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August 05, 2009

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Every true policy expert experiences this, too bad, we would avoid a lot of bad things. And he is right about Afghanistan.

Should Obama be assigned The Best and the Brightest as immediately required reading?


sorry this is off topic but from reading the rest of the article, Stewart seems to be contemplating a future career in British politics. Michael Ignatieff, a predecessor at the same Harvard position, returned to Canada, successfully ran for Parliament, has become leader of the Liberal Party, awaits an election that he hopes will make him PM. I wonder if Harvard recruits potential political leaders for the position, or just a coincidence.

Of course we knew during last year's presidential campaign that the two major party nominees had more or less identical policies toward Afghanistan (SURGE!).

We also knew during the primaries that the only major party candidates urging fundamental changes in American foreign policy--Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul--were "unserious" fringe candidates.

There are dozens of good reasons why we should all be happy that Ron Paul didn't get anywhere near the presidency. And Dennis Kucinich, whatever his virtues, was difficult to vote for because he quite simply had no chance of winning.

Nevertheless, progressives constantly write and say things like this post and then, every four years, predictably vote to reinstall the bipartisan foreign policy consensus that is driving cars off of cliffs. We may sympathize with Rory Stewart in the story. But we act like the Obama administration officials.

If we're serious about opposing such foreign policy car wrecks, we need to start working now on identifying plausible candidates who'll support alternative policies in 2012 or 2016. Otherwise we're just advocating seatbelt wearing.

(Incidentally, if Ignatieff is any indication, Harvard needs to do a better job of recruiting future world leaders.)

The sheer wonderfulness of the post title is the only thing keeping me from banging my head against a wall right now.

Nevertheless, progressives constantly write and say things like this post and then, every four years, predictably vote to reinstall the bipartisan foreign policy consensus that is driving cars off of cliffs.

Yep. And we'll do it again in '12, when we're faced with the prospect of a President Palin or Huckabee or Gingrich or Jindal. Such is our fate. And I don't see that changing in my lifetime.

Seriously, dude, how many possible variations on "The ever-victorious Taliban has beaten us" can you post?

Seriously, dude, how many possible variations on "The ever-victorious Taliban has beaten us" can you post?

As many as it takes to convince our leaders to change course?

I think it is a vastly more difficult thing to create a nation that never really existed, than it is to repair the one we broke.

Repairing the broken one is merely unlikely: creating the new one is improbable to impossible.

From this perspective, the Bush Administration unwillingness to use more assets in Afghanistan at least makes sense as a probability of success. Punishing Afghanistan and the Taliban for harboring Al Qaeda was an achievable goal: creating a stable, cohesive nation-state is not.

It is not about the Taliban defeating us: it is about the impossibility of the mission. The fact that we can't get cats and dogs to live together does not mean we were defeated by mice.

Seriously, dude, how many possible variations on "The ever-victorious Taliban has beaten us" can you post?

What makes you think there's a winner in this?

Quick, correct the spelling of "Afghanistan" in the post title before Gary Farber notices! :)

"'The policy of troop increases will look ridiculous in 30 years,' he says."

It certainly did in Vietnam: the question is: are the similarities greater than the disparities?

There are a fair number of both, so for me, that's not a simple question.

Disparities include: not having major powers, such as the USSR and China offering an almost infinite number of supplies, plus the implicit backup, if necessary, of Chinese troops to, the other side, along with an ultimate nuclear umbrella against nuclear attack. Also, Vietnam was a case of one side having a genuine nationalistic history and legitimacy, and the other side almost entirely lacking that, and instead being outright the creation, in essence, of foreign forces. So there was a clear attraction of many Vietnamese, both North and South, to the Northern government, and away from the Southern government, in what was more a civil war than not (although this remains a gross simplification).

In Afghanistan, on the other hand, not so much a history of any kind of centralized government, and not so much a civil war as a set of tribal conflicts and rivalries. And the Taliban remains unattractive to many Afghanis.

The ultimate role of Pakistan has some uncertainties, though they may continue to provide as much hindrance, and support to "our enemies" as "help" to "us." I use quotation marks because I'm sure the Pakistani government is factionalized, and that they also don't regard us, and the various Afghani factions, rightfully, as some sort of unified "side."

I remain highly skeptical about "success" in Afghanistan. But I'm not at the point of being dead sure it's all hopeless.

It just tends to seem the most likely outcome.

But one thing I'm sure of is that I simply don't have enough information to have more of an opinion worth paying any attention to.

"If we're serious about opposing such foreign policy car wrecks, we need to start working now on identifying plausible candidates who'll support alternative policies in 2012 or 2016."

I wish that were the key problem, Ben, but I'm pretty sure it isn't. I think the key problem is that the majority of the American public isn't very close to seeing our foreign policy history, and therefore what we need to do about our contemporary and future foreign policy, the way you and I and those of like-mind do.

And absent a lot more people being a lot closer to our POV on such matters, we can identify candidates we like as much as we like, and they still won't be electable until we can educate the public to a much greater extent about the degrees to which American exceptionalism has led America in the past to a vast amount of unnecessary and counterproductive, not to mention criminal and inhumane, slaughter of vast numbers of people around the world, in the name of Goodness And Justice And The American Way, and the degree to which we've created an Emergency National Security State since 1947 that is the Establishment, and are the Serious People, and the three are all one and the same.

Those are the key problems, as I see it; not picking candidates whom are simply more presentable Dennis Kuciniches, or straighter Barney Franks, or -- well, the only thing wrong with Russ Feingold and Bernie Sanders is simply that the American people aren't enough in tune with them, not vice versa, in my view.

And I'm deeply pessimistic about being able to turn the massive ship of the National Security State around, when in fact our goal is closer to bringing it into drydock to be largely dismantled down to the size of a coastal corvette. Our industry and politics and Serious People are all utterly invested in it.

How do you change that, absent armed revolution -- which I am not for, not that I think it would be practical anyway, and not that I'd favor it even if it were -- save over generations? I'm afraid we still have decades to go before we can make the kind of major changes we really want to see made in our foreign policy. Twenty years, minimum, anyway.

And that's the sort of analysis that makes folks like Nell so despairing, which I understand, because, after all, this is the way it looks to me. I agree that the best Obama and company are likely to be able to do, in the large picture of foreign/national security policy, is ameliorate, tweak, make a few significant changes here and there, but also suffer a lot of capture by the existing apparatus, and ultimately be unable to make any truly transformative change. I don't see them gaining the kind of change in Congress necessary for that, and most of all I don't see them as any time gaining the kind of transformative change that would be necessary to take place in the views of the majority of the American people, who generally think that even though we make mistakes, we're still largely just aimed at Trying To Do The Right Thing.

And Brett thinks I don't understand that the America public doesn't always agree with me. Ha.

"And we'll do it again in '12, when we're faced with the prospect of a President Palin or Huckabee or Gingrich or Jindal. Such is our fate. And I don't see that changing in my lifetime."

That, too. I'm not for running for the hills and disclaiming responsibility, and just looking to have my commune. And, yeah, Obama is lots better, by far, than Palin or Hjuckabee or Gingrich or Jindal, etc.

One day at a time. Baby steps. Boring and with terrible consequences, but pretty much all we can do. Work on forming vast Gandhian movements, I suppose. Or, if you're disposed, try starting a movement of people willing to set themselves aflame in front of the Pentagon again.

But I'm not quite that selflessly attached to my ideals, or despairing, myself. Certainly not given the personal cost-to-benefit ratio.

"...not picking candidates whom are simply...."

s/b "...not picking candidates who are simply...."

I agree that the best Obama and company are likely to be able to do, in the large picture of foreign/national security policy, is ameliorate, tweak, make a few significant changes here and there, but also suffer a lot of capture by the existing apparatus, and ultimately be unable to make any truly transformative change.

Gary, are you assuming that Obama and company actually want to see "truly transformative change" on questions of national security and military policy? That seems to be the implication here, and I must say it puzzles me. I see no evidence--zero--to support that assumption. Quite the contrary, in fact. They seem to me to be quite comfortable with the Very Serious consensus. However much we might prefer them to Dick Cheney or John McCain, they are part of the same problem.

I'm not for running for the hills and disclaiming responsibility, and just looking to have my commune. And, yeah, Obama is lots better, by far, than Palin or Hjuckabee or Gingrich or Jindal, etc.

I know you're not running for the hills or disclaiming responsibility, Gary. And I agree that Obama is substantially better than Palin, Huckabee, Gingrich, Jindal, or McCain (if not necessarily much different at all from McCain on Afghanistan). That's why I supported Obama last fall and will likely support him again in 2012, unfortunately.

But I guess that I think that "baby steps" aren't the way you change things like this. Transformational presidencies are. And transformational presidencies take decades of hard work, not merely wishful thinking...either of the "if only Kucinich didn't look like a gnome" variety or of the "perhaps if we just keep voting for the lesser evil, eventually things will get actually better" sort.

Not to fight (someone else's) last war, but we need a progressive Goldwater so that sometime, perhaps in twenty years, we can have a progressive Reagan. Continuing to support the Democratic equivalent of Eisenhower Republicans won't do it, though we could probably continue to tell ourselves truthfully that, as bad as things would be, at least they'd be even worse if the GOP had won.

The policy of increasing troops will look ridiculous (and like the expensive, pointless, failure it is) in a time frame that you'd think would be of real interest to those "grand, intelligent, busy people who have no interest in this kind of abstraction ... [or] in values, virtue, outlook" -- that is, in six or seven years.

Maybe Rory Stewart can try that take on Hillary Clinton and Richard Holbrooke. It's his obligation to try to get through to them. But he appears to understand that would end his access -- as the interview itself risks doing.

What makes you think there's a winner in this?

Right. And I'd like to point out that in none of my posts on Afghanistan have I claimed that the Taliban have beaten us. Nor that they would be "victorious." My point is that the ultimate disposition will be determined by Afghanis and other regional actors, and it's only a question of how many trillions we want to spend, and how many lives squandered, until we accept the inevitable.

"Today, when asked why, he is vague but talks a lot about how walking makes him feel “fresher, stronger, smarter, more in tune with the world”. He was prevented from entering Afghanistan by the Taliban but returned to Herat after a detour through India and Pakistan, by which time the US had invaded. He recorded this section of his journey – undertaken on foot in the middle of winter – in The Places in Between (2001), which won the Ondaatje prize and was called a 'flat-out masterpiece' by the New York Times."

Oh, right, that Rory Stewart. I didn't place him at first. Now I know who we're talking about!

looks like a surrender monkey to me

"And I'm deeply pessimistic about being able to turn the massive ship of the National Security State around, when in fact our goal is closer to bringing it into drydock to be largely dismantled down to the size of a coastal corvette. Our industry and politics and Serious People are all utterly invested in it."

What Gary said (it cuts down on the typing).

From where I sit, two things seem pretty clear: (1) sometime back the USA became an empire with ambitions to be the global hegemon, (2) looking back at the history of past empires with comparable ambitions, once a wealthy and powerful society goes down this road, the decision is pretty much irreversible except for haggling over the details. Only time, internal decay and eclipse by a rival or rivals will turn an imperial power into a former imperial power, but a collective decision to renounce that role never comes from within a society except in reaction to externally driven events and pressures. And not minor ones, either.

At this point I have many hopes for the US with regard to our conduct of foreign policy, but the ones which I think are most achievable are to take the rough edges off of our hegemonic behavior and try to be as tolerant a sort of imperial power as possible (along the lines of the examples cited by Amy Chua in her book Days of Empire). But I don't think we are going to be able to get the imperial toothpaste back into our (small-r) republican tube. Of course I could be wrong and the US could prove the exception to the rule - that would make the 21st Cen. a fairly radical break from the past practice and behavior of states, but then such ruptures have occurred before.

Wrt Gary's and Ben's points on the bigger political picture (and especially Uncle Kvetch's point that on war/"security" issues we're dealing with a united front among the elite):

It's a dynamic situation, not an either/or of educating and persuading the public vs. choosing among candidates who go against the ruinous consensus. Sometimes you need a candidate out there taking the anti-consensus view, both as a meeting point for supporters and as a reason to do the educating. But without independent, non-electoral groundwork against the consensus, candidates are unlikely just to appear.

And sometimes you need to work on structural changes that can make the road less steep for progressive issue advocacy and for electing decent candidates. That's the response I have to the appalling spectacle of "health care reform" (hopelessly distorted corporate-media coverage of corporate million-dollar-a-day lobbying aimed at blocking even a pre-compromised semi-reform that's supported overwhelmingly by the public but already poisoned by bought-off politicians).

To have a hope of electing someone in 2012 or 2016 who will extract us from Afghanistan, it's necessary to start now to say clearly and loudly that the current bipartisan policy is driving us off a cliff. A majority of the people who voted for Obama already think so, and just didn't want to talk about that during the election period.

The months leading up to each funding vote provide an opportunity for making that case, as do the months leading up to national mobilizations. I understand that October 5 is a day that get-the-hell-out types may want to mark on our calendars. This quiet time before Labor Day can be used to meet with some of the like-minded and plan out a bit of letter-to-the-editor-writing, forums, petitioning, recruiting for demos, etc. so as to "launch the product" at the appropriate time.

TLTIA: Only time, internal decay and eclipse by a rival or rivals will turn an imperial power into a former imperial power, but a collective decision to renounce that role never comes from within a society except in reaction to externally driven events and pressures. And not minor ones, either.

Wise words.

The non-minor events are already upon us. I am for open discussion of the spadiness of spades, as trimming around the edges will not repay the effort of advocacy.

The speed with which the new administration is solidifying the worst of the previous one (wrt secrecy, detention, show trials, spying, theft on a grand scale, and impunity for all the above) has freed me of virtually all instincts to trim.

And it is freeing. The declining empire framework is realism itself: we simply cannot afford the "defense" posture we continue to choose.

A majority of the people who voted for Obama already think so, and just didn't want to talk about that during the election period.

Well, I actually did mention this. Obama was more hawkish on Afghanistan than Hillary, and I pointed it out more than once.

looking back at the history of past empires with comparable ambitions, once a wealthy and powerful society goes down this road, the decision is pretty much irreversible except for haggling over the details.

There are no iron laws of history. We're human beings with free will. We are not required to duplicate the mistakes of our predecessors.

Oh, not you, Eric. I mentioned it a time or two myself, but you didn't see me (or you) raising it as any reason to sit out the election. But that's because it was and is a bipartisan policy.

Now that we're about as far away as we can be from a presidential election, it's a good time to pump up the volume (as you are doing with this post) on the message that this particular policy is both wrong and doomed.

"Now that we're about as far away as we can be from a presidential election, it's a good time to pump up the volume (as you are doing with this post) on the message that this particular policy is both wrong and doomed."

Ditto that.

Also what Johnny Canuck said up near the top:

"Should Obama be assigned The Best and the Brightest as immediately required reading?"

I really was wanting something a little better than a replay of the Kennedy admin. Maybe after they've finished with reading TBATB, they should go out and get tatoos that say "C'est pire qu'un crime, c'est une faute." to act as a constant reminder.

"There are no iron laws of history. We're human beings with free will. We are not required to duplicate the mistakes of our predecessors."

I don't think one needs to take a Hegelian view of history to be confortable with the idea that while individuals have free will, large social aggregates of people do tend to be somewhat predictable in their behavior. I was making a predictive not a dispositive statement. Counter-examples are welcome - off the top of my head, the breakup of the Soviet Union is the best example I can come up with of a society collectively deciding that it just didn't want to play the imperial game any more without the usual set of external causes playing a dominant role in forcing that decision on an otherwise unwilling population.

The other examples that may be relevant for a post-dominant US are the way that both the Dutch and British maritime empires were essentially sold off in liquidation to a successor regime, albeit one with strong cultural and political ties between the parties involved. The question is, who would play that role to the US today? The EU, now that Europe has been greatly Americanized compared with 100 years ago, or somebody else? Or is the world ready and able to support and maintain a regime of international relations in which there is no major successor power to the US?

"... the breakup of the Soviet Union is the best example I can come up with of a society collectively deciding that it just didn't want to play the imperial game any more without the usual set of external causes playing a dominant role in forcing that decision on an otherwise unwilling population."

That doesn't seem quite right to me. I'd say it was far more a case of many of the states that made up the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics choosing to break away from Russian control, and the Russian leadership choosing to not resist this with military force, but to instead use political and economic force as best it could to replace the USSR with a more "voluntary" Commonwealth of Independent States, which generally didn't go as the Russian leadership hoped, although Putin has certainly pushed, bargained, and pummelled many of the member states into far greater subsequent compliance with Russian wishes, while, of course, many tensions and struggles remain, most particularly with Georgia and Ukraine.

Some of the governments of some of these now-independent states retained essentially the same leadership as during Soviet days, of course, while others had "velvet revolutions," and others in between.

But without recapping in further detail, I'm hesitant to characterize any of this as a decision of a single collective society, but rather something closer to, indeed, and empire spinning apart under strains both external and internal, both economic and political, and of course dependent on the choice of the Soviet leadership to turn from determined use of military force to resist these changes, as was previously done in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, East Germany, etc. And, of course, I'm sure we all remember the attempted 1981 coup by Soviet hardliners against Soviet President Gorbachev, which precipitated the disolution of the Soviet government, and the creation of the successor Russian government, and disintegration of the USSR, and then to the later CIS. Etc.

But, as we all know, this led to a great deal of subsequent regret amongst much of the Russian population, and the current degree of Russian nostalgia for the Soviet era, that Putin has so successfully nurtured and thrived upon.

Lastly, while I certainly disagree with those who like to give Ronald Reagan a huge degree of credit in somehow bringing all this about, I wouldn't deny that the military competition between the two powers of the course of the many decades of the Cold War was certainly a major contributing factor to the Soviet Union's collapsing economy, which was quite significant in terms of contributing to the discontent of much of the populace, both in Russia and some of the more open other Republics, once there was both more internal glasnost, and, particularly, more freedom and ability to make comparisons to how people in Europe, North America, and various other well-off places lived.

I suppose one could summarize all this as "a society collectively deciding that it just didn't want to play the imperial game any more," but to me that does imply a great deal more voluntarism, and almost idealism, than really was present.

(I'm suddenly having an attack of deja vu that we've had this conversation before; have we, or is it just a real deja vu illusion on my part?)

I have had the serious hope that Obama had already read The Best And The Brightest as part of his general reading prior to running for the presidency, but, to be sure, I have absolutely no idea if that's true or not, or how detailed or undetailed his understanding of the Kennedy administration, and its flaws, is. It's certainly an interesting question I'd love to know something about, and if I were given a chance to interview him, it's a subtopic I'd love to devote some time to ask him about.

Gary,

I think perhaps the deja vu may be real - I don't recollect us going over this topic in detail before.

To make a long story short IMHO you've done an excellent job of summarizing the factors which led to the breakup of the Soviet empire, but I dissent with the level at which you are analyzing that event. I think you've enumerated symptoms (or perhaps secondary causes), not primary causes. At the level of primary causes my view is that by the late 1980s the various peoples of the Soviet Union were exhausted* (and this was the case across a broad spectrum of subgroups within the USSR, justifying my monolithic characterization of that society), and thus the political and miliary elites could longer call on the energies they needed to keep all of those factors you cited from getting out of hand. There just wasn't enough collective social energy and willpower left in that society to keep the USSR together against the forces pulling it apart.

The other primary cause I think was declining oil prices, which hurt the USSR badly on the economic front and contributed to the general sense of exhaustion and malaise.

*Exhausted on a variety of fronts - from the collective weight of a heavily freighted past and the burdens of the Cold War, from the debacle in Afghanistan, on account of declining demographics amongst the core ethnic population (Russians), from a failing and geopolitically uncompetitive economic system, and finally (and fatally) from the terminal burnout and failure of the ideological impetus of Communism since 1918.

In the last respect (ideological burnout) I think the collapse of the USSR was similar to the collapse of the ideology justifying and legitimizing the Ancien Regime political structure in pre-1789 France, pace Simon Schama's Citizens (cf the extensive circulation of subversive and officially banned literature in elite circles in both cases for example). The ruling ideology just wasn't believed in enough, especially at the very top amongst the elites - they were no longer willing to fight and kill for it with sufficient fervor, which is doom for a ruling ideology, especially one that is also failing at the grassroots.

So was Afghanistan always an unwinnable war? I take it everyone here was four-square against going in, then. Do those who oppose troop increases favor withdrawal? If yes, complete withdrawal? When? If not, what would you say to the soldiers in Afghanistan you would leave there who plead for reinforcements from their military brethren in their massive task?

Mike,

I was (somewhat reluctantly) in favor of the initial operation - the idea was to go get OBL and smack down the Taleban, which had harbored him. That mission might have been "winnable" as it was pretty limited in scope. We achieved the second part of it. But then it morphed into a nation-building excercise (which apparently includes an absolutely idiotic War on Poppies). It's taken me some time to realize it, but that's stupid.

So yes, withdraw, and relatively soon (w/in 1 year?). Declare quasi-victory and leave (perhaps leaving behind some intel/SF elements in the hope that we can thus prevent a recurrence of anti-US terrorist training camps). It's not terribly satisfying, but it strikes me as a realistic strategy, as opposed to the fantastical idea that we're going to set up a functioning nation-state where they really hasn't ever been one.

So was Afghanistan always an unwinnable war?

That depends on the objectives pursued in connection with said war. Was nation building in the image of the West while shutting out the Taliban/Pashtun elements of Afghan society altogether, and ignoring Pakistani interests ever winnable? No. Something less? Yes.

I take it everyone here was four-square against going in, then.

No. I was in favor then, and do not regret that support. But we have achieved the achievable in terms of disrupting al-Qaeda.

Do those who oppose troop increases favor withdrawal? If yes, complete withdrawal? When?

Yes. I'm open to some scaled back mission if it's doable with a light force (training, ie). We should begin adjustment/drawdown immediately.

If not, what would you say to the soldiers in Afghanistan you would leave there who plead for reinforcements from their military brethren in their massive task?

If a light force cannot perform without needing more, then pull out everyone.

what would you say to the soldiers in Afghanistan you would leave there who plead for reinforcements from their military brethren in their massive task?

I'm sorry, I know this is the worst kind of wrongthink an American can commit, but the job of those soldiers is to do what they're told by their superiors. They do not have a say in the policy; their job is to execute it. Mind you, I favor full withdrawal, ASAP, but whatever the policy is, the "pleadings" of the soldiers on the ground are pretty much irrelevant. Apparently we need to remind ourselves of that fact over and over and over again.

I was (somewhat reluctantly) in favor of the initial operation - the idea was to go get OBL and smack down the Taleban, which had harbored him.

Rob, I think that's where a lot of us were at the time. I was very uneasy about the war, and about the possibility of it turning into a quagmire, but I more or less accepted it as an inevitability. It certainly didn't have the stench of a patent war of aggression like Iraq.

But there's a big problem in your formulation: what does "smack down the Taliban" mean? Does it mean regime change? If so, how could that not commit us to full-scale nation-building? If not, what would it mean?

Again, I'm not trying to score points here, because I was very much on the fence about the whole operation. But I do keep wondering whether there were ever any military options in Afghanistan that would not have left us where we are now.

Mind you, I favor full withdrawal, ASAP

This gets you fully off the hook. But being in favor of a policy objective means being in favor of the necessary means to achieve it. I'm not saying the soldiers' desire for reinforcements would ever be the only or the deciding factor in the actual decision of whether troop increases are the right policy. But if it is determined through standard processes that achievement of the objectives we have in Afghanistan is a necessary policy for U.S. interests, and that a greater commitment of U.S. military personnel is necessary for that, then soldiers' desire for reinforcement becomes an entirely legitimate fact to consider -- they are, after all, only experiencing on the ground what has been determined through policy processes to be a real need in an effort we insist they make.

But you favor complete withdrawal at the earliest possible date, so your rejection of that as a salient fact is entirely consistent. My argument is aimed at anyone who is in favor of retaining a presence to achieve some objective, but disagrees with troop increases. They have the burden of showing why the president, Pentagon planners, commanders in Afghanistan, and the felt need of soldiers on the ground are all wrong in their calculation of the means needed (more troops among other things) to achieve the objectives we have defined.

Was nation building in the image of the West while shutting out the Taliban/Pashtun elements of Afghan society altogether, and ignoring Pakistani interests ever winnable?

Can you document that these are our objectives?

...the president, Pentagon planners, commanders in Afghanistan, and the felt need of soldiers on the ground are all wrong in their calculation of the means needed...

And Congress! I shouldn't have omitted Congress' role -- one of potential veto -- in official processes to which debate/consent to such policies are subject.

Can you document that these are our objectives?

Can you document a contrary vision? I mean to say, it depends on who you ask, on what day of the week.

link, link and link

To name but a few...

"So was Afghanistan always an unwinnable war? I take it everyone here was four-square against going in, then."

No. Plenty of people who post here regularly, likely the majority, favored it. I did. Hilzoy did. I don't recall Katherine R's ever stating her opinion, but I know all the original front-page posters otherwise favored going in.

HTH.

But then the question becomes what kind of war it was you later were trying to fight, and how winnable that later war was, and specifically, what kind of war are we trying to fight now, and how winnable or not is that?

Those are different questions.

WTF? Three links to what the outgoing former president had to say about what we're doing there? Well, I'm with you against that vision. From what I have seen, the current administration stresses security and stability much more highly than democracy. I think we incurred the obligation to try to leave Afghanistan in a minimally secure, stable state when we invaded. The fact that we made an ill-advised detour to the west and incurred another such obligation didn't get us off the hook for the first. That's what we're doing there as far as I can tell. I'll try to document that, but in my view absent some documentation your characterization is clearly a freighted caricature made 'in the image' of your prior viewpoint.

"I think we incurred the obligation to try to leave Afghanistan in a minimally secure, stable state when we invaded."

I wouldn't necessarily disagree, but the question seems somewhat open as to how much we can practically do about it at this point, and how much it'll cost, and how much it's worth paying.

The answer to the last question can't be "infinite," even if we stipulate your point, and even if we agree there's something we can do to improve matters.

The questions about how much we can do, exactly, and the costs, per benefit, remain to be answered. If you have definite answers, I'd love to hear them, because you'd definitely be smarter and more knowledgeable about this than I am, and I'd be the first to admit that if you have good answers.

but the question seems somewhat open as to how much we can practically do about it at this point

I absolutely agree with that, and debate about it should be open and ongoing, and should obviously guide decisions about resource allocation.

...how much it'll cost, and how much it's worth paying.

The answer to the last question can't be "infinite"...

Without a doubt it cannot.

If you have definite answers, I'd love to hear them

I definitely don't; my aim here is just to understand the context in which we're defining our objectives and dedicating our resources.

From what I have seen, the current administration stresses security and stability much more highly than democracy.

From what I have seen, the current administration can't decide what it wants. It talks about COIN, then puts McChrystal in charge (he's counterterror, not COIN, a hunter/killer, not a population centric guy).

The admin talks about security as the primary objective, and that Jeffersonian Democracy is not needed, but then its reps say that the only way security can be achieved is through the formation of a legitimate, democratic, corruption-free (or close to it) government, capable of policing its territory and that is accountable to its people.

It's a muddle. Which I discuss at further length at this link

From what I have seen, the current administration can't decide what it wants.

That's a fair point. So leave it as an open question and take my view as advocacy.

I don't remember where (probably Attackerman), but I have been reading that McChrystal acknowledges his background isn't a perfect match for the mission (I hope) has been defined, and has been going far out of his way to communicate population protection as the priority over or at least equal to hunting bad guys. But perhaps that was propaganda.

The admin talks about security as the primary objective, and that Jeffersonian Democracy is not needed, but then its reps say that the only way security can be achieved is through the formation of a legitimate, democratic, corruption-free (or close to it) government, capable of policing its territory and that is accountable to its people.

Again I have to say show it to me. A lot about the meaning of such statements depends on who says it in what context and ofr whose consumption. But i don't imagine I'm telling you anything you don't know.

In any case, if "democratic" still is our goal, then I'm with you contra that. "Corruption-free" -- well, that's just a joke. If anyone in this government believes that's doable, then we have more serious problems than I thought. But we do need to allow for the reality that in war, some happy-talk for public consumption is part of the exercise. It's only really scary if there's evidence the people deploying it actually believe it (see 9/2001-1/2009).

Sorry you think my willingness to abide a certain amount of propaganda corrupts our democracy.

Sorry IF you think that, I meant that to be. Though of course I wouldn't be actually sorry -- just saying I would understand.

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