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September 03, 2009


Charles Bird: You're cherry-picking, Jes

Feel free to link to posts you made about Iraq which demonstrate that you were, in fact, consistently pessimistic (and right) about Iraq rather than consistently optimistic (and wrong).

But if you can't do that, then you should quit calling me a liar for accurately describing your inaccurate views on the Iraq war.

I say "should" because I'm quite sure that you won't: the last time you were invited to prove that you'd been right all along about Iraq by citing posts which made accurate predictions, you declined to do so and went right on calling the person pointing out your consistent wrongness a liar.

It appears your only resource against having been wrong all the time is to accuse people bringing this up of lying about it - since you can hardly link to any posts in which you were right. So I expect that you will fail to provide cites - and will continue to call me a liar for reminding newcomers how consistently wrong you always were when you wrote about Iraq.

I think a comment of mine got hung up in the spam filter because of too many links

"Because the actual facts on the ground are very different.

"mutt, only 6% of the Afghan people support the Taliban. You don't think that the people might be getting tired of them? They've already lived under their rule once, and it wasn't pretty. In terms of civilian casualties, the Taliban and al Qaeda are killing more of them 2-to-1. Where's the outrage about that?"

Well, lets look at this with an eye towards past such wars. We were told endlessly the NLF in Viet Nam were supported by a tiny fraction of the population, that they ruled thru terror, and had no actual base in the country. None of which, of course, was true. Een remotely. It was our various puppet regimes that had no support, other than Franco/American artillery & air power.
If I were you, Charlie, Id ask a lot of questions about any poll taken in a war zone where vast tracts of the country are completely no-go zones for anyone but the anti occupation forces (of any stripe) or heavily armed columns of foriegn troops.
My first response to this form of torture would be to tell my inquisitor whatever the hell answer I think he wanted. You dont think its a poll taken like they are in the US, do you? At a mall, or by telephone?
Then there is the logical notion that while a person might not like the Taliban much, foriegn wackjobs are even less appealing. They certainly thought they were a better deal than our warlord-quislings, who we PUT BACK IN POWER, Charlie.

And Im sure various grouping opposed to US occupations have killed "civilians", if there are such things in a war fought on your home soil. Check the US Civil War, or the Brit wars against the Dutch or the Boers. I refer to the US Armys definition of "military target"- "any person, place, or thing which gives, or tends to give, aid or comfort to the enemy." The "enemy" here are Afghans. The furriners are now mostly on Paki soil.
But Im opposed to wanton slaughter, which is why i- tadaaa- don't support the Taliban. I have zero control over what they do, altho my tax $ funds them to a large degree. (see Juan Cole, amongst others)
So rather than jump up & down denouncing Taliban crimes, I devote my energy to what I CAN (alledgedly) control- what MY country does.
For the record, I was opposed to the US arming the Afghan warlords when they were our allies. As I was against arming Saddam Hussien, when HE was a valued partner in peace.
Both moves have meant disaster for their respective populations, as was easy to forsee. (Tho certainly not on the scale it turned out to be)
Usta be a nice place, from what I gather, up til the early 70's.
Its been hell ever since. A hell created by people far removed from the lake of fire......idealogues, dellitantes, crackpots, war profiteers , jingoists, and sadists. And a tiny few people with good intentions.

I read the nitwit (is there any other type) Max Boot piece mentioned here, and sanity threatening numbers of similar drivel.
The NEW plan is deadly to US troops-
and hardly new, and to be told yet again the next 6 months are crucial, come effin ON. This is ALL the pro war (from a safe distance) writers have. And the answer to the question posed above is never, in real world terms, even discussed. Popularity polls in a devastated, terrorized war zone. .........
I rest my case. Jeez.

My reply seems to have disappeared, so I'm going to just briefly try and reconstruct it.

While I agree that there is not 100% overlap for Afghanistan Pashtun Taliban and Pakistan Pashtun Taliban, you don't get to invoke the Durand line as a geographic fiction and then argue that it creates two different groups here.

I generally agree with Nir Rosen, but I believe he thinks that COIN is definitionally unworkable. He wrote that COIN was

is another way of saying the suppression of national liberation struggles. Terror and intimidation are as essential to it as is winning hearts and minds.

Normative rules are determined by power relations. Those with power determine what is legal and illegal. They besiege the weak in legal prohibitions to prevent the weak from resisting. For the weak to resist is illegal by definition. Concepts like terrorism are invented and used normatively as if a neutral court had produced them, instead of the oppressors. The danger in this excessive use of legality actually undermines legality, diminishing the credibility of international institutions such as the United Nations. It becomes apparent that the powerful, those who make the rules, insist on legality merely to preserve the power relations that serve them or to maintain their occupation and colonialism.

This is about Gaza, but if every attempt at COIN is an exercise in imperial colonialism, any argument about the necessity of COIN in the future isn't really going to be accepted.

The links you gave, as you noted, one is from 2008, so that doesn't necessarily apply, and the interview has this

And from a liberal point of view, there’s much that you might appreciate in the counterinsurgency proponents and the population-centric COIN, as it’s called, in that they do emphasize the need for aid, for protecting the population, good governance, for limiting the use of violence, because the more violence you use, the more you alienate the population. On the other hand, it still involves an occupation of a country, and the temptation might be that—to use this more and more, in a way that sort of makes the Americans a better imperial power.

So, I mean, the counterinsurgency proponents, of course, don’t have a moral position on whether a war is good or bad. They’re in the military. They simply implement policy. In the context of Afghanistan, General McChrystal of course, has been—who was recently appointed, is also a proponent of COIN.

So, in Rosen's view, COIN is COIN is COIN. My feeling is that the US Military is going to have to become a force that can do COIN well, because that is the future. If you feel that the US military can simply opt not to do it and it will somehow get donw, that's one opinion, but then we shouldn't get into the weeds with what should happen in Afghanistan, because our base assumptions are so far apart that it would be a meaningless discussion.

After this (where Rosen admits that he got sidetracked on complaining about COIN), he says:

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, no. I mean, we were just asking about this whole issue of COIN, and you were explaining it, how it has kind of taken over in Washington. But what do you see as the Obama administration’s mission in Afghanistan? It seems unclear.

NIR ROSEN: In fact, it is. I mean, in terms of the actual goal, they’ve said that it’s preventing al-Qaeda from using Afghanistan as a base. How do you get there? They haven’t yet managed to explain that. In fact, al-Qaeda in Afghanistan was destroyed following September 11, and they’re based on the internet, they’re based all over the world. They’re based—it’s an ideology. And, of course, they’re based in Pakistan. The Obama administration has still, I think, failed to articulate an actual strategy and a road map for how it’s going to get to where it wants to go.

And as we see, things continue to decline, that the Taliban control more and more area or are able to operate freely in more and more parts of the country, including the north, which is a new phenomenon. They’re able to knock out American supply routes in Pakistan, which force the Americans to bring supplies down from the north. And we’ve seen those supply routes attacked, as well. There’s very little evidence of any progress.


I've argued that the deny safe haven line is not an actual goal, but rhetorical cover for nation building, because of domestic politics. I believe that this is why the campaign is currently concentrated on Helmand province, and the goal is to engage the most radical Taliban elements, and hope that the more moderate Taliban elements would be coopted into the government, thus isolating them. This is because has the majority of poppy production, which finances the Taliban, has a more amenable geography and is the 'center of gravity' for the Taliban.

There were a few more links in the comment that got caught up, but this was the basic gist of it.

A useful & well thought piece, L Japonicus. I find particularly useful:
" They besiege the weak in legal prohibitions to prevent the weak from resisting. For the weak to resist is illegal by definition. Concepts like terrorism are invented and used normatively as if a neutral court had produced them, instead of the oppressors. "

I dont spend much time dissecting people's theories. I just sorta look around the world as it is and my own experiences in it, as amplified by writers whose take on reality reflect what Ive seen.

lets put the idea of US "nation building" as its already been done as an example of what is the actual goal- if nation building IS a goal- in Afghanistan.

The US has built & molded nations in Latin America for over a century. its an endless procession of thugs & quislings, selling out thier own people for the good of various US corporate interests, when you clear away all the rhetoric. thats why Cuba sticks in the craw so badly. If the US had its way in the 60's, would Cuba look like Florida or Honduras? Florida or Samoza's Nicaragua? Florida or United Fruits Guatemala? Marine MajGen Smedley Butlers description of setting up a completely fraudulent election in Nicaragua in '33 is a great primer on US "nation building". The results were, of course, recognized by the US Congress.

We are using our best & brightest who swore to defend the Constitution to impose some sort of pliant satrapy in Afghanistan. Ending "terrorism" CLEARLY isnt the goal, as we produce more "terrorists " by the hour, in damn near exponential numbers.
Thats how I see it, "containment", COIN....its all just rhetoric.
Its about the proposed pipelines, which "we" would have been very glad to pay the Taliban some nominal sum to allow.
So- are we to continue to kill people for a pipeline that will get built no matter WHO is in power? And will get bombed daily as long as its seen as not Afghani?
Clearly, thus far, we arent there because we, oh, say, wish to defend women from mideval witch burners. We got them on the damn payroll.
And one other thing- this notion the "taliban" derives its ops funds thru the heroin trade has taken some pretty strong hits of late, it seems they are using the model employed by many- they get a chunk of any US "redevolpement" funds, cargo taxes, & the like. So it seems. And its hardly new, so did the NLF in VN, and the guerrillas in El Sal, Nica, & the rest.
Eradicating the sole crop that grows with minimal water in that poor soil is ANOTHER stroke of genius. The same deep thinkers who offer up COIN fog offer up the notion water & nutrient demanding wheat can just replace it.
the quality of the thinking here is, as its been as far back as I can follow, not thinking at all, (well, magical thinking, maybe) and ideology definin the world, rather than the reverse.

Meanwhile, we are killing people & creating enemies. And generating fat profits......

It isn't that I don't appreciate the passion you bring to this, but in your comment, I see the mirror of the right wing argument that the government can't possibly do health care right, so it shouldn't do it at all. I would admit you probably have more history on your side, and I've made statements that are basically the same as yours, I'm not sure how we move from what we have now to what you suggest, which seems to be a complete hands off attitude.

I also believe that you are mistaken about the (in)suitability of wheat for Afghanistan, especially since they utilize not a spring planting, but a fall planting, and wheat can be used for livestock. Here are two links about it

As the links point out, opium has a number of advantages over wheat, and these advantages are magnified when there is no stable government to support irrigation and provide infrastructure. This points to how our problems in Afghanistan are linked to our problems in the West's war on drugs.

Well, you strike directly at a problem I do most certainly have: abandoning people to despots.
And, looking at Medicaid/care, I think it simply should be extended to all citizens, as an option, so Im not so much of a Rightist my Second Amendment fundimentalism might infer. Screw insurance companies when it comes to delivering human nesscessities. Screw absentee landlords, for the same reason, tax havens, and the rest of crony capitalism. Just to ease (maybe) that perception.
Back to abandoning the Afgans to thier fate. If I thought for a moment all those fine young Americans- not the mercs- filled with good intentions as they are could create a safe perimeter for Afghans to build some sort of equitable, agreed to political order, id think it would be a good thing to do. But they arent calling the shots here. The same forces that called the shots in Guatemala in 54 are calling the shots, as evinced by who we are supporting, actually, truly, in Afghanistan. Karzai, the poor bastard, was a figurehead, nothing more, and he's passed his sell by date.
Well, your links to wheat suitable to the area I will read, because I would love to find that soil & moisture level can grow actual food.
Enough to put a dent in the populations requirements.
If all the bad blood generated to date wouldnt mean they would all get killed, Id say invade the place w/ agronomists and the US Army Engineers. We can build ANYTHING. and hire a lot of locals into the bargain.
But there has been too much blood under the bridge at this point.
Its not for us to be of help, not now. Blood debt. Insults. Hubris.
The cowardice, in a warrior culture, of killing with overwhelming force, behind layers of armour or over great distance.
its done, man. Its over.
We had our chance when the Sovs pulled out, and blew it.
We had our chance BEFORE the Sovs pulled out, but chose to back mideval lunatics, instead of "liberal", sane Afghan patriots/nationalists.
Why not question Turkeys monopoly on "legal" opiate production?
No one can tell me there is enough legal opiates in the world to fill the need. Much less medical people......
Its civilized here, at OW. If my passion comes across in my writing.....well, Ive been there, as it were, and this kind of heedless murder & hypocrisy .....I have no other way to write of it.
Thx for the wheat heads up-

From L Japonicus's links-

Mr. Walid says converting his fields to corn and wheat has required significant expenditures on equipment, field laborers, and fertilizer. The current price for corn is so low that he is barely covering his costs, he says.

Mr. Walid owns his own tractor, so he can ferry crops to nearby towns. But most of his neighbors have no way of bringing their wares to the markets, he says, adding "With poppy, the buyers come to you."

Chief among them is the lack of infrastructure, such as insufficient irrigation canals, poor roads and widespread drought.

The farmers cannot cultivate wheat, maize or cotton without a sufficient water supply.
Nangarhar's remote valleys, like most of Afghanistan, lack a reliable water system for irrigation, which makes the area unsuitable for growing crops such as wheat.

>>>which is my understanding of the situation- the conditions dont exist for many farmers to grow anything but poppy....especially when fertilizer becomes a requirement. In the here & now.

Hi mutt,
Here are some more links about crops in Afghanistan (link and link). I agree that farmers in Afghanistan need irrigation, equipment, etc. This is the kind of investment that needs to go hand in hand with a military force to help keep the peace. That's why I think that if it is done correctly, it will make a bigger difference than simply throwing up our hands.

Also, sad to say, intervening in this way may mean that the places that are going to get the money and attention are the ones that are possible to reach easily, such as Helmand, and remote places like Nangarhar are going to get the short end of the stick. However, the BBC articles detail the success in Nangarhar and how it has not been followed up. If security and irrigation can be not simply promised, but actually provided, I think COIN has a chance. But it requires more of a committment, not less of one, which I feel is what Eric is arguing for.

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