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September 23, 2009

Comments

If I am willing to commit those troops because I think that a fractured Afghanistan will destabilize Pakistan, risking the lives of millions and our own national secutiry, is it because I regard our soldiers as playthings?

Not necessarily, but you do have a duty to inform yourself of some basic facts surrounding the situation, which your prior post revealed you hadn't yet grasped. For example, the difference between the Afghan and Pakistani branches of the Taliban. Also, the relationship between the Pakistani government and the Afghan Taliban(and Pakistani Taliban) - which makes fears of the tail wagging the dog extremely unlikely (in terms of the Afghan Taliban trying to destabilize its patron state).

Perhaps, von, you don't need therapy, and so the accusation doesn't apply. However, perhaps you should examine what the exit strategies might be for getting out of Afghanistan, and then you'll be needing some therapy.

I also note that there appears to be an implicit assumption that the additional troops will prevent an eventual ceding of power to the Taliban. Why? Do you think the Taliban will go away? They live there, you know, and they're replenished from within, and motivated by, among other things, the presence of foreign troops, creating a positive feedback loop.

Also, since Pakistan is largely responsible for the creation and sustenance of the Taliban, if Pakistan is in danger of destabilization from them it would appear to beyond our control.

I watched an interview with a Pakistani politico who was making the same pitch as you, and what struck me about it was how he wanted American weaponry, American money, and American soldiers.

1. Anybody remember what Pakistan did with the technology they acquired (with the acquiescence, if not the aid, of America) in nuclear technology? Was that a benefit to the US or the world?

2. Has all the money we've sunk into Pakistan alleviated the problems of Pakistan? Has it eliminated the madrasas, for example?

3. Has the presence of American soldiers contributed, thus far, to the stability of Pakistan?

I didn't think so.

Eric, we went over this in the prior thread. You've never been able to draw a cogent distinction between what you mean as the "Afghan and Pakistani branches of the Taliban" as it relates to the argument vis-a-vis Pakistan. Yes, there are Taliban who are Afghani and, yes, there are Taliban who are Pakistan .... but it's more precise to focus on the tribal differences rather than the national one. So what?

I don't mean to imply that this isn't a worthy debate to have, but it's off-topic. Why have such a debate if your underlying presumption is that I'm stupid, psycho, or evil? (To which the appropriate response is: "Who says you can't be all three?")

That's my point in this post.

Perhaps, von, you don't need therapy, and so the accusation doesn't apply. However, perhaps you should examine what the exit strategies might be for getting out of Afghanistan, and then you'll be needing some therapy.

There is no good exit strategy from Afghanistan. That's the central problem.

The lesson of history is that, when there is no good exit strategy, the best thing to do is pick the least bad. And delaying the inevitable is almost invariably not the best one.

Prediction: Assuming we continue on the present path, and throw more troops at the problem, we're still going to get out, probably no later than 2015. The Taliban will still be there, and they will take power either then or after a year or so of the inevitable power struggle between the warlords.

This is historically the path that Afghanistan has followed in similar circumstances. Why will it be different now? If you support this scenario, you need to explain why it will be different this time, or, failing that, why this result is desirable, compared to, say, negotiating with the Taliban now and getting out quicker.

von:"There is no good exit strategy from Afghanistan. That's the central problem."

It's best to choose from the options that you have, not the options you wish you had. If staying in Afghanistan results in a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, and leaving results in a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, then why not do the cheap one that costs fewer lives?

Ad hominems are actually quite relevant. If I don't know whether a particular course of action is a good or bad idea, but I do know that the arguments being advanced for it are not only absolutely moronic but also suggestive of emotional attachment to the extent that rational decisions are not being made, then I am justified in opposing that course of action.

Its a simple heuristic, but it tends to make me right more often than not.

Cheney says that Saddam and bin Laden are bosom buddies? Then he says he never said that? Then he kind of hints at it again, and claims he didn't say it per se? Then he says that this is connected to why we need to invade Iraq?

Those sorts of things constituted a valid, independent reason to oppose the Iraq invasion. And this form of reasoning continues to be valid today.

von: "I think that a fractured Afghanistan will destabilize Pakistan"

But Afghanistan has been fractured for decades. And Pakistan is 6x the size of Afghanistan with 3x the per-capita GDP.

The Afghan army consists of about 100,000 troops. The Pakistani army consists of about 1,000,000 troops. The Taliban in Afghanistan number 7,000-11,000; the Taliban in Pakistan number about 30,000.

The Taliban have shown themselves very able to operate in the mountainous chaos of Afghanistan and those parts of Pakistan that are similar, but no ability whatsoever to operate in the rest of Pakistan, which is mostly not Pashtun.

Thinking that the instability in Pakistan is driven by Afghanistan seems like thinking that the tail is wagging the dog. It's too poor and too underpopulated and too different to be much of an influence.

Pakistan's instability is a real problem given their possession of nukes, but the idea that we can control it with our presence in Afghanistan seems like magical thinking. What is the causal link supposed to be between our being in Afghanistan and improving stability in Pakistan?

Such a stabilizing effect does not seem in evidence during the 8 years we have been there already. When is it going to appear?

Just saying that our presence in Afghanistan stabilizes Pakistan does not make it true.

Fundamentally, though, for me this comes down to our right to interfere long-term with the affairs of another nation. I think we had a right to retaliate against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. But does that right extend to an indefinite occupation of a country that has shown itself very resistant to being reshaped into a form acceptable to the United States?

The fact that we are presently occupying it seems to skew thinking about this. If we look at a country like Somalia, a very similar case in many ways, would we be justified in invading and occupying it indefinitely in an attempt to establish a Western-style democracy? I would say the answer is obviously "no". It would be interpreted as an imperialist or colonialist project, I think accurately. That is what Afghanistan looks like to me already.

Eric and I have outlined a number of actual reasons why this policy has no point. For one, the "Taliban" or "insurgency" is incredibly diverse group of characters. Second, I don't think it's necessarily true that AQ will set back up. Third, the idea that a nuclear state with a very powerful military is going to overthrown by insurgents isn't realistic. fourth, AQ could set up anywhere -- a big part of 9/11 was planned in Germany. fifth, we're escalating in defense of a corrupt, inept, and illegitimate government that is itself fueling the broader insurgency. sixth, there are no metrics -- NONE -- that can tell us when this mess will end. Just more troops, always more troops.

And so on.

The point of my post was that people who are advocating for more war -- esp. elected Republicans (not Von) -- are just calling for more soldiers for the hell of it. They may vaguely believe it will serve vague goals. But it's a more of a policy based out of hte ideology that we need to always be overpowering with force. And they owe troops more than that.

and obama doesn't get off the hook either. he blustered on about afghanistan for purely political purposes. and now it's biting him.

wars shouldn't be exercises in vanity -- regardless of party. we are - once again - sending people into possible death to make us all at home feel good about ourselves.

There is no good exit strategy from Afghanistan. That's the central problem.

Indeed. No foreign army has conquered Afghanistan in over five centuries. The US will not achieve it by pouring in more and more American troops to kill more and more Afghans.

It's just possible that the US might succeed in creating an Afghanistan in which the Taliban was as powerless an organisation as it once was in the 1960s.

But the first step in doing so is to accept that this can only be done by a massive and intelligently-directed influx of aid that is (apparently) not directed at squashing the Taliban at all, but is, in the short term, directed at keeping Afghans alive and well, and in the long term, in helping Afghans build up the infrastructure of their country at least to the level it had reached in the 1970s, before the US and the USSR took to using it as the last battleground of the Cold War.

And the next step is to remove all US soldiers from Afghanistan, since no aid sourced from the US can be intelligently directed if it's attempted by a conquering army.

There are multiple other steps after that - one of them is for the US to give up altogether on its current "War on Drugs", so that Afghan farmers whose only cash crop is the opium poppy can be encouraged to grow and sell organic fair trade opium to be processed cleanly into heroin that can be provided for free on prescription to drug addicts.

None of this actually looks possible to me, in fact - the fair trade opium poppies are merely the least possible of a bunch of implausible dreams that the US government will, for the first time in over thirty years, act towards Afghanistan for the good of the Afghans and not for the good of the US government - but then:

What good are more US soldiers in Afghanistan going to do?

None at all. So why send more there, to kill and to die so uselessly, when the only good course for Afghanistan involves their leaving it?

Plus, name a single foreign army that's ever been successful in the mountains of afghanistan

I don't mean to imply that this isn't a worthy debate to have, but it's off-topic. Why have such a debate if your underlying presumption is that I'm stupid, psycho, or evil?

I do not assume such.

Eric, we went over this in the prior thread. You've never been able to draw a cogent distinction between what you mean as the "Afghan and Pakistani branches of the Taliban" as it relates to the argument vis-a-vis Pakistan.

Actually, I have. Repeatedly in comments and front page posts. Most recently, key parts of this post
discuss just such a distinction.

And regardless, that is what I meant when I said duty to inform yourself. There is ample literature out there discussing the key differences between these factions, and how those differences have played out historically. Don't rely on discussions with me (especially when you seem to dismiss and disregard my repeated cogent arguments).

"And regardless, that is what I meant when I said duty to inform yourself. There is ample literature out there discussing the key differences between these factions, and how those differences have played out historically. Don't rely on discussions with me (especially when you seem to dismiss and disregard my repeated cogent arguments)."

So, I am admittedly confused.

Having read almost all of the cites and references, I still don't understand why we think the Taliban would (or would not) support AQ command and control (training camps aren't really the big issue) from entrenching in Afghanistan?

I also don't understand what any of that has to do with the "Pakistani" Taliban who seems to protect AQ currently.

And, mostly, I don't understand why, if they are either solidly aligned or mortal enemies, it impacts the reasons we are (or are not) there.

It seems we went to disrupt AQ. We did that but in the process stepped in a big pile and have been treading water with ineffective mission definition for years.

Now we are trying to define a mission and so we throw up Pakistan stability and the Afghan tribes and many other strawmen as a reason to be there. Mostly as defined by Pakistan and India and NATO, but we don't really have a clear reason to stay. As far as I can tell, if President Obama hadn't defined it as the good war we would just be leaving.

But I freely admit that there must be some complexity here that I fail to grasp.

Just saying that our presence in Afghanistan stabilizes Pakistan does not make it true.

Indeed.

This is a point Matthew Yglesias makes all the time I think, but it's a good one: 'we'* simply do not have the understanding of internal Pakistani politics necessary to understand which levers to pull or what effect our actions will actually have. It's not just about our right to interfere, it's about our ability to do so productively at all: Pakistani foreign and domestic policy interests are NOT the same as our interests in Pakistan, and Pakistani elites are ALWAYS going to be better at manipulating us than we can ever be at manipulating them.

For whatever reason (like most things in Pakistani, probably something to do with India), those elites currently seem to consider a certain amount of Taliban presence to be desirable.

Given all that, it's undalterated hubristic lunacy to claim that occupying/bombing/[your-verb-here-ing] Afghanistan can somehow change the motivations of the local actors, especially if you can't be any more specific about the impacts on Pakistani incentives than to hand wave about some kind of "destabilizing".

----

* 'We' meaning not only dilettante blog commenters, but also most of the American foreign policy establishment, including intelligence agents and "experts" on South/Central Asia.


We can only thank whatever gods there be
that George W. Bush did not _also_ choose to
go up against a Sicilian when death was on the line.

To Jay (and in answer to Charles as well):

It's best to choose from the options that you have, not the options you wish you had. If staying in Afghanistan results in a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, and leaving results in a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, then why not do the cheap one that costs fewer lives?

I don't think that staying in Afghanistan ecessarily results in a Taliban take over or I would agree with you. I think that the Taliban can be functionally defeated (or coopted) if we stop bombing them from the air and get boots on the ground in key locations. This would provide security to Afghani citizens, rather than the current system of in which we provide yet another security threat to Afghani citizens via the risk of a misplaced bomb.

Patrick, as your own post demonstrates, ad hominems are only "relevant" only to those who have already reached a conclusion on the merits. You have to be sure that the folks on the other side are wrong before you can believe that they're evil. .... and then their evilness does indeed seem relevant to you.

Jacob, "instability in Pakistan" is not "driven by Afghanistan" -- a notion that you appropriately note is wrongheaded. The point is that (greater) instability in Afghanistan provides bad incentives for Pakistani insurgents. History suggests as much: The last time Afghanistan became unstable, Pakistan intervened to assist the Taliban.

Publius, absolutely no one is arguing for more troops based in the manner you claim. Even the Kagans have a detailed plan -- which I daresay is a lot better thought out than you're given it credit for -- of which additional troops is only one minor (tho' necessary) part. Your psychoanalysis is psychobabble. And it's pretty damn insulting as well.

Jes may not agree with my ultimate conclusion, but she is absolutely correct on this point:

But the first step in doing so is to accept that this can only be done by a massive and intelligently-directed influx of aid that is (apparently) not directed at squashing the Taliban at all, but is, in the short term, directed at keeping Afghans alive and well, and in the long term, in helping Afghans build up the infrastructure of their country at least to the level it had reached in the 1970s, before the US and the USSR took to using it as the last battleground of the Cold War.

That is the point of injecting more combat troops. Current Afghan security forces need time and training to build themselves up; they cannot do that at the same time they are shouldering the load for security.

Plus, name a single foreign army that's ever been successful in the mountains of afghanistan

But we're not conquering Afghanistan, Publius. Not even the wildest of the neocons is proposing anything like that. We're not trying to be the Soviets or the British. Victory doesn't look like "victory," here: all marching bands, etc. Victory means that one of Afghanistan's institutions -- the army -- is sufficient stable that it can provide security for Afghanistan's other institutions to function. That's it. And then we leave.

Actually, I have. Repeatedly in comments and front page posts. Most recently, key parts of this post discuss just such a distinction.

Eric, again, that has nothing to do with the instability argument. You're burning a straw man .... at least to me. Folks are not arguing that we have to send more troops because, otherwise, Afghani Taliban are going to invade Pakistan. That's not the fear. The fear is (among many other things) that instability in Pakistan will provide greater freedom for the Pakistani Taliban to operate (whom you rightly note are linked in many ways to the Taliban in Afghanistan).


There is no good exit strategy from Afghanistan.

Aha!

So then, what does a good not-exit strategy look like....

But the first step in doing so is to accept that this can only be done by a massive and intelligently-directed influx of aid that is (apparently) not directed at squashing the Taliban at all, but is, in the short term, directed at keeping Afghans alive and well, and in the long term, in helping Afghans build up the infrastructure of their country at least to the level it had reached in the 1970s, before the US and the USSR took to using it as the last battleground of the Cold War.

Guns don't make friends.

This is a point Matthew Yglesias makes all the time I think, but it's a good one: 'we'* simply do not have the understanding of internal Pakistani politics necessary to understand which levers to pull or what effect our actions will actually have. It's not just about our right to interfere, it's about our ability to do so productively at all: Pakistani foreign and domestic policy interests are NOT the same as our interests in Pakistan, and Pakistani elites are ALWAYS going to be better at manipulating us than we can ever be at manipulating them.

You lost me with the notions that we're trying to manipulate Pakistan (we aren't) or that Pakistan is opaque and impossible to decipher on the question of whether it wants a lawless no-man's-land next door (it doesn't).

We know what Pakistan will do if Afghanistan becomes (more) unstable because we've seen it before: Pakistani insurgents will become emboldened. Pakistan will intervene. (So, likely, will Iran.) The original result was the Taliban .... since we'll make that politically impossible this time 'round, it's entirely unclear what Pakistan will do instead.

You have to love the conservative notion of fiscal responsibility. Providing stimulus for an economy in recession or providing health insurance for people who lack it are horrifically expensive propositions that will leave future generations drowning in debt, but maintaining an open-ended occupation of a foreign country involving tens of thousands of "boots on the ground" can be painlessly paid for with the Magic Beans of Liberty.

von, either you're joking or not arguing in good faith. Either way, it ain't pretty.

we're trying to manipulate Pakistan (we aren't)

Of course we are. We want the govt to remake the ISI and turn its attention from India toward Afghanistan.

it wants a lawless no-man's-land next door (it doesn't).

I am amazed at the way a single midwestern lawyer can easily and accurately identify the unified wishes of a nation as large and diverse as Pakistan. With powers like that, you must be a huge hit at parties.

We know what Pakistan will do if Afghanistan becomes (more) unstable because we've seen it before: Pakistani insurgents will become emboldened.

Um, what?

How so? When the Taliban controlled Afghanistan, Pakistani insurgents did not become emboldened. Quite the opposite. There was a fairly stable modus vivendi. After we started bombing Pakistani territory, the Pakistani factions in that territory started attacking the Pakistani government.

Hence, we are not helping to stabilize Pakistan. See, ie, this post for further discussion of how we are not stabilizing Pakistan.

Pakistan will intervene. (So, likely, will Iran.) The original result was the Taliban .... since we'll make that politically impossible this time 'round, it's entirely unclear what Pakistan will do instead.

Von, Pakistan is ALREADY intervening. And always will as long as it is hostile to India. Afghanistan is valuable to Pakistan as a counterweight to India. Full stop.

Eric, again, that has nothing to do with the instability argument. You're burning a straw man .... at least to me...The fear is (among many other things) that instability in Pakistan will provide greater freedom for the Pakistani Taliban to operate...

So why should we stick around if we are creating instability in Pakistan? Unless you're arguing that we're actually stabilizing Pakistan by our presence? By forcing the government to take wildly unpopular actions that help India? By forcing that government to acquiesce to attacks on its sovereign soil by the US (in a country with deeply anti-American population)?

We are not bringing stability. The instability has arisen because of our pursuit of our agenda in the region. Increasing the intensity of that pursuit will not have a calming effect.

Von: That is the point of injecting more combat troops.

What? How is more Afghans getting killed and more US soldiers getting killed in any way equivalent to a massive influx of aid?

The whole point of my comment is: before the US can begin to help Afghanistan, all US troops have to be withdrawn from Afghanistan. Staying in Afghanistan to kill more Afghans is not going to do a single helpful thing. Except, of course, strengthen the Taliban's position in Afghanistan: I guess if your goal is more people dead and the Taliban more firmly in power, by all means, support more US combat troops in Afghanistan.

You lost me with the notions that we're trying to manipulate Pakistan

Wow. Really?

So all that military aid is to get them to...do something they would have done anyway? And even then, the constant double speak and clandestine support for the Taliban is...OK with us? We're not trying to get them to support our agenda? Not threatening their government, or offering big time inducements?

Manipulation is an understatement. Again, read my post on destabilization.

von: The original result was the Taliban .... since we'll make that politically impossible this time 'round

Wow. And I thought my idea about the US giving up the War on Drugs and providing aid so that Afghan farmers can grow fair trade poppies was going to be the biggest fantasy on the thread, but this idea of yours has got mine beat.

Seriously, Von, the more Afghans the US kills to try to stop the Taliban - and that idea of killing Afghans is apparently the sum total of your notion - the stronger the Taliban will be when the US finally gives up trying to conquer or goes bankrupt, which ever happens first.

That's what you want?

I like my fantasy of vast amounts of intelligently directed aid, fair trade poppies, and clean heroin to help drug addicts, so much better than your fantasy of battering Afghanistan flat and killing a million Afghans with more and more and more and more combat troops.

WWI taught sane people the lesson: eventually you run out of soldiers to have killed in pursuit of your "victory".

von,

Where are the historical precedents, in the modern era, for believing that a foreign army can "co-opt" a nationalist organization? Do you imagine something like the "Sunni awakening" in Iraq? This would leave the Taliban stronger and better armed when we leave. Also, before accepting success for this strategy in Iraq, we need to wait a few years, because that situation has not stabilized yet.

Or perhaps you imagine that the USA and allies can put enough boots on the ground (in Afghanistan!) to suppress or kill (I don't understand the term "functionally defeat") the Taliban. This is going to require enough soldiers so that every concentration of population will have enough soldiers to protect, not only themselves, but the local population.

Please note that, in the second case, the Taliban will still be there when we leave, and, if we have engaged in trying to kill them, they'll likely be even more numerous, so they'll simply move in as we move out.

Either way, it's a fools hope, and we should decline to participate in the fantasy.


Quoth von, "I think that the Taliban can be functionally defeated (or coopted) if we stop bombing them from the air and get boots on the ground in key locations."

I see three options:

1: Go home and let the locals sort it out. Remind them that whatever they do, they do not want any more of our attention.

2: Stay with similar or marginally increased troop levels. Essentially maintain the status quo.

3: Get a million or so troops (using a draft, if needed). Change the rotation system so that they stay on the ground long enough to learn the language and form relationships. Make sure they spend most of their time off the FOB. Levy the necessary taxes to pay for all this. Accept that there will be lots of American casualties. Don't overreact to occasional atrocities, as these things happen when armed men are under a lot of stress.

Option 2 will likely fail militarily. Option 3 would work militarily, but would fail politically (unless I greatly underestimate the commitment of the American people to this war). By elimination, I suggest that option 1 is the best choice.

"Victory means that one of Afghanistan's institutions -- the army -- is sufficient stable that it can provide security for Afghanistan's other institutions to function."

But where is the evidence that this is even possible? Afghanistan has about 30 million people. We have another country available for easy comparison, Iraq, also with a population of 30 million. Both countries are awash with weapons and ammunition. Iraq has an army with 270,000 members and a police force of 340,000. In total there is a security force of probably 700,000. As we have seen that, that amounts to a force that seems just barely capable of maintaining control. And that is in a country whose geography makes military logistics much easier in most areas.

Afghanistan presently has about 200,000 official security forces (counting army and police). And that's generously assuming that the figures we are given are accurate.

And that's in a country where the geography makes central control extremely difficult. There's a reason we haven't caught bin Laden. There's a reason we don't have complete control over Afghanistan. It's nothing but mountains and more mountains, completely impractical terrain for organized armies. It requires helicopters, airstrikes, special forces operations, and specialized vehicles.

But that's not even the biggest problem. The problem is that even if it were possible to train and equip an army large and competent enough to keep control of Afghanistan, the Afghans have no way to pay for such an army. The GDP of Afghanistan is 1/7th that of Iraq, and given the lack of central government control and the size of the illegal economy, the taxable GDP is going to be a smaller percentage than it is in Iraq. Wages may be (somewhat) adjustable to local costs, but guns, ammunition, and equipment are not. From what I can tell, Afghanistan is too poor to maintain a standing army large enough to maintain order in their own country, at least so long as there are other armed factions fighting for control, and those armed factions haven't gone away in the last 8 years. I don't think our shipping in more weapons is going to help solve it though.

Obviously this is a depressing situation and a depressing assessment of our ability to remedy it. But hope is not a plan, as I believe I heard someone say once or twice.

We've always been at war with Eurasia.

Ergo, we must always continue our war with Eurasia.

Here's a thought, von: I would rather take the chance of being killed in a terrorism attack if I didn't have to worry about health care, and thought Wall St. had SOME level of regulatory oversight, to name just two examples of many.

When I'm feeling bold, I call that "courage." When I'm not, I call it, "common sense."

Other countries don't win wars in Afghanistan. Why not pull out and promise them that if we are hit with another terrorist attack that originates on their soil, we'll be back in such horrific ways they don't even want to consider it a viable option?

If I may go all neocon on you all for just a moment, I have no problem with asymmetrical foreign policy, i.e., for every one of ours you kill senselessly, we'll kill a hundred of yours. We could probably even keep track, give or take!

Of course, to do this, we have to back it up. But we could do that with money we've already spent.

It's time to cut to the chase.

(If I seem a little obsessed with facts and figures, well, I am. So much discussion of these situations proceeds without even a basic accounting of the relative size of the populations and economies of the countries involved, or of their geography. Those things matter; they are why Afghanistan doesn't look like America, or Russia, or Iran, or Pakistan. If you don't look coldly at those figures and try to imagine what they translate to in reality, in terms of ability to field and support an army, for instance, how can you possibly make prescriptions about what we should do or what is or is not possible?)

"I think that the Taliban can be functionally defeated (or coopted) if we stop bombing them from the air and get boots on the ground in key locations. This would provide security to Afghani citizens..."
----no, it wont. I THINK you are talking about strong points from which US troops (The Afghan troops are MIA, by all credible accounts) go out on patrols, "protecting" the people in the near area from thier uncles & such in the mountains. Each and every family so, um, protected will have a fierce & clear memory of a tribal/family member already killed/abused/lied to by these alien occupiers. Who dont speak the language.
None of this is new. Its ALL been done before, and you can simply look at the results. I guess, as part of this protecting, we'll need to bring outlying villages and households closer to the rocket magnet, er, foreign base? A "strategic hamlet" perhaps, or "pro government rally center"?

"....not directed at squashing the Taliban at all, but is, in the short term, directed at keeping Afghans alive and well, and in the long term, in helping Afghans build up the infrastructure of their country at least to the level it had reached in the 1970s..."
And the massive US military- you DO mean military, not mercs, I hope- force required to protect not only collaborators, but civilian specialists AND the projects themselves? When the number 1 reason the various resistance/taliban formations get recruits- including the guys we trained, who vanished- is foriegn occupation?
Perhaps I dont see The Big Picture. The Great Game, Pakistan, and all that. Well, again, we can look at our clumsy interventions in the past, and see how they turned out. Installing the Shah (or Diem) backing Saddam. Backing the Argentine junta (to name but one of many) Arming and backing both side in the Iran/Iraq war.
Overthrowing Sihanook. Its a long list, its heaps of bodies, & its ends in spectacular failure, if success is defined by the stated goals.
Every time.
You say either this past history dosnt exist, or it DOES exist, but everything worked out great, OR this past history is irrelevant because THIS time it will WORK.
Whatever "work" is defined as.
Strip away all the world stage pretensions & this war is just sadistic bullshit. We are doing it because we can. Period.
but I DO NOT think you are evil, or stupid, or crazy. You have an ideology, you bend the world to fit it. you are most certainly not alone in this, and very powerful people, with much in the way of ink & electrons, share it. Its still just fairy dust.....

One last point -- i think it's pretty telling that we've been at war 8 years, and the administration has opened 2 "rethinking strategy" sessions in the last 6 months.

if there's a clear goal, the leaders of the country don't seem to know what it is

von- Your response to me doesn't make sense. I don't know what else to say beyond that.

Basically, its possible to recognize that someone's ARGUMENTS FOR A POSITION are dishonest or otherwise trash, without also knowing that the POSITION ITSELF is incorrect.

You'd probably recognize this if you stopped and thought about the subject for a moment. I'm going to assume that your response was a throwaway.

name a single foreign army that's ever been successful in the mountains of afghanistan

Actually, the horrible examples of the Soviets and the British in the First Anglo-Afghanistan War have given us that impression, but that's a distorted view of the country's history--the place was repeatedly conquered by various Persians, Greeks, Arabs and Mongols, and the British won the Second Anglo-Afghan War

There is no good exit strategy from Afghanistan. That's the central problem.

Exactly. We don't have the resources for a decades-long occupation. Even if we did, we have no clue as to how we might create an Afghan economy that has a chance of succeeding in the modern world. "A strange game. The only way to win is not to play." Pack up and go home.

Props for the Camus title, and I think the people complaining about von's position are missing that the book is about a person who refuses to help a woman who is jumping off a bridge and the self-examination that refusal causes. If one really took the title to heart, you'd note that after walking away from the woman jumping off the Pont Royal, Clamence has his fall, because the hypocrisy of his existence is shown in his refusal to risk his own life to save her. In fact, at the end of the novel, Clamence is holed up in a seedy bar in Amsterdam telling everyone else they are guilty and claiming no regret. Pottery Barn rules, and just because Bush is the evil step-child doesn't give the US a pass.

Conservatives don’t “trust/want” the government to provide health-care for poor people, but they trust it to rearrange the cultural & political dynamics of Afghanistan, at ten times the cost, even…wow!

von, I don't want you to faint, but, although I may disagree with you on a couple points, I do agree with the overall point of your post.
I support additional troops as long as there are also significant economic, infrastructure and political assistance. it would help if the Afghan government wasn't so blatantly corrupt, so I think a major task will be to work from the bottom up with the more localized leaderships.
We will have to work with various elements of the very non-monolithic Taliban.
And I don't consider myself participating in some kind of therapy, or playing with people's lives, or viewing our military as some kind of depersonalized tool.

liberal japonicus,

Jesurgislac point, "I like my fantasy of vast amounts of intelligently directed aid, fair trade poppies, and clean heroin to help drug addicts, so much better than your fantasy of battering Afghanistan flat and killing a million Afghans with more and more and more and more combat troops."

Has to be taken seriously, at what point are we just using mass death as an end in and of itself. Each group of dead bodies is used to justify the next group of dead bodies.

Plus, name a single foreign army that's ever been successful in the mountains of afghanistan

It's worth pointing out once again that the Soviet military and political campaign in Afghanistan was eventually quite successful, at least as successful as the American effort in Iraq more recently -- in some ways even more so, since the Najibullah regime in Kabul was a more reliable ally of Moscow's policies and interests than the current Iraqi government is of Washington's.

But I don't expect anyone to listen to actual facts, since you know, we all know that the Soviets totally failed in Afghanistan because they tried to create communist state there (wrong), and the Reagan administration bled them to death (wrong), and then Rambo zoomed in and cleaned up the rest. Or something.

That said, I remain very pessimistic on Afghanistan, because the country is even more f**ked up now than it was in 1991, and because the US does not border Afghanistan (all the current vacuous bluster about "COIN" aside, one of the most reliable predicators for the outcome of an insurgency is the proximity of each side's source of support).

Plus, the Taliban today is a much better organised, more popular, and more effective movement than the rogue's gallery of bloodthirsty mobs that the Reagan administration supported were

sod,
Actually, what Jes wrote at the beginning of her comment was what I took away

But the first step in doing so is to accept that this can only be done by a massive and intelligently-directed influx of aid that is (apparently) not directed at squashing the Taliban at all, but is, in the short term, directed at keeping Afghans alive and well, and in the long term, in helping Afghans build up the infrastructure of their country at least to the level it had reached in the 1970s, before the US and the USSR took to using it as the last battleground of the Cold War.

Jes goes on to argue, as you point out, that it is impossible to imagine the US ever doing such a thing. If that's the point of disagreement, then it makes no sense to argue about tribal configurations and all the other stuff. Just agree to disagree and then the goal would be to convince a majority to feel the same, that the US is evil or good. Under this assumption, the McChrystal report is just CYA.

However, the report (and it is interesting the report hasn't come up) seems to identify precisely those problems mentioned by Jes at the beginning of her comment.

"The weakness of state institutions, malign actions of power-brokers, widespread corruption and abuse of power by various officials, and ISAF's own errors, have given Afghans little reason to support their government," McChrystal says.

The result has been a "crisis of confidence among Afghans," he writes. "Further, a perception that our resolve is uncertain makes Afghans reluctant to align with us against the insurgents."

McChrystal is equally critical of the command he has led since June 15. The key weakness of ISAF, he says, is that it is not aggressively defending the Afghan population. "Pre-occupied with protection of our own forces, we have operated in a manner that distances us — physically and psychologically — from the people we seek to protect. . . . The insurgents cannot defeat us militarily; but we can defeat ourselves."

I don't know, that seems to be exactly right. Perhaps it is just a report to cover up the fact that they want to kill million of Afghans, but it is certainly a roundabout way of arguing for it.

Pakistani insurgents will become emboldened.

You're talking about people who will strap an explosive belt on themselves and blow themselves up. I'm not sure how much bolder they can get.

for every one of ours you kill senselessly, we'll kill a hundred of yours.

3,000 on 9/11 and 5 or 6,000 in uniform since then. What do you think ratio of our dead to theirs is so far? Feel free to include Iraqis or not, as you like.

To be totally honest, I don't think anybody has any f**king idea what to do in Afghanistan and/or Pakistan. The people who live in those countries have their own agendas, they don't give a crap what we want them to do or not do.

If we want to make Afghanistan a stable place, IMO we need to do the kinds of basic, hands-on support that Jes describes.

I don't see any way to "defeat" either Al Qaeda or the Taliban through military means. What are we going to do, kill every Pashtun man on the planet?

You lost me with the notions that we're trying to manipulate Pakistan (we aren't)

What the others said. I don't think 'naive' even begins to describe this. What exactly ARE we trying to do, in your opinion?

...or that Pakistan is opaque and impossible to decipher on the question of whether it wants a lawless no-man's-land next door (it doesn't).

Again, it's hard to know how to respond to that. There are obviously uncountably many more potential configurations for Afghanistan to be in other than your simple dichotomy of "lawless no-man's-land" and "whatever it is the US (and/or von) wants it to look like".

Pakistan may or may not want a "lawless no-man's-land" exactly, but whatever it is they DO want, I think it's uncontroversial to point out that it isn't necessarily likely to very closely match whatever it is WE want either. In fact, what they want may look rather more like a lawless no man's land than not from Washington. Or maybe it won't. The point is just that it's rather naive to assume that Pakistan's interests align perfectly with ours on this. We have fairly different goals and outlooks.

Likewise, it should be uncontroversial to point out that it's going to be inherently more difficult for someone in Washington to understand what a given faction in Islamabad might really be after than it is for that faction to understand themselves. (And the real problem is that's not necessarily a symmetrical disadvantage - on a day-to-day basis, your average army general in Pakistan probably knows much better what Obama's after than vice-versa.)

Said a famous man, once:

"When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An' go to your Gawd like a soldier.
Go, go, go like a soldier,
Go, go, go like a soldier,
Go, go, go like a soldier,
So-oldier _of_ the Queen!"

Look: what is our strategic interest in Afghanistan? What is the cost-benefit analysis for fighting a counterinsurgency war halfway around the world, in the middle of the Eurasian continent?

And what is meant by "The Taliban?" Do we even know who we're fighting? How many "Taliban" are ideological suicide-bombers? And how many are angry Pashtuns who just don't like Tajiks, Hollywood, and foreigners (in that order)? We have no idea, and I'd be willing to bet that Gen. McChrystal doesn't either.

How do we leave Afghanistan? Unfortunately we can't take the advice that the Senator gave LBJ, when asked, "How do we get out of Vietnam?" His answer: "In boats!"

No coastline in Afghanistan, more's the pity.

Kimberly Kagan may have an additional objection to the "testes made us do it" argument.

In case that was directed at me: I don't blame testes, I blame the patriarchy. People without testes are perfectly capable of supporting the patriarchy, for logically self-serving reasons: they may never be able to get to the very top of the hierarchy, but flattery and imitation can get one pretty far above the bottom.

I blame the patriarchy because of things like Glenzilla's article here on the war-loving Serious People in the Foreign Policy Community.

I'm not an expert, but I'm someone who's read and thought a great deal about military history and warfare, over the years. IMHO *no one* can do that and be pro-war in general, unless they are (a) sociopaths or (b) getting some extra imaginative thrill out of the idea of war.

The fact that Serious Warrior-types (note: rarely includes actual warriors, especially NCOs) tend to overuse certain words -- firm, hard, unyielding, standing tall, strength -- leads one automatically to see a fetishistic pattern.

And there's also my theory of Subtractive Masculinity, which says that men get masculinity points not by doing any task well, but only by doing things women *don't* do at all. If women can be prudent, risk-averse, compassionate, forward-thinking, and wary of unintended consequences, a masculine manly man must be bold, hard-hearted, focussed on short-term results, and committed to his cause.

That's why they call Paul Krugman "shrill" -- like a woman. That's why they call themselves "serious" -- men with deep voices and long beards, men who do what needs to be done, not women who ask pesky questions like "says who?"

I wrote a comment a few weeks ago saying how much I enjoyed the vital debate on Afghanistan that happens here. Now I am wondering what I was thinking. The discussion here just among the bloggers themselves has noxiousness-to-insight ratio that makes it right at the moment a waste of time. The policy critics take an incredibly arrogant, contemptuous tone, and those supporting the policy are overly aggressive in their sarcastic defensiveness. It's unfortunate.

lj: Props for the Camus title, and I think the people complaining about von's position

I hadn't actually heard of the Camus book by that title, so that clarifies something. I guess.

Pottery Barn rules, and just because Bush is the evil step-child doesn't give the US a pass.

True, absolutely true, and that's why my position is the US needs to get all combat troops out of Afghanistan - ie, stop breaking the pottery - and then start paying for it. Not least is it a fantasy because this would be a multiple-administration project - it's been thirty years since the US (with the USSR) started to smash up Afghanistan, and it may take that long to achieve the goal of an Afghanistan where the Taliban is pretty much powerless.

During that time, the US would need to keep paying. Paying whether the government of Afghanistan was Islamic or Communist or Socialist, so long as it was democratically elected. Paying and paying and paying through three to five administrations. Paying when it's clear from this thread that most Americans don't want to pay anything, they don't care if Afghans are dying from what the US has done - the most they're willing to accept of my idea is just to get all the US troops out.

So. Not going to happen. The US broke Afghanistan, and it's not about to fix it, because that would be expensive and long-term and difficult and not rewarding at all in the short term, and that's not the kind of thing the US does.

I don't know, that seems to be exactly right. Perhaps it is just a report to cover up the fact that they want to kill million of Afghans, but it is certainly a roundabout way of arguing for it.

Not at all. McChrystal wants to defend "the Afghan population" from "the insurgents".

...the insurgents are also "the Afghan population". McChrystal wants to kill bad Afghans in order to save good Afghans. Who are bad Afghans? The ones who are resisting the foreign army of conquest. Why does an Afghan want to resist?

Because - oh, you know: she had a brother who got killed in the Mazar-e-Sharif massacre. He had a cousin who was killed in Bagram Airbase. Her father was kidnapped by a local warlord and sold to the US for a bounty and returned, broken in mind and in body, after three years during which he was kept in a cage in Guantanamo Bay. His wife was raped by a US soldier. Her son was threatened at gun point by a US soldier who wanted to make him say where the insurgents were. His entire family was wiped out when a US bomber dropped a load on a wedding. Her entire family and all the neighbors she grew up with were wiped out when a US bombing raid destroyed the village where she was born.

The women may not pick up weapons and go to war: but there's a reason blood feuds can last for generations and it's not because women practice forgiveness and never speak evil of their mortal enemies to their children.

The US cannot win in Afghanistan. There's only a multiple set of ways the US can lose, and the plan of pouring more and more combat troops into Afghanistan is a way of killing more Afghans in order to lose with more lives lost.

...But regardless of the acrimony, I'll wade in:

publius:

Two strategy reviews befit two discreet troop increase proposals, do they not?

Also, there is a clear goal: disrupt, dismantle, defeat Al Qaeda insofar as it poses a threat from Afghanistan-Pakistan. (I acknowledge the relevance of a claim that they do not pose any considerable such threat from there at this time, and would not even with the return of Taliban rule -- itself unlikely. That is an empirical claim that should be vetted and taken seriously. Be that as it may, such is not the current assessment of the U.S. intelcom, so I don't know that you can argue that the president can make policy assuming the claim is true.)

Up for review review now is whether COIN is a wise means to pursue the goal laid out (disrupt...AQ etc.). That would seem to be the question you and Eric want asked, as it is the only one at this point that could head off the troop increases you oppose. I don't know what else you both can be advocating beyond a decision not to escalate or at most perhaps to scale back somewhat per Biden -- ie I don't see where any near-complete disengagement is on the table anywhere. I don't know of any major policy player that supports total disengagement (or how they would make their case vis-a-vis our interests); moreover I don't even know if you two support that -- or what you do support. I asked Eric what the alternative is that he supports recently in a previous thread; no response. Will you bite?

But in any case it would seem a review of strategy would be an inevitable point on any path that avoids escalation, since we were more or less settled on a strategy that would rely on some amount of escalation. So why the criticism (or snark, or whatever it is) of another strategy review? I would think you would welcome it.

Be that as it may, such is not the current assessment of the U.S. intelcom, so I don't know that you can argue that the president can make policy assuming the claim is true.

Is this actually the case? I mean, is this on record from an authoritative source somewhere, that we could all agree was above reproach and free of any potential political influence?

I think it's just as likely that, assuming that IS the current assessment of "U.S. intelcom", that there are also plenty of experts equally in the know who plausibly think it goes the other way.

I think you're kinda presuming a very noble policy making process, where foreign policy decisions like this are made in a strictly objective way. Highly knowledgeable intelligence experts report on exactly what's going on. Diplomats, economists, generals and other experts sit down and come up with plans, and evaluate their costs and effects, and decide which would be best for the world.

And it would be nice if strategic decisions were made that way. It'd be nice if ALL policy decisions were made that way. But they aren't, not really.

There's a lot of bias in that process. A lot more generals than sociologists in those meetings. A whole lot of bombs-must-be-better-than-doing-nothing (right?) bias. A lot of let's keep bumbling along doing more or less whatever we're already doing because after all we ain't dead yet and that's what everyone knows how to do bias. A lot of "defense spending" isn't really real money bias. A lot of difficult to value diplomatic commitments. A lot of judgement calls and secondary and tertiary guesses about what does so-and-so do if we do this and then he does that and these others do that and then we do this. A lot of worrying about how it'll play on the sunday morning talk shows. A lot of needing to do something NOW, something other than patiently waiting 25 years for the blue jeans and MTV to kick in.

Etc. You get the idea.

I'm just saying there are lots of reasons we might not be withdrawing from Afghanistan anytime soon that have nothing to do with any objective threat assessments.


Posted by: Patrick

"Ad hominems are actually quite relevant. If I don't know whether a particular course of action is a good or bad idea, but I do know that the arguments being advanced for it are not only absolutely moronic but also suggestive of emotional attachment to the extent that rational decisions are not being made, then I am justified in opposing that course of action.

Its a simple heuristic, but it tends to make me right more often than not."

IIRC, 'ad hominem' means using a non-relevant personal characteristic. In the case of the neo-cons, they were wrong about Iraq, for reasons which persist, and have made a career of being paid well for being wrong. In addition, it's clear that their job is being wrong; they'd suffer more corrective negative incentives for being correct than for being wrong.

Given that, when the neocons urge an already questionable course of action, their support is strong evidence against it.

A lot of interesting points floating around, so apologies if this is a bit scattered.

Mike, I think what you are seeing is people who have deeply held opinions, but there is no information coming in. This results in a hardening of divisions. I've mentioned about the status of Balochistan, the participation of the Chinese in Gwadar, the plans for cross Afghanistan pipelines (TAPI versus the IPI), but perhaps others don't feel it really is important, and I'm certainly not an expert, but given the mix of powers and motivations, we had better do something in Afghanistan that reflects the best of us rather than the worst.

Jes, I highly recommend La Chute. I think you have some French, and I think it is great in the original. Here is a very nice piece about the novel. I think there are any number of scenes that give insight, because the narrator is turning to nilhism (and Camus is showing how it is not a justified moral response), which is what calls for full and total withdrawal strike me as.

You argue that we can't separate out the 'good Afghans' from the insurgents because they are one in the same. I tend to believe that the majority of people are not driven to insurgency, but just want security. And if they really want security, a movement that combines the local culture of the Pashtun (fiercely independent and refusing to accept that others may have some claim on the people they are showing hospitality to) with the utopic vision of the Taliban (as evidenced by its desire to institute sharia law upon all the people of Afghanistan) is not a movement that will provide the measure of security to the people of Afghanistan. I accept that perhaps more Western boots on the ground might fail as well, but the notion of a complete withdrawal with drones circling around to wreak havoc when our intelligence tells us we are threatened (which seems to be what Biden is arguing for) seems like the worst of both worlds, in that the US fails to renounce violence, and security for the people of Afghanistan is an impossibility.

You also argue that it's clear from the thread that Americans don't want to pay for it, and aren't going to. Hence my arguments that we have a duty and an obligation to see this thru. Security has to be established before any sort of reconstruction can begin. Withdrawing eliminates the possibility of that initial requirement ever coming to pass. Perhaps the ill will we have created is far too lasting to ever overcome, but if that is the case, then arguing for withdrawal followed by a rebuilding of Afghan society is not really realistic.

Jes, I highly recommend La Chute. I think you have some French, and I think it is great in the original. Here is a very nice piece about the novel.

What French I have is more of the fumbling-tourist level than of the sit-down-and-read-a-novel level - can you recommend a good English translation?

I think there are any number of scenes that give insight, because the narrator is turning to nilhism (and Camus is showing how it is not a justified moral response), which is what calls for full and total withdrawal strike me as.

On the other hand: I think nihilism is false, and comparisons to nihilism are false. My support for complete and total US military withdrawal from Afghanistan is based on a very definite set of values. At a Pottery Barn level, this is: if you're not going to pay for what you broke, at least leave the store and stop breaking things!

I have no confidence that the US, which is not known for intelligently-applied international aid, will actually pay up for what it broke. But it can at least stop breaking it.

You argue that we can't separate out the 'good Afghans' from the insurgents because they are one in the same.

No. I argue that your assertion that McChrystal doesn't want to kill Afghans, he wants to kill insurgents, is false: the insurgents are (mostly) Afghans. Trying to give local people "security" by killing the locals is a wonderful example of "we had to destroy the village to save it".

I tend to believe that the majority of people are not driven to insurgency, but just want security. And if they really want security, a movement that combines the local culture of the Pashtun (fiercely independent and refusing to accept that others may have some claim on the people they are showing hospitality to) with the utopic vision of the Taliban (as evidenced by its desire to institute sharia law upon all the people of Afghanistan) is not a movement that will provide the measure of security to the people of Afghanistan.

No. But neither is the American movement to install a large foreign army in Afghanistan that buys kidnap victims and imprisons them for years, takes part in massacres, drops cluster bombs to create instant minefields, takes sides in local feuds, tortures people in prison camps, bombs villages, and generally, you know, kills Afghans. That's what the US military has been doing in Afghanistan since 2001: the notion that this can somehow - can ever - establish "security" is a fantasy equivalent to the idea that the US military can somehow establish "security" in Iraq.

Security has to be established before any sort of reconstruction can begin.

Which is why the US military has to leave.

Perhaps the ill will we have created is far too lasting to ever overcome, but if that is the case, then arguing for withdrawal followed by a rebuilding of Afghan society is not really realistic.

More realistic, however, than to argue that the US military should stay on because eventually, it will have killed enough Afghans to "establish security" and someday, on a pile of dead Afghans, men, women, and children, reconstruction can then begin.

Two strategy reviews befit two discreet troop increase proposals, do they not?
But in any case it would seem a review of strategy would be an inevitable point on any path that avoids escalation, since we were more or less settled on a strategy that would rely on some amount of escalation. So why the criticism (or snark, or whatever it is) of another strategy review? I would think you would welcome it.

This demonstrates an impressive level of naivety. Just like von's writings. Perhaps that is mere coincidence.

Let me walk you through it slowly. People with power can pre-arrange the results of supposedly neutral objective bureaucratic instruments like strategy reviews. For example, they might stock the review panel with people who are not subject matter experts in Afghanistan but are ideologically committed to continuing military engagement there. Doing so would bias the results of the review.

As Marc Lynch writes:

I must confess to finding the entire exercise baffling. The "strategic review" brought together a dozen smart (mostly) think-tankers with little expertise in Afghanistan but a general track record of supporting calls for more troops and a new counter-insurgency strategy. They set up shop in Afghanistan for a month working in close coordination with Gen. McChrystal, and emerged with a well-written, closely argued warning that the situation is dire and a call for more troops and a new counter-insurgency strategy. Shocking. Were it not for the optics of a leaked "strategic review" amidst an intensifying public debate, I doubt this would dominate the front pages.

The only translation I have is by Justin O'Brien, who did a lot of translations of Camus as well as Proust and Gide.

I have no confidence that the US, which is not known for intelligently-applied international aid, will actually pay up for what it broke.

So, as I pointed out earlier, this is where we diverge, so anything beyond this is just point scoring. I imagine that you would argue that even the interventions that seem motivated by good will are actually driven by a desire for power where the US is concerned.

I argue that your assertion that McChrystal doesn't want to kill Afghans, he wants to kill insurgents, is false: the insurgents are (mostly) Afghans.

This is where you are diverging from Eric and others, which is not bad, but it's useful to understand that your opposition is different from their opposition. You feel that because insurgents are Afghans, so the US has no standing (and perhaps no reason that you would accept as valid?) to fight them. On the other hand, Eric has been arguing that the various factions are sufficiently differentiated that we cannot act in a general way because we will wind up angering some of the groups when we appease others. These are different, even though you get to the same end point.

No. But neither is the American movement...

So neither of the options presented do anything at all to help the people of Afghanistan. I'm pretty sure that the withdrawal would be a bad thing for the people of Afghanistan, but I think that engagement at least has the possibility (perhaps fadingly slim) of success. When confronting a situation where you have a bad option and a worse option, you should (I think) take the less bad option. I think Camus, when he was accepting the Nobel, said that 'We are fighting a lie in the name of a half truth'. I can understand that you might think it is straight up a lie for a lie, but I think that is where we disagree.

The only translation I have is by Justin O'Brien, who did a lot of translations of Camus as well as Proust and Gide.

Thanks very much: *takes note*.

I imagine that you would argue that even the interventions that seem motivated by good will are actually driven by a desire for power where the US is concerned.

Please point out to me a US military intervention in a foreign country any time in the past fifty years that was, in your view, motivated by good will and not a desire for power. We can then discuss it. Feel free to use more than one example, if you've got it.

The attack on Afghanistan in 2001 and the following military occupation will not, I hope, be on your list.

So, as I pointed out earlier, this is where we diverge, so anything beyond this is just point scoring.

Well, it's nice that you're convinced the US is, one of these days, going to pay out massive amounts of money to NGOs and other working charities to rebuild Afghanistan. But given that, to date, this is not something the US has shown willing to do - I think my pointing this out and presuming that this will continue for the foreseeable future, is not so much "point scoring" as realism. Should this money actually end up being provided, without any of the usual US international aid strings attached that ensure the aid must be spent to the profit of the US, I'll certainly acknowledge I was wrong.

Given that yours is an aspirational hope for the future, would you be willing to set a timelimit on your belief that "someday" the US will pay up for what it broke? How long will you wait for this to happen before you are willing to acknowledge that it won't?

I'm pretty sure that the withdrawal would be a bad thing for the people of Afghanistan, but I think that engagement at least has the possibility (perhaps fadingly slim) of success.

So, would you care to explain why "engagement" - your code word for the US military killing more Afghans - has in your view more chance of "success" than the US military withdrawing from the country and at least stopping the killing for which the US is directly responsible.

When confronting a situation where you have a bad option and a worse option, you should (I think) take the less bad option

I agree. Yet you have yet to explain why you think the US military killing more Afghans is the less bad option for Afghanistan.

Doctor Science, that wasn't directed to you. I put in the update when I realized that Kimberly Kagan was on the Kagan report.

Eric, way above, that should be "instability in Afghanistan will provide greater freedom for the Pakistani Taliban to operate..." That is, a failure to stabilize Afghanistan will make it difficult for Pakistan to stabilize its border regions because of the cross-border flow among members of the Taliban (so-called Pakistani Taliban will have greater flexibility to seek refuge in Afghanistan among, e.g., tribal relations).

And of course Pakistan will be involved in Afghanistan; we're can't hope to prevent that. We can, however, create conditions that channel and/or limit the potential for such involvement to either create, or be in response to, regional instability.

Oh, and I highly recommend La Chute ("The Fall" is, unsurprisingly, its English title). Camus is among my favorite writers, and LJ's summary of the book is accurate .... at least for our purposes (the nice thing about Camus is that you can endlessly argue over his works).

So, would you care to explain why "engagement" - your code word for the US military killing more Afghans - has in your view more chance of "success" than the US military withdrawing from the country and at least stopping the killing for which the US is directly responsible.

Jes, this isn't directed to me, but it touches on some of your responses to me (above). The overriding notion in General McChrystal's report is that we have to conduct ourselves in a way that reduces the number of Afghanistani casualties. That's why more troops are required. It's an attempt to wage a smarter war that inflicts fewer harms on civilians.

Now, obviously, if you don't think that any coalition forces should be in Afghanistan, waging a smarter war in Afghanistan will not satisfy you.

Props for the Camus title, and I think the people complaining about von's position are missing that the book is about a person who refuses to help a woman who is jumping off a bridge and the self-examination that refusal causes.

IOW, the Afghans need to be saved from themselves. LJ, I would suggest you (and von) rethink the assumption behind this and try to come up with a better analogy.

Perhaps it is just a report to cover up the fact that they want to kill million of Afghans, but it is certainly a roundabout way of arguing for it.

Pure straw. Please point me to someone who's arguing that McChrystal "wants" to kill millions of Afghans. You want to reduce the people who disagree with you to the status of unhinged DFHs screaming "BABYKILLER!"

(Of course, how someone can be outraged by what they see as deliberate mass murder and "nihilistic" at the
same time will have to be a discussion for another day.)

What I think we can safely say is that Afghan civilian casualties are pretty much immaterial to this discussion as it's playing out in the US. Von doesn't mention the Afghans who will die as a direct result of more "boots on the ground," and neither does anyone else. (Von doesn't mention costs at all, for that matter, and I think it's clear at this point that he has no intention of doing so.) We racked up a seven-figure civilian body count in Vietnam and a six-figure one (at least) in Iraq, and in each case these numbers are trivial footnotes in the discussions of Serious Foreign Policy Thinkers. They are simply not part of the analysis. I think this is pretty much beyond dispute.

I would submit that, while McChrystal does not in any way want to kill Afghans, the deaths of Afghan civilians at the hands of the US military are of virtually no consequence to him or any of the other people calling the shots.

It should be clear by now that US public opinion is very easily mollified on this score. In the American moral calculus, our noble intentions will always, always trump the actual results of our actions.

After all, we're doing it for their own good. And hey, if we hadn't accidentally blown up that wedding party, those people would have just hurled themselves off a bridge eventually anyway...

Well, trust me to come in at the end of a rumpus rather than at the beginning, but blame it on my schedule (and the time diff between Japan and the U.S., though that's not an excuse given LJ's yeoman-like posts).

The overheated character of the commentary that Mike laments goes to show what the stakes are in Afghanistan, but I would disagree with him that it's all bluster. There's some considered opinion-making there that is far better than what I can muster in a nutshell. But while I have great respect for LJ in particular, and agree that the Afghan people deserve far better than what they've gotten, I have to lean towards Jes on this one. Her take that policy review (and if you like, re-review) crafted to detail and to death won't overcome the antagonisms that we either fueled or created is spot-on because we lack, in my view, the nuance and insight to navigate our way through the lose-lose scenarios that are inevitable when we try to position ourselves and our interests by using these antagonisms to our tactical positioning and strategic outlook. The only relevant lesson the Afghan people can learn by our doing all this is that these antagonisms can and will be manipulated to our(purported) advantage; our best intentions and bromides to civic stability count for nothing when their conflict is obviously our plaything. Who was it who said that one does not teach by what one says, but what one does?

"Plaything" might be a harsh assessment, but when the call for increased troop levels and commitment are so obviously compromised by our domestic ideology, voiced by people whose commitment is to ideology rather than policy, what is it all but a playground? Is it any wonder that Marc Lynch is baffled by all this? McChrystal might indeed be able to tell the difference between regular Afghans and insurgent Afghans, but the troops on the ground there are not likely to be able to do the same when entering any one of a number of villages and towns, and they are not likely to performs such feats of nuance when confronted with a crisis situation that calls for them to act. And the worst part of it all is that it is unrealistic to expect them to do so when so many of them are on their second or third tour of the place.

The overriding notion in General McChrystal's report is that we have to conduct ourselves in a way that reduces the number of Afghanistani casualties.

That's good. Given that - my hopeful fantasies aside - the US military occupation of Afghanistan is likely to continue until the US goes bankrupt, it is genuinely a good thing that the general in charge feels it would be good not to kill Afghans. Kind of like campaigning to have infibulation done by a skilled surgeon under general anaesthetic rather than the traditional method of holding the girl down and using broken glass. The net result is still appalling, but you can, I suppose, give them credit for trying to commit the atrocity with as little trauma as possible to the victim.

If that's your argument - we can't stop the atrocity of a foreign military occupation waging war on Afghanistan, all we can do is campaign to have it done at more cost in US military lives, then why try to argue that it's about reconstruction or suppressing the Taliban? Neither applies. It's just the difference between infibulation with and without a general anaesthetic.

Von doesn't mention the Afghans who will die as a direct result of more "boots on the ground," and neither does anyone else.

I did.

I also said "we", which I shouldn't have: my sole direct responsibility in this is to get Gordon Brown to get British troops out of Afghanistan, to go back only if the US have withdrawn their military occupation - all of it, including Bagram Airbase and any other little military-guarded black holes - and if they go as part of a UN peacekeeping force not generalled from the US.

I did.

Of course you did, Jes. But you and I are Fundamentally Unserious.

Please point out to me a US military intervention in a foreign country any time in the past fifty years that was, in your view, motivated by good will and not a desire for power.

I was actually thinking of the Bosnia-Kosovo as an example, but I think it would be pretty far afield to start debating whether that intervention was a good thing or unneeded.

The rest is addressed to what you feel are my failings rather than a discussion of the strategy. I'd just echo Von's point that you need more troops to order to reduce the potential of situations where civilians are harmed. (before you leap to point out my deletion of the agent, I acknowledge that civilians are going to die, but I believe that they are also going to die if we opt for your complete withdrawal or a skeleton force and/or drones)

I thought that LGM might have had an interesting post about this, pointing out that the challenge of COIN is that the most militarily efficient is often the action you want to avoid taking. By reducing the number of forces, you create situations where it is more likely that military options are taken. Of course, you are arguing for total and complete withdrawal, so you probably wouldn't accept that criticism as applying to you, but other commenters who are arguing some sort of reduced presence do have to address that.

If one really took the title to heart, you'd note that after walking away from the woman jumping off the Pont Royal, Clamence has his fall, because the hypocrisy of his existence is shown in his refusal to risk his own life to save her.

But what if, in order to save her life, he had to kill a bunch of other people in the process? I mean, our actions in Afghanistan are killing thousands and thousands of Afghanis. Some are Taliban (which I suppose is tantamount to deserving of death) and others aren't (women, children, unrelated males). Either way, they are dead. Because we are saving their lives. Except the dead ones.

I asked Eric what the alternative is that he supports recently in a previous thread; no response.

But I did respond. I said:

"I would favor a measured withdrawal ala the SOFA timeline in Iraq, with stepped up aid and support for the Afghan people, and perhaps a residual force for some time if it were at all feasible (the last point I'm iffy on).

After that, use light reaction forces to neutralize al-Qaeda, but only al-Qaeda. We don't need to be active participants in another country's civil war. We have our own myriad problems to address."

Eric, way above, that should be "instability in Afghanistan will provide greater freedom for the Pakistani Taliban to operate..." That is, a failure to stabilize Afghanistan will make it difficult for Pakistan to stabilize its border regions because of the cross-border flow among members of the Taliban (so-called Pakistani Taliban will have greater flexibility to seek refuge in Afghanistan among, e.g., tribal relations).

Nonsense. The Afghan Taliban relies on the Pakistani government for its existence. It will cooperate with them fully.

Further, the Pakistani Talibs will stop their unrest once the Pakistani government stops attacking them, and stops allowing the US to do the same with such frequency and loose rules of engagement.

Bottom line: Pakistan knows how to stabilize the situation in Afghanistan. And it has a very close working relationship with the Afghan Taliban. It is not "so-called." It is under different leadership with the Pakistani Taliban.

Consider this from one of the posts I linked to above, which it doesn't seem you have read, but so be it. I'm not that great a writer:

"The AFPAK front also showed signs of division between the two wings of the Taliban. The Afghan Taliban organization declined a request for help from Taliban militants in Pakistan's Swat Valley by apparently reminding their Pakistani brothers of their policy of non-interference in Pakistan's internal affairs. The Afghan Taliban is under the overall command of Mullah Omar, the one-eyed underground leader who has not been seen since Sept. 11 but who maintains contact with Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency."

"Further, the Pakistani Talibs will stop their unrest once the Pakistani government stops attacking them, and stops allowing the US to do the same with such frequency and loose rules of engagement."

As in the Swat Valley, I suppose.

The US up until two years ago was mostly attacking al-Qaeda targets in the FATA region. Unfortunately these guys tend to congregate WITH the Pakistani Taliban. Should we stop attacking al-Qaeda targets, then?

I'm having real difficulty understanding why liberals would want to see Afghanistan collapse back into civil war. Except this time it really WOULD be our fault rather than that of mujahidin commanders and the Soviets.

I'm a proud liberal who just came back from Iraq last summer and am considering extending my contract to go out with 3/25 Marines to Afghanistan next summer. Part of the reason why is because I am greatly encouraged that our new President is actually thinking seriously about how to win this war, rather than just save his legacy. But this is a war, and abandoning the Afghan people to the Taliban is not going to save American lives any more than it did prior to 9/11.

And no, the Taliban are NOT the Afghan people, any more than al-Qaeda in Iraq were the Iraqi people. Ask a Hazara if the Taliban and the Afghan people are the same.

Also, Jesurgilac, can you find me the name of the last Afghan woman raped by an American soldier or Marine?

I'm having real difficulty understanding why liberals would want to see Afghanistan collapse back into civil war.

Afghanistan is already in a state of civil war.

And no, "liberals" do not "want" civil war, any more than Gen. McChrystal "wants" to kill millions of people. Can we please cut this sh*t out?

And again (and again, and again...) this isn't about you or I or the President "want" to happen...it's about what is achievable.

As in the Swat Valley, I suppose.

No, we kept attacking them there and elsewhere. So, no.

The US up until two years ago was mostly attacking al-Qaeda targets in the FATA region. Unfortunately these guys tend to congregate WITH the Pakistani Taliban. Should we stop attacking al-Qaeda targets, then?

No, the US was operating under extremely loose rules of engagement during which we were openly targeting Taliban qua Taliban. It has been something of a scandal in national security circles that very little is required to order an airstrike on these regions. Will Petraues and McChrystal rein in these practices? Perhaps, but they haven't yet.

What we need to do is limit our targeting of airstrikes to al-Qaeda only, and even then, with sound intel.

Michah Zenko of CFR is a good resource on this.

I'm having real difficulty understanding why liberals would want to see Afghanistan collapse back into civil war.

No!

Afghanistan is ALREADY in a civil war. I mean, you wouldn't describe it as a peaceful place would you? And nobody WANTS this to be the state of affairs. The question is: can we stop it. And, if so, at what costs. My answer is: we haven't stopped it for the past 8 years, so why could we now? And: this will cost many trillions of dollars and tens of thousands of lives.

And no, the Taliban are NOT the Afghan people, any more than al-Qaeda in Iraq were the Iraqi people. Ask a Hazara if the Taliban and the Afghan people are the same.

Huh? First of all, there are inumerate factions that we lump under the "Taliban" umbrellla. And outside of the very small coterie of foreign fighters (that we call al-Qaeda instead), ALL Taliban are Afghan people. Have been for thousands of years.

You saying otherwise does not change the fact.

As you sit at your keyboard you ARE informed by pyschological issues. You are expressing faith and belief about the future, which isn't just rooted in facts but desires and needs. And clearly, it's very hard even for liberals to face that we've wasted nearly a decade in a largely futile occupation in not one, but two place. Clearly your view of Afghanistan as a "good" war includes left over feelings about 9/11. You wouldn't be human if you didn't, but it doesn't make it any more right. Nor does it make your casual dismissal of the excessive cost in lives and money - for a nation which is virtually bankrupt and hamstrung on domestic issues due to financial problems - any less dubious.

Assertions that things can be okay if we stay longer and spend more money and blood are little different than neo-con arguments for staying in Iraq and Vietnam. We're occupiers and we've repeatedly killed civilians and made things worse there.

You cannot discount Afghanistan's long and bloody history and the grave of empires thing - not even military supporters of staying can do that. Instead of listening to the US military which was and is wrong and/or flat out lied on many things about Iraq, we should listen historians to Russian military men who were actually there.

lj: I'd just echo Von's point that you need more troops to order to reduce the potential of situations where civilians are harmed.

No.

Your argument would make sense in a fantasy 'verse where the US has hundreds of thousands of troops who all speak either Dari or Pashto and who have all had intensive cultural training in how to behave in order to be regarded as a polite and well-meaning person. Further, they need to be at a pitch of training and discipline to accept high-risk situations of the kind that made Iraqi deaths a commonplace: cars or buses with armed men in them travelling down the road.

As no such army exists in the US - never did - this is just a fantasy. Put more and more US soldiers in Afghanistan, more and more Afghans will be killed by US soldiers. That's a known consequence.

But, even supposing you could raise up this fantasy army - the idea that the US military occupation stays on and is accepted with goodwill requires the US government to take seriously the need to deal with the actions of the past eight years. It's not that long ago that warlords were rounding up people and selling them to the US as "Taliban fighters". No one ever said what happened to the "Taliban fighters" the US didn't buy, but the US bounty was the direct cause of that kidnapping lark - and the survivors who were bought by the US spent years in cages being tortured. There are the children whose limbs were blown off or who were killed because the US dropped cluster bombs on city streets. There are the farmers who still have to risk death because the US dropped cluster bombs on arable land. There are the torture victims and the murder victims and whole villages destroyed.

Indeed, it's not so very long - only one generation - since the US, having promised for years that once the war with the USSR was over, would continue to support Afghanistan and provide aid for reconstruction, simply ditched responsibilities and walked away, abandoning Afghanistan to the warlords and the chaos which allowed the Taliban to take control.

Yet somehow, in this fantasy 'verse, Afghans are supposed to be the Charlie Brown to the US Lucy, trying to take one more kick at the football in the belief that this time when the US says it will follow through in peace what it promised in war, they actually mean it?

The historical references are all good and fine, but in the case of the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878-80) there are all kinds of inconvenient facts that make it particularly compromised and problematic for anyone looking for a success story to cling to.

In that conflict, the British had the Indian subcontinent, which at that time stretched more or less from most of the current Pak-Afghan border to the Thai border (as Burma was fully integrated into it), northwards to the Nepalese side of the Himalayas, southward to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and to the southeast, a separate but strategically integrated colony in Malaya, with Mr. Raffles having built up Singapore for good measure.

So the Brits had overland supply lines directly from India, with regiments mustered with locals but fully integrated into the British army plus redoubts in Kashmir and Waziristan (thanks to the fact that that part of the Af-Pak border hadn't been settled), and RN control of the Indian Ocean, with auxiliary supply lines by sea from British East Africa, plus Australia and New Zealand to the southwest for additional support, including volunteer troops eagerly mustered at colonial expense because the Aussies in particular were hedging for full commonwealth status by 1900 (which of course they got, postponed by a year).

We have none of these things. We have, at best, the grudging support of the two nations in the Middle East whom we have gone out of our way to play footsy with even though they were the two states most implicated in 9/11 - Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, plus a third - Israel - who at least, until last year, had succeeded in getting our foreign policy to resemble theirs, and who have made it clear that they will not answer to the U.S. on anything. We may nominally control the Indian Ocean, but it is at the pleasure of the states in the region, especially India, and Diego Garcia is a supply station, not a seat of a supply line. Japan is seriously debating ending its refueling mission for U.S. ships in the IO because it has never had public support nor serious debate in the Diet, nor even the consent of the LDP inner circle when it was in power; it was Koizumi simply going along with whatever Bush wanted because Japan hasn't truly had its own foreign policy until possibly now; and the days of "all the way with LBJ" are an embarrassing memory for most Australians now because it got them into Vietnam.

So looking back to the glories of Alexander, or Tamerlane, or Victoria as exemplars of success in Afghanistan aren't going to cut the mustard, because we aren't being ruled by people like these; we have the reality of a polity back home who want to be governed as a conglomeration of local holdings and semi-independent concerns, but with a seat of government who wants an imperial outreach in the rest of the world. Whoever points to these examples is going to have to do much better than this.

Have been for thousands of years

Um...Islam has not been around for "thousands of years". I'd recommend "have been for centuries".

My correction: Australia and NZ are to the southeast of the Indian subcontinent, not the southwest.

21-cream pie salute at the ready for me.

Tequila: Also, Jesurgilac, can you find me the name of the last Afghan woman raped by an American soldier or Marine?

I personally think it's much more important to identify the rapists publicly than the rape victims: you feel otherwise? In Afghanistan, a woman who publicly admits to having been raped is quite likely to be killed to save her family's "honor". But you want to know the names... or, I'd guess from the structure of your sentence, you're just going to claim that US soldiers/Marines don't commit rape in war zones.

Um...Islam has not been around for "thousands of years". I'd recommend "have been for centuries".

Yes but the tribal elements that comprise the Taliban have been around a lot longer than Islam. That's what I meant, but your clarification is appreciated.

I'm having real difficulty understanding why liberals would want to see Afghanistan collapse back into civil war.

Afghanistan is already in a state of civil war.

And no, "liberals" do not "want" civil war, any more than Gen. McChrystal "wants" to kill millions of people. Can we please cut this sh*t out?

I second Uncle Kvetch (albeit solely on these points). McChrystal's report makes it very clear that, not only is Afghanistan currently in a civil war, but that the Karzai government isn't even one of the good guys. That's a problem for folks like me, who advocate greater US involvement. But wishing for a better set of facts doesn't change the existing facts.

Eric, you're not playing out what will happen in the event of a security void in Afghanistan. Pakistan's behavior will change -- likely for the worse -- the moment that a void appears.


You envision that Pakistan will decisively act to restabilize Afghanistan if we withdraw. That's possible, but it's not a good outcome. Pakistan will try to co-opt the Taliban in Afghanistan, as they did pre 9-11. (That's far different from what they are doing now vis-a-vis the Taliban.) I doubt that Obama or any US administration will be willing to allow the Taliban to come to power, however. Our current dispute in Afghanistan will thus turn into a proxy war between a US-backed, deeply dysfunctional central government and Pakistan-backed, deeply dysfunctional Taliban forces. That's very, very dangerous, because Pakistan's government depends on the US for support; withdrawal of that support coupled to re-Talibanization of the ISI are precursors to an Islamic revolution in Pakistan.

Now, I don't know that your prediction is correct, i.e., that Pakistan can and will try to stabilize Afghanistan in our absence. But I do want to note that the world that you envision as a "best case" is a much more dangerous world than today's.

Eric, you're not playing out what will happen in the event of a security void in Afghanistan. Pakistan's behavior will change -- likely for the worse -- the moment that a void appears.

Not sure it will change much, really.

Pakistan will try to co-opt the Taliban in Afghanistan, as they did pre 9-11. (That's far different from what they are doing now vis-a-vis the Taliban.)

Far different? Actually, almost identical. How different?

Our current dispute in Afghanistan will thus turn into a proxy war between a US-backed, deeply dysfunctional central government and Pakistan-backed, deeply dysfunctional Taliban forces.

Turn into? Sounds like a reasonable facsimile of the past 8 years.

That's very, very dangerous, because Pakistan's government depends on the US for support; withdrawal of that support coupled to re-Talibanization of the ISI are precursors to an Islamic revolution in Pakistan.

You have it backwards. The ISI doesn't "get Talibanized." The ISI uses the Taliban. So the Taliban gets "ISIzed." As it is currently.

And I'm not sure what you mean by "Islamic revolution in Pakistan." Pakistan is deeply Islamic country as is.

But if you are truly afraid of hardliners gaining power, you should look at the effects our current policies are having. I've laid them out in a prior post from last week that I not only posted on this site, but have since linked to in response to you in the comments section more than once over the past couple of days.

I won't rehash that post (or its cites), but if you care to double back you can read about how our policies are pushing moderates and extremists together in a radicalized anti-American movement.

So, it isn't us leaving that runs the risks of roiling Pakistan, it's our continued manipulation of its government that is causing radicalization and alliance of disparate groups. Oh, that and the repeated attacks on its territory while we force the government to acquiesce suppinely - thus winning it the respect and support of the Pakistani people!

THAT is what's dangerous.

But I do want to note that the world that you envision as a "best case" is a much more dangerous world than today's.

Further, did I actually say "best case." If not, why the quotes? And why the assertion? Odd, that.

Pakistan will try to co-opt the Taliban in Afghanistan, as they did pre 9-11. (That's far different from what they are doing now vis-a-vis the Taliban.)

From today's Times:

American military and intelligence officials, who insisted on anonymity because they were discussing classified information, said the Taliban’s leadership council, led by Mullah Muhammad Omar and operating around the southern Pakistani city of Quetta, was directly responsible for a wave of violence in once relatively placid parts of northern and western Afghanistan. A recent string of attacks killed troops from Italy and Germany, pivotal American allies that are facing strong opposition to the Afghan war at home. [...]

General McChrystal’s report describes how Mullah Omar’s insurgency has appointed shadow governors in most provinces of Afghanistan, levies taxes, establishes Islamic courts there and conducts a formal review of its military campaign each winter.

American officials say they believe that the Taliban leadership in Pakistan still gets support from parts of the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s military spy service.

So if we leave, Pakistan will try to coop the Taliban, which is far different than what they are doing now?

From McClatchy a few days back:

Despite growing U.S. military losses in Afghanistan, Pakistan still refuses to target the extremist groups on its soil that are the biggest threat to the American-led mission there, the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan told McClatchy.

Eight years after Washington and Islamabad agreed to fight the Taliban and al Qaida, Pakistan has "different priorities" from the U.S., Anne Patterson said in a recent interview. Pakistan is "certainly reluctant to take action" against the leadership of the Afghan insurgency. [...]

Experts on the Afghanistan war think that military progress and political stability won't be possible there unless the government roots out the havens the insurgents have established in western Pakistan. The International Institute for Strategic Studies, a London-based research center, concluded in its annual review this week that "Pakistan remained the biggest source of instability for Afghanistan." [...]

The U.S. has lavished praise on the Pakistani army for the offensive it launched in April against Taliban militants in Pakistan. The operation marked the first serious sign of determination to deal with armed extremists, but it hasn't extended to groups in Pakistan that fight exclusively in Afghanistan. Mullen said that Pakistan's recent anti-terrorism actions "had a big impact" although "it hasn't been perfect."

While Pakistan and the U.S. agree on targeting al Qaida and, more recently, the Taliban Movement of Pakistan ("Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan"), they strongly disagree over action against Afghan insurgents operating from Pakistani territory. [...]

Until 2001, Pakistan openly supported the Taliban in Afghanistan, which in turn hosted al Qaida's leadership. Pakistan officially abandoned the Taliban, under enormous American pressure, after the 9-11 attacks. However, many Western military officers think that the Pakistani military, which remains in charge of Afghanistan policy, continues to view Mullah Omar and Haqqani as "assets," an insurance policy it might have to rely on if the U.S. pulls out of Afghanistan and the Taliban return to power. Haqqani has been close to Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence military spy agency since the 1980s.[emphasis added]

Again: So if we leave, Pakistan will try to coop the Taliban, which is far different than what they are doing now?

Um, "coopt." I don't think they're an ideal real estate vehicle.

Looks like we're going to have to stock up on blogroach powder.

I sprayed the pest Slarti.

JS: I will continue to delete any and all comments that violate posting rules.

Thank you, come again.

...so to speak.

I asked Eric what the alternative is that he supports recently in a previous thread; no response.

--But I did respond

I went back and looked about a day later, didn't see it then. It was already an old post at that point; figured you didn't see it. Or else I just missed your response. Thanks for reposting.

Let me walk you through it slowly. People with power can pre-arrange the results of supposedly neutral objective bureaucratic instruments like strategy reviews.

Turb, you're missing my point. By no means do I think this assessment will result in a decision to cancel the escalation. But as far as I can imagine, continued strategy assessment would be a part of any process that did forestall escalation. For example (not to naively say this is taking place, but), if Obama were in fact interested is slowwalking and perhaps ultimately avoiding increases, would a plausible way to do that be to slow that down with strategy reviews? Depending on how long this current review goes on, couldn't that be seen as a function that it itself is playing -- buying time and keeping the option of not escalating on the table? This is not to say I have the illusion we are going to avoid escalation. But isn't a strategy review in the present in fact preferable (to publius and like-minded) to a troop escalation in the present?

But isn't a strategy review in the present in fact preferable (to publius and like-minded) to a troop escalation in the present?

If we were talking about the platonic ideal of strategy reviews, then maybe. But it seems we're talking about a strategy review stacked with people who don't know much about Afghanistan but do have an ideological interest in staying there no matter what. Somehow, if the Obama administration was really committed to anything but escalation, I think they'd be able to put together a panel that looked a little more balanced. The Obama administration is not stupid.

I don't disagree with anything you say there (though one has to acknowledge Biden's opposition is not peanuts, though I agree that it won't prevail.) I agree it would have to be a differently constituted review to have a high likelihood of resulting no escalation. My point is simply that if there was a path that led away from an escalation, it would involve a review of strategy. Reviews of strategy in the abstract -- even if they are more likely than not to result in escalation -- should be viewed by opponents of escalation as preferable to escalation itself. Can we not agree on that?

Be that as it may, such is not the current assessment of the U.S. intelcom, so I don't know that you can argue that the president can make policy assuming the claim is true.

Is this actually the case? I mean, is this on record from an authoritative source somewhere, that we could all agree was above reproach and free of any potential political influence?

Mr. Lecou,

By all means, I'm not arguing that the current standing United States intelligence community assessment of Al Qaeda's capabilities and presence in Afghanistan is unassailable in its conclusions or unimpeachable in terms of political factors in the process of its drafting.

Dennis Blair's remarks on the subject back in February clearly say that "al-Qa’ida today is less capable and effective than it was a year ago." That's important to bear in mind over all when considering our path in Afghanistan. However, Blair goes on to say

Despite these successes, al-Qa’ida and its affiliates and allies remain dangerous and adaptive enemies, and the threat they could inspire or orchestrate an attack on the United States or European countries. Under the strategic direction of Usama Bin Ladin and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qa’ida remains intent on attacking US interests worldwide, including the US Homeland. Although al-Qa’ida’s core organization in the tribal areas of Pakistan is under greater pressure now than it was a year ago, we assess that it remains the most dangerous component of the larger al-Qa’ida network. Al-Qa’ida leaders still use the tribal areas as a base from which they can avoid capture, produce propaganda, communicate with operational cells abroad, and provide training and indoctrination to new terrorist operatives.

As I said, I'm not saying that this is the word of God. And moreover, all intelligence assessments come with the assumption that every analysis was not in concurrence -- that's how the system is set up. All I'm saying is that if I'm sitting in the Oval Office, even if I thought there was a decent chance that even that relatively moderate threat assessment overstated the threat, I'm not sure that I could simply set it aside in favor of what I consider to be a greater likelihood that there is no serious terrorism threat emanating from Afghanistan at this time, and wouldn't be even under a returned-Taliban-rule scenario, and go forward making policy based on that assumption.

Sorry, meant to cite for the Blair comments: http://intelligence.senate.gov/090212/blair.pdf

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