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March 16, 2009


Ha ha! You fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders! The most famous is never get involved in a land war in Asia, but only slightly less well-known is this: never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha...

All of life's answers can be found in the Princess Bride...

The question is, does the Obama administration appreciate these risks?

I am sure that they appreciate the risks. I think balancing them with our obligations in Afghanistan is the hard part. Walking away after the Soviet collapse arguably was a cause for the Taliban in the first place, so on the one hand we have an intractible problem, and on the other we potentially create worse ones.

I don't think there is a solution. The best we can achieve is mitigating the harms.

I agree. It's really a question about how to mitigate those harms.

And just so we're clear, I'm not suggesting (nor are many voices that I know of suggesting) that we just "walk away." Gelb outlined a three year withdrawal timeline, with concerted action to be taken in the interim. Something like that seems reasonable, especially when fashioned on attainable goals that don't involve reordering Afghan society, Pakistani society and agriculture in Afghanistan.

As for "causing" the Taliban, I'm not so sure. The Taliban was what it was before we began aiding mujahadeen. They took advantage of the vacuum left over, and were effective at restoring order post turmoil, for sure.

But we didn't create them, and our lingering post-USSR withdrawal may or may not have cut short their ascension.

And there's something between complete inattention and radical nation building/societal reorganization.

Which I think you would agree with.

I agree that we did not cause the ideology of the Taliban, and that they would have existed anyway. I think we played a part in the creation of the vacuum that gave them the opportunity to grow.

In Charlie Wilson's War (the book) Charlie Wilson used the lack of support for the Contras among Democrats to sell support in Afghanistan...ie it gave them cover to not be "soft on Communism" if they support the Mujahadeen.

I just wonder if there is some "cover" mentality here that we can still appear tough while disengaging from Iraq.

And there's something between complete inattention and radical nation building/societal reorganization.

There is, but involves risk that is more immediate: the risk of those on the ground who will be subject to more attacks and kidnappings if we don't have a large footprint. I just don't know if we have the strength as a nation to put people in harm's way without always trying to provide more immediate safety, even at the cost of losing the strategic purpose.

"Step 1 was the U.S. decision to back the Afghan mujahidin following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979."

Walt is wrong. And surprisingly ignorant, for a foreign policy "expert."

The CIA intervention in Afghanistan, at Jimmy Carter's direction, took place prior the to Soviet invasion.

If Walt doesn't know this sort of crucial, elementary, fact, it's difficult to trust his knowledge in general. I mean, I'm just a guy in my pajamas (ok, shorts), right? And I know this stuff. And it's kinda important.


Walt admitted his limitations, and that he wasn't certain of all aspect of his summary:

Mind you, I'm no expert on the politics of southwest Asia, and I don't consider myself an authority on U.S. policy there. So feel free to take the following summary with a few grains of salt. But with that caveat in mind, here's my reconstruction of the steps that led us to where we are today, and the main lesson we ought to draw from them.

I wanted to highlight the bolded portion, becuase few people address the radicalizing effects on Pakistan that resulted from the funneling of money, fighters and religious figures through Pakistan - and the establishment of a base of operations there.

Also, Gary, the fact that U.S.-CIA aid to Afghan resistance preceded the Soviet invasion is one that is simply not widely acknowledged in the "official" media narrative.

Just as in "Saddam threw out the UN inspectors in 1998" and the "Hamas coup in Gaza" in June 2007; there are many others.

For the most part, only left-wing sites emphasize the actual sequence of events, and most people who are considered respectable experts go with the popular story.

Just like "everyone" knew Saddam had biological or chemical weapons and was working on nukes.

From Gary's link:

Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter. We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war. Indeed, for almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war unsupportable by the government, a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire.

Wow. I guess the lesson here is beware American's bearing gifts...they may be intended to make your country the frontline and draw in a wider invasion.

Is that post title an R.E.M. quote?

Doug M.


Well, yay me.

Doug M.


Whatever we had to do with the resolution of the crisis, I'm glad we did it, and it was the right thing to do. This is, of course, not to say that interference generally is a good thing. But this was looking pretty bad. And Chaudhry getting reinstated is a very big deal.

I'm assuming there must have been some deal involving not prosecuting Zardari. In fact, I've never understood why such a deal didn't happen ages ago. (Not, for the record, that I in any way like such deals, though in this case I think I'd rather the rule of law be abrogated in one case than across the board; it was just an obvious solution to a set of problems that kept not happening.)

I would take ZB's after-the-fact bragging with more than one grain of salt. Carter expressed shock and dismay when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, not anything even remotely approaching some kind of "flypaper strategy" satisfaction. Further, Carter is the last person one would expect to consciously induce one country to invade another.

As for the larger issue of what to do with Afghanistan, I'd like to see a link to the Gelb article.

Gelb article.

hilzoy: I agree with you - in the present case, it was a good resolution. However, Zardari's actions vis-a-vis Sharif are at least partly intended as a means to work around his flagging domestic support which stems - in part - from his pro-US tilt.

So, he's taking actions to neutralize opponents rather than address the source of his unpopularity. The fear is, we might view his acquiescence to our agenda as a sufficient reason to aid his effort - which would only further stoke anti-Americanism and radicalization.

There are two lessons which I would hope Obama learned from the US intervention in Afghanistan:

One, when you allow ideology to trump human rights, as the US did when they decided to support the radical Islamists because they were "anti-Communist", you set yourself on the path to perdition.

Two, no one can win a land war in Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, Obama has already made all too clear where human rights come on his priority list (low): and he may well think he can just keep bombing Afghan and Pakistani villages in a low-key, kill-the-peasants kind of way, without much cost in American lives.

I can see two advantages to Obama in running an air war in Afghanistan/Pakistan: it allows him to claim that he's not abandoning the War On Terror, he's just focussing his attention on a new battlefield, so that, like Bush, he's a "war president": and it also allows him to keep the gulag at Bagram Airbase, safely out of the way of interfering journalists, human rights organisations, and even lawyers. It's in a war zone.

Mostly, what this will cost will be in the lives of Afghan and Pakistani peasants, and no American President has ever cared much about the ethics of killing nameless foreigners to gain political power at home.

What price change? Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

"I would take ZB's after-the-fact bragging with more than one grain of salt."

I take it you didn't read the linked material. The start:

Question: The former director of the CIA, Robert Gates, stated in his memoirs ["From the Shadows"], that American intelligence services began to aid the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan 6 months before the Soviet intervention. In this period you were the national security adviser to President Carter. You therefore played a role in this affair. Is that correct?

Brzezinski: Yes

Are you advocating that we also take the former DCI, and our current SecDef, with lots of salt?

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