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July 12, 2007

Comments

"SCLM", is right.

also, see Atrios' refrain of "Whatever the news, it's always good news for Republicans".

our press is pathetic. i can't even read the Howler any more - it's just too depressing.

heh. looks like Atrios beat me to it.

Hilzoy, would you consider eloping?

If you weren't victims of Bush Derangement Syndrome, you would have noticed that the sentence reads as follows:

The findings **COULD** bolster the president's hand

Funny, no mention of how the findings **COULD** weaken the president's hand.

Must be my BDS acting up.

Actually, I don't see why this wouldn't benefit Bush. The argument that we should expect to have achieved x and the current strength of al Q is y is fine here but I can imagine the Fox News audience seeing "Al Qaeda threatens US" and remembering why they supported the steely-eyed Rocket Man.

Certainly the news would go down better without commentary (a complaint common to 'both' sides of the spectrum, I'll note), but I'll bet the AP isn't wrong on this one.

It takes people a long time to change their view of the world, even if their view is at odds with reality. Republicans have for many years been viewed as better than Democrats on national defense, and however strange that theory may appear to those who have been paying close attention to the news over the past six years, remember that the vast majority of Americans do not pay close attention to the news. Therefore, when they hear that some bad terrorist threat has emerged, many will simply refer back to their historical frame, which is that Republicans=strong on defense and therefore it could redound to the President's benefit.

Frustrating? Absolutely. Surprising? Not particularly. (See also the ongoing discussion of who gets the blame if Congress orders a withdrawal from Iraq and the President ignores them over in the 'We're Serious' thread.)

I can imagine the Fox News audience seeing "Al Qaeda threatens US" and remembering why they supported the steely-eyed Rocket Man

sure. but that's because Fox News is a dishonest pack of demagogues. but if, somehow, they gained a soul and phrased the situation as "would you keep paying an exterminator who, after six years or trying, hasn't managed to wipe out that nest of hornets in your basement ? wouldn't you question his methods ? wouldn't you call someone else ?" all that support for Bush and his policies would evaporate in a flash.

If our intelligence groups can measure so precisely how strong they are, why again can't we take action against them?

Ah, yes. The Great War On Terra, where Metaphysics meets Heuristics.

I'll also note that, for a government bent on increasing its powers over the citizenry, an intelligence report that claims Al Qaeda is as big a threat as they were prior to September 11, 2001 gives the government one more reason to arrogate yet greater powers to itself to fight the alleged threat.

G'kar, when two-thirds of the country says we should get outo f Iraq and more than half want the VP impeached, I think it's safe to say that the public is learning, despite the best efforts of the establishment.

I don't think that American voters are particularly engaged or informed, but at some point, most of them will catch on that Bush's foolish, incompetent approach is a failure. The question is whether the Democrats can manage to persuade anyone that they will offer sensible, competent alternatives.

Current public attitudes about Congress show that Democrats have a long way to go to persuade people that they actually know what they are doing.

Tora Bora should go down as one of the worst defeats suffered by the US ever. Worse than Pearl Harbor. The country was betrayed by a dumbass president and a vain Sec Def who thought they could outsource a critical battle to a gang of warlords.

George Will has been on an FDR kick recently, but at least FDR didn't try to hire Lybian pirates to invade Normandy.

I think that part of the answer to Seb's question is that we can't invade Pakistan. Or won't. The other part of the answer is that the Bush admin approach is fundamentally wrong: terrorism is not best fought through warfare. Only under the rare instance that the terorists are localized in a particular spot associated with a particualr governnment and lacking in widespread support is war an effective response.
Terrorism is best fought through policing. Bush admin. is handling domestic security and international policing about as well as they handled Katrina.

"I think that part of the answer to Seb's question is that we can't invade Pakistan. Or won't."

I said once before that if the trade-off for not aggressively punishing AQ Khan was support (whether overt or just looking the other way while our special forces did their jobs) by Pakistan for our efforts against Al Qu'eda, it would have been worth it. But the Bush Administration seems to have gotten the worst of both worlds -- letting AQ Khan off the hook provides a terrible signal to other countries covertly working on nuclear weapons, while not being able to operate on the Pakistan side of the Afghan border has let Al Qu'eda off the ropes.

Where's Miley Cyrus when we need her?

Bush, from today's press conference at the White House:

There is a perception in the coverage that al Qaeda may be as strong today as they were prior to September the 11th. That's just simply not the case. I think the report will say, since 2001, not prior to September the 11th, 2001.

Secondly, that because of the actions we have taken, al Qaeda is weaker today than they would have been. They are still a threat. They are still dangerous. And that is why it is important that we succeed in Afghanistan and Iraq and anywhere else we find them. That's our strategy, is to stay on the offense against al Qaeda.

The US has never proven adept at asymmetrical warfare. That the press knows even less about the concept isn't shocking either, frankly. However many times it's been said, America currently lacks a Cronkite looking directly into the camera and telling things as they are. (Say what you will, but Olbermann isn't there yet.)

On Seb's question: read the news on Pakistan recently. I can't think of a surer way to both seal a Pakistani leader's fate, permanently destroy any hope of having any future leader work with us, and permanently alienate a pretty scary nuclear power than to have US special forces waging what would surely be a pretty significant battle inside Pakistan. No one would believe Musharraf hadn't agreed to it.

One of many, many reasons to do it right the first time, when he was in a country we had already invaded.

hilzoy,

I'll agree that Musharraf is too weak now to agree to having US forces operate in his country. Five years ago, on the other hand...

"I can't think of a surer way to both seal a Pakistani leader's fate, permanently destroy any hope of having any future leader work with us, and permanently alienate a pretty scary nuclear power than to have US special forces waging what would surely be a pretty significant battle inside Pakistan. No one would believe Musharraf hadn't agreed to it."

All this has been operative since day one. I suppose we'll just have to wait for Al Qaeda to act directly from Pakistan, and if Pakistan refuses to act against them then, we will have another war. Doesn't seem like a great plan, I'll admit.

I didn't see the Bush presser today, but from all reports he's even farther off in lala land than he was before. Just think where he'll be early next year. Jeebus.

Seb: like I said, I think the winning plan is: catch him in Tora Bora.

"Seb: like I said, I think the winning plan is: catch him in Tora Bora."

Sure but the sense of the time, and of every single one of our European allies at the time was that you couldn't have US forces doing much directly in Afghanistan without Afghanistan becoming 'unwinable'. Colin Powell was making lots of noise in that direction at the time.

OT: Speaking of bizarre...

Tora Bora should go down as one of the worst defeats suffered by the US ever. Worse than Pearl Harbor. The country was betrayed by a dumbass president and a vain Sec Def who thought they could outsource a critical battle to a gang of warlords.

Nah. Iraq has that distinction -- though of course the defeat sprang from the same strategic genius. Looks like Afghanistan is on its way to being a write-off as well....

badgers?

they're cute... from a distance.

badgers? We don't need no steenkin' badgers.

I read an article today, Why Terrorism Does Not Work, that is mainly an examination of why terrorism is such an ineffectual political strategy (of all policy goals set by foreign terrorist organizations as defined by the Dept. of State in 2001, only 7% have come to fruition). In his conclusion he says (among other things):

Already, mounting U.S. casualties in Iraq and the absence of a post–September 11 attack on the homeland have eroded U.S. support for maintaining a military presence in Iraq.124 Terrorist strikes on the U.S. homeland will only undermine the terrorists’ message that their purpose is to alter unpopular U.S. policies in the Muslim world. Even sporadic attacks on American civilians—if seen as the dominant component of al-Qaida’s overall strategy—will undermine support for an exit strategy.

Iraqslogger:

Slogger reader Eike Wulfmeyer, of the University of Cologne, sends the following helpful information:

These are not hog badgers but honey badgers (Mellivora capensis, known as "ratel" in southern Africa). Fierce critters for their size; lions usually avoid them because they're not worth the effort. They might attack humans if - for example if food is scarce due to adverse weather conditions (what's the summer like this year down in Basrah?), they'll enter settled areas and feed on livestock which naturally brings them into conflict with local residents.

They have two habits that make them particularly scary: First, as they favor honey over other food, their skin is thick and loose to ward off bee stings. So if you try to catch it, it can "turn around" in its own skin and bite you. Second, if cornered, it will try to go for the scrotum; it can't jump very high and consequently they go for the most vulnerable accessible area.

In short, this is a no-nonsense predator.

Matttbastard: I liked this quote from the BBC piece:

"UK military spokesman Major Mike Shearer said: "We can categorically state that we have not released man-eating badgers into the area."

Seb: Our special forces were already operating around Tora Bora. We had already invaded the country. That horse was out of the barn, or whatever. Personally, I cannot imagine in what possible world it would have been a bad idea to use our own troops, whose loyalty and competence we can count on, as opposed to relying on Afghan tribesmen and the Pakistanis, especially given that the area in question was very remote, and so we wouldn't have been conducting operations in downtown Kabul.

It's stupid Rumsfeld just "knowing best", as usual; and stupid Bush not asking the most basic questions.

Hil: Great minds, etc.

;-)

"if cornered, it will try to go for the scrotum..."

Add this to the list of presents not to get for Mrs. Vitter ;)

hilzoy wins the thread.

Slightly OT, but still through the looking glass: Bush blames the low troop levels when the US invaded Iraq on Tommy Franks:

In the first phase of this operation, General Franks, you know, was obviously in charge.

And during our discussions in the run-up to the decision to remove Saddam Hussein after he ignored the Security Council resolutions, my primary question to General Franks was: Do you have what it takes to succeed? And do you have what it takes to succeed after you succeed in removing Saddam Hussein?

And his answer was yes.

Now, history is going to look back to determine whether or not there might have been a different decision made. But at the time, the only thing I can tell you is that I relied upon military commander to make the proper decision about troop strength in acting.

Apologies for skipping straight to the comment box -- but a strengthened AQ does strengthen the president's hand on Capitol Hill. After all, it would be suicidal to reduce the nation's ability to combat a revitalized AQ in Iraq via precipitous troop withdrawals and Congressional meddling in troop rotations and deployment schedules.

The President's hand is always strongest when the nation is most threatened.

After all, it would be suicidal to reduce the nation's ability to combat a revitalized AQ in Iraq via precipitous troop withdrawals and Congressional meddling in troop rotations and deployment schedules.

You don't seem to be able to tell the difference between al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda in Iraq.

I assure you that bin Laden is not sitting in a cave somewhere trying to figure out where to attack our troops in Iraq.

Our troops in Iraq have nothing to do with protecting against the sort of al-Qaeda attacks this article references.

Sure but the sense of the time, and of every single one of our European allies at the time was that you couldn't have US forces doing much directly in Afghanistan without Afghanistan becoming 'unwinable'. Colin Powell was making lots of noise in that direction at the time.

And they were right, too, now weren't they?

THis just makes me weary and sad, and the worst part is knowing that Bush is going to get away with THIS, too. Along with his stellar, "Yeah, I know I said I'd fire anyone who leaked Plame's name, but that's all water under the bridge. Let's just move on." If Reagan was made of Teflon, this guy must be made of frigging antimatter.

I feel like Sally Kellerman in M*A*S*H. I want to go running into Congress and the headquarters of CNN in my bathrobe and scream, "It's your fault because you let him get away with it, you let him get away with everything . . ."

So since we've moved on to badgers and M*A*S*H, a question: I have found the Best Comic Ever. (Some nice person emailed it to me.) I want to post it. But it just came out today, at Salon. Here, in fact. Would posting it be: (a) a gracious homage, or (b) stealing? Would it matter if I waited until a few days from now, when no doubt the need for an open thread will be as great, but it would no longer be today's comic?

Yeah, but steve, not noticing that distinction has never stopped us before.

If our intelligence groups can measure so precisely how strong they are, why again can't we take action against them?

Because those in Bush Administration responsible for taking action do not base their actions on the analysis of our intelligence groups.

-------

The President's hand is always strongest when the nation is most threatened.

Funny how that did not work for Chamberlain.

The point is that if you screw ups are responsible for the enemy gaining strength, how can the gain in strength ever be favorable for you?

Yeah, but steve, not noticing that distinction has never stopped us before.

You meant to say that you don't know the difference between rank self-destruction (suicide) and prudent self-preservation, but still you feel qualified to advise on the fate of the nation?

Or did I misunderstand you?

Would it matter if I waited until a few days from now, when no doubt the need for an open thread will be as great, but it would no longer be today's comic?

Forget that, because Free Time's Arrow inside!

I see that point, dmbeaster (I even agree with it), but given how we got where we are (the August AQ "Determined to Attack" memo!), I don't think its one that resonates. Not as well as "Regathering threat" does.

I don't know a whole lot about Pre-WWII UK politics, but perhaps Chamberlain's weakness was his own -- he failed to seize the opportunity to consolidate his position offered by a gathering Germany. Our president, by contrast, never fails to reach for more.

"Sure but the sense of the time, and of every single one of our European allies at the time was that you couldn't have US forces doing much directly in Afghanistan without Afghanistan becoming 'unwinable'. Colin Powell was making lots of noise in that direction at the time.

And they were right, too, now weren't they?"

J Thomas, I think you might be getting lost in the argument if you think that is a good rejoinder. Summary:

It is bad that Al Qaeda can act out of Pakistan.

We should have caught or killed bin Laden at Tora Bora.

We didn't catch or kill him in Tora Bora because we didn't have enough troops on the ground.

We didn't have troops on the ground because Powell (in a decision loudly supported by all of our European allies) thought it was too dangerous for our policy to do so and because Rumsfeld had stupid ideas about showing the world how much we could do with a token force.

They weren't right unless catching or killing bin Laden wasn't important (which no one here as argued). Are you arguing that? Should he have been left effectively in control of Afghanistan for instance?

I have to say that this notion that more troops on the ground, more quickly in Afghanistan was any possibility at all...well, you're going to have to show me. I don't know about GWII, but GWI involved some serious use of commercial aircraft as airlift, and to friendly airfields at that. Access from the sea was also a possibility, via Kuwait.

Neither of these was a possibility with Afghanistan. Possibly we might have doubled or even tripled the rate of troop delivery (I have no idea, and I'd like to hear from someone who knows), but unless we were able to put them between bin Laden and the Pakistan border before he crossed the border, it'd be of little use.

And it isn't just a matter of getting more troops on the ground, either. You have to supply them, and you have to have some intelligence about where you want them to go.

"Meanwhile, in the real world leftist moralizing doesn't seem to be a very serious constraint on US actions."

Absolutely, but by the time Tora Bora came around we had made a concious choice to have Aghanistan militia do lots of the work. The action against Afghanistan started October 7. The Battle of Tora Bora began about December 1.

Of course we don't know that bin Laden was there with any actual certainty. But we do know that a very large force of Al Qaeda fighters was there, and that they were allowed to escape to Pakistan.

Sebastian, you are arguing that we should have put many more soldiers in place to catch OBL because that was the important goal. At the time our strategists thought that putting too many US troops into afghanistan would hurt us.

I get the impression their thought was that too many US troops would give us the kind of problem the russians had. We'd look like invaders and we'd generate opposition. As the opposition built up and our collaborators dwindled away, it would take more and more US troops to support the remaining collaborators. Long bloody stalemate, slowly losing, until we finally gave up.

Instead we tried a different approach. We bribed afghan warlords to go against taliban. Since taliban was a loose coalition to begin with, it was easy to peel off many of their supporters to group with their opponents. Arm the lot and send them in, and everybody could see taliban was the losing side, might as well join up with USA and get your cut.

That worked spectacularly well. So the various Taliban groups were signing up with us as anti-Taliban groups, and the arabs were running for the hills since they couldn't pass as afghans and we'd take any arabs we could get and treat them as al qaeda.

We went from afghanistan controlled by Taliban to afghanistan mostly controlled by our own paid friends, with al qaeada mostly gone, very quickly. Great success!

The old foreigners leave afghanistan as the new foreigners come in. But we didn't want the afghans to let them leave, we wanted them all dead. The afghans were ready for them to go away peacefully. With luck when it's our turn to go they'll let us go peacefully too.

Somehow our great success got spun as failure because we didn't capture or kill one particular man.

So OK, we could have done the final AQ attacks ourselves. I suppose that would involve paratroops landing in the mountains and blocking all the escape routes. We'd be supplying those paratroopers by air until our allies reached them. They'd form an impenetrable line across the mountains, and the arabs couldn't get through so they'd have to wait and be crushed by the forces moving south. Meanwhile our troops wouldn't have medevac, and not much mobility. They wouldn't know the territory and they wouldn't be acclimated to it. Somewhat possible that the retreating arabs might wander through a hole in the line and then find a lost US unit and hurt it before escaping. And a fair chance that OBL had already escaped some other way, say with a group of 3 or 4. A small family traveling with their aged grandmother.

I don't think it made sense to put in a lot of troops to try to catch OBL at Tora Bora. Lots of ways it could go wrong, for a small chance of catching him. We might have killed or captured 800 or so AQ guys who were mostly not very important. What we actually accomplished was about as much as we could expect. I don't understand why it turned into a media spectacle where we were supposed to catch him.

So we wound up with afghanistan run by our allies. And our allies could keep it easily and stay loyal to us, both, as long as we paid them enough. But somehow we wound up cutting the funding and moving in more foreign troops. What a bad combination! And we're finding out that the approach of sending more foreign troops to support the afghan government that's failing because it lacks sufficient money to distribute to supporters, is not working very well -- just as they originally predicted.

rilkefan: Under what circumstances would FOX not say that, or something similar?

Ugh: Watch it. Badger pride here.

JT

I disagree with your analysis. The Taliban were nothing to us, the point of going into Afghanistan was to eliminate AQ and bin Laden.

You write off the mistake of relying on (bribed) allies by saying that we might not have suceeded even if we sent in paratroops. Then why go into Afghanistan in the first place, hey, it might not work.

The American public, liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, wanted bin Laden's head on a stake. Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld made a strategic blunder by trying to fight a battle on the cheap. If we ever do see Condi's "mushroom cloud" over one of our cities, you'll be able to trace the source back to Tora Bora.

Tomeck, I don't see that you disagree with my analysis. It looks to me like you disagree with the US military about what the goals should have been.

I think they did the best they could under the circumstances. Al qaeda had perhaps 2000 trained spy/saboteurs, and 20,000 trained infantrymen. The infantry fought pretty well but they didn't look real important. If the spy trainers got away they could set up shop somewhere else. Practically anywhere else. What did AQ need in afghanistan? Privacy, maybe. Room to put infantry training bases. Was it afghanistan's famed internet access? Their wonderful phone service? The banking system? Nothing great there for training terrorists.

The American public, liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, wanted bin Laden's head on a stake.

There's our entire reason for this strategic blunder. We heard OBL was there, and we told Taliban to give us his head, and at that point he hadn't admitted it so they asked for evidence it was him but we said no, just give him to us. We didn't offer them money and we didn't prove it was the right thing to do. They asked for more time to think it over. We said no. We wanted to invade somebody and they wound up the ones.

We'd have to be real lucky to catch OBL. As it turned out, eyewitnesses later said he was there. He might not have been. And he did head south with the retreating AQ, when he could have disguised himself and gone in any direction. Of course most of his terrorists were already out of the country -- what good were they in afghanistan? We'd have to catch them with some sort of police methods. And if the banking stuff worked they'd still get paid, and somebody would give them orders whether it was OBL doing it or not.

So what could our strategy guys salvage from this? They could hope to deny afghanistan to AQ as a base. But not by sending in large numbers of US troops. All through history, every foreign army that's marched into afghanistan has gotten chased out. I guess the mongols were the most successful, they had to leave but they left behind a lot of sons.

It isn't so much that the afghans are such great fighters. But "No army in all of history has done diddly chasing irregular troops through mountains."

The foreigners can hold the cities by keeping them heavily garrisoned and running well-armed convoys between them. They don't want to keep doing that, they want things to settle down so a lot of them can go home. To settle things down they have to go into the mountains and kill or discourage the fighters there. But it's hard to depopulate the mountains. The russians didn't manage it.

There's nothing in afghanistan that's worth losing US soldiers for. They used a strategy that works there -- send in a few soldiers with a lot of money, and buy friends. As long as foreign soldiers are worth more alive than dead, aghans will take care of them.

We *succeeded*. And then we gave in to the stuff that doesn't work. We sent in less money and more troops, and it fell apart.

J Thomas

I can go along with a lot of what you're saying. My point is that OBL was the objective people cared about, and we should have known enough not to outsource that job to a bunch of mercernaries. The 82nd Ariborne is supposed to be able to go anywhere in the world in 24 hours. It was time to put that asset to the test.

And then pull them out quickly when the job is done, go in with the money and expertise you talked about. Clean up the mine fields. Stay out of Iraq. Then we'd have a lot more friends in the Middle East than we do now.

Tomeck, I'm sure they considered your plan.

Here's a minor thing. One of my friends was a surveyor in the 82nd, some years ago. They were supposed to be able to go anywhere in the world in 24 hours back then, too. The first time they got an alert that said they were moving out in 48 hours he panicked. "We don't have our weapons sighted in! How can we go without that!" But everybody else was bored. They got their gear ready and waited. After 48 hours they got the word it was delayed another 96 hours. And after another 96 hours they unpacked. Everybody but him knew they weren't really going. He asked why. "Because if we was really going we'd've got our weapons sighted in last week."

You're thinking about the best case. The 82nd parachutes in and blocks off the escape routes, they land in front and behind al qaeda and roll them up. They capture OBL. We win.

But look at the worst case. They don't parachute into the nearest flat land, which leaves them too far away to be useful. They parachute into the himalayas. Half of them land on the wrong mountains entirely. Get say 5% sprained ankles and 2% broken legs. No medevac. They're moving on foot in the mountains, so they don't move very far. It turns out most of them are out of position. AQ mostly slips by them, but maybe a group of 50 US soldiers with a couple of wounded runs into 250 of them. Or maybe 100 of our guys meets up witn 500 of theirs. They attack and hurt us. When the airstrikes start they move as close as they can to our positions. Our spotters call in fire on their own positions, lacking a better choice. AQ slips away. It takes a month for the 82nd to reach a place they can get picked up, although some of the wounded get carried to a spot that long-range helicopters can reach them in only 12 days or so.

I probably have some details here that are just wrong, but my point is that the worst case for a move like this is very bad. We could hand AQ a great big propaganda victory. But what we did, the worst case was just we blame ourselves for trusting somebody else to do it right. And it was a dunkirk-type move for AQ. They had to make a forced retreat and they lost people. The guys who told th world that OBL told them to stay put and fight hard while he ran away didn't make him sound good. We can get upset that we didn't catch him, but it's a lot harder for him to make it look like a win than the worst case with the 82nd.

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