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September 15, 2009

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Is there a succinct explanation of the goals of the Afghan war? From either the Bush or Obama administrations.

I keep on coming back, in my mind, to the al-Queda motive for hurting the Taliban, and have a hard time seeing the rest.

Is it too early for the "declare victory and leave" strategy?

I really don't see how a stable and effective central government can be constructed in Afghanistan except on a time scale of decades. Perhaps if goals were more clearly articulated it would be easier to garner support for the mission. But other than "make Afghanistan inhospitable for Al Qaeda" I'm not sure what the goals are. A practical strategy would seem to be "beat back the Taliban, train up some more troops and then hand it off." Which looks like what we're working towards now... but it would be nice to see an end date.

Oh, we have a clear and obvious goal there, I am led to believe: to establish a strong & democratic central government sympathetic to US needs.

In a country that has pretty much never had a central government, is awash with weaponry, inhabited by rival narco-warlords who've been fighting for decades, and that has an economy too small to support a national army large enough to suppress the warlord armies & the Taliban.

Easy. All we need to do is produce an industrial economy from scratch for a country of uneducated sheep herders, completely change the religious and political culture, disarm the entire populace spread over mountainous chaos the size of Texas, and get rid of the entrenched warlords that we're currently paying to side with us. Shouldn't take more than another 100 years.

Get. Out. Now.

We're there because we don't want al Qaeda controlling a state. We should be there because security can lead to spreading basic health and education and in a generation that can make a big difference. Also, we need to do something about the world's biggest supply of heroin.

Afghanistan was a poor country in the seventies, but it wasn't quite the hell that it has become or that Jacob Davies thinks will always be its fate. Id liek to see how your culture would react to three decades of sustained war.

But is Pakistan, at least officially against our presense in Afghanistan? Maybe the Pak powers that be, have calculated that extending our presense for a few more years is preferable to the chaos that might ensue should we leave now?

Now a temporary acceptance of the current policy as being a lessor evil than its likely replacement, is not really an endorsement. Nor, are US interests the same as those of the regional powers. And it is easy for say India to cheer along our occupation, they are essentially freeriders in the situation.

We're there because we don't want al Qaeda controlling a state. We should be there because security can lead to spreading basic health and education and in a generation that can make a big difference. Also, we need to do something about the world's biggest supply of heroin.

From Global Policy an estimate that cost levels will be between $55 to $70 billion per year after 2013 if troop levels are around 70,000. A generation is about 25 years. This leaves the total price tag at $1,375,000,000,000 according to the old google calculator not adjusted for inflation and taking the conservative estimate of $55 billion per year. Of course many, many factors can change the total cost of the war (hell who says we'd only need to be in Afghanistan for a generation to secure the county and wait for a stable government? Maybe it will be 50 or 100.) but at least this gives an idea of the cost.

Is faciliating the spread of health care and education and doing "something" about the heroin production really worth the price tag? Not to mention the Afghan and US/NATO lives that will be lost. I say no. It's time to declare a victory, whatever that means, and leave.

If the British, Russian, and United States armies have been unable to secure and rule in any meaningful way Afghanistan what makes you think that al-Qa'eda will? It's still an Arab dominated organization (at least still in the leadership ranks) operating in Central Asia. The Taliban and al-Qa'eda are not synonomous andif the Taliban reasserts control it does not automatically mean the rise of al-Qa'eda.

And I think that it's always important to remember that the success of al-Qa'eda's 9/11 attacks was in its recruitment of the Hamburg members who all had lived in West and spoke English. Not because of the men trained in Afghanistan.

When I have trouble with premature evacuation, I find that I can last a lot longer if I evacuate once or twice earlier in the day. Like, say, from Iraq.

Honestly, I don't really care if you call me an inhuman, uncaring bastard for believing that Afghanistan - the 182nd-poorest country in the world, out of 194 - has the capacity to become a stable, peaceful, centrally-ruled, US-sympathizing democracy in anything under a century. I don't think it's "fated" to be a war-torn narco-state forever, but it is one now, and returning to the state of 30 years ago is not possible.

In those characteristics and many others it is similar to a lot of other extremely poor countries stricken by war. I don't think the US military can fix those either. That doesn't mean I don't care. It means I don't think we can fix them and I think trying does more harm than good.

I don't think it's "fated" to be a war-torn narco-state forever, but it is one now, and returning to the state of 30 years ago is not possible.

I'd add that the unintended consequences of U.S. policies since the Soviet invasion bear a lot of responsibility for the state that Afghanistan is in now.

As far as I can tell, most of the arguments for staying rely on the Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics. The fact that we might want Afghanistan to be a more prosperous, just, and stable society doesn't mean that a combination of will, military force, and COIN doctrine can bring it about.

We should be there because security can lead to spreading basic health and education and in a generation that can make a big difference.

What you're talking about is peace-keeping, domestic security, infrastructure development, and basic public health and education.

Doesn't that fall under the UN umbrella? With maybe help from something like the Peace Corps?

Contra to this, this bloggingheads clip via LGM gets at what I think is a big problem with these formulations of get out now. To ineptly summarize, getting out requires that we revert to what they term 'drone war', so of foreign policy via cruise missiles, which, as Rachel Kleinfeld points out, is taken as a sign of weakness. One could classify this as a variant of the 'if we withdraw, they will have won' argument, but I think it is slightly different, such as 'if we withdraw, we will not have clearly stated that we intend to deter terrorism, so the next time something happens, it's going to be a lot worse for everyone involved.'

Do non-state terrorist groups care about deterrence? I think the reverse is true: their goal is to provoke a response, the larger and longer-lasting the better.

Do they scale their attacks inversely to the potential response from the US? Again I think it is pretty clear that they do not, that they mount the largest attacks they can manage at any given time, regardless of what the US response will be.

Are potential state sponsors of terrorism likely to look at what happened to the leadership of the Taliban (and, though I don't approve of how it came to pass, what happened to Saddam Hussein) and think that the deterrence is insufficient? I think most leaders like being alive and in charge of their country as opposed to dead, in prison, or hiding in a cave.

This worry about whether the US will be perceived as weak is a strange insecurity. Nobody thinks the US is weak or incapable of winning a conventional war against any conceivable opponent. Nor do they think the US is unwilling to use military force, quite the reverse, they think the US uses military force excessively and with little regard for civilian casualties in other countries.

quite the reverse, they think the US uses military force excessively and with little regard for civilian casualties in other countries

alQ certainly thinks that. in fact, they're counting on it.

Contra to this, this bloggingheads clip via LGM gets at what I think is a big problem with these formulations of get out now. To ineptly summarize, getting out requires that we revert to what they term 'drone war', so of foreign policy via cruise missiles, which, as Rachel Kleinfeld points out, is taken as a sign of weakness.

How about we revert to a foreign policy of "if you don't mess with us we won't mess with you"?

And really, withdrawing would "require" reverting to a foreign policy of 'drone war'? For what definitions of require and drone war?

I think that withdrawal along the lines Eric has called for is going to end up with a situation where we try and control afghanistan thru push button means. I don't want to conflate Eric's argument with George Will (who specifically calls for that), but I have a hard time seeing how we do the cold turkey approach and completely relinquish any means of interdiction.

How about we revert to a foreign policy of "if you don't mess with us we won't mess with you"?

I think that is not possible for several reasons. The first is that our support of the mujahdeen against the Soviets as well as what we have done in the past decade (like Bagram frex) automatically makes that a non-starter. Just because we (not you specifically, but the US as a country) are excellent at selective memory doesn't mean that they are going to be.

Second, withdrawing from Afghanistan doesn't make Pakistan go away and given that India/Pakistan remains a potential hot spot, I don't think the 'I'll leave y'all to it' is a policy option.

I hope I don't sound dismissive, (I take up this side more to keep the conversation going rather than because I am totally convinced I am right), and I would love to think that we can could just leave and no one would notice us gone. I'm just thinking that leaving encourages Pakistan and India to play proxy games, and I am not positive that the game will stay within the border of Afghanistan.

I'm just thinking that leaving encourages Pakistan and India to play proxy games, and I am not positive that the game will stay within the border of Afghanistan.

So Pakistan and India are not playing proxy games right now? And as long as we continue to keep thousands of US troops in Afghanistan, we will have an iron clad guarantee that any proxy games that India and Pakistan do play will remain restricted to Afghanistan? Yes?

If you want to assert that we have to do X in order to prevent outcome Y from occurring, that's fine, but you also have to show that outcome Y is not occurring now. I don't see any plausible scenarios in which our involvement in Afghanistan significantly improves relations between India and Pakistan.

Apologies for being unclear. I am not asserting that Pakistan and India are not playing proxy games now. I am asserting that left to their own devices, those proxy games could run amok. While I wouldn't claim that American boots on the ground guarantees that proxy games won't remain restricted, they would have a much less likely chance of suddenly surprising us.

A lot of it depends on precisely what a 'withdrawal' from Afghanistan means. Eric has asserted that there are many models, but I'm thinking that a withdrawal along the lines of our withdrawal from Iraq is not going to be viewed as a withdrawal. Or worse, will simply be viewed as a withdrawal for domestic consumption and we will have the worst of both worlds, an Afghanistan that feels they are being occupied and a US that thinks we are safely out and away.

While I wouldn't claim that American boots on the ground guarantees that proxy games won't remain restricted

sorry, I think that double negative gives the opposite meaning of what I had in mind, but I've been dealing with some Japanese papers, so I'm not really sure...

It's so hard to see what the best options are in a mess of worse, and more worse, options, all of which collapse into one colossally-disasterous scenario.

We have a long history of making promises we either cannot or do not keep, and while on one hand my feeling is that Afghanistan deserves a chance to succeed, the prospects are pretty dim. We have a country that at best has a tenuous government that functions at most by cutting deals to permit it to function with actors who have no loyalty to it and have little to no interest in seeing a strong central government that lasts. This is where containment, under the terms we often think of it, really has its limitations: Pakistan has a far greater stake in the stability of the country but itself is divided between one half of its government keeping the Taliban at bay within its own borders while the other half is aiding and abetting it, while India is riding this out (I disagree with Omega Centauri on this point - India is not freeloading - they're playing this out smartly because they know we're going to do the heavy lifting - quite adroit of them tactically to do so, methinks).

My take? For what it's worth, which isn't much - we'll hang on in there to say we're committed, and while casualties mount and the stakes rise (along with the costs), we'll eventually pull out after much hand-wringing, saying well, we ur...tried and all. So we'll stay the course because there's no better option, and since we don't want to be seen as just bugging out right away, we'll just postpone it to the point where we can't stand it anymore. In other words - I don't know that any goal we come up with will work, so we'll hem and haw our way out and let it fail, convinced that well, we ur...tried and all...

We're there because we don't want al Qaeda controlling a state.

Mission accomplished.

I'm just thinking that leaving encourages Pakistan and India to play proxy games, and I am not positive that the game will stay within the border of Afghanistan.

Before we were there, India and Pakistan were playing proxy games, and they didn't run amok.

There is too much of a tendency to believe that we are indispensable and that our military has the ability to stabilize regions and make conflicts better. That is rarely the case. In fact, the opposite is true which is only intuitive: war breeds war. Conflict breeds conflict. Occupation breeds insurgents. Accidental guerrillas and the like.

Our presence is: (a) destabilizing Pakistan and pushing moderates and extremists together under one anti-US banner, (b) inviting India to act boldly by undercutting Pakistan in Afghanistan, and (c) it should be noted, we are killing thousands and thousands of Afghans. Many of them, innocent civilians. To give them a better life I suppose.

Just as we had to stay in Iraq to forestall a civil war (while civil wars raged on in our presence costing hundreds of thousands of lives), so too must we stay in Afghanistan to prevent a war between India and Pakistan?

As for withdrawal, I would suggest a measured withdrawal over a couple of years. Heavy supply of humanitarian aid, and the use of drones only along strict rules of engagement for al-Qaeda only.

But is Pakistan, at least officially against our presense in Afghanistan?

Yes, because otherwise they wouldn't receive tens of billions of dollars (more even) in military aid.

So the "official" position is that they support our presence, while the ISI and other military channels continue to funnel money and arms to the Taliban in Afghanistan.

I'd rather have them officially opposed to our presence, while surreptitiously supporting our effort than the opposite, however. So it's of little comfort.

And Pakistan is not worried about the "chaos." They will back their preferred faction and retake their redoubt.

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