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March 25, 2009


Iraqi society had a starting point before the invasion that Iraqis remember and would like to have back (though with significant changes in the balance of power). Iraq has an infrastructure and relatively educated and worldly population, and natural assets that can support the population. Iraq has a chance of reconciliation to achieve a peaceful coexistence.

I don't think Afghanistan has a starting point to return to for its society that its population remembers as better, unless you go back 30 years. And its population is much more tribal and locally oriented.

In Afghanistan, the mission is much more of a creation of society, rather than a reconstruction. I really don't see how any of our efforts will make that happen.

Agree completely. A fundamental and essential difference.

One fundamental difference I see between the two wars is that the American government is actually trying to define its goals in Afghanistan, ludicrously ambitious as they are. In Iraq, in contrast, the goals have always been meaningless vague and lofty, and American officials have shown an amazing talent for discovering the fulfillment of those goals in whatever today's circumstances in Iraq happen to be. In other words, Iraq was easier by definition, since victory there was defined as the achievement of victory.

Just staying is victory!

But yeah. I mean, we've got Iraq to the "enviable" position of only having a couple hundred - to a few hundred - citizens dying each month in political violence.

So, it's unclear what exactly we want to replicate in Afghanistan.

The harder/not harder debate misses the point. Afghanistan is different from Iraq.

Also, we seem to be ignoring at least two relevant measures of relative ease: Lives and lucre. We clearly need to "ramp up" in Afghanistan -- and have so needed for some time. But every scenario out there involves substantially less money and manpower than was required for the same opportunity for success in Iraq.

We know Major Tom's a junky.

Yeah, it's been confirmed. Also, an action man.

A big problem is that the attempt to stamp out the drugs trade forces lots of poor rural farmers to rely upon the Taliban for protection of their livelihood. We have goals which on the ground are incompatible. I would classify the drugs goal, as one that arises from domestic political considerations, and not a strategic assessment. We have got to determine what our priorities are. We cannot accomplish all our goals. We cannot afford the squandering of resources and blood that continuing the futile pursuit of the unachievable.

I agree with that. Those goals work at cross-purposes, yet one more drawback to the neverending and wasteful "War on Drugs"

Afghanistan is about half again as large as Iraq, with a slightly larger population. About 24% of the people live in or near cities, as compared to Iraq, where 2 out of 3 people live in or near cities.

Geographically, it's extremely mountainous. A lot of the country is, for all practical purposes, inaccessible at some times of the year. It's really cold in the winter and really hot in the summer.

There's not a lot of water. There's not a lot of arable land. There's not much for infrastructure. There's not a lot of money, and, other than opium, folks there don't really have or make anything that other folks will pay for.

The folks who live there represent a handful of very distinct, and often not mutually friendly, ethnic and linguistic groups.

The nearest US base to Afghanistan has been asked to be closed.

The national sport is bushkazi.

Other than the fact that most of the people who live there are Muslim, I don't see that the two places have anything whatsoever in common.

Afghanistan is a tough nut. Much tougher than Iraq. We should expect it to be an order of magnitude more difficult to achieve anything there.

Plus, we've been there since 2001. We've had seven and a half years to "Prevent, Protect, Build, and Hand-Off".

What have we achieved in that time?

To me, this seems like another bunch of suits with a PowerPoint presentation deciding what everyone else in the world needs to do. If that's where we're coming from, we should expect to see as much success as the last bunch did.

Never mind what *we* want. What do the Afghans want?

Answer that, and that is your way forward.

"rather ambitious set of policy goals to include putting a halt to the opium trade"

This statement provokes me into one of my patented charm offensives:

Grow up. Grow up.

Those who believe that state-building in Afghanistan is critical for denial of safe havens to U.S. enemies, yet at the same time, lacks the courage to prioritize and say no to the pursuit of agendas that conflict with this like a counternarcotics campaign or NATO expansion, are not "serious" people.

A grown up who came to the considered decision that state-building, or even just persistent military leverage, in Afghanistan was vital would at least consider whether or not an opium crop purchase program or some other alternative to prohibition and eradication would work better. A grown up would at least consider stopping NATO expansion if that's what it takes to get its cooperation to sustain access routes to Central Asia that Pakistan does not control.

Those who won't consider these steps because they don't think it would "look good" to have something other than a hard line on drugs, or who think bargaining with the Russians is just too "icky" to do, even at risk of a weaker U.S. position vis-a-vis Afghanistan and Pakistan, are being children and show a childlike inability to prioritize.

Grown-ups would understand there are trade-offs between the anti-Al-Qaeda, anti-Taliban fight and other pre-9-11 bureaucratic prjects, and they would have the courage to make the hard choices.

Where do you all draw the line between
modest & achievable versus grandiose & impossible goals?

For the Americans benefit:
Is it too ambitious to have as a goal that the pre-2001 Taliban state not be reestablished?

Is it too ambitious to have as a goal that Mullah Omar never be a part of the Aghan government again, even if some of his subordinates can be?

Is it too ambitious to have as a goal that pretty much all factions controlling territory in Afghanistan (ie, all those capable of providing sanctuary or hosting camps) see it as a distinctly *bad idea* to have any sort of alliances with transnational Islamist terrorists (like Al-Qaeda or Lashkar-e-Tayyiba) and prevent them from operating in country?

If just those goals are achieved, we win! by my definition, no matter what level of personal wealth, order, women's right, drug economy, or rule of law Afghanistan has. The quality of its constitutional regime, its balance of church/state, etc. are not victory criteria.

For the Afghans' benefit:
Is it too ambitious to have as a goal that Afghans who worked with us not see a mass decline in their personal safety after international forces leave?

Is it too ambitious to have as a goal that post-2001 gains in public health, personal income, infrastructure, and reduced child mortality not be reversed upon the departure of international forces?

If those goals can be achieved, and are not reversed, after the departure of international forces, then one can say the Afghan people win!

I can live with that set of goals.

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