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April 01, 2009

Comments

E-Mart:

This is all fascinating (and incredibly important) stuff, but can't you find anything positive to blog about? You're bringing me down, man! ;)

I think that, given the recent history with AQ and the instability in Pakistan, it is not simply 'we are denying safe havens', but that it is important to deny this particular safe haven. The nature of foreign policy rhetoric dictates that we claim we are applying some global standard to this and if the same situation occurred in wherever, we would have the same response, but practically, we are in Afghanistan because it is adjacent to Pakistan.

"Trillions don't come cheap."

It bears repeating (over and over) that draining us of those trillions, and bringing the U.S. down that way, via luring us into endless wars, is Osama bin Laden's stated strategy. He's made no secret about it.

(The strategy is modeled on the way the Soviet Union was drained and depleted by their Afghan war.)

As a general note, let me say that I'm rather afraid, at this point, of Obama's foreign policy as regards our terrorist enemies, and as regards Afghanistan, and perhaps Iraq, as being overly in line with some of the main mistakes John F. Kennedy made in being a foreign policy hawk for domestic political purposes (as well as sincerely believing in such hawkishness), and being drawn far too deeply into Vietnam.

And I fear he might be listening too much to our modern version of "the best and the brightest" until it's too late. (This might apply to the economic arena, as well, but I regard myself as entirely incompetent to assess that.)

(I like to hope anything resembling the Bay of Pigs will be avoided, at least.)

"...but practically, we are in Afghanistan because it is adjacent to Pakistan."

This is a variant of what I asked Von in this ongoing thread, but how does being in Afghanistan help us in Pakistan?

I can make a pretty good, and quite obvious, case as to how it hurts us in Pakistan. But helps us? Can you expand, perhaps?

The whole safe haven thing seems like bald-face BS on its face. We've denied no one anything since we went into Afghanistan and Iraq, except civilians the ability to live in peace, and we've promoted anarchy and dischord, not any sort of stable governance.

What's that catchphrase we all sort of learned in law school? That we should be deemed to have intended the foreseeable consequences of our actions? Why would a reasonable observer believe that we want the things we profess to want, rather than the things we've actually done? It defies common sense.

Gary, I tend to agree with you.

Our presence in Afghanistan fuels radicalization across the border. Before our invasion, for example, Pakistan was not as beset by the same problems - at least not in intensity. Our pressure on Pakistan to crack down on these regions is tearing the country at the seams - and creating spirited opposition to any and all groups that are amenable to our objectives.

Basically, we're squeezing Pakistan through a US-centric lens and ignoring the fact that such an approach is creating serious unrest in Pakistan itself.

Our military presence is not helping that dynamic, but making it worse.

My feeling is that Afghanistan has to be stabilized in some fashion before we can address Pakistan's problems. Demands on Pakistan have always been met with statements that we underestimate the problems that the country faces from the tribal areas. (This link is from the CFR that came up on google that mirrors a lot of what I read, though this is not an area that I have intensely kept track of, so I'm open to any points contrary to this.) While there are various levels of action, so I don't want to make this a binary choice of staying or leaving, but a hands off attitude creates a situation where Pakistan says you have no investment in this, so don't go telling us how to manage these problems. It may be a damned if you do, damned if you don't problem, but if stability is brought to Afghanistan, it helps conditions for Pakistan to achieve political stability, something very important in light of the revelation of the possibility of a Kashimir agreement and it being derailed by the Mumbai terror attacks.

Eric points out that Pakistan was not beset by the problems until we entered Pakistan, but I think that is a very benign reading of recent Pakistan history.

Eric has discussed COIN and it has been mentioned that practical nation building efforts can only take place in an environment that has some basic security in place. It is improbable to think that if we give up on the military aspect, we can still hope to help Afghanistan in any other way at all, except by leaving them the hell alone.

That's a bit short, but school is starting here, so I can only drop this comment and I'm not sure if I can return with much (unless this helps me procrastinate, then I'm your man.)

Eric points out that Pakistan was not beset by the problems until we entered Pakistan, but I think that is a very benign reading of recent Pakistan history.

But don't clip the quote. I added: at least not in the same intensity.

Similar problems, not flaring red hot like they are now.

"My feeling is that Afghanistan has to be stabilized in some fashion before we can address Pakistan's problems."

Lots of opinion suggests the reverse. Of course, there's no reason both can't be true simultaneously.

But the idea that "we" can address either country's problems strikes me as, no offense, and nothing personal intended, typical of American foreign policy arrogance. Who says that the U.S. is capable of "addressing" the deep-rooted problems of a country with an entirely foreign culture, to the extent of drastically changing said country, and Improving It to our satisfaction?

"...but a hands off attitude creates a situation where Pakistan says you have no investment in this, so don't go telling us how to manage these problems."

I'd argue that any and all likely eventualities result in Pakistan saying not to go managing their problems.

"...but if stability is brought to Afghanistan, it helps conditions for Pakistan to achieve political stability...."

If "stability"is brought to Afghanistan in almost any way that we view positively, it will inevitably be seen as a negative by significant segments of the Pakistani population, including their military (which regard us as tilting towards favoring Indian influence in Afghanistan, along with viewing us as definitionally undermining their own influence in Afghanistan).

This, again pretty much definitionally, destablizes Pakistan: what we're doing is trying to create an Afghanistan that Pakistan can no longer have tremendous influence in. How are such interests as have traditionally run the ISI, and shared tribal and religious sympathies with Afghan tribes (many of whom are the same people, of course; the Durand line wasn't drawn by the natives, after all, and is regarded by almost everyone there as a wholly artificial, foreign-imposed, border, because it is.

So I really don't follow how "stabilizing" Afghanistan in any way that we like helps stabilize Pakistan in any way we like. It seems to me that it clearly does the opposite. Regrettably, but I'm not aware of factors that would lead one to see it otherwise: again, can you help here, perhaps?

"Eric points out that Pakistan was not beset by the problems until we entered Pakistan...."

"...at least not in intensity."

"That's a bit short, but school is starting here, so I can only drop this comment and I'm not sure if I can return with much...."

I understand. I'm still not seeing it, though, for the record.

Lord knows I wish I did. I sure wish I believed that the U.S. could cure at least some of Afghanistan's problems, as we see them (women's rights, as one of the most obvious), and make Afghanistan and Pakistan both all stable and friendly-like to us, but unfortunately it seems to me that these are pretty well contradictory desires, much as we'd like it otherwise.

If we somehow had magic brain rays to make most everyone in Pakistan want to lose influence and sympathy with their kinfolk, and non-kinfolk, in Afghanistan, that woulc be great, but short of that, I don't see at all how we get there. At least, how we get there any time in the reasonable future. (I'm not going to make predictions about, say, twenty years from now.)

"How are such interests as have traditionally run the ISI, and shared tribal and religious sympathies with Afghan tribes (many of whom are the same people, of course; the Durand line wasn't drawn by the natives, after all, and is regarded by almost everyone there as a wholly artificial, foreign-imposed, border, because it is."

Well, there's a sentence that ran off into the woods with itself. Sorry about that.

Before I got lost in in my parentheses I meant to conclude with a query as to how we reconcile "stability" in Afghanistan that we like, with major historic political and cultural interests in Afghanistan.

What's that catchphrase we all sort of learned in law school?

I don't recall.

Well the snark might be justified, except that Dem’s have already tried this. See Massachusetts…

Bluer than Blue right? How many volunteered? Hah!

Hypocrites (Anyone who supports higher taxes but does not voluntarily pay them…)

… but then feel free to make projections based on higher tax rates

Er, so you are comfortable with Obama’s “and then a unicorn appears” budget?

Here's the problem with nation building: We don't know how to do it. If we did, Haiti would be an economic powerhouse and a stronghold of democracy. That's why I was about 90 percent sure we would fail in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Eric, apologies for cutting off the quote, but I'd point out that Musharraf had three major assasination attempts on his life and a number of minor ones, so 'intensity' might be disputed.

Gary, sorry I'm not explaining it too well, but here's another feeble attempt on my part. If the US completely washes its hands of Afghanistan and then does anything to support Pakistan (like the 2.8 bn aid in military support that Obama has proposed and the 1.5 in civilian aid) it will, for all intents and purposes, appear that we are not washing our hands, but simply dealing with the situation by propping up Pakistan. And we have to provide Pakistan aid of some sort because if we don't, it will look like we are siding with India. So this notion that we take our military forces out and that removes us as a target seems optimistic.

I certainly understand some of the historical and cultural forces (though less of the current political alignments) that make Afghanistan the graveyard of empires, and I'm not thinking that the US will magically be able to succeed where everyone from Alexander the Great to Leonid Brezhev have failed. But I'd also note that the Soviet problems in Afghanistan came concurrently with the Iranian revolution and the Israel-Egypt peace agreement, which suggests to me that if steps are taken (I hope!) to reduce tensions in other Middle East hotspots (the Hersh article about Syrian-Israel relations in the New Yorker is one example) the idea that we can simply let Afghanistan simmer on a back burner with no direct attention is the overly optimistic view.

"If the US completely washes its hands of Afghanistan" [...] "the idea that we can simply let Afghanistan simmer on a back burner with no direct attention"

I'm not suggesting either; I'm simply saying that I'm skeptical about how much of our goals we can accomplish via our proposed means. I'd certainly like to hope I'm being overly pessimistic.

And I leap to admit that it's endlessly easier to criticize than to make positive proposals.

But the fact that I don't have any wonderful policy options to for the U.S. to pull out of my pocket to immensely improve (by our lights) the situations in Afghanistan and Pakistan doesn't mean that the current proposals will actually improve the situations, either.

"But I'd also note that the Soviet problems in Afghanistan came concurrently with the Iranian revolution and the Israel-Egypt peace agreement, which suggests to me that if steps are taken (I hope!) to reduce tensions in other Middle East hotspots (the Hersh article about Syrian-Israel relations in the New Yorker is one example) the idea that we can simply let Afghanistan simmer on a back burner with no direct attention is the overly optimistic view."

I think, and I don't mean this with the least sarcasm, that I'm being slow tonight, because I'm not following the connections you're making. What's the connection you're drawing between the Soviet failure and withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the "Iranian revolution and the Israel-Egypt peace agreement"?

(As an entirely and utterly trivial point, I'd note that both Pakistan and Afghanistan are in Southwest Asia, not the Middle East, although to be sure, you're not the first person to consider them so, so some would defend the label; in any case, this is entirely trivial; I'm just fussy about my POV that historic India [Pakistan] and Afghanistan haven't historically been considered part of the Mideast.)

I'm not suggesting either

True, though Eric's thrust seems to be a relatively hands off approach, though, as I said in an earlier thread, I don't want to accuse him of being a head in the sand isolationist.

But if one supports the idea that we should supply Afghanistan with relief and civilian aid, getting that there depends on having a functioning government. Which, I think, depends on stabilizing the security situation.

The Iran connection is that America withdraws from Afghanistan and we have to deal with Iran in some sort of tough love approach (which, given nuclear ambitions, would be driven as much by our own domestic politicians posturing as hardliners as by actual foreign policy concerns) Iran could cause us lots of problems by stirring up discontent in Afghanistan. The Hersh article discusses Israel-Syria rapprochment as a way of isolating Iran. The Israel-Egypt peace agreement had the effect of pushing the Soviet Union to get involved in Afghanistan, which led to other consequences, and I can see a similar dynamic playing out in regards to Iran feeling threatened as a regional power. Maybe this is a a tenuous linkage, and it's cleaner and easier to simply withdraw from Afghanistan, (your point about JFK is well taken) but I do think we owe the people of Afghanistan something, and allowing another Taliban like government ascend would be a problem.

Also, I take your geographical point, but on reflection, using the Middle East in this sense is actually a way of avoiding identifying it as a problem with Islam and therefore suggesting some sort of clash of civilizations. Certainly, the problems of Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan are linked with not only the Sunni-Shiite conflict, but also with I-P issues as well, so I'm not sure what cover term one should use.

"But if one supports the idea that we should supply Afghanistan with relief and civilian aid, getting that there depends on having a functioning government. Which, I think, depends on stabilizing the security situation."

But doing that over the whole country is very ambititious. How do you know it's achievable by the U.S. (and lots of money from elsewhere, let's optimistically stipulate)?

"...Iran could cause us lots of problems by stirring up discontent in Afghanistan."

True, but I'm actually not that worried about that, because there remain limits on how "stirred up" Iran wants Afghanistan; their interests are pretty much opposed to Pakistan's, so the points I was arguing that make for almost inherent conflict between our interests and Pakistan's interests in Afghanistan are largely reversed with Iran.

"The Israel-Egypt peace agreement had the effect of pushing the Soviet Union to get involved in Afghanistan...."

It did? Can you offer some pointers on this?

"...and allowing another Taliban like government ascend would be a problem."

But there's already more or less a "Taliban-like government" across much of Afghanistan. Karzai remains mostly the mayor of Kabul. Can we change this? Maybe. But, I repeat, it's awfully ambitious, and I have to ask you what makes you think this is a realistic goal, beyond wishful thinking and hope?

(I mean, maybe you're right; as I suggested regarding Jesurgislac's comments earlier this week that it was impossible for this to be done, well, I wouldn't say it's impossible. But as I said then, it doesn't seem necessarily likely.)

"Certainly, the problems of Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan are linked with not only the Sunni-Shiite conflict, but also with I-P issues as well"

Well, pretty distantly, in the sense that many Muslims have grievances over the Palestinians, but it's pretty darn indirect for Afghanistan and Pakistan. I'm frankly rather puzzled at your repeatedly pointing to Israel and neighbors as relevant to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"so I'm not sure what cover term one should use.

Well, the problems of Pakistan and Afghanistan remain problems of Southwest Asia, so I'm not seeing what the problem is with saying so.

If you prefer, the State Department has for some time had a "South and Central Asia Bureau." But that's where they consider Afghanistan and Pakistan to be, just as everyone else has. I'm not at all following why you're calling them part of the Mideast, and pointing to Israeli/Palestinian and Israeli/Egyptian affairs as particularly relevant. Sorry.

But doing that over the whole country is very ambititious.

One would think that if they could make it over half the country, or even a quarter of the country, one hopes that it would permit things to happen. I'm certainly not arguing for 100% pacification.

The current situation is a deep indictment of what we and Nato have done and not done, and I don't think that it was unavoidable. If you think it was, I can see how you might argue that getting out is the best option, and I can't really point to anything specific that could have been done differently, other than not invade Iraq.

And there is a difference between what is 'governing' now and what I am suggesting a Taliban like government means. Certain, no one is recognizing the Taliban as the legitimate representative of Afghanistan, as was the case before 9-11. And if we simply leave, what say do we have?

Wouldn't Iran view Afghanistan as a likely place to cause problems if Syria and Israel were to eliminate the main sticking points between them? Certainly, if the US removed all of its troops, it would be difficult to imagine Iran adopting a hands off attitude.


Well, the problems of Pakistan and Afghanistan remain problems of Southwest Asia, so I'm not seeing what the problem is with saying so.

Well, I guess I see the problems of Afghanistan drawer of 'the South and Central Asia Bureau' as linked to the west's conflict with Islam, so they are going to be linked to the problems of oil rich Saudi states, Arab nations having difficulty accepting Israel's right to exist, Sunni-Shiite rivalries and the like. To me, Tamil tigers and Sri Lanka are more South Asia and the various other -stans are Central Asia. Of course, Afghanistan is located in a particularly powerful location, so trying to firmly place them in one geographic box versus another is always going to cause problems, and the fact that jurisdiction over Afghanistan has been taken out of that Bureau (which was only created in 2006 when the State Department) to be put under Richard Holbrooke would be a point against using that term. (interestingly, State separates the Near East and South Asia, while the NSC puts the two together, which may account for some differences in various viewpoints)

Lastly (and sorry to take these out of order) some pointers to Soviet reaction to Israel-Egypt peace accords, after the Camp David accords were achieved in September 78 Brezhnev touted the rise of a left government in Afghanistan when he spoke in Baku after the Camp David meetings. (not to be confused with the 82 speech just before he died, where he read the wrong speech for several minutes before being corrected) Afghanistan had a cooperative military treaty with Egypt and Egypt was working to modernize Afghanistan miltary and police under Douad, while Taraki, who took over after the coup, instituted Marxist reforms. So I don't think the two areas are totally unconnected, Or that it was just chance that the Soviet invasion took place in the context of what seemed to be the first step in a potential peace in the Middle East, but I can see how I may be overly emphasizing the relationship.

Eric, apologies for cutting off the quote, but I'd point out that Musharraf had three major assasination attempts on his life and a number of minor ones, so 'intensity' might be disputed.

But those occurred post-US invasion, so I think they prove my point.

Otherwise, Gary did a fine job of explaining my position.

I'm not for a hands off approach, I'm just not for a massive military occupation that will cost us a couple trillion over 10-15 years.

I'm all for providing aid, but if we can't get that aid in without a massive military occupation, then I would say let's send aid somewhere else where we don't need to kill people in order to distribute it.

Malaria kills far more people than terrorism. So does poliio. So does cholera. Let's get some mosquito nets, vaccinations and wells to areas that need them if it's humanitarian impulses that are guiding you.

Bottom line: there are lots of ways to ameliorate suffering around the world that don't involve putting shooters on the ground with close air support.

Bottom line: there are lots of ways to ameliorate suffering around the world that don't involve putting shooters on the ground with close air support.

sure, but there are no places where we've gone to war, ostensibly 'won', and then said it was too tough to actually fix anything we broke. The US set a high bar after WWII in Japan and Germany, but them's the breaks. We walk away from Afghanistan (and if you say that our inability to get aid gives up some sort of pass, it is walking away), then we are morally obliged to try and find other ways. Sadly, I think that the belief that we will simply transfer the equivalent sum to various humanitarian projects around the world is even less likely than us pacifying Afghanistan.

sure, but there are no places where we've gone to war, ostensibly 'won', and then said it was too tough to actually fix anything we broke.

What exactly do you mean by "we broke"? Are you saying that prior to our invasion, Afghanistan was doing fine, then we invaded and broke it, and now we have an obligation to fix it?

We walk away from Afghanistan (and if you say that our inability to get aid gives up some sort of pass, it is walking away), then we are morally obliged to try and find other ways.

Again, what moral obligation? Afghanistan was an absolute mess before we invaded. The country was torn by a multi-decades long civil wars (multiple wars actually), warlordism, narco-economy, Taliban control of Kabul, etc.

What exactly did we do to "break" that?

Show me how, and then we can talk about putting Afghanistan back together again: to the status quo ante presumably?

Sadly, I think that the belief that we will simply transfer the equivalent sum to various humanitarian projects around the world is even less likely than us pacifying Afghanistan.

Probably true, but on the upside, even if we don't focus aid elsewhere, at least we won't be killing thousands of Afghans, sacrificing hundreds if not thousands of coalition soldiers and not spending trillions on a military effort to nowhere. Also: not badly overstretching an already overstretched military that is lowering recruitment standards just to keep pace.

Eric: What exactly do you mean by "we broke"? Are you saying that prior to our invasion, Afghanistan was doing fine, then we invaded and broke it, and now we have an obligation to fix it?

Well, yes.

Until 1979, when Jimmy Carter's Chief of the CIA decided that a homegrown Communist coup (dangerous irreligious radicals who believed in nasty stuff like land reform and educating women) was too dangerous for the US to tolerate, and the US would therefore fund and support the homegrown opposition to the Afghan communists, which American interference in domestic government is what sparked the Soviets moving in and the 10 years of war in the 1980s - Afghanistan was poverty-stricken, but given its poverty, functional.

At the end of 10 years, the geography of Afghanistan had ensured that the Soviet Union had not won; and the US supply of money and arms had ensured that the radical Islamists were well-funded, well-trained, and well-armed. The educated middle-class were all well aware they owed their education and wealth to the Communists.

Granted, the Soviet Union must also bear responsibility for that. Or would, if the USSR was still around to bear responsibility. But, as the only superpower left standing which is responsible for the destruction of Afghanistan, yes, Eric: the US owes Afghanistan. Not merely for deciding to take revenge on Afghanistan because of 9/11, but for the US's direct involvement in turning a poverty-stricken country into a ruin because of the US's national psychosis about Communism.

Again, what moral obligation? Afghanistan was an absolute mess before we invaded. The country was torn by a multi-decades long civil wars (multiple wars actually), warlordism, narco-economy, Taliban control of Kabul, etc.

We supported the Taliban as proxies against the Russians. Us claiming that we didn't do anything is like wondering what SAVAK has to do with us.

Yeah, but LJ/Jes: Afghans were fighting each other even before Carter. We did not bring conflict and factionalism to Afghanistan, and even absent US efforts to fund certain factions, they would have fought, and they would be fighting today.

Just as I have little faith in our ability to rebuild society, so too do I recognize that there has been conflict and factionalism in Afghanistan for many centuries. Millenia even.

I'm not saying we're completely blameless, but we should seek to improve the situation by means other than a prolonged military occupation which will involve us killing thousands of the Afghans that we "owe." I'm not in favor of walking away and washing our hands of the situation, but a military occupation is not how to help. Full stop. We don't "owe" them that.

And Jes: Are you seriously arguing that you favor a prolonged military engagement? I thought the opposite.

Eric: at least we won't be killing thousands of Afghans, sacrificing hundreds if not thousands of coalition soldiers and not spending trillions on a military effort to nowhere.

That's true. Meanwhile, Afghanistan will be left in the same state it was in between 1989 and 1994... except this time I doubt it will take 5 years before either the Taliban or something like the Taliban takes over. Again.

Back in 2002, when it was hoped that the US would use their attack on Afghanistan for reconstruction rather than revenge, I remember it was worked out that the amount needed for reconstruction in Afghanistan to work was something enormous: five billion USD over five years.

Who would expect the US to come up with five billion to help bring peace to a country they gravely injured? Certainly, Bush wouldn't blow that kind of money on something that would be in no way electorally useful to him or profitable to his buddies. And who expects Obama to be any different?

Wow. Jes, I thought you were opposed to the troop escalation in Afghanistan.

So, you're in favor of it because we owe the Afghan people? This is news to me.

Incidentally Jes, I don't suppose the UK owes Afghanistan anything, right? And will you be settling debts in other parts of the world in the near future? Argentina perhaps?

Just as I have little faith in our ability to rebuild society, so too do I recognize that there has been conflict and factionalism in Afghanistan for many centuries.

Living in a country that was a sworn enemy of the US in living memory might change your perspective a bit.

Normally, Jes and I can be like chalk and cheese, but the point about how little it would have been to spend to reconstruct Afghanistan compared to the amounts we have spent is one I agree with pretty strongly, and the fact that we have poured so much money down the drain does not absolve us of doing the right thing. I do think, unlike Jes, that the reason Obama is doing this is because he feels some obligation towards rebuilding Afghanistan (though the point that Obama is just Bush lite may be sarcasm, though I'm not really sure) But accusing Jes of being hypocritical doesn't really address the substance of the argument, which is that absent our earlier intervention and support of the Taliban, Afghanistan would not have had to pay the price for hosting Bin Laden, so making the country again hospitable for the Taliban is not really the moral choice. Regardless whether it is deep in the history of the Afghani people or not.

"One would think that if they could make it over half the country, or even a quarter of the country, one hopes that it would permit things to happen."

I'm still pretty vague as to which sort of "things to happen" that would be vital to U.S. interests are the ones that you have in mind: you seem to be sort of going from some sort of vague humanitarian obligation to some sort of vague increased security for the U.S., but I'm not getting a very concrete idea of what you think an attainable and vital point of sufficiency for the U.S. should be.

"I'm certainly not arguing for 100% pacification."

That's good.

"Certain, no one is recognizing the Taliban as the legitimate representative of Afghanistan, as was the case before 9-11."

Only 3 countries recognized the Taliban as a legitimate government: Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates. Given the number of countries on the planet, this wasn't particularly significantly more recognition than the Taliban receives today. Doesn't seem like a major difference to me.

"To me, Tamil tigers and Sri Lanka are more South Asia and the various other -stans are Central Asia."

And I'd say the problems of Afghanistan are more akin to that of Sri Lanka than of Israel and its neighbors, but I suppose we're arguing subjectivity here.

"...and the fact that jurisdiction over Afghanistan has been taken out of that Bureau (which was only created in 2006 when the State Department) to be put under Richard Holbrooke"

Reporting on this seems to be almost as confused as the actual divisions of authority. Last I looked, his mandate was to sort of float over the bureaus, and to draw on their resources, but not to take anything away from them. See here, for example.

[...] Holbrooke has become in effect the man in charge of the State Department’s South and Central Asia Bureau. On the day after Holbrooke was appointed, an official said, Assistant Secretary Richard Boucher, who runs the bureau, called his staff together and declared that all staffers involved in Afghanistan- and Pakistan-related issues should understand that Holbrooke could call on them whenever he wanted.
Spencer Ackerman had a story here with one quote from a retired Ambassador saying Holbrooke "Holbrooke has taken over the Afghanistan-Pakistan part of the bureau,” but the rest of the story more authoritatively reports on split authority remaining.
[...] As a special envoy, Holbrooke’s influence is perhaps most directly felt at Foggy Bottom. Holbrooke is not shy about telling staffers at the bureau responsible for South and Central Asia, known as SCA, that his authority steps directly from his relationship with Clinton and Obama, according to people who have been in meetings with him. “Since the job does not have statutory position in the bureau, it had to be explained,” said one. While Holbrooke’s diplomatic cables are written to the secretary of state, “they are seen and cleared by others as appropriate.” Some department veterans noted that the assistant secretary for SCA typically reports to the secretary of state through the undersecretary for political affairs, while Holbrooke will not.

About two weeks ago, Holbrooke installed his deputy, Paul Jones, the former deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in Manila, as deputy assistant secretary for SCA. The bureau is about to experience a changeover in formal leadership: Richard Boucher, the assistant secretary whom the Bush administration appointed to lead the bureau, is expected to leave, and the White House is in the process of vetting Robert Blake, the U.S. ambassador to Sri Lanka, for the job. Yet Jones will remain as deputy for the next assistant secretary while continuing to serve as Holbrooke’s deputy, and Blake’s background in Sri Lanka and India before that suggests that a tacit boundary exists between his portfolio and Holbrooke’s. Jones, who will continue to travel abroad with Holbrooke, will ensure that the rest of the bureau will “not get crosswise with Holbrooke” and his control over Afghanistan and Pakistan policy, said Neumann.

“It made sense to dual-hat Jones,” explained a State Department official who described it as a “logical way” to integrate the SCA staff with Holbrooke’s, and not indicative of a turf battle. “Boucher and Holbrooke agreed upon the decision. The secretary of state endorsed it.”

Within SCA, the unusual relationship between the assistant secretary and Holbrooke has led to confusion about the proper reporting channels about diplomatic activity. “There’s a way the State Department works, moving paper around,” said one knowledgeable department official, using a State Department shorthand referring to the transmission of information. “Holbrooke came in, and he wants to do things himself,” the official continued. “Who does the Pakistan desk report to?” Junior officials in Washington tasked with handling the details of policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan are unsure of where to send their reports, or whether they’ll receive reports from Holbrooke during his trips to Afghanistan, Pakistan or to NATO countries to enlist greater support from allied nations. One official said that placing Jones in his dual role as deputy for both Holbrooke and the SCA assistant secretary was “key to getting both halves of the machine integrated.”

"Or that it was just chance that the Soviet invasion took place in the context of what seemed to be the first step in a potential peace in the Middle East"

It does seem unconnected to me. The Soviet Union regarded Afghanistan as a fraught flank; I don't think Egypt had anything to do with it, and you're the first person I've ever seen suggest such a thing, but that's certainly possibly just due to my own lack of awareness.

"sure, but there are no places where we've gone to war, ostensibly 'won', and then said it was too tough to actually fix anything we broke."

But we've never come close to "winning" in Afghanistan in anything remotely resembling the way we won in Japan and Germany. So I don't see a significant parallel there. That's the point: Afghanistan has no unified government, and there's little sign of one on the horizon. Could we eventually create one? If you're very optimistic, well, maybe. But meanwhile we surely haven't conquered Afghanistan, so the parallels to WWII just aren't there.

Also, every situation is different, in any case.

Eric: "What exactly do you mean by 'we broke'?"

I would agree that we did a heck of a lot of breaking of Afghanistan by the CIA funding and organization of the muh from 1979 until the Soviet pull-out, and then we did more breaking when we overthrew the Taliban rule. I wouldn't argue that we had some moral obligation to help Afghanis.

But how much is doing it at the barrel of a gun is, as you suggest, unclear.

Eric: "Also: not badly overstretching an already overstretched military that is lowering recruitment standards just to keep pace."

And not putting NATO in danger of breaking due to our pushing for more troop commitments against the wishes of our allies.

"Until 1979, when Jimmy Carter's Chief of the CIA decided that a homegrown Communist coup"

Small point: it was Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter's National Security Advisor. Admiral Stansfield Turner, Carter's head of the CIA, wasn't involved in setting policy, including that one. (It's rare that CIA directors make policy, beyond the exceptional cases of William Casey and Allen Dulles, and they only did so with the at least tacit approval of their presidents, nonetheless.)

"dangerous irreligious radicals who believed in nasty stuff like land reform and educating women"

I've always been fond of the name "Babrak Karmal," because he sounds like such a cookie.

"At the end of 10 years, the geography of Afghanistan had ensured that the Soviet Union had not won"

This is not true. If not for the vast number of billions that Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, the U.S., and some other sources, poured in, as well as specific arms, most specifically Stingers, the Soviet Union wouldn't have had a significant problem staying. This is a fact you overlook when you insist on the impossibility of any foreign force not being thrown out of Afghanistan. (If you'd like details, try reading "Charlie Wilson's War.")

I'm having major trouble connecting to the internet again, this morning, btw, so please forgive lateness of any of my responses.

Thanks for the info on the Holbrooke appointment, you may have also seen this newshour interview, but to just highlight some points

RICHARD HOLBROOKE: Well, first of all, the victory, as defined in purely military terms, is not achievable, and I cannot stress that too highly. What we're looking for is the definition of our vital national security interests, which included the point you made earlier about al-Qaida.

But denial of the Afghan territory to al-Qaida is not, in my view, anything beyond an interim necessity. After all, al-Qaida is operating freely in the tribal areas of western Pakistan.

What you see here -- and my trip and these two very important delegations that are coming to Washington next week -- and which I will say once more I'm discussing publicly here for the first time tonight -- are a manifestation of a new, intense, engaged diplomacy designed to put Afghanistan and Pakistan into a larger regional context and move forward to engage other countries in the effort to stabilize this incredibly volatile region. (emphasis mine)

Holbrooke was also emphatic in that interview that he had nothing to do with Kashmir, so regardless how the lines are drawn, there is a notion that Afghanistan and Western Pakistan are a separate project.

I wouldn't argue that we had some moral obligation to help Afghanis.

I'm thinking this might be a typo, but to take this as a starting point, if you assume that we have no moral obligation because Afghanistan has a long history of being unmanageable, or because there are places where we are going to more appreciated, it makes perfect sense that the country isn't worth bones of a dead Pomeranian grenadier, as Bismarck famously said of the Balkans. But if your starting point is that we do have one, you are obviously going to look at it differently. C'est la vie.

And not putting NATO in danger of breaking due to our pushing for more troop commitments against the wishes of our allies.

This also depends on what each person sees NATO becoming in the future. If you see the possibility of NATO forces becoming peacekeeping forces that, while not having a global mission, would certainly operate in places like Afghanistan, then you might try and argue for more troop committments, but if you see NATO as solely or even primarily only protecting the territorial integrity of member states, you might not, so this would depend on what the current notions for NATO's future are, both within the miltaries and the various NATO governments. Perhaps you have a better fix on this, but my impression was that there was a strong contingent pushing NATO as the former rather than the latter.

"We supported the Taliban as proxies against the Russians."

For the eight jillionth time I've pointed out here, of course we didn't. The Taliban didn't exist until 1994, five years after the Soviets left. Conflating the Taliban and the previous various Mujahideen forces forces makes no more sense than today conflating the Karzai government with its enemies, on the grounds that they're all Islamic militants.

I really really wish people would quit repeating this nonsense.

"Certainly, Bush wouldn't blow that kind of money on something that would be in no way electorally useful to him or profitable to his buddies. And who expects Obama to be any different?"

U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has spent $6.9 billion in civilian reconstruction funds since 2002 (not effectively, to be sure). More civilian workers are planned. More reconstruction money is planned.

"which is that absent our earlier [...] support of the Taliban

This never happened.

"Holbrooke was also emphatic in that interview that he had nothing to do with Kashmir, so regardless how the lines are drawn, there is a notion that Afghanistan and Western Pakistan are a separate project."

I'm sorry, but this is entirely wrong. You clearly missed all the news reports about how India was precisely part of Holbrooke's original mandate, because India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan were (rightly) seen as inseparable. No problems can be solved without easing Indian-Pakistan tensions over Kashmir, Afghanistan, and other issues.

Holbrooke's mandate, after this was announced, was subsequently officially limited to Pakistan and Afghanistan only because of overwhelming protests from India, which absolutely wanted no American interference/mediation between India/Pakistan, and no linkage of themselves with the problems of the other two countries. The crux, though, is that they want absolutely no interference with Kashmir.

And because India has become such a strong ally of the U.S. (note special and unique nuclear weapons dispensation and waiving of sanctions and limits on our nuclear cooperation), they were able to politically force Holbrooke off their case. Officially.

There's plenty of reporting on this if you need cites. The idea that there's some "notion" that India is a separate political/diplomatic/military problem is absolutely wrong and absolutely contrary to the facts.

India and Afghanistan and Western Pakistan, that is, are not at all seen by the U.S. as separate problems. The opposite is true.

Eric: I thought you were opposed to the troop escalation in Afghanistan.

Of course I am. I am not thereby opposed to the US paying up what it recently and direly owes Afghanistan, aid to be disbursed by NGOs - if necessary, with military support, but not from the US, given that American soldiers seem to be incapable of doing so; and are in any case by this time mired with massacres, kidnapping, torture, and murder. Military protection of NGOs giving aid is something more properly done by the UN.

I don't suppose the UK owes Afghanistan anything, right?

I don't know why you would suppose that. Is this relevant to the discussion of what the US should be doing for Afghanistan?

And will you be settling debts in other parts of the world in the near future? Argentina perhaps?

Gosh, Eric, trolling your own post! If you want to start a discussion about the history of the UK in that region - or in Argentina - you have front-page poster privileges on this blog: I don't. In the mean time, I respectfully decline your attempt to derail discussion on this thread.

liberal japonicus: I do think, unlike Jes, that the reason Obama is doing this is because he feels some obligation towards rebuilding Afghanistan (though the point that Obama is just Bush lite may be sarcasm, though I'm not really sure)

To be fair, I do think Obama is better than Bush. That's not a very high standard, of course. It's entirely possible that he does mean to do reconstruction. I'm doubtful that he can by military means, though - and all my views about Obama's policy towards Afghanistan are colored by his plans to expand the prison at Bagram Airbase and make it a final stop for prisoners who are now a political embarrassment to him.

That many Afghans may take for granted that of course a supreme leader has a secret prison in which people may be held for years, tortured, and murdered, does not really change the fact that someone who plans to run a military prison in Afghanistan is plainly not planning to try very hard to make Afghanistan a free nation under law, with a government empowered to investigate such abuses.

Background: U.S. Removes Kashmir From Envoy's Mandate; India Exults.

[...] India managed to prune the portfolio of the Obama administration's top envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard C. Holbrooke -- basically eliminating the contested region of Kashmir from his job description. The deletion is seen as a significant diplomatic concession to India that reflects increasingly warm ties between the country and the United States, according to South Asia analysts.

Indian diplomats, worried about Holbrooke's tough-as-nails reputation, didn't want him meddling in Kashmir, according to several Indian officials and Indian news media reports. Holbrooke is nicknamed "the Bulldozer" for arm-twisting warring leaders to the negotiating table as he hammered out the 1995 Dayton peace accords that ended the war in Bosnia, a peace that has stuck.

"I think it is time for us -- having fobbed off Holbrooke -- to sit quietly and ask where are we and how do we manage the situation," said C. Raja Mohan, an Indian strategic analyst who served on India's national security advisory board in 2006.

Mohan's comments captured the public glee many Indians feel over their country's latest diplomatic success. It follows the government's victory in securing a deal with the United States that gives India access to civilian nuclear technology, even though it is a not a party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

[...]

During the U.S. presidential campaign, Obama said the Kashmir issue was central to any stability in the region.

But India is suspicious of third-party intervention in the dispute. Kashmir is an internal issue and shouldn't be a part of any outsider's mandate, many Indian officials here say.

The country's Outlook magazine ran a cover story this week showing Obama dancing with his wife at an inaugural ball with the headline: "Should India fear him? What India must do to ensure Kashmir won't get caught in the crosshairs."

Last week, Mohan warned Holbrooke against "any high-profile intervention" in Kashmir. The topic is so politically sensitive here that it is referred to as the "K-word."

[...]

Holbrooke was originally tasked as the special envoy for Afghanistan, Pakistan "and related matters," code for India and Kashmir, according to a U.S. official in Washington who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the person is not authorized to speak publicly. But on the morning Holbrooke's posting was announced, "related matters" had been deleted from the description.

Etc.

"Military protection of NGOs giving aid is something more properly done by the UN."

It's very unlikely China will ever allow that.

"In the mean time, I respectfully decline your attempt to derail discussion on this thread."

Jes, for you, "derailing" a thread simply means disagreeing with you. As it happens, other people often have points you disagree with; you don't, in fact, get to set thread topics, or airly insist that stuff you don't want to discuss is "derailing." Not on this blog, anyway.

It's particularly rich that you'd claim this of the person whose post this is.

aid to be disbursed by NGOs - if necessary, with military support

Well that was the bloody point!

I said aid to be disbursed by NGOs.

Others said, can't do that without security - hence military presence.

I said no then.

You then asserted that we owed it to the Afghan people.

Repeat loop.

And Jes: If you look in the UK's history, I'm sure you can find the chapter on Afghanistan. I'm just saying that for a Brit to be lecturing a Yank about debts owed to countries with which we mucked around in is a bit rich.

Do you show the same passion when it comes to reparations about the Falklands? India? Pakistan? Any number of countries in Africa? Afghanistan?

Something tells me, no.

Eric, I thought you were advocating escalation of US troops, which would clearly be a mistake. Right? US troops in Afghanistan have a dirty and recent record.

Your argument, which I was responding to, was that the US is just not responsible in any way for Afghanistan being a broken country when the US invaded in 2001. That's not so: there are a bunch of obvious and recent things that the US did in my lifetime, in your lifetime, in the last 30 years, that destroyed Afghanistan. Broke it. From the state it was in the 1970s, to the state it became in the 1990s.

You can keep trying to bring up UK's chapters in Afghanistan, and damn right, we have them. Like we have bad back chapters pretty much anywhere the map was colored pink with British Empire. You know what? You want me to lecture you on how badly the British ran our Empire when we had one, how much damage we did, how many people died because we thought our Empire - and our revenues - were more important than the lives and welfare of brown people who didn't speak English and weren't Christian? Yeah, I can do that. I'm probably way better informed about that than you are. I can draw all the damn parallels you like between the British Empire then and the American Empire now.

But what the UK owes Afghanistan for, now, is that the UK joined the US in supporting the radical Islamists against the Communists. How far it went in support, I don't know and am not likely to know till the 2030s, when Thatcher's secrets start getting public. But I'm perfectly willing to believe we did all we could and that we too owe Afghanistan compensation - it's just I'm fairly sure the US did more and owes Afghanistan a bigger chunk of change. If you believe the UK was actually in the lead against the Communists in 1979, initially responsible for deciding that the radical Islamists ought to be supported, go for it - show your working, though.

However, if you're just trying to dig up the UK's imperial past as a reason why Brits shouldn't be allowed to comment negatively on the US's imperial present, well... I hope it keeps fine for you.

Eric & Gary, for what it's worth, I agree with Jes that "England did bad things too! Why aren't you talking about England!" is not a useful response to Jes or to anyone else. Maybe Eric had some valid point in mind there, but it really did come across as a trollish gotcha.

I don't think Jes is asking you to focus on current US foreign policy instead of past UK foreign policy because you are an American, but rather because (a) that appeared to be the subject of the dang thread, and (b) this is in Obama's hands, not Gordon Brown's. So it makes no sense to say that she has no standing to criticize US actions unless she devotes equal time to UK f-ups.

"Eric & Gary, for what it's worth, I agree with Jes that 'England did bad things too! Why aren't you talking about England!' is not a useful response to Jes or to anyone else"

I don't know why you're addressing this to me; I haven't brought up Britain once here.

Gary, I only mentioned you because you jumped on Jes for saying that Eric was "derailing the thread," and told her that it was a meaningless complaint because "for you, 'derailing' a thread simply means disagreeing with you." But she was quite clearly referring to his bit about "a Brit lecturing a Yank," and I agree with her: Eric was changing the subject in a really unfair and unhelpful and way. That was the point in dispute, regardless of your past beefs with Jes.

Eric, I thought you were advocating escalation of US troops, which would clearly be a mistake.

I am advocating the opposite.

My point re: Britain is just that, ultimately, there are a lot of colonial powers that owe a lot of countries a lot of money. If we use that as a basis of measuring the US' commitment to Afghanistan, then there are a lot of European and Asian nations that will have to step up and start transfering massive amounts of cash to former colonies/proxy war locations.

But since I don't see any of those nations fine citizens advocating for such measures, it makes me curious as to the focus on US duties and reparations. We're all in this together so to speak.

Ultimately, again, I do not feel that these past sins need to be binding guides to future policy. Just as Great Britain is not about to fork over a couple of trillion pounds sterling for past crimes against Afghanistan - or any other nation - so too I don't believe the US should.

Even if our crimes are more recent - or at least, we played a bigger role than the UK in the most recent round of crimes.

That being said, I'm not for doing nothing either. I'm in favor of trying to provide copious amounts of aid to Afghanistan, though not if that requires a long term military occupation. That is a bad idea to me - and the central focus of my recent posts on the subject. And that is the reason that I am going back and forth on this thread with the esteemed LJ.

(As an aside, Afghanistan pre-US involvement was already heading to war (and was a mess before then). There was a coup in 1973, then there was another coup in 1978 - neither had anything to do with the US. Prior to that, it was bandied about by the Brits, Russians and other great powers playing the great game.

After the 1978 coup, there were religious groups that were fighting the new Communist government - again, before the US got involved. The Islamists that were desirous of overthrowing the then standing Communist regime would have harbored those desires and acted on them even without us.

In other words, Afghanistan would have been wracked by violence even without our involvement from 1979-on, as it had been for the previous decades, centuries and millenia.

Eric, I'm not very well informed about Afghan history but am trying to learn from this discussion. Just based on your own statements, I'm perplexed at this:

"The Islamists that were desirous of overthrowing the then standing Communist regime would have harbored those desires and acted on them even without us. In other words, Afghanistan would have been wracked by violence even without our involvement..."

But if that was intended as a response to Jes's point about what led up to the Soviet invasion, it's not very responsive. What she said was:

"...the US would therefore fund and support the homegrown opposition to the Afghan communists, which American interference in domestic government is what sparked the Soviets moving in..."

Are you saying that the Soviets would've invaded just for the sake of preserving a presumed ideological ally, regardless of whether the opposition was homegrown or US-supported? I mean, anything is possible, but are you really denying that for the US to back an insurgency in a country adjoining the USSR would at least greatly increase the chances of a Soviet invasion, compared to just letting the insurgency play out on its own? If Zbigniew Brzezinski is to be believed, that's exactly what the US was thinking and hoping for:

"I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention. ... We didn't push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would."

Or are you saying that between the two outcomes of (a) a 10-year war with the Soviets, and (b) a civil war of unknown duration between Afghan communists and anticommunists with no foreign involvement, there's no meaningful difference because they're both violent? Surely there are degrees of violence and damage.

Are you saying that the Soviets would've invaded just for the sake of preserving a presumed ideological ally, regardless of whether the opposition was homegrown or US-supported?

More than a "presumed ideological ally." And, yes, the USSR acted in many arenas without the US getting there first. It is entirely plausible.

Or are you saying that between the two outcomes of (a) a 10-year war with the Soviets, and (b) a civil war of unknown duration between Afghan communists and anticommunists with no foreign involvement, there's no meaningful difference because they're both violent? Surely there are degrees of violence and damage.

I'm arguing that (a) you shouldn't start the clock in 1979 because Afghanistan's history prior to that point was marked by upheaval, violence, warlordism, great power involvement, proxy staging ground, etc.; (b) even absent the Soviet war, it would have been terrible - and the current chaos is a good indicator of how things would have gone.

It is a very difficult place to rule from the center. Attempts to do so have not been met with much acceptance from the periphery. This has been the case since before the United States was even a country, let alone since the Carter administration.

Eric: If we use that as a basis of measuring the US' commitment to Afghanistan, then there are a lot of European and Asian nations that will have to step up and start transfering massive amounts of cash to former colonies/proxy war locations.

Yeah. I think that would be a great idea. Reparations for what colonialism and empire did to what we now call Third World.

In other words, Afghanistan would have been wracked by violence even without our involvement from 1979-on, as it had been for the previous decades, centuries and millenia.

Well, that's a nice fantasy, Eric. Very American*: sure we funded the people we now consider our mortal enemies, sure unprecedented destruction followed, but... *follows whatever face-saving excuse an American can come up with*.

*Actually, it's not so much American as imperialist. But hey: right now this is the US Empire that's tearing the world apart.

"Are you saying that the Soviets would've invaded just for the sake of preserving a presumed ideological ally, regardless of whether the opposition was homegrown or US-supported?"

Yes, that's absolutely true. At the time the Soviet Union invaded, U.S. assistance to the mujahideen was miniscule.

If you'd like to learn more about the history here, I recommend Ghost Wars by Steve Coll (you can read a substantial amount at that link), and Charlie Wilson's War.

If you don't have time to read books, you can rent this documentary from Netflix.

Even the fictionalized movie "Charlie Wilson's War," war, with Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts, is surprisingly close to the facts in all important ways, by the way, though obviously reading will give you vastly more detail.

And to repeat, without the help of the U.S., Saudi Arabia (which more than matched the U.S. dollar-for-dollar), and Pakistan, as well as other money and aid flowing in (including lots of private Muslim funds), the Mujahideen couldn't have won against the Soviet Union. But while the small amount of U.S. funding prior to the Soviet invasion, and during the early years of the Soviet invasion, was helpful to the Mujahideen, there's no reason to think that the Soviet Union wouldn't have invaded without that then minor aid, given that their communist ally regime was collapsing regardless.

The revolt started under the Taraki regime in 1978. Hafizullah Amin took over in September of 1979, after shooting Taraki. In October, the revolt begain in earnest.

You can certainly read endlessly more about this to any degree you wish to do so. You can even start here.

[...] The revolt began in October among the Nuristani tribes of the Kunar Valley, and rapidly spread among the other ethnic groups, including the Pashtun majority. The Afghan army fought back violently, but couldn't subdue the large insurgency. By the spring of 1979, 24 of the 28 provinces had suffered outbreaks of violence.[18] The rebellion began to take hold in the cities: in March 1979 in Herat, rebels led by Ismail Khan killed approximately 10 soldiers. The Afghan Air Force retaliated with a bombing campaign that killed 24,000 inhabitants of the city.[19] Despite these drastic measures, by the end of 1980, out of the 80,000 soldiers strong Afghan Army, more than half had either deserted or joined the rebels.[18]

The Afghan government repeatedly requested the introduction of Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the spring and summer of 1979. They requested Soviet troops to provide security and to assist in the fight against the mujahideen rebels. On April 14, 1979, the Afghan government requested that the USSR send 15 to 20 helicopters with their crews to Afghanistan, and on June 16, the Soviet government responded and sent a detachment of tanks, BMPs, and crews to guard the government in Kabul and to secure the Bagram and Shindand airfields. In response to this request, an airborne battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel A. Lomakin, arrived at the Bagram Air Base on July 7. They arrived without their combat gear, disguised as technical specialists. They were the personal bodyguards for President Taraki. The paratroopers were directly subordinate to the senior Soviet military adviser and did not interfere in Afghan politics.

After a month, the Afghan requests were no longer for individual crews and subunits, but for regiments and larger units. In July, the Afghan government requested that two motorized rifle divisions be sent to Afghanistan. The following day, they requested an airborne division in addition to the earlier requests. They repeated these requests and variants to these requests over the following months right up to December 1979. However, the Soviet government was in no hurry to grant them.

The anti-communist rebels garnered support from the United States. As stated by the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency and current US Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, in his memoirs From the Shadows, the US intelligence services began to aid the rebel factions in Afghanistan six months before the Soviet deployment. On July 3, 1979, US President Jimmy Carter signed an executive order authorizing the CIA to conduct covert propaganda operations against the communist regime.

[...]

Additionally, on July 3, 1979, Carter signed a presidential finding authorizing funding for anticommunist guerrillas in Afghanistan.[21] As a part of the Central Intelligence Agency program Operation Cyclone, the massive arming of Afghanistan's mujahideen was started.[22]

The Soviet Union decided to intervene militarily in Afghanistan in order to preserve the communist regime. Based on information from the KGB, Soviet leaders felt that Amin destabilized the situation in Afghanistan. Following Amin's initial coup against and killing of President Taraki, the KGB station in Kabul warned that his leadership would lead to "harsh repressions, and as a result, the activation and consolidation of the opposition."[23]

[...]

On December 7, 1979, the Soviet advisors to the Afghan Armed Forces advised them to undergo maintenance cycles for their tanks and other crucial equipment. Meanwhile, telecommunications links to areas outside of Kabul were severed, isolating the capital. With a deteriorating security situation, large numbers of Soviet airborne forces joined stationed ground troops and began to land in Kabul on December 25th. Simultaneously, Amin moved the offices of the president to the Tajbeg Palace, believing this location to be more secure from possible threats. According to Colonel General Tukharinov and Merimsky, Amin was fully informed of the military movements, having requested Soviet military assistance to northern Afghanistan on December 17th.[26][27] His brother and General Dmitry Chiangov met with the commander of the 40th Army before Soviet troops entered the country, to work out initial routes and locations for Soviet troops.[28]

On December 27, 1979, 700 Soviet troops dressed in Afghan uniforms, including KGB OSNAZ and GRU SPETSNAZ special forces from the Alpha Group and Zenith Group, occupied major governmental, military and media buildings in Kabul, including their primary target - the Tajbeg Presidential Palace.

That operation began at 19:00 hr., when the Soviet Zenith Group destroyed Kabul's communications hub, paralyzing Afghan military command. At 19:15, the assault on Tajbeg Palace began; as planned, president Hafizullah Amin was killed. Simultaneously, other objectives were occupied (e.g. the Ministry of Interior at 19:15). The operation was fully complete by the morning of December 28, 1979.

The Soviet military command at Termez, Uzbek SSR, announced on Radio Kabul that Afghanistan had been "liberated" from Amin's rule. According to the Soviet Politburo they were complying with the 1978 Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Good Neighborliness and Amin had been "executed by a tribunal for his crimes" by the Afghan Revolutionary Central Committee. That committee then elected as head of government former Deputy Prime Minister Babrak Karmal, who had been demoted to the relatively insignificant post of ambassador to Czechoslovakia following the Khalq takeover, and that it had requested Soviet military assistance. [29]

Soviet ground forces, under the command of Marshal Sergei Sokolov, entered Afghanistan from the north on December 27th.

Etc.

To be clear, I'm not for trying to come up with some sort of scale of compensation for various colonial activities. I'm just thinking that the follow up to 9/11 is not sufficiently distant for us to claim it was ancient history.

In Aikido, because it deals with the notion of redirecting an attack, we often describe how, with certain defenses, the principle is to allow the attacker to attack themselves. My own feeling is that by augmenting the instability in the Afghanistan in order to get at the Soviet Union, we set in motion an attack on ourselves. This may sound far too esoteric to apply to questions of foreign policy, but because countries are made up of people, I think they reflect this. With our modern world, I don't think we have the luxury of thinking Afghanistan can be simply walked away from. Based on that, I think we have to do something, so when you suggest that we should spend our money some place else, or that I have to be able to forsee the future and describe precisely how we are going to succeed, I have to disagree. At some point, we don't decide to do things because we know we will succeed in the end, we do them because they are the right thing to do.

unprecedented destruction followed

Really Jes? Looking at the scope of Afghanistan's history, you would call the period between 1979 and 1988 (or now) "unprecedented destruction"?

And you would accuse me of harboring fantasies?

Um, not so much.

I'm not absolving the US. That's not my thing. Anyone who has read 1% of what I've written could determine that I'm no apologist. Nor am I an advocate of empire.

But history is history, and Afghanistan's problems and bloodshed and war and destruction preceded the creation of the US of A.

We interfered on some level, but as Gary points out, we weren't the prime mover.

This can be distinguished from other US imperial adventures. That's all. So, not an apology for US mucking, just a historical clarification about this particular misadventure.

But such nuance is, I know, not the favored level of analysis for you.

"At some point, we don't decide to do things because we know we will succeed in the end, we do them because they are the right thing to do."

Sure, but ever more massive military force wouldn't seem to always be clearly "the right thing to do."

Incidentally, about Bagram:

A federal judge this morning cleared the way for three detainees at a U.S. military prison in Afghanistan to challenge their confinements in the federal courts.

The ruling came in a series of lawsuits brought by detainees held at the prison at the Bagram Air Force Base. The detainees had been captured elsewhere in the world and brought to Bagram by U.S. authorities, their lawyers say. Some have been held there for at least six years. U.S. District Judge John Bates ruled in a 53-page opinion that three of four men suing the U.S. government may proceed with their cases under the centuries-old legal doctrine of habeas corpus.

"The Afghan Air Force retaliated with a bombing campaign that killed 24,000 inhabitants of the city"

I'm always curious about the origin of numbers like that, especially since the heated debate over the death toll in Iraq. I clicked on Gary's link and followed the footnote and can't check the article it cites, but where would the number have come from? Surely the Afghan government didn't brag about how many people it killed?

Purely a side issue, of course.

Sure, but ever more massive military force wouldn't seem to always be clearly "the right thing to do."

Sure, but if one argues that we can't do what we did in Germany and Japan because we can't 'win' in the same fashion, they we have to take steps to figure out how to create those same conditions. It seems more incumbent on those who are arguing that we have to pull out all our troops some way to effect the same changes absent those troops.

And with that, I'm off to tell Japanese freshmen why they should study more. Thank goodness I don't need force protection to make sure that I'm safe...

"...but where would the number have come from? Surely the Afghan government didn't brag about how many people it killed?"

I can't say in this particular case, and I surely didn't count people myself, but in different cases various institutes/studies can put together various reasonably reliable figures based on neutral sources, and in other cases the numbers are more or less made up and passed along and accepted where they shouldn't be.

As a side note, illustrative of my frustration with weird claims that somehow the Taliban was involved in the fight against the Soviet Union, the article is about Ismail Khan, who was a major leader of the fight against the Soviets, a major warlord, who then was one of the major fighters against the Taliban, and now is Minister of Energy and warlord of the Herat area.

He's typical of the various warlords who followed this frequently-followed path: fighting against the Soviets, and then fighting against the Taliban after the Taliban formed in 1994.

Ahmad Shah Massoud is another of most well-known such figures. The people who fought against the Soviets and the Taliban are not the same set. (They are overlapping sets, to be sure, but that's all.)

See also here and particularly here. I emphasize that the Taliban did not form until 1994.

"Sure, but if one argues that we can't do what we did in Germany and Japan because we can't 'win' in the same fashion, they we have to take steps to figure out how to create those same conditions."

Both Germany and Japan had utterly centralized command-and-control (despite some trivial rebellions when their respective heads, Admiral Karl Dönitz, and the Japanese Emperor, ordered surrender). Those were the necessary conditions.

I don't see any reasonably likely way of creating a dictorial leadership in Afghanistan that we can then defeat which will then order a total surrender that will be accepted by 95% or so of the population.

"It seems more incumbent on those who are arguing that we have to pull out all our troops some way to effect the same changes absent those troops."

I'm not arguing we should pull out all our troops (I think you may want Jesurgislac on that one), but I go with the idea that supporters of use of military force, particularly large-scale military use of force, without clear odds of success, should bear the burden of making the case for proceeding with such a policy, rather than the reverse, myself.

I'd like, in defense of Hob's and Jes's points, and as context rather than contradiction to Gary's points about Saudi and Pakistani support for the mujahedeen, to say that the U.S. had an enormous amount of influence with the Saudi and Pakistani governments in the matter. They might have done it without us, but they certainly in the event did it with our blessing.

Jimmy Carter was in many respects much more of a cold mofo than he's portrayed now (including by himself), and tilted even more to the Saudis than the U.S. norm after things began to come apart in Iran.

"I'd like, in defense of Hob's and Jes's points, and as context rather than contradiction to Gary's points about Saudi and Pakistani support for the mujahedeen, to say that the U.S. had an enormous amount of influence with the Saudi and Pakistani governments in the matter. They might have done it without us, but they certainly in the event did it with our blessing."

The U.S. was strongly allied with Saudi Arabia in this, but Saudi Arabia was motivated by religious motives having nothing whatever to do with us. Osama bin Laden, for example, wasn't motivated in the least because the U.S. was interested in funneling money and weapons to the Afghan resistance.

The same is even more true of Pakistan, which wished to have as much influence upon their neighbor, Afghanistan, as possible.

In no way did we persuade them to support Soviet resistance. We persuaded them to let us help, is about all.

The Pakistan government, in fact, insisted on the U.S. having as little direct contact with the Afghan insurgency as possible, and insisted that all money be funneled through them to the insurgency, which it largely was. Same for weapons.

There was a perceived alignment of interests, but Pakistan manipulated the U.S. about fifty times more than the reverse. And the Saudis were eager to help without any U.S. arm-twisting.

The Pakistan government, in fact, insisted on the U.S. having as little direct contact with the Afghan insurgency as possible, and insisted that all money be funneled through them to the insurgency, which it largely was. Same for weapons.

Which I'm sure was entirely for cultural reasons. {snort}

The U.S. government exacerbated existing problems in Pakistan -- we multiplied them -- by pouring money, weapons, and power into the Pakistani military and the ISI. We weakened the secular and democratic forces in Pakistan immeasurably in the 1980s.

"Which I'm sure was entirely for cultural reasons."

No, it was to maintain political control as much as possible over the Mujahideen, and to allow for the skimming of billions of dollars, and a major percentage of the weapons, for Pakistan.

The U.S. government exacerbated existing problems in Pakistan -- we multiplied them -- by pouring money, weapons, and power into the Pakistani military and the ISI.
I wouldn't particularly disagree, but we did it at the eager entreaty of Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq.
We weakened the secular and democratic forces in Pakistan immeasurably in the 1980s.
I wouldn't say otherwise, but the secular and democratic forces in Pakistan were already almost entirely subdued by Zia, who ruled under martial law, and whose policy was Islamization, and whose coming to power via coup the U.S. had nothing to do with.

Same for Zia's subsequent revisions of the Pakistani constitution to give himself more and more dictorial power, and so on. The U.S. is not always the prime mover in other countries.

And needless to say, the U.S. wasn't behind Zia's Islamization of Pakistan.

I don't see any reasonably likely way of creating a dictorial leadership in Afghanistan that we can then defeat which will then order a total surrender that will be accepted by 95% or so of the population.

Again, just to be clear, I acknowledge that it is probably impossible to generate the same kind of conditions that we had in Japan and Germany. But in the period after 9/11, I don't recall anyone saying we had to pacify 95% percent of the country. I'd think that pacifying 1/3 of the country is potentially possible and that would then allow NGOs to actually do stuff like build schools and hospitals and improve the standard of living would create a differential that might change hearts and minds. The fact that the 95% figure is probably impossible anywhere means that we have to start rethinking what the military does, which is an opinion I've voiced here a number of times.

I'm not arguing we should pull out all our troops

I don't think I said you did. My comments have been in response first to Eric and then to your specific comments asking me to expand what I wrote. Eric suggests that our presence in Afghanistan is an inflammatory factor, so I'm thinking that if we even cut troop levels by half, it's not going to reduce the amount of pissed offedness by that much. And if it is a total withdrawal, I'd like to see how we are supposed to funnel this NGO aid or how mosquito nets and polio vaccines to Africa are going to be figured in any ledger sheet.

Also, to go back to the question I raised about NATO, I understand that our NATO allies are not pleased to be asked to go to Afghanistan, but I've interpreted this as them not wanting to do that to allow American forces to be shifted to Iraq. I think that those same allies might view requests differently if the US actually makes a committment to Afghanistan.

"...but I've interpreted this as them not wanting to do that to allow American forces to be shifted to Iraq. I think that those same allies might view requests differently if the US actually makes a committment to Afghanistan."

That's not at all in concord with my understanding. My understanding is that no one else wants to send more troops any more because it's too domestically unpopular, and because they don't see Afghanistan as other than a black hole that will suck in more and more troops, and cause more and more casualties to their troops. It doesn't have anything to do with Iraq these days.

We've made a greater commitment to sending more U.S. troops, and that hasn't budged anyone else an inch.

The U.S. government exacerbated existing problems in Pakistan -- we multiplied them -- by pouring money, weapons, and power into the Pakistani military and the ISI. We weakened the secular and democratic forces in Pakistan immeasurably in the 1980s.

Also, the influx of radicals like bin Laden and Zawahiri who set up shop in Peshawar Pakistan had a radicalizing effect on Pakistani society.

But as Gary points out, that wasn't necessarily a US government initiative. Bin Laden himself didn't get a penny from the US.

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