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March 26, 2009

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I didn't know that India was playing a Great Game with Pakistan over Afghanistan. That complicates things a lot. Would it help to reduce India's influence there?

To the extent that we can remove Pakistan's incentive to play spoiler - and back groups that are friendly to al-Qaeda - it would be in our interest. Part of that would probably entail lessening India's influence.

Interesting moral calculus. Tiny incremental changes in the risk of American commuters being blown up are enormously important. How many girls in Afghanistan become literate is of zero importance.

Methinks the American left has overreacted to Bush.

Not moral calculus, realistic calculus.

What can we accomplish, not what is morally satisfying to attempt to accomplish. Not "zero importance" just: is it worth trillions of dollars and thousands of American soldiers' lives?

I would add: Our efforts to "improve" the lives of Afghanis also involves us killing thousands of Afghanis - including, unfortunatley, hundreds, if not thousands, of women and children.

War has a tendency to do that. Even wars that mean well.

For example, if I were to propose invading North Korea and toppling the current regime, if someone else pointed out how costly and uncertain an endeavor that would be, could I then strike the morally superior pose?

Could I ask them why they consider the oppression of North Korean citizens to be of "zero importance"?'

Would it change anything if that conversation took place mid-mission in North Korea when the second person was describing a viable exit strategy that fell short of deposing the NoKo regime?

we begin bombing in five minutes

Eric,

What you are saying now is different from what you say in the post. In the post, you say the only important norm is American self-interest. In the comments, you say whatever the important norms may be, no one can do the impossible. Those are just different concepts, and the fact that "realists" (and for that matter, Bush-fanatics) like to confuse them doesn't change that.

In the post, you say the only important norm is American self-interest.

Do I? Where?

Frankly, I don't think the risk from al Qaeda, as such, is that big a deal. As an organization, it is as disrupted as it is ever going to be.

The question is whether the bourgeois West can really be secure with large swathes of the world in which women have no rights. There is a lot of evidence that if you give a generation of women primary education, you will see massive changes in economic development and political freedom later.

Americans and Canadians are as selfish as anyone else, but I think we owe the Afghan people something -- given that they trusted us. We can't make Afghanistan completely safe or stable, but so long as there is the political will in the bourgeois democracies to accept some casualties, we can keep the unreconstructed Taliban out of power long enough to educate a generation of women.

We can't make Afghanistan completely safe or stable, but so long as there is the political will in the bourgeois democracies to accept some casualties, we can keep the unreconstructed Taliban out of power long enough to educate a generation of women.

Well, political will and a couple trillion dollars and a perilously overstretched military.

Truth be told Pithy, I'm with you 100% on the plight of women, and the value of educating women. I just don't think it's as easy to accomplish in Afghanistan as maintaining our political will.

If I sound like a cold realist, I'm not. Perhaps my tone gives that impression.

But it just astounds me when people discuss these massive endeavors as if it's just a choice of whether or not to do it.

It's an issue of alliances. Unfortunately for the U.S. agenda, Pakistan seems to only form alliances with those Afghan Pashtuns who tend to align in turn with international takfiri types, and who are the most backward domestically. All the other Afghan factions - Tajiks, Karzai's Pashtuns, Afghan royalists, etc., hate Pakistan and Pakistan reciprocates.

Meanwhile, within Pakistan, the secular National Awami Party, which actually won the local elections, is anti-Taliban, but is associated in the minds of the Pakistani military with treason and separatism. The military seems to distrust the Taliban types a good deal less than it distrusts elected Awami politicians. Even if they regret Talib tactics, they see their fundamental strategic orientation as less dangerous.

What would solve alot of problems for Americans, Afghans and Pakistanis would be an ethnic and factional "diplomatic revolution", where Islambad and the Punjabi political elite, the Pakistani military, and the anti-Taliban factions all became allies, and the Taliban insurgent types in both countries became the common enemy. But entrenched distrust militates against this.

The unfortunate historical reality is that previous historical Afghan governments (royalist and monarchist and Karzai)all appealed to pan-Pashtun sentiments by claiming Pakistan's northwest frontier. The Taliban was one of the few governments that did not. So, Islamabad feels like the Taliban are its best investment. By the way, those Pakistanis driving that agenda also are behind the abuse of the Shiite population within the Indus valley regions of Pakistan.

Pakistani peasants in all regions are right to be angry. They just direct their anger to the wrong places. They really would be best off becoming militantly *leftist* not Islamist, overthrowing the feudal order and either forcing the wealthy to pay taxes or breaking their economic power. Now, they are not going to do this because I said so, but if Pakistan does end up letting things get out of hand and Islamist militancy leads to total war with India, they can't say I didn't warn them about the suicidalness of identity politics.

Eric,

Do you really believe the American military is overstretched (as opposed to not-omnipotent)? By any objective measure, it has greater dominance relative to its rivals of any military power in history. Most of the other major military powers are your allies.

Yes, doing the right thing in Afghanistan is costly and risky and unsatisfying. But even the current Afghanistan is a big improvement on the pre-2001 Afghanistan. Some XX chromosome types are learning to read, and opening businesses, and doing science. That's not a sand castle, because evidence from around the world suggests that universal education for women brings irreversible social change -- demographically, politically and economically.

I see the appeal of the Ron Paul approach, but it's an illusion. We're bound up with the Muslim world, whether we like it or not, and we have to engage.

I see the appeal of the Ron Paul approach, but it's an illusion. We're bound up with the Muslim world, whether we like it or not, and we have to engage.

I see the appeal too, but I don't support the Ron Paul approach. It's too absolutist in my view, often simplistic, and outright unrealistic in many ways.

I think even Bacevich can be too rigid in certain areas, and he's a good deal better than Paul in my opinion.

But yes, we DEFINITELY need to engage the Muslim world. No doubt about that. The question is, should that engagement take the shape of decade(s) long military occupations of multiple Muslim nations - with a concomitant commitment to interfere with a heavy hand in the internal affairs of another (Pakistan)?

I tend to think not. I don't think that type of engagement is beneficial to our relations with the Muslim world. Poll after poll confirms my hunch - in overwhelming numbers - in terms of the way Muslims view those attempts to engage.

Do you really believe the American military is overstretched (as opposed to not-omnipotent)?

Soldiers are. Suicide rates are at all time highs, enlistment standards have been lowered several times, across a wide array of criteria. That has long lasting negative effects.

Material is being chewed up fast too. Replacing what we've gone through already is going to be enormously expensive. Adding to that scrap pile by embarking on a massive, decades long commitment will be even more expensive.

Iraq and Afghanistan will cost us around $3 trillion if we end both in the next three years.

If we continue Afghanistan for another 10 years after that, you can tack on another $1 trillion, maybe $2 trillion.

Do you think the US government has got an extra couple of trillion laying around? If so, where?

Especially considering how costly even withdrawal from Iraq is going to be:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/24/AR2009032402741.html

Isn't the wild card here Pakistan? If it goes full out Jihadist, can war with India be far behind? Then, the issue becomes whether Pakistan has the wherewithal to fight a two front war if, but only if, the US has a presence in Afghanistan. Or, at least the above is one scenario within the realm of foreseeability. If we get out of Iraq, and if we expand our ground forces (as we should), 41,000 troops in Afghanistan isn't unsupportable. The money is a factor, although less so, it seems, if we are stimulating the economy.

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