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September 16, 2009

Comments

First thoughts here:

The idea here seems to be: we cannot succeed in Afghanistan without being popular in Pakistan -- since we need Pakistan's government to be on board, but we can't "destabilize" it either by asking them to do something unpopular, like help us.

And we can't be popular in Pakistan if we pursue our objectives in Afghanistan* if those include keeping a particular regime -- which has given safe haven to AQ, and is likely to again** -- from rising to power (since said regime is popular in Pakistan).

We also can't be popular in Pakistan if we seek to disrupt AQ bases from forming across the Pakistani border, even if their government is reluctant to go after them.

In other words, unless we seek a light military force that stays in Afghanistan (wich we had in the 90's)that can't seek to

*vis a vis using the military -- whether by a "light" presence or otherwise -- to achieve these goals

**yes, I know Eric and other commenters may disagree on this point, or agree that it's central to our mission against AQ -- but we've had this conversation, so let's just agree to disagree for the moment

(going to fix later)

(OK, I'm back -- though I can't see my last comment. Will have to just sum up)

It seems, to maintain "stability" in Pakistan, the boldest action we would be able to take with regard to Afghanistan would be a light force that only struck AQ bases as found -- like we had in the 90's. And we couldn't take military action to keep it from becoming a safe haven like the 90's once again. And any attempt to deal with a new threat outside Afghanistan's borders would be out of the question.

Bluntly put, we would not be able to react in any way to the threat AQ poses, beyond the policies that failed us before. Because of what Pakistan thought of it.

I guess that's it (for now). Sorry about the length, and likely the occasional incoherence. I hope to better express myself when I have more secure computer access, and more time on my hands.

(OK, see my posts now -- as long as you replace the "In other words" frangment in the first post with the second post, it should look OK. Sorry again.)

It seems, to maintain "stability" in Pakistan, the boldest action we would be able to take with regard to Afghanistan would be a light force that only struck AQ bases as found -- like we had in the 90's.

Huh? We had light forces that struck AQ bases in the 90s? Really? I suggest reading Steve Coll or Jane Meyer or Marc Sageman for a different take. We launched a few cruise missiles, and hesitated at other times because we weren't certain missile strikes were legal.

Now, we have commandos conducting raids across the globe (and/or plentiful uses of missile strikes/gun ships) from Somalia, to Yemen, to Iraq, to Syria, to Pakistan, to Afghanistan, to elsewhere.

Total different situation. And these light forces are about the best we can hope for.

And we couldn't take military action to keep it from becoming a safe haven like the 90's once again.

No, we could. See above.

The idea here seems to be: we cannot succeed in Afghanistan without being popular in Pakistan -- since we need Pakistan's government to be on board, but we can't "destabilize" it either by asking them to do something unpopular, like help us.

We can ask them to help us without destabilizing if the help is the right kind. That's the key.

And we can't be popular in Pakistan if we pursue our objectives in Afghanistan* if those include keeping a particular regime -- which has given safe haven to AQ, and is likely to again** -- from rising to power (since said regime is popular in Pakistan).

The Taliban is not "a regime." It is many factions of disparate groups. What we should try to do is find groups that both the US and Pakistan can live with, convince them that if they provide sanctuary to al-Qaeda, all hell will rain down on them as it did before (and trust me, they remember), and then wait over the hills with fingers on triggers.

I mean, really, what's in it for them to give AQ a sanctuary? They only did so before very reluctantly because Bin Laden gave them much money and built them palatial homes. Now, his finances are disrupted and he can't obtain construction equipment and they know the costs.

OK, back (for a bit).

I thank Eric for his response -- my post(s) were long and unfilitered, but he gave them his thoughtful attention nonetheless. My thanks.

I think the points about the nature of the Taliban regime, and the question of whether they would give sanctuary to AQ as they had before -- while I disagree, and strongly on the latter point -- have been discussed before, and would be better handled in other threads (per my second note).

As to help of "the right kind of help" Pakistan could give -- what comes to mind, for me, is that any new regime in Afghanistan (other than the Taliban) would mean significantly less Pakistani influence in the region. Practically speaking, it seems asking Pakistan's help in this in any regard would be unpopular in Pakistan, and any help they give to this lessened influence would be destabilizing*.

That leaves the first point -- which essentially boils down to judging our overall military response to 9/11 under the Bush administration...

(And just when I get to my best point, I find myself needed elsewhere. I will be back though -- I hope -- to continue the discussion.)

*To clarify what I mean by "unpopular" -- I'm not thinking so much that the people of Pakistan are inherently unable to consider helping to build a new Afghanistan; my main thoughts in this are with the ISI and Pakistani military, which took a central role in creating the Taliban in the first place, and would take the very idea of replacing it to be an affront to their power.

http://www.veteransforcommonsense.org/index.php/national-security/1301-joseph-kearns-goodwin

As Mr Martin points out: they aint stupid. AQ wont be setting up shop there any time soon.
Meanwhile, we are a foriegn occupying army, with much blood on our hands. We completely betrayed any chance of some mutually agreeable (to Afghans) political arrangement by our backing of corrupt warlords, and now a stolen election.
its just a question of how many Afghans we kill before we leave. I vote for fewer.
This notion of circling drones with a licence to kill is a bad one. Over time, the reasons needed to blow up a truck, house, bus stop will become less & less rigourous. you have to USE weapons to justfy thier deployment. Look into the hundreds of b52 sorties into Cambodia- during the "secret bombing"- that was determined not by any actual targets but by the need to dump tons of bombs to justify having them deployed at a given base. Prestige was involved. Im serious. (Sideshow by Shawcross is invaluable here)
then there is the small rapid response units to kill suspects linked to AQ. What standard of evidence? Operation Phoenix level? Paid informants fingering.....Afghans, right?
I reject both those notions becoming our SOP. No good will come of it.
Just get the hell out, turn off the heavy arms spigots, and wait to see how we may help rebuild, if they request it.
Quit trying to build a central government and national army.
Enough.

"Wed Sep 16, 6:40 pm ET

KABUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Afghan President Hamid Karzai won the presidential vote outright in the first round, election officials said on Wednesday, but the European Union said more than a third of his votes might be suspect because of fraud."

It's time for us to get out of Afghanistan, bring our forces home. We need to stop wasting money and resources there, and direct it here, to fix our own country.

Bye Bye Afghanistan, bye bye.

Do you have a proposal on the table -- ends, means, timeline, CBA?

With the passage of time, it's becoming more and more clear that whatever goals and objectives we come up with in Afghanistan are increasingly dependent on stability in Pakistan, a country with what, eight times or so the population of Afghanistan, with nukes...and I don't have to go on so much longer on that...

What it's coming down to is not only the rebuilding of a country and an infrastructure that would allow a functioning government to stand on its own, but doing so with the consent of a neighboring country whose own infrastructure is increasingly in question. I don't know of any consortium of countries, let alone us as we are, that can wade into this without losing its sanity.

So what is there to do? We can come up with as many plans as we like, and we have no end of analysts, experts, bloggers, PowerPointers, good intentionalists and other assorted desideratum-ers who can comment on, suggest amendments to, advise, harangue, and stab, shoot and spit on this endlessly, but I'm beginning to feel that we're not going to succeed from a fundamental socio-cultural issue we have with ourselves: that is, we're proposing to create the conditions for a stable government and a civil infrastructure, complete with public health care and mass education, to a degree that we don't do within our own country and that we have a long history of not doing, complete with an auxiliary history of all kinds of excuses and justifications for not doing, with the weight of Congress and the Supreme Court in there to legislate and rule on away as the cherry on top of the icing.

So if any of the humanitarian ends to our efforts in Afghanistan can avoid the political machinations that threaten to chew it up, I would suggest, as outrageous as it sounds, to start secretly identifying all who aren't caught up in the fight and airlift them out to refugee status in various countries. Given the costs on all fronts for what we're proposing to do now, I don't frankly see that the costs of such a suggestion would be marginally more than what we're tasking ourselves to do, and for all we know, might be much less. It's a sinkhole that might just be best left to fanatics, warlords, and other disparate actors. Let them sort out for themselves what governance must be, and let them deal with it. If they get swallowed by Pakistan...well, god, I don't know what to add to that...

We might see ourselves to be the only ones who could remotely bring to bear what Afghanistan needs to be a functioning nation, but right now we're failing to do many of the same kind of things within our own country that the draft of the objectives either call for, or at least imply. I'm not an isolationist, because I still believe that Afghanistan deserves a fighting chance. The problem is that we're not the ones who can do it no matter how much it looks like we are.

In short, we're not fit to do it, because I fear that we'll end up betraying these objectives, if not now then later, and anyone in Afghanistan who isn't in the Taliban, or al-Qaeda, or Karzai's government, or is one of his disparate flunkeys, deserves better.

Why is the Taliban composed of 'many factions of disparate groups', but the Pakistanis seem to be considered a single group? Frex, why should I consider this group or this group as being unified with this group?

LJ:

Absolutely the Pakistanis are not one unified group. In fact, the opposite: it's one of the most fractured political/military/governmental structures around. Not to mention the polity.

However, enough of the key powerplayers oppose us/our mission. Large swathes of the population oppose us/our mission (and as I've said, we are pushing disparate groups together in that common cause).

An overwhelming consensus view India as their #1 foreign policy priority, and all other issues are ordered around the goal of superiority/parity/dominance vis-a-vis India.

When I read through the summary, the only item about the Afghan economy is that growth and development will be focused on agriculture? In a mountainous country often described as "drought prone and with limited fresh water resources" the focus is going to be on agriculture? And more than one item that amounts to basically, we'd like to wipe out the one current export crop you have? No mention of natural gas, copper, zinc, iron, or gold? Or rare-earth deposits, particularly in light of the games China appears to be trying to play?

This strikes me as "We don't have a clue, but 'agriculture' always sounds good because people have to eat, so put that down."

I agree that Pakistan is overwhelmingly concerned with India. I also think, if we abandon Afghanistan, parts of the Pakistan intelligence will use or encourage Taliban assets such as Lashkar-e-Taiba against India as they did in Mumbai in precisely the sasme way. I think that India's measured response and Pakistan's perhaps unprecedented cooperation in the Mumbai attacks. Abandoning Afghanistan makes it more likely that small splinter cells can exist and plan attacks.

If we reached a point where we were fighting both the Taliban and the Pakistan government, I would agree that we need to get out. But our presence in Afghanistan forces the Pakistan government to at least extend some kind of cooperation with us.

Furthermore, the Pakistan strategy with regard to India is based on the notion of "strategic depth", and America's continuing in Afghanistan not only forces to view this strategic depth in a non-religious way, but also prevents the more simply task of making Afghanistan so weak and divided that 'strategic depth' is more a way to increase tensions rather than a policy that opts for a stable government in Afghanistan. Here is a recent Pak Tribune article about this.

Dang, some sentence fragments in there. The aftermath of the Mumbai attacks was the way it was because the US was in the region. I think if the US had not been there, you would have seen a more usual pattern of bluster, denial, and anger.

"Do you have a proposal on the table -- ends, means, timeline, CBA?

Posted by: Mike | September 17, 2009 at 01:48 AM"

You mean me? I'd leave that to the various Staffs of the commands involved. I think leaving strategic & logistical planning to outsiders, like AEI, the Heritage Foundation, or whoever guys like Rummy have working in the basement is proven to be.....criminally stupid.

"If we reached a point where we were fighting both the Taliban and the Pakistan government, I would agree that we need to get out. But our presence in Afghanistan forces the Pakistan government to at least extend some kind of cooperation with us."

When we reach the point we are fighting both Afghanistan AND Pakistan its time to get out?
I dot think our war in Pakistan forces Pakistan to do ANY of our bidding. This is geopolitical chess playing, LJ. Its arbitrary screwing with people. Outside of the Realpolitik (sic) jargon, you are advocating staying until it gets a whole lot bigger, then leaving. I dont get it.

No, I meant the author here. The plan doesn't have to be of his authorship, just a clearly articulated alternative course that he endorses.

What if we were to apply to ourselves the same standards that we are demanding Afghanistan and Pakistan adopt? See here for one possible answer.

Hi mutt,
One can walk away from a game of chess, I don't think that the US can simply walk away from the region or the triadic relationship between China-Pakistan and India. And Iran thrown in for good measure.

I have a hard time seeing how Pakistan would have ever admitted anything regarding the Mumbai attacks, so the question is, why did Pakistan admit the involvement of Pakistani nationals in the attack? While you could argue that the reason is that the documentation on the attacks was so overwhelming, but the admission certainly places domestic manuevering in a different light.

Furthermore, how do we view the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore? The goal was to strike at the legitimacy of the Pakistan goverment, which also suggests that there is a division in Pakistan that can be exploited. And targeting cricket highlights the divide between a Taliban organization wanting to institute sharia law (which doesn't approve so much of cheering crowds at sports events) and a non religious middle class. This is the divide that we need to exploit.

I agree that Pakistan is overwhelmingly concerned with India. I also think, if we abandon Afghanistan, parts of the Pakistan intelligence will use or encourage Taliban assets such as Lashkar-e-Taiba against India as they did in Mumbai in precisely the sasme way...Abandoning Afghanistan makes it more likely that small splinter cells can exist and plan attacks.

Why is this more likely? After all, the Mumbai attacks occurred while we were very much NOT abandoning Afghanistan. And I'm not sure LeT is a Taliban asset necessarily.

But our presence in Afghanistan forces the Pakistan government to at least extend some kind of cooperation with us.

Yes, and in the process we are ginning up an extremely virulent strain of anti-Americanism, while radicalizing large segments of Pakistani society. That's a very dangerous mixture.

This is the divide that we need to exploit.

But we're not helping by instantly delegitimizing any faction we support, or that is seen to be working with us.

Do you have a proposal on the table -- ends, means, timeline, CBA?

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.

http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1924322,00.html
I wouldnt normally use Time as a source, but note the dateline/authorship.
It makes a point Ive tried to make before- our word is valueless. In ways great and small, the "word" of the US is worthless. How then do you ally with one faction against another when your word is meaningless. THEY know it, even if people here dont.
the only people who will cooperate with us based on our word are opportunists & those seeking cash or power. They know we lie, too, they just nodding & sayin OK so we give them the missiles/cash/job.....
I just dont see how all this grand maneuvering is supposed to work. It NEVER WORKS. It ALWAYS SCREWS UP.
Think of all the grand planning that went into the overthrow of Mossedegh & the arming of Saddam. Sheer genius. Lets do it some more.
got me a brandy new magnifying glass........

Hi Eric,
just a suggestion, it can be confusing when you put two person's comments in one reply without marking them a bit. It gets easy to conflate positions.

Can I ask what you think about, if anything, about what the Mumbai and Lahore LeT attacks mean in terms of US policy. Also, I'm wondering how have a 'light reaction force' that doesn't automatically seem like a refusal to accept national sovereignty of Afghanistan and Pakistan and how we would have the same scope for intervention in that case as we do now?

Also, I'm wondering how have a 'light reaction force' that doesn't automatically seem like a refusal to accept national sovereignty of Afghanistan and Pakistan

Yeah, the people pushing for reducing our presence in southwest Asia have a long tradition of refusing to respect the national sovereignty of other nations! If only they could be more like the militarists that think we should keep our military fully engaged in southwest Asia for...well, forever it seems. Or at least until we can prove with absolute certainty that the Taliban can never ever ever come back.

how we would have the same scope for intervention in that case as we do now?

I was just saying to myself this morning, "Self, you know what the biggest problem America faces abroad is? Too limited a scope for military intervention in foreign countries." Looking back over recent history, I think we can all appreciate that perhaps things would be better if the US sought a narrower scope for military operations in foreign lands than a broader ones. We don't seem to be mature enough as a society to be trusted with a broad scope.

Turb, that's a fair point, but my suggestion is that a 'reaction force' (which implies quick and immediate) is a way to have your cake and eat it too. If one is willing to argue for withdrawal on a humanitarian basis, they are going to have to argue for the moral impossibility of a quick reaction force that violates national sovereignty willy nilly.

I've admitted multiple times that I am not sure about what is correct, but a withdrawal with the option of going in and blowing stuff when we like is really a morally incoherent notion. Either one says we keep trying to rebuild Afghanistan because of our responsibility in destabilizing the region, regardless of how much it costs, or one says we get out completely and accept that we can't do whatever we like because we feel threatened. I've also argued that the latter option is not really a possibility because of both international and domestic politics. Regardless whether we are trusted with a broad scope, I find it hard to believe that we, as a country, will somehow just say 'ok, out of the world geopolitical business now' anymore than a mafia capo can walk into a meeting of the families and say 'I'm thinking of finishing the whole racketering, prostitution, drugs thing, so feel free to divide up our stuff. It was fun, but it's time for me to work on self actualization'

"it hard to believe that we, as a country, will somehow just say 'ok, out of the world geopolitical business now'"
Its hard to believe, all right. Unlikely. too bad, given how completely depraved we've become....
But how does blowing the crap out of people and places become the sole way we participate in the world geo biz?
How does not bombing the crap outta people get conflated with isolationism? The only way we can interact with the world is by saddling warlords on peasants? Extract profits at gunpoint?
Surely there is some other way to interact in the world....

mutt, I'm having difficulty understanding how a 'quick reaction force' is anything but 'blowing the crap outta people'. In order to 'interact' with people in Afghanistan, there needs to be a measure of security, so our interaction isn't limited to special ops forces. How that security is established is the question.

I say that because the , oh, call it the "rules of evidence" always gets diluted as time goes by. You start out with objective- non bought- intel (where does THAT come from?) thats corroborated independantly that Major Boogieman X will be at the Tinytown Goat Show. A group of our (one hopes, but has no guarantee) SEALs, SpecOps, MILITARY commandoes "takes him out" as we like to say, plus whatever hapless bystanders are admiring the goats.
But that level of hard confirmed, reliable intel is pretty rare. SO, after a long period of not killing anybody- jeez, were getting soft! the level of evidence gets dropped several notches. Until we are inevitably being used to settle scores, wipe out debts, and create a marriageable widow.
All bets are off if we "privatize" the job.
Predator strikes are even more stupid, as well as cowardly: Ill certainly trust our Spec Ops guys to hold thier fire on the evidence of their eyes. Not so looking at a TV screen thousands of miles away.
So- we, thru Predators, act in a cowardly manner in the locals eyes- sorta hurts out stated "hearts & minds" goal, and we sink into an orgy of murder, a la Operation Phoenix, (or the El Salvadorean/Honduran/Guatelmalan/Nicaraguan (to name a few US funded, at least, if not created & administered previous exercises in getting Boogieman X- )
Which I term "blowing the crap outta people." Even if those people are "linked" to "militants". By paid informants.
I would think if the Paki or Afghan .....well, thier rulers, "government" suggests too much- are actually threatened by Boogieman X THEY can off him at the Goat Show.
We have a long history of funding death squads. This is just another death squad in the making. The requirements to get death squadded are often quite trivial. As history has shown.
But this is certainly just me.

i just came across this review....it seems to offer up a good synopsis of our various intrigues & whatnot with "allies" in Pak. & Afghan, both.
I will leave it for better educated minds than mine to vet. But while reading it, I thought of L Japonicus and his thoughts about US involvement there....in this account, it seems reactionary, ad hoc, with no actual plan past tommorrow AM.....

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/23113

Mutt, thanks for the book rec. Most of my readings have been scattered because books on Afghanistan are not readily available here, but I'm a big consumer of Amazon and Google books previews.

The book looks interesting, but it is hard to understand what the book is about and what the reviewer is relating. For example, he leads off with the August 5th assassination of Mehsud, but I'm pretty sure that none of this is in the book. Much of the problem is not necessarily the strategy of Obama, it is the fact that there was no really strategy under Bush. For example, one point that Eric and others have used to support withdrawal that we are supposedly backing the wrong horse in Karzai as evidenced by the election rigging. But the book review has this:

Another complicating issue for Obama has been the troubled US relationship with President Hamid Karzai, who in the spring was convinced that Obama and Holbrooke wanted to replace him and hold the elections under a caretaker president. That was never the case, but Karzai's paranoia, which is fostered by some of his aides and brothers, who drum up astounding conspiracy theories about US or British intentions, got the better of him.

That the elections were subject to extensive rigging by Karzai's supporters was partly the result of his belief that the Americans were backing one of the two strongest opposition figures, either Abdullah Abdullah or Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, which was again not the case. In fact, with so much now invested in Afghanistan, Obama and Holbrooke had every incentive to ensure that the election results were credible. What is now clear, however, is that the flagrantly dishonest elections have undermined the government and its Western backers, jeopardized future Afghan trust in democracy, and given the Taliban more reason to claim they are winning.

This suggests that the US is trying establish some distance and not supporting a particular candidate, so claiming that the problems with the election are evidence of a mistaken US policy assumes a linkage that isn't there.

Furthermore, the review says this
Yet if it is to have any chance of success, the Obama plan for Afghanistan needs a serious long-term commitment—at least for the next three years. Democratic politicians are demanding results before next year's congressional elections, which is neither realistic nor possible. Moreover, the Taliban are quite aware of the Democrats' timetable. With Obama's plan the US will be taking Afghanistan seriously for the first time since 2001; if it is to be successful it will need not only time but international and US support—both open to question.

I feel like the argument that Obama is merely extending Bush's policy is misunderstanding that Bush really had no policy, and Obama has a policy, so evidence that stems from the Bush absence of policy can't be taken as proving that Obama is wrong. Hence, I argue for giving Obama and the military the chance to try. You can disagree with that because of past US history, but isolationism carries its own dangers

The discussion of Balochistan independence is one of them, and it's good to note some attention on this. But the reviewer (but maybe not the book author?) fails to note the various plans for investment and development, plans which include not only Pakistan, but also India, Iran and China. The port in Gwadar is now being developed by China, and in the joint statement by the prime ministers of Indian and Pakistan in July mentioned Balochistan for the first time. With these things happening, I can't really see the US simply withdrawing and placing a quick reaction force to take care of any problems.

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