests this is a 'gaijin' thing, which, for the purposes of this discussion could suggest something. Likewise the notion that if I don't think it needs getting done, I'm quite happy to ignore it.

"What are our specific responsibilities,"

Once upon a time, things like Bretton Woods, the United Nations, the World Bank, and many other treaty obligations and implied duties.

But we've moved beyond all that now. We've had to grow as a person nation, and we have to do what's right for ourselves. Don't try to hold us back, you little jealous nations! We are too beautiful!

Heh. The tomfoolery of Bush & Co. are certainly not a great advertisement for American hegemony, but they won't be around forever.

I love the word "tomfoolery." Also "shenanigans." Now I'd better stop or my boss will defenestrate me.

ThirdGorchBro: At the time, a lot of reasonable people in both parties believed we had to oppose the spread of Communism at any cost.

And no one seemed to be suspicious of the way the "any cost" was always being paid by people other than the "reasonable people" who were advocating it.

The thing is: I honestly doubt it ever even occurred to Carter that given the choice between a political movement that (whatever its other drawbacks) believed in full equality for women, and a religious movement that believed all women should be subjugated, he should pick the political movement, because equality for women matters. To him (then and now) I think equality for women is just one of those nice-to-have things, pretty to look at, not really important: because it's not as if women are real people. Certainly in 1979, I think that your average non-feminist politician (and most male politicians, certainly then, were non-feminist) would have thought it unrealistic, unsound, fantastic, to deal as if women's equality actually matters.

And indeed, as we see with the US Ambassdor's support for Shari'a law in new improved Iraq, it's still the case that a male politician can think that it would be wrong to stand up for equality and freedom for half the human race.

But the support for the Afghan Islamists was a particularly egregious example of supporting the side that was worse than the Communists, simply because they were "anti-Communist". (Other examples abound, but that example has really come back and bit the US. Can anyone seriously argue that Carter or Reagan were right to think that the Taliban would be better for Afghanistan than the Communists? (And yes, the Taliban were around then: I've read references to the Taliban in a traveller's book about Afghanistan from the 1960s.)

Jes, I don't think U.S. support went directly to the Taliban -- rather it went to the warlords. Then, after years of, essentially, civil war among criminal gangs, the Taliban appeared (to Afghans) as a better alternative.

Today, alas, we are still supporting the warlords, or at least not suppressing them.

ral: I don't think U.S. support went directly to the Taliban -- rather it went to the warlords.

To be precise, U.S. support in 1979-89 went to the mojahedin. The Taliban are the group of mojahedin who eventually came to rule Afghanistan; the Northern Alliance were other groups of mojahedin who were not ruling Afghanistan. So, yes, U.S. support went directly to the Taliban, as well as to other Islamist groups.

ThirdGorchBro: And for what it's worth, I think helping the Afghans was a noble cause.

How interesting. Tell me, do you think that (for example) Iranian aid to Iraqis killing Americans is a noble cause?

I think it's a lot easier to say that with the benefit of hindsight, though... At the time, a lot of reasonable people in both parties believed we had to oppose the spread of Communism at any cost.

As someone who grew up in the latter stages of the Cold War, it's not just that they were wrong, it's that they were obviously wrong. Like, I, even as a pre-teen, could see that things weren't adding up (e.g. support for Marcos in the Philippines, Suharto in Indonesia, any of a myriad of people in Central and South America) the way the US government was claiming they were. And if I could do that, based purely on what I was seeing on the news and hearing in the playground and reading (ok, having read to me) in the papers, what the hell excuse do a bunch of Congresspeople and Presidents have?

[Of course, part of that was because I had the advantage of a) not living in the US, and more specifically b) briefly living in the Philippines under Marcos during a timespan that c) just happened to coincide with the assassination of Ninoy Aquino, so I got to see up-close-and-personal the way in which things weren't adding up.]

I suspect I'd be a lot less angry, and a lot more forgiving, of American Cold War policies if the government would only have admitted that a number of our allies were murdering sons-of-bitches but (in their estimation) were preferable to the other murdering sons-of-bitches who were trying to achieve power. That way, honest dialogue could potentially have broken out and some of our worst failures might have been prevented. But they didn't. Instead we got BS stories about "freedom fighters" and "noble mujahedeen" and how swimmingly perfect everything was going in Vietnam and what a wonderful humanitarian the Shah was and all that crap. And this, ultimately, is the hubris that helped birth 9/11 (and arguably a few previous Cold War hotspots too, e.g. Iran): the belief that we were somehow empowered by righteousness and therefore immune to consequence, so it didn't matter how dirty our hands got or how blood-spattered our allies were.

[The Red Right Hand to the left-handed hubris, of course, is the blurring of "necessity" and "expediency" which operated in tandem with this hubris, which should more properly have been in response to your post above since that blurring was facilitated, abetted and caused by, as well as facilitating, abetting and causing in turn, the notion that we had to oppose Communism at any cost. Dangerous, dangerous phrase, that, and one which covers a multitude of (very literal) sins. Again, though, I'm not really cogent enough to make that point atm.]

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