« Major Andrew J. Olmsted Scholarship Fund | Main | Salon Should Demand Better »

September 09, 2009


typo alert in first paragraph: "fire and foremost"

oops, it's the second paragraph.

Fixed. Thanks.

So, Obama's strategy is akin to doubling down on 16? Great.

Great post Eric. Thanks.

Why don't we see this kind of analysis/reporting in the mainstream media? Oh that's right.

Clever title and great post. Nice one Eric.

First, thanks for the extended comments in the previous post on this topic, wanted to thank you on this post because the other one has disappeared below the blogging event horizon.

I also want to suggest that while some argue for the 'stabilization' of Pakistan, I think the COIN operations in Afghanistan are less 'stabilization' and more a way of putting positive pressure on Afghanistan without appearing to side with India or against China. Your point that our engagement with Afghanistan may be driven by our "vehement opposition to an agenda that is weakening Pakistan vis-a-vis India" is true, but that kind of attitude arose (and arises) more when we leave things to sort themselves out. This is the thrust of the George Will epiphany, but cruise missiles and sat intel do not a strategy make. While this sounds Grand Game-ish, stepping back creates a vaccuum that China is more than happy to fill, especially since it plugs into current competition with India as well as truly exchanging the ability to use a heavy hand with its own Uighur Muslim minorities while directing the anger somewhere else. I do see a link between the current increase in unrest in Xinjiang and the COIN efforts in Afghanistan and I don't think that we are 'causing' ethnic unrest, but more as revealing fault lines already present. Our pre 9-11 strategy, and what I think you want to return to, is a view that we can paper over all the cracks and they won't be there. If I believed in karma, I'd be happy to sit back and let China get what's coming to it, but it's hard to imagine a rebooted Al Queda franchise wanting to crash 747s into the Forbidden City. The West will always be the target, cause, just like Rumsfeld, Muslim extremists have more targets to bomb there. Withdrawing (and I don't think you or anyone else has pointed to some intermediate split the difference model that allows engagement) lays the groundwork for future 9-11s, not because AQ will necessarily rise from the grave, but because the structural conditions for such an event will remain in place.

I guess we differ on the question of whether or not we are currently putting "positive" pressure on Pakistan.

and I don't think you or anyone else has pointed to some intermediate split the difference model that allows engagement

Actually, there are many such models.

The thing about being a powerful country is that sometimes you use your power to alter other countries' calculations of their interests -- on purpose.

Yes, but which one corresponds to your calls for a withdrawal, but still leaves us with the ability to intervene? I don't want to create a strawman, so let's view the George Will position as one pole (the 'let's nuke them from orbit' approach) and a full on occupation as the other. It seems that the current approach is based on targeting specific provinces (most notably Helmand province) and trying to encourage less radical Taliban to join the government. I'm not sure what model of withdrawal would fit with this goal.

I would like to know the argument that has so many Village mavens convinced that the U.S. needs to continue blundering ahead, while reasonable alternative solutions exist. It appears that President Obama is getting the same bad advice that Bush received.

Anecdotal evidence in support:

1) On 9/11 I was in a multinational school in DK. A classmate called us over to a monitor to show us that something was happening in NY. On my left was a young Pakistani from a wealthy family, on my right an Iraqi veteran of the Iran-Iraq war. The Pakistani reacted as if his football team had just scored a game-winning goal, the Iraqi was appalled.

2) Since well before Obama's election most of my Pakistani acquaintances professed a conviction that he would do nothing to disentangle the incestuous relationship between the US administration and the (former and current)Pakistani administrations, and they have since made very heated denunciations of their government's complicity in the bombings (especially by drones) of Pakistani villages.

Summary - your analysis of the feelings of Pakistanis is spot on, and our (American) involvement is a project of diminishing returns, if in fact there are any returns. COIN is a tool to be used in service of a strategy, but there's no strategy here.

*clarification - the acknowledge their government's involvement and denounce it - they do not deny it.

Regarding Afghanistan and/or Pakistan, I have no freaking idea what we should do. None.

My only comment here is that it's now eight years to the day since not quite 3,000 Americans were killed.

WWII in it's entirety was six years and a day.

We've blown the crap out of Iraq and Afghanistan, beaten the living shite out of hundreds or thousands of prisoners, established and operated an international archipelago of secret torture sites around the world, and through a program of extraordinary torture induced the architect of the attacks to give terror chalk talks to our intelligence agencies.

And Osama Bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri are walking around as free men in basically the same south Asian hill country they were in on September 10, 2001.

The only difference is that now they're hosted by a nation whose military and intelligence agencies we subsidize to the tune of about $3B a year.

Basically, I don't see that we have any freaking idea what we're doing over there.

I'm not sure I'd call it a total fail, but you can see it from there.

Dittos, russell.
MISSION CREEP: I sent this piece out on my own net, & a very old friend who has followed this for many years pointed out:

"After the attacks of 9/11, from the US perspective, the Taliban was an extremist religious faction that had seized power in Afghanistan, hosted a terrorist organization that had repeatedly attacked the US and US interests, and thus, a group that had to be deposed and shut out from power. That policy agenda is certainly reasonable enough, especially for an American, but there is another side to the story." (from EM's piece)

Couple of comments: 1) I have to keep correcting people who consciously or not rewrite history: At the time, when the US began bombing Afghanistan in the fall of 2001, thereby allowing the Northern Alliance (so-called) to break out, it was the public -- it was in the major papers -- position of the Bush administration that it's actions in Afghanistan were *not* aimed at "regime change" in Afghanistan nor did it desire one. Indeed, it very publicly asked the Northern Alliance *not* to enter Kabul. The Northern Alliance ignored the admin and presented with a fait accompli. There was no US "invasion" of Afghanistan "to topple the Taliban." No matter how many times this is said, it is still not true.

Second, this must also be endlessly corrected. The "ugly American" in the novel was the good guy, not the bad guy. Evidently, hardly anyone's bothered to read the book.

Mission creep. We went from a straight forward exercise in rooting out a band to massively bungling recreating a society, buckets of blodd & guts hurled everywhere. Can someone point out when, exactly, the mission changed, and if not, and if accepting there IS no, zero, line we cross to "win", where does it end?
If you dont think the four casualties we took -
-isnt gonna result in howls from the chickenhawks & wingnuts to go back to bombing mud villages (with their "suspects") into rubble...well, just listen.
Note also who are "suspects linked to militants"- our default toe tag entry. We are fighting an entire population.
We either take a lot of casualties like this, pound wretched villages to rubble, or remove ourselves. pick one.

I'd point out that the Taliban was problematic from their rise to power in the mid 90's. The treatment of women was often raised, but here in Japan, the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan in March of 2001 was what caught my attention. It has been claimed that the Taliban government was angry at offers to restore the statues while there was an aid crisis, but the destruction of the statues was apparently contemplated well before, when the Taliban assumed power.

I'm not sure about the question of regime change, but the Taliban is a primarily Pashtun phenomenon, and Afghanistan has always been a Pashtun ruled country, so it is understandable that the US may have not wanted the non Pashtun Northern Alliance to take Kabul (indeed, Karzai is Pashtun)

So I think the lesson you are drawing from the presence of the Taliban is the wrong one, because it seems that you are thinking that the aim of the current strategy is to eliminate the Taliban, but I believe that it is to force the more moderate elements of the Taliban to become part of the government while attacking the more extreme elements. A course that would then undercut the ability of the ISI to I suspect that one reason why the US (specifically Holbrooke) has tied its ship to Karzai is that someone from another ethnicity would probably create a Pashtun/non Pashtun divide. The second candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, whose father is Pashtun and mother is Tajik, garnered most of his support from Tajiks, and may not be a fluent speaker of Pashto.

Eric argues that forcing Pakistan to deal with the Pakistani Taliban is going to turn all of Pakistan toward anti-Americanism. Ironically, this views the Pakistan population as another undifferentiated group. While I am sure that anti-Americanism is a problem, this most recent news story suggests that such anti-Americanism is far more palatable than an ISI supported Taliban that is able to covertly enable and point them at the West and India.

This doesn't mean that I think the current engagement in Afghanistan is simple or easy. Like russell, I have no idea what to do. But that also means that I don't think that total withdrawal is the panacea that people are portraying it to be. If it were simply a question of Afghanistan, it might be better to let the Taliban again attempt to rule the country (as their main problem was attempting to extend their control to the entire country by doing things like stringing up TVs, radios and bodies on alternating lampposts) and make sure that we can support the country when they decide they have had enough. But the George Will fantasy of loosing a few cruise missiles to keep them in line is going to generate as much or more anti Americanism as our current strategy. And it completely ignores Pakistan. As we are the primary supplier of arms to Pakistan, expressing our displeasure with the country would be taken as supporting India.

"So I think the lesson you are drawing from the presence of the Taliban is the wrong one, because it seems that you are thinking that the aim of the current strategy is to eliminate the Taliban, but I believe that it is to force the more moderate elements of the Taliban to become part of the government while attacking the more extreme elements."

perhaps. However, we have simply killed too many people. We are turning everyone who is not on our payroll against us. And hired friends are always temporary friends: you can pay them enough to kill for you, but not enough to die for you. While the THEORY may be to "peel the moderate Taliban" away from....who? Wheres the line between those Afghans we will work with & those we wont? What is it based on? How women are treated certainly isnt the criteria- http://obsidianwings.blogs.com/obsidian_wings/2009/08/ingrates-abound.html
transparency? Due process? With our warlords as avatars of that due process? No, thats not what its about.

I can only point out that the Taliban is no more murderous and crazed than our warlord hirlings, for one, and two, who is to say that folks there must support our corrupt thugs "or else"- which is what it boils down to.

I have zero faith, based on past performance, that whatever faction of warlords or crazed fundi's we decide NOT to kill- our "allies"- will be any better for the Afhans than the taliban, of whatever group or grouplet rises to the top. I mean, thats who we decide is our friends here- those we dont have to kill to continue occupying the place. thats the only criteria I see. Im not willing to have these decisions made by American politicians, or any other foriegners. And Im not willing to declare "guilty" any Afghan citizen who takes up arms against his occupier. Resisting occupation by foriegn soldiers isnt a crime. Collaborating IS, however......lord knows the Irish could lay that out.

Heaps of bodies, LJ, who will be written off as "suspected of militant links"- a crime of which about every native Afghan is guilty.

And more 20 year old Americans Ill escort to thier grave, and another dog tag on my bike. forget about the walking wounded, who will be haunted forever by that girl with the bag of ammo he had to kill.

But, again- Im not advocating abandoning people to some dark horror, my point is we are subjecting them to a dark horror.
first, do no harm & if you ARE, stop.
We think they should prefer OUR brand of horror. Evidently, they dont.
Either way, women will not be liberated by warfare. And many women WILL pick up the gun, as if many already havent.
thats my take home from Viet Nam- invade someones country, kill its citizens, destroy its villages, debase its sensibilities and even young women with kids on thier back will try to kill you.
As is their every right.

You mention the priceless reliefs of Budda, dynamited by these fellows back when they were jake with us. I can remember the bombing of Angkor Wat, too, and it wasn't by our putative enemies (or allies) , it was by the USAF.....and if a rocket went astray & took out one of those very Buddas, we would just see it shrugged off, oh, well, these things happen. How many priceless treasures of ordinary Afghan peasants have our artillery, air power, willy pete, .50 cals turned to dust? A crater is a crater, the ones we provide arent "freedom holes."

Theres a lot more I can say- you are, unfortunately, in the position of having to say: THIS time its different. The US will create a consensus government in a 3rd (4th) world country with its firepower.
Hasnt happened yet, I dont see it happening here, and I dont see our actual actions- as opposed to stated reasons- creating anything but mayhem and enemies. And profits, dont forget them. Profits loom large.

I appreciate your sensibilities, LJ, truly. I do not question your humanity, your integrity, your studying the subject. I really like your posts. Your sincere desire to see good come of this. And I think we should remain engaged with these people, if at all possible. We owe them. We have a debt. But I want my military & mercenaries to stop killing them & blowing peoples homes & villages . Enough, enough, enough.

After almost a trillion $, a million (?) dead, millions displaced, and endless talk of democracy in Iraq, this is what the Iraqis get.
This is what the Afghans will get, too.
Who benefits?
this is what we DO. We establish, or support, third world klepto & thugocracies precisely because they will sell their own people out to benefit very very narrow US "interests".
While our actual soldiers are very decent people- moreso than the population in general, in my view, they are pawns in this. They are simply a means to an end. And they will be discarded as readily as our promises of a "democratic" Iraq.

The comments to this entry are closed.