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July 15, 2008

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One can make a non-trivial argument for the wisdom of crossing one's fingers behind one's back, going along with the pretend victory, and saying that we can bring our folks home now, right?

The pretender has to then say 'Oh, well, we haven't really won, exactly, just yet. We just haven't completely and catastrophically lost yet. And the DFHs are wrong.'

Again, Eric, this surge in pretense/surge in practice distinction is useless. Nobody ever said that the surge would involve only and exactly adding soldiers while making no other changes whatsoever. In fact, the opposite was implied by the stated purpose of the surge, which was to provide time to work out political solutions. This strongly implies that during the time in which the troop count was higher, the U.S. would generally try to encourage stability and settlement.

I really don't see where it gets you to repeat this theme. Are you expecting outrage that the government for once did something more and smarter than it seemed to say it was planning?

Similarly, arguing that lucky coincidences helped is beside the point: the surge made it easier to take advantage of luck when it came along. That's what good policy is supposed to do.

You have sound arguments that the surge is not working as well as some say, or that few lessons from Iraq apply squarely to Afghanistan, but you do your arguments a disservice by framing them this way.

"The Surge" has been pretty well exploited. Military commanders will come up with a catchy name for any new strategy, but in the end the ratio of trigger pullers to support personnel will remain constant. I like Mr. McCain, but we should start thinking about an orderly withdrawal. Let's call it "good old common sense".

The bottom line regarding the "surge" is not the 30,000 US soldiers, but the increase of over 100,000 Iraqi soldiers.

Iraq continues to need US logistical support, and will for quite a while, but the real value of the surge was providing time for the Iraqi army to mature.

But trilo,

How do you then do the same with Afghanistan? That's the point. By overselling The Surge, you then open the door to claims that you can replicate it elsewhere by adding more troops to Afghanistan. But the success of The Surge lies in intangibles that don't translate.

I also disagree that there was broad talk of shifting strategies attendant to The Surge. That was convenient and opportunistic, but not related in my read.

Although the US and other groups were doing other things at the time the "surge" referred to the increase in troops. Had the US policy just been to payoff insurgents and build walls to support sectarian cleansing, nobody would call it a "surge". The outrage is that the administration, mainstream media, and many other people, are attributing the improvements in Iraq - falsely - to sending more troops in. Besides being used to excuse the morally vile and strategically insane decision to send in the troops in the first place, it's now being used to support the idea the Afghanistan can fixed by sending in more troops, thereby miring us in yet another quagmire.

I've said for some time the purpose of the troop "surge" was not to improve conditions in Iraq but so they could claim credit for improvements caused by other events (primarily giving in to the insurgents and paying them off). Sadly, it's working, mostly because Americans are so eager to believe you can fix problems by shooting people. I actually do think fixing Afghanistan is possible, and that more troops will be a part of it, but the most critical part is changing our relations with the Afghans so there are actually some people there who genuinely support us. Unfortunately the strategems that worked in Iraq aren't going to help in Afghanistan because the problems are different - the insurgents are much more ideological and hard to buy off, and sectarian cleansing isn't going to help much with intergroup conflict.

What curtadams said. Much better than me.

To follow on curtadams comment. This is a major difference between what Obama and McCain are talking about. McCain talks about sending more troops in (replicating the unreplicable) whereas Obama talks about sending more troops plus more economic assistance plus working with farmers to provide an viable alternative to growing poppies plus expanding the3 central government and so on and so on.
Things that should have been done at the very beginning.

I'd agree with John Miller that Obama's approach *might* work while McCain's would almost certainly fail. That said, the primary problem is that Afghanistan has no group within the Pashtuns (the Talibani base ethnicity) with both genuine popular support and military force that we're willing to deal with. This makes fighting the Talibani, who have both, very hard. Creating a group within the Pashtuns able to beat the Talibani isn't impossible, but it's a tough project. Invasion and suppression of the Pashtuns by other ethnicities isn't something we can support and due to the geography of Afghanistan probably couldn't be done anyway.

Curt, agreed that it "might" work, and with the rest of your premise. There is some conjecture that what is currently calling itself the Taliban in Afghanistan has as much connection to the real Taliban as al Qaeda in Iraq has to the real al Qaeda and in fact, like AQI, being used a fodder by the real Taliban.

My point is that McCain can not see past the use of military force and recognize that military force by itself is always doomed to failure in situations like this.

Obama gets that there is more than one way to skin the kitty. Oops, is the weapon going to be pointed my way when next I come to this site?

"...the creation of a special Afghanistan tsar..." Doesn't anyone realize, given the long history of Russian involvement in Afghanistan, how tone-deaf this phrase is?
Besides, has anyone heard from the "War Czar" recently? Anyone remember who he is?

John: I'm certainly no expert on the intricacies of Sunni fundamentalist politics within the Pashtuns. For that matter, is anybody in the English speaking world? I remember watching a Frontline on Talibani activities in Pashtun-majority Pakistani provinces during the broohaha over Musharrif cutting deals with the local elders. I couldn't figure out to what extent they were allies of the Talibani (as many thought) or acting to suppress them (as Bush and Musharrif claimed). It *is* obvious that there are Sunni fundamentalists with substantial public support and substantial guerilla forces and I'll keep calling them "Talabani"
even though I'm not capable of determining whether they are substantially under the control of Mullah Omar.

If there *is* an American president able to cut this particular Gordian knot, it's Obama. As a community organizer, he understands the problems and methods to create power groups; as somebody raised partly in a Muslim country he knows something about Islamic cultures, and as somebody with academic ties he's suited to make the connections to people to tackle a hard problem like this.

Origuy: Yow! Good catch! I didn't think about it but you are so right.

Somewhat OT: Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan are improving!

"The Afghan government has suspended a series of meetings with Pakistan, accusing the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies of being behind a rash of recent terrorist attacks in Afghanistan. The Council of Ministers passed a resolution on Monday to halt the meetings after investigations revealed the involvement of Pakistani agencies in a number of attacks, including an assassination attempt on President Hamid Karzai in April, suicide bombings and the execution of Afghan civilians, according to a presidential spokesman, Homayun Hamidzada."

The Bush policy is doing a great job of pushing back against, and fighting, the Pakistani Taliban.

Why do Bush/McCain supporters not want to fight the Taliban? Why do Bush/McCain Republicans want to see another attack on America, another September 11th?

Shouldn't they think about that when daydreaming about electing John McCain?

Don't mind me!: I'm just using the completely inoffensive, non-personal, patented DaveC method of late night commenting!

Does anybody honestly believe that after six plus years, the war in Afghanistan is at all 'winnable'. The harder things get for the Afghani's the more support the so called Taliban gets. Or so it seems to me.

A fine post, Eric, but thanks your title, I know can't get this out of my head.

Thanks a lot!

The Plan for Afghanistan:

(1) Surge

(2) ?

(3) Victory!

I must pass on my afflictions Ben.

Ah, thanks Ben. Being too young, I was completely at sea, and thought it was some sort of bizarre reference to the assassination of Sergio Vieira de Mello.

So, this piece, on how Obama is viewed in Iraq, is pretty interesting, eh?

I'd be interested in Charles Bird's view.

Gary: Actually, I’d be more interested in Obama’s view of the article…

Or, possibly of more significance - this one.

Don't mind me!: I'm just using the completely inoffensive, non-personal, patented DaveC method of late night commenting!

Gary, without seeking an argument here, can I ask how this line differs substantively from the shot I took at your commenting style in a recent thread?

The articles that Gary and OCSteve linked are both very interesting. The Iraq one falls squarely within the realms of what makes sense to me. The Iran-Europe one is interesting and, if accurate, means that Obama is going to have an interesting diplomatic challenge ahead of him. I'm personally of the opinion that the approaches of both Europe and the Bush Admin are wrong here, and Obama is right--look at where the former has gotten us, after all--but it does raise the bar of what kind of diplomacy will be required from a President Obama early on.

OCSteve: Or, possibly of more significance - this one.

While the Washington Post article you reference does sweepingly refer to "Europe" and "European officials", the only named "European official" who is quoted, isn't actually what I (a European) would think of as a European official... it's someone who works for the Institute for Security Studies, which is a think-tank.

Further, I find it kind of suspicious that these unnamed "Europeans" are expressing views which match so well views I've heard expressed by right-wing Americans, that the US should put preconditions on talks with Iran, and which match so badly with actions from Britain, France, and Germany - the three EU countries which have been in talks with Iran.

It's of course perfectly true that Europeans fear an American President will high-handedly disrupt international agreements for the sake of his party's political agenda. This was routine under Bush, and it's to be hoped will improve under Obama.

I do not know of any widespread fear in Europe that Obama will make the situation in Iran worse. Like everyone else in the sane world, we are all rather hoping for a competent and practical President this time - ie, not John McSame.

Jes: It's of course perfectly true that Europeans fear an American President will high-handedly disrupt international agreements for the sake of his party's political agenda. This was routine under Bush, and it's to be hoped will improve under Obama.

I tend to think that both articles reflect campaign rhetoric more than reality. He is a politician and I do understand that he has to walk a fine line right now (move to center without totally losing his base on the left).

So I don’t actually believe his Iraq timeline is 16 months without considering what the commanders on the ground say or the Iraqi government says. Reality will force his hand in the end.

Same thing with Iran. The EU has put a lot of hard work into these negotiations. So I can’t believe that Obama would just blow them out of the water as soon as he takes office.

So I do have hope that he will be competent and practical. ;)

I tend to think that both articles reflect campaign rhetoric more than reality.

I agree, though you didn't make it very clear that you knew you were linking to Republican campaign rhetoric with the Washington Post article.

So I don’t actually believe his Iraq timeline is 16 months without considering what the commanders on the ground say or the Iraqi government says. Reality will force his hand in the end.

Indeed - one would hope that the US could end the occupation much faster than 16 months. Delaying that long would be pretty stupid, given what the commanders on the ground and the Iraq government have been saying - and Bush has been ignoring - for years.

So I can’t believe that Obama would just blow them out of the water as soon as he takes office.

I've seen no indication that the EU would regard US willingness to enter talks with Iran without setting preconditions on the talks - which is, after all, what Britain, France, and Germany did, as I recall - as "blowing them out of the water". So I think you're right that it's just campaign rhetoric - the Washington Post is pretty reliable in delivering Republican party rhetoric as if it were "news".

The EU has put a lot of hard work into these negotiations. So I can’t believe that Obama would just blow them out of the water as soon as he takes office.

My impression (and it may be wrong) is that Obama wants to have talks without preconditions on either side. Just to get an idea of the "shape of the table" (from the discussion on the Vietnamese Peace Talks), if nothing else. I see nothing wrong with that (and much right with it).

Jes: You know, it’s tough to even agree with you? ;)

Jes: You know, it’s tough to even agree with you? ;)

Ditto!

hah!

The Doctor: Buy me a drink first.
Jack: Such hard work.
The Doctor: But worth it.

who is this surgio guy do you know the truth

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