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October 06, 2009

Comments

But doing what Osama bin Laden wants is just part of the wily (some might say Wile E. Coyote) strategy that the strategic class thinks should be pursued. What could go wrong?

Overall, a great post. I'm going to see if I can find time to jump into the thread later, but it looks promising. This much I'd like to address at the moment:

"what should we do if al-Qaeda or an offshoot regroups in another territory? Will we be "forced" to engage in a series of mutli-decades nation building exercises each time al-Qaeda pops up in a new locale?"

I'll say (a) it would be unlikely if said country was not receptive to their presence (as Pakistan seems to be now), and (b) even if they are, an invasion's not a done deal, since they're not necessarily complicit in AQ's past attacks (though if the organization, from another such base, manages to pull off another large scale terrorist attack*.

Anyway, I look forward to having this discussion when I get the chance. I thank Eric again for not only the posts, but for hosting these threads -- I know of nowhere else where an amateur such as myself can engage in such stimulating debate on so important** a topic. I will try to get back to you.

*Yeah, yeah, the term keeps changing; I really should just settle on something, but...

**"Important" to engage in, as an American citizen, TBC...

Slicing up eyeballs, I want you to know.

Given bin Laden's real interest in the "near", I have wondered if he really would use a nuclear weapon, if he could get one, in the US--or whether he would try to use it to remove most of the Saudi ruling class in one stroke.

But of course not! It has to be about us!

Great post.

I think I've got a moment here, so:

While it certainly seems OBL and AQ believe they can bankrupt an economy as massive and adaptable as America's, so as to redraw the world map no less, I don't see it happening. The ideology and strategy of this organization certainly entails no small amount of thought -- but just because it's comprehensive doesn't make it any less delusional.

I guess what I'm getting at is, although studying the plans of the enemy is vital to defeating him, that doesn't mean we have to assume they stand a chance at succeeding. We're not after AQ because they want to overthrow the world order*; we're after them because they have, and continue to seek to, murder scores of our citizens.

*I know -- to say here "they can't" would be the epitome of redundant obviousness, but I couldn't help it.

Why are Al Qaeda and Afghanistan used so interchangeably in all of the arguments about our military posture?

"Given bin Laden's real interest in the "near", I have wondered if he really would use a nuclear weapon, if he could get one, in the US--or whether he would try to use it to remove most of the Saudi ruling class in one stroke."

The problem with this set up is that it ignores how the nuke would be acquired. An operation of this level would require one heck of a network, which would require bringing in a not small share of personnel and funds. How AQ attracts these resources is intricately connected to what they're using them for -- and my sense is that killing Americans would attract more than killing off the Saudi royal family.*

*As an example, a lot of the money for 9/11 was raised by Saudi donors, who may not be as keen on participating in a plot to start a bloody revolution in their home country. (Granted, though, today they could rely more on the opium.)

As part of the "bleed-until-bankruptcy plan," bin Laden cited a British estimate that it cost al Qaeda about $500,000 to carry out the attacks of September 11, 2001, an amount that he said paled in comparison with the costs incurred by the United States.

...and, of course, the providers of arms profit all round. 'Twas ever thus.

Point- I don't think that the post was intending to imply that bin Laden could actually, genuinely bankrupt us. After all, while bin Laden might claim it, Afghanistan didn't bankrupt the Soviets. It was just a big, costly waste of time that left them worse off than when they went in. That seems quite plausible.

Fair enough Pat -- I think the point I was getting at was that if AQ needs to be undone (as I think we all do) and if that includes making sure regimes which ally with them don't return to power (as I and others do) then it doesn't make much sense to say "But that's what they want us to do".

AQ wants to hurt the United States -- that includes not just murdering its citizens, but making it suffer politically and economically in fighting it. This is all the more reason we must do what is necessary to disable them.

One more for the night -- loved Stephen Colbert's metaphor in tonight's episode (will link later as needed).

The logic of seeking not to allow Al Qaeda to operate in a country where we have already launched a war to that end (it should be kept in mind that that was not a purely pragmatic decision; retaliatory logic played in as well) doesn't extend to a doctrine of invading yet other countries because of a perceived but as-yet-not-actualized threat. The Bush adminitration tried to make that logic work, and I think their failure to make that logic stick either with the American public or the international community has not been lost even on the 'strategic class.' I could prove very sadly mistaken about that of course. But if this is a discussion of the rightful logical consequences of U.S. perseverance (escalation or no) in Afghanistan, I believe to raise the spectre of further new invasions in response to perceived threats in the absence of a 9/11-level attack on the territory is to engage in mild straw-man-ism.

I don't believe the parameters of this discussion could withstand the event of another attack, however, so in that case I would expect all bets would be off. Though I would hope there would be significantly more debate about the strategic merits of whatever retaliatory options are initially proposed, as the shock of any new attack should be considerably less than the one on 9/11. both for the population as well as most certainly, one would greatly hope, for the U.S. government.

As promised

Though I would hope there would be significantly more debate about the strategic merits of whatever retaliatory options are initially proposed, as the shock of any new attack should be considerably less than the one on 9/11.

Given who's occupying the White House at the moment, and the degree of hysteria he's managed to provoke just by existing, I think this is wildly optimistic.

If there's another attack we're going to have John Bolton on Fox News calling for the nuking of Mecca* within a half hour, and a good 30-40% of the American population agreeing with him.

*And while you're at it, throw in Teheran too, just, y'know, because.

if AQ needs to be undone (as I think we all do)

You're wrong. I think that AQ "needs to be undone" only if the cost of doing so is below some threshold. Apparently, you do not. Thus, I do not think we should undo AQ if the cost was killing 100 million Americans. AQ can harm a small number of Americans but it is one of many groups that have that capability. Eliminating AQ will not benefit American security if the process of eliminating it increases the threat other groups pose.

In every other aspect of policy, we insist on applying cost benefit analysis. But not when it comes to AQ. Funny that.

and if that includes making sure regimes which ally with them don't return to power (as I and others do) then it doesn't make much sense to say "But that's what they want us to do".

Wrong. It always makes sense to analyze costs and benefits rather than insisting that AQ must be destroyed no matter what. If there's one thing I've learned from watching the American criminal justice system, it is that Americans insist on vengeance and superficial safety above all else, especially actual safety or cost. All this irrational chest pounding about destroying AQ reminds me of that.

Point- I don't think that the post was intending to imply that bin Laden could actually, genuinely bankrupt us. After all, while bin Laden might claim it, Afghanistan didn't bankrupt the Soviets. It was just a big, costly waste of time that left them worse off than when they went in. That seems quite plausible.

Right.

I actually suggested his plan was improbable and far fetched as in...

even if such engagements are unlikely to bring about the doomsday scenario envisioned by bin Laden and his ilk

and

If so, then certain elements of Osama's far-fetched plan might just get a bit more plausible.

The "so" in that sentence being the US pursuing serial nation building. And even if then, it would only make certain elements of his plan a bit more plausible.

The logic of seeking not to allow Al Qaeda to operate in a country where we have already launched a war to that end (it should be kept in mind that that was not a purely pragmatic decision; retaliatory logic played in as well) doesn't extend to a doctrine of invading yet other countries because of a perceived but as-yet-not-actualized threat.

Right. However, there are more than one way to seek to "not to allow Al Qaeda to operate in a country where we have already launched a war to that end."

Is 50 year occupation and nation building the only way to disrupt their activities in said country? Are there more cost effective ways? I would argue yes.

Also, what does "a perceived but as-yet-not-actualized threat"? I referenced actual al-Qaeda operating in actual other countries. In that scenario, I'm not sure that I'd call it "a perceived but as-yet-not-actualized threat" as much as an actualized threat. After all, it's al-Qaeda, not Afghanistan, that provides the threat.

But if this is a discussion of the rightful logical consequences of U.S. perseverance (escalation or no) in Afghanistan, I believe to raise the spectre of further new invasions in response to perceived threats in the absence of a 9/11-level attack on the territory is to engage in mild straw-man-ism.

But if the argument is that we will only be safe if we eradicate all safe havens from Afghanistan, then why should we ignore the obvious next question: "How can this be so if al-Qaeda takes root in another nation."

In fact, they already have. It's called Pakistan.

Not to mention ongoing (and on-again/off-again) discussion of deploying US troops to places like Yemen and Somalia becuase of al-Qaeda presence.

And, again, what does "perceived threats" mean? Are you saying that al-Qaeda is only a threat in so much as the attacks of 9/11 that already happened, but not going forward? If not, why would the threat only be perceived and not actual?

It is my understanding that a threat is a threat based on potential, not past events alone. And in the case of al-Qaeda, we have both.

"But if the argument is that we will only be safe if we eradicate all safe havens from Afghanistan, then why should we ignore the obvious next question: How can this be so if al-Qaeda takes root in another nation?"

I think we may be working with multiple definitions of "safe haven" here -- in my understanding, "safe haven" requires the consent of the local regime to continue terrorist activities.

My argument remains that this is necessary, so said organizations can focus on developing offensive operations. It's hard to develop your network when you're running from the authorities. And whatever disagreements we have, and are likely to have, with Pakistan, they're not likely to let AQ get too comfortable.

(On an unrelated note (OAUN?) this is looking to be a busy work day for me, so I may have trouble giving responses the attention they deserve, at least for the next few hours. I apologize in advance...)

in my understanding, "safe haven" requires the consent of the local regime to continue terrorist activities.

Well, in failed states, it's hard to quantify "regime." The Taliban never controlled all of Afghanistan, and the tribal regions where AQ is located in Pakistan aren't really under the control of the Pakistani regime. In places like Somalia and Yemen, safe havens can be carved out of pockets of territory not under the control of the central government.

The same, it should be said, can happen in Afghanistan. That is, as Matt Yglesias pointed out yesterday, even if we succeed in securing 60-70% of Afghanistan under Karzai's rule, there would still be potential territory for the feared safe havens - which, themselves, require very little land.

Well, in failed states, it's hard to quantify "regime."

Fair enough -- though practically speaking, this would just divide failed states into more than one regime. The tribal regions of Pakistan, for example, are, if I'm not mistaken, controlled by the so called "Pakistani Taliban".

The is an excellent post, Eric. I tend to agree with you, but I think Point is making, well, some good points.

though practically speaking, this would just divide failed states into more than one regime

Yeah, I think the point of a safe haven is to have support from the locals sufficient to permit a certain range of motion. The locals don't necessarily have to be the official regime.

I appreciate you posting and continuing this dialogue. It helps me understand where you are coming from and why I am disagreeing, which is something that is quite valuable.

First of all, one (or two) points that you miss that I think are important is that both Qtub and Bin Laden spent time in the West (Qtub for 2 years at several universities in the US, Bin Laden as teenager in London, Zawahiri's time in the US was arguably after he was radicalized, spending time in California)

I think this is important because I think it shows that familiarity with the West is what gives rise to the philosophy they have. So OBL's words, while important in a tactical sense, are simply a symptom of the problem which needs to be addressed. It is not hard to imagine if various smaller points were changed, whether OBL's motivations and rationales for what he did would change. I find it hard to think of OBL as a person who is somehow uniquely creating the circumstances we find ourselves in. OBL is in some ways simply filling a niche. If AQ did not emerge, there would have been something else, perhaps not as deadly, but problematic.

My objection has been not based on the notion of winning or losing, and returning to a situation where we use drones to manage AQ in Afghanistan leads us to supporting stable Middle Eastern governments that then squelch dissent which then drives radicalization. It may be justified by US acts in Afghanistan or Israel in Palestine, India in Kashmir or France demanding student to remove their hijab, but it is unrealistic to think that taking away the reason of Afghanistan would somehow reduce radicalization in the long run.

Where does the United States in particular and the West in general find a place to reach an accomodation with Islam, not the Islam of governments eager to put a lid on popular dissent, but Islam as a transnational phenomenon? The fact that the Israelis were responsible for the rise of Hamas under the notion that a religious movement would work to undermine the legitimacy of the secular government suggests that this is not a genie stuffed back in a bottle because we chose to withdraw.

I've been pretty clear about rejecting notions of the Taliban 'winning' as a reason for not withdrawing, and I've tried to emphasize that I see the issues as being larger than Afghanistan. I understand if you and others consider those issues unimportant. It is hard to remember that your objective was to drain the swamp when you are up to your ass in alligators.

I've also tried to acknowledge that there are genuine issues with the short term. But the long term issues do not go away because we have a lot on our plate, as much as I wish it were so.

In regards to the discussion of failed states, there is a large difference between a failed state that can be accessed only thru Uzbekistan and Tajikistan and one that can be accessed from Kabul. And a safe haven that is confined to Nuristan or Khost is a lot less worrisome than a safe haven that can bribe and intimidate officials in Kandahar or Kabul. Pakistan has apparently had success targeting foreign jihadists by targeting their food supplies, because foreign jihadists grown tired of mutton. That WSJ article could be taken as an argument for withdrawal if we assume that the only reason that for going into Afghanistan was to militarily punish the Taliban and AQ. But I am of the opinion that we have a debt that isn't erased because we were incompetent for 8 years.

I do acknowledge that the problematic election may have been the horse getting stolen from the barn, and staying is locking the doors post theft. But this 10/10 hindsight when 3 months ago, you had James Carville advising an Afghanistan political candidate.

but it is unrealistic to think that taking away the reason of Afghanistan would somehow reduce radicalization in the long run.

Indeed. That is why I have never said that. Nevertheless, managing levels of radicalization matters. It greatly impacts the ability of extremists to operate in society writ large. For example, one of the biggest barrier to Islam-perverting terror attacks in the States post 9/11 has been the attitudes of the American Muslim community.

Now we could take actions to radicalize them, and one could point out that those actions are not the entire story, and won't matter in the long run. But in the short term, they could facilitate deadly attacks.

So both matter: short term and long term. Not either/or, but both.

I've tried to emphasize that I see the issues as being larger than Afghanistan. I understand if you and others consider those issues unimportant.

Not at all unimporatant! Of paramount importance! My position has been that our mission in Afghanistan is unrealistic and counterproductive, so let's stop blowing through trillions chasing unicorns in Afghanistan and get down to the truly important stuff.

I've also tried to acknowledge that there are genuine issues with the short term. But the long term issues do not go away because we have a lot on our plate, as much as I wish it were so.

Indeed. Same answers as above.

My objection has been not based on the notion of winning or losing, and returning to a situation where we use drones to manage AQ in Afghanistan leads us to supporting stable Middle Eastern governments that then squelch dissent which then drives radicalization.

I'm not sure what you mean here. Are you saying that using drones and managing AQ from afar is what leads us to support Middle Eastern regimes that squealch dissent?

But our support for those regimes predates AQ, so surely something else must be motivating us to offer such support.

Further, our need for help from said regimes in connection with our nation building/occupation also requires us to support those regimes. I don't see how charting the expansive course in Afghanistan changes that dynamic.

In regards to the discussion of failed states, there is a large difference between a failed state that can be accessed only thru Uzbekistan and Tajikistan and one that can be accessed from Kabul. And a safe haven that is confined to Nuristan or Khost is a lot less worrisome than a safe haven that can bribe and intimidate officials in Kandahar or Kabul.

Why is that a huge difference? It seems that both are relatively remote.


As a general comment, I greatly appreciate your contributions to this discussion, but I admit that over the last couple of days, I read your comments and wonder if you are responding to me, or having a conversation with someone that you assume me to be.

There is a certain level of disconnect and assumption that seems unrelated to my actual posts/comments. I'm sure you might level the same charge, so allow me to redouble my efforts to treat your arguments in good faith and try to ascertain your arguments, rather than assume them

Eric,

If we withdrew our troops would you be willing to continue giving money, weapons, and training to the Karzai government. And for how long?

If we withdrew our troops would you be willing to continue giving money, weapons, and training to the Karzai government.

Most likely, yes. Although it wouldn't be an unconditional commitment, and the Karzai government would have to improve on its performance and penchant for corruption/electoral fraud. But I'm not opposed to the concept of providing continuing support to certain factions.

I would also strongly encourage the Karzai government to try to incorporate more Taliban elements in the government.

And for how long?

That would depend on the above, and the outcomes from such aid. What would we be getting for our effort, what the blowback was, etc.

Just some notes.

Many of the Islamist organizations found their ranks growing when the Arab nationalist and leftist political parties began to fall out of favor, or crushed into oblivion. Leftist political organizations dominated the anti-colonial impulses in the Middle-East (sorry, libertarianism just doesn’t have the same mythology), whether in Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, and you get the picture. Leftist in Jordan, Pakistan and Indonesia have had staying power, but they too realize they are limited by debts owed to Western creditors.

The equitable distribution of resources and rights are usually tied to the relationships these nations have the West, which is seen as neo-colonial.

This anti-colonial impulse did and will not go away.

Islamists did not falsely invent this….and if they are wiped out, there would be another political movement which would find followers for correctly pointing this out.

Many of the Islamist organizations found their ranks growing when the Arab nationalist and leftist political parties began to fall out of favor, or crushed into oblivion.

True indeed. This also caused old school leaders like Saddam to attempt to coopt Islamist rhetoric - clumsy and transparent as his efforts were.

This anti-colonial impulse did and will not go away.

I don't disagree. And that is part of why I find it maddening that the proposed solution is kinder, gentler (ostensibly) colonialism. Whether it be Iraq or Afghanistan, we are not making friends and (positively) influencing people.

LJ: "I am of the opinion that we have a debt that isn't erased because we were incompetent for 8 years."

The notion of a debt is one you've brought up several times before, and I've been thinking about it a lot in response, but haven't collected my thoughts together before.

I think it's a very persuasive analogy - it certainly hits hard with people who opposed the way the Afghan war was handled. But I think it's not the right analogy.

First let me say what I understand by your use of the word "debt", and similar analogies made by others like the "Pottery Barn Rule". What does "debt" imply? Debt is a concept related to money, and money is a one-dimensional reduction of the numerous obligations and responsibilities owed by one entity to another. If I buy you an ice cream and you buy me a sandwich, in order to work out who is in debt to whom, we reduce both to financial expenditures and then compare them, then exchange something of value to reconcile.

The analogy as applied to Afghanistan implies that our actions to date constitute an overall harm - reduced to a single scale, we have caused a net harm to an entity called "Afghanistan" - and that we owe a responsibility to "repay" that harm.

That is a persuasive analogy, as I said. But I think it breaks down when you look at it:

1) What is the single scale we can use to determine the net benefits or harm of our actions?

2) What is the entity called "Afghanistan" that this debt is owed to? Some people in Afghanistan have benefited from our presence, others have suffered or died from it.

3) When it comes to repayment, same problem as in question 1: what is the single scale that can be used to measure the net benefits or harms of the actions we take to attempt to repay this debt?

4) If our actions to date have been a net negative to Afghanistan, thereby incurring a debt - and yet we have acted since the beginning at least with some good faith attempt to help - where is the evidence that we possess the ability to take military actions that will result in a net benefit for Afghanistan?

5) Conversely, if what we have done to date has been beneficial to Afghanistan, how have we incurred a debt?

6) Related to question 2: what does repayment mean when there is no one entity to whom this debt is owed? For example, if we killed a family, how does anything we do for the people we didn't kill help to erase that debt? If we killed the earner in a family leaving them penniless, how is anything we are doing going to help them? How do we determine that our "repayments" actually benefit those who were harmed by our earlier actions, as opposed to further benefiting people who did not suffer earlier?

Each of those seems like a very significant objection to the analogy of a debt, to me, especially the last points about repayment. The whole concept of "debt" requires the ability to repay. But what if there is no way to repay? There is no way to un-kill people, for instance. If you cannot undo or repay a previous action, you cannot consider it a debt.

I have another analogy: you accidentally burn your neighbor's house down trying to mow his lawn. He comes home to the smoldering ruins. You ruefully admit your guilt and offer to help him build a new house. In the process you accidentally set his car on fire too. Your neighbor starts to rebuild the house, and you try to help, but you accidentally burn the new house down too. At some point, you're going to have to accept that the only thing you are any good at is burning things down. You might, in some sense, "owe" your neighbor "repayment", but absent the ability to help rather than hinder, that's a meaningless analogy.

In Afghanistan, we've burned down a lot of houses, many of them with their inhabitants inside. We've tried to do some good, but overall I agree with you that we have done net damage to the country and its people. But now we propose to put more soldiers in the country with the idea that we can reduce violence by doing so, in repayment of our debt. But we do so without any real knowledge as to whether more soldiers will mean less violence, or more - whether what we will do will result in a net gain or a net loss. It's as if we rush over to our neighbor's new house and throw a bucket of liquid on it without knowing whether it's water or gasoline - and our argument for doing so is that we owe it to him. Well, our neighbor might prefer it if we stopped worrying about our debt and just stayed out of the way.

The people we really owe a debt to in Afghanistan are those innocent people we've killed and maimed. If there is a way that a continued US military presence there can be said to repay that debt, I am at a loss to understand what it is.

(I should say too - it requires a great deal of faith to say that we have been incompetent for 8 years, but that now we must take further actions that rely on our ability to be competent. What has changed that we now have that ability? Will a new commander at any level change the overall competence of the US military? If you're a house-painter who's been burning houses down by accident for 8 years, proposing to make up for it by painting a lot more houses (only not screwing it up this time) might be cause for some skepticism.)

I have to say, I was really not digging your critical analysis of the debt analogy, Jacob Davies, but it really came together nicely in the end. Your last paragraph in particular nailed it for me.

and i'd really like to use the word really one more time.

I think it's difficult to accept that having done undeniable damage to another group of people, we may have no way to undo it or compensate for it. I think it's doubly difficult if you supported the war in the first place (I don't know LJ's position at the time - I at least didn't oppose it actively) and if you thought that Bush mismanaged it. It is hard to acknowledge that maybe something you supported, and later wished could have gone differently, never actually had a chance of doing the things you hoped for.

I also know that it may look like a semantic argument. In some sense it is, but what I am contesting is that the well-understood semantics of "debt" and "repayment" are something that can be applied to warfare and occupation.

We are an occupying military, first and foremost. If we look at what serves the cause of human welfare and happiness, we could ask ourselves the question of whether what the world needs is more and longer military occupations. I think in the large most people would agree that that is not true. So if it is not true in the large, how is it true in the small? Why is continuing to occupy two countries a good idea when occupying two dozen countries would pretty clearly be a bad idea?

I think the idea of a debt that must be repaid is the only thing that can possibly justify it. And I think we have no way of repaying it - and therefore no way to justify a continued occupation. That's what it comes down to.

JD

For me, the question of justifying an occupation is the same as justifying a war.

In this instance, whether the proposal is a limited war or a all-out occupation, the question of how it benefits/harms the people of Afghanistan is completely second to the question of whether or not it makes the civilian population of United States safer.

Whether or not you agree, it is still a distinction we would do well to remember.*

*And that's one reason I have for appreciating Eric's posts.

Excellent points. Apologies for just commenting on a few, and I hope to tackle more later.

Chris' question about supporting Karzai really gets at my point in a nutshell. In the post WWII world, withdrawal never really means withdrawal for the US. I guess a really crude way of saying it is that if we don't have any skin in the game, we can't be relied on to play fairly. I guess I dance around that because the counter is that this is a pretty blithe way of looking at both the cost and the lives. This gets us into the argument about whether American lives are somehow worth more third world lives. This is a debate that is really just intellectual masturbation, because the problem would disappear when the change we might find in our pocket is no longer worth the entire weekly, or monthly salary of someone in the third world.

I would certainly admit that much of the debate depends on some visceral reactions, and I think that it is true on both sides. The urge is to use the other sides visceral reactions as evidence of being one of the bad guys, so we try to cover them up in debates like this, but I think that leaves us with a big blind spot, which is why I've spent so many bytes on this.

One of those visceral reactions comes when Eric says that we have to 'manage radicalization'. Yes, we do, but managing radicalization can also represent sending Stingers to the mujahdeen, supporting Hamas against Fatah, financially supporting radical madrassas. The argument is that we (and by 'we' I mean everyone who is presumably against an extremist philosophy that rejects coexistence) have learned our lesson is not really apparent to me, and even if we have, lessons are often forgotten and great wealth dispensed from afar often doesn't go to the places and people who need it most. And while this is a tenet often expressed by conservatives, being of the liberal bent, I tend to think that the solution is not to stop dispensing the wealth but to do it in a way that connects the rich to the poor.

Eric wrote
And that is part of why I find it maddening that the proposed solution is kinder, gentler (ostensibly) colonialism.

I understand this point, but the opposite is that a withdrawal makes the proposed solution isolationism, which is something that the US has always done very very poorly. I worry about the kind of reaction that happens when the US disengages from Afghanistan and then has to return there.

This pragmatic notion is paired with the notion of debt to Afghanistan. I'm really glad to hear it acknowledged by Jacob, just as I take all his criticisms. The point that we are an occupying military is true, but, as I see it, the fundamental purpose of COIN is to make the military less like a military. I've tried to explain , though probably unclearly, why I think that transforming the military into a force that can do this is essential, but I'll take another crack at it. It's difficult to imagine creating another organization, in the absence of security and in the face of way terrorism operates in places like Afghanistan, Somalia and other places, that can tackle this task. This it not only because the military has a certain peculiar monopoly on force in a way that law enforcement does not, but because given the level of defense spending, it is where the change should be made if we think of this in econmic terms.

Setting aside the question of whether the semantics of debt maps onto this situation (which I am not rejecting, but I think that it is not something that is categorically false or true) Jacob's last point, that there is no way of repaying our debt, may very well be true. But to accept that is to have the image of the US as the person carrying the casserole dish and ringing the doorbell while the family inside has died of starvation. Imagining the person coming from out of town might mitigate it, but I see the US (and the West) as, if not the next door neighbor, the one from down the street.

There are a number of reasons why I look at the debate in the way I do that are based on my personal experiences and situation, which leads to why I take the position(s) I do, but I think that is true for everyone and shouldn't automatically lead to dismissing those positions.

One can see some of the basic assumptions I have taken being held to argue for the opposite position here. If we look at this in the way Kaplan does, which seems to be ruthlessly realpolitik, I can see how you get to this position. But I think that continuing to operate on this level leaves us trapped in viewing the world as we always have.

lj,

I don’t think the US has ever engaged in isolationism, even when it was a rhetorical policy, it really wasn’t a real policy on the ground. It has always been active in the lives and cultures of “weaker” nations, lands, islands, territories, it believed to be part of its sphere of influence. As the US has gotten big and more powerful, its sphere of influence has grown accordingly, at some point this has to stop.

If there has been an era in US history, in which isolationism has been the case, I would love to know it.

I'd suggest that pre WWII as well as pre Korea might classify. The end of both of those (in terms of looking at it as the engagement of the military) might be the battle of the Kasserine Pass and the Chinese pushback, where the unpreparedness created a catastrophe. If we look at these as events rather than as military exercises, (and that can be difficult, because we are steeped in the notion that military actions are somehow in a separate class from civilian activities), 9/11 might occupy a similar historic place. However, I am not suggesting that we need to militarize and look to our military tactics, I am suggesting that we have to view these setbacks as signals that the world has changed.

As the US has gotten big and more powerful, its sphere of influence has grown accordingly, at some point this has to stop.

The problem with this (not as a proposition but as a possiblity of the future) is that it suggests that empires will always be with us. If I were to suggest that at some point, it has to evolve, it might make it easier to see where I am coming from.

Lj,
The US invaded and occupied several nations in Latin America, prior to WW2. Its sphere of influence was North & South America, and Southern Asia. After WW2, its sphere grew, to include most of the world.

">http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Empire"> American Empire

">http://www2.truman.edu/~marc/resources/interventions.html"> History of U.S. Interventions in Latin America

And the acquisition of the Western half, through the Louisiana Purchase and the Mexican-American War, was an Imperial act, as well.

the question of how it benefits/harms the people of Afghanistan is completely second to the question of whether or not it makes the civilian population of United States safer.

I hope I'm misreading you. Because it sounds like you're saying that if we believe a long term occupation of Afghanistan will save one American life on average, then we should perform that occupation even if we believe it will kill millions of Afghans. Is that right?

LJ: "the fundamental purpose of COIN is to make the military less like a military...I think that transforming the military into a force that can do this is essential"

Two more questions: firstly, what evidence is there that the military or anyone else wants it to be transformed wholesale into a counterinsurgency force? The military likes being a conventional force tasked with defending the United States and defeating any conventional opponent. (I like them sticking to that role too.)

Secondly, why does the United States need a military transformed into a counterinsurgency force? Such a force is only useful as an occupation force in a hostile (or partly hostile) country. Such a capability is the kind of thing that colonial or imperial powers use to keep the peace in their empires, or that misguided meddling nations use to prop up their chosen side in a civil war, as in Vietnam.

What you're calling "isolationism" I call "not military adventurism". Not currently being in the process of invading or occupying any other country does not spell isolationism to me; there is a great deal of international involvement the US can do that doesn't involve shooting anybody and I don't think it's all that controversial to say that the recipients of the non-shooting kind of involvement tend to like it more.

I also think you're blurring the difference between counterinsurgency operations and counterterrorism operations. In some cases the two overlap, like when we're the occupying force that the insurgency is directed at. But in general the two are not the same.

Insurgent actions are directed at a government or an occupying force or at another ethnic group - all local targets. If the occupying force is removed, the insurgents on the whole do not seek to attack the US itself.

The terrorist actions we're concerned about are the ones directed at US forces and assets. Those groups are much smaller, seem to be composed mostly of people foreign to the place they're based in, and only overlap to a limited degree with the insurgent groups. The Bush administration spent a lot of time and effort trying to blur the difference between the two - to imply that every attack on US forces in Iraq was the work of anti-US terrorists. But I don't think that was true to a significant extent. The Iraqi insurgency was mostly a domestic conflict with domestic goals - which included attacking US occupation forces - but did not have ambitions to attack US forces or civilians elsewhere.

So the counterinsurgency capability is not the same as the counterterrorism capability. Counterterrorism is about tracking down the relatively small number of people in the world who are driven to attack US civilians (and US forces that are not currently engaged in hostilities with them), tracing their interconnections, and restricting their ability to recruit and train new members.

That is quite different and much smaller than the goal of counterinsurgency, which is to pacify entire countries. Counterinsurgency is inherently a process of picking sides in a conflict, and the bar is much higher for that kind of intervention. If one side is committing genocide, that is one thing. But is the desire to impose sharia law a compelling cause for intervention? When the other side are corrupt narcotics-trading warlords with a history of mass murder? Not to me - and when neither side in a conflict has the moral edge, I think we should avoid picking a side - especially very publicly picking a side. We should try to help settle the conflict and encourage both sides to behave better, but if we stick around and pick one side without assurance that it will end up being an adequately-just regime, we will quite rightly breed a great deal of resentment - no matter which side we pick.

I posted the latter before reading this NY Times story:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/08/world/asia/08prexy.html

which hits a lot of the same points.

"Because it sounds like you're saying that if we believe a long term occupation of Afghanistan will save one American life on average, then we should perform that occupation even if we believe it will kill millions of Afghans."

Well, first those are some hyperbolic numbers -- Afghanistan only has a population of 28 million, and how exactly would a net effect of saving 28 lives be calculated. Remember, we're talking about protecting Americans from 9/11 level attacks, which have thousands of casualties.

But, hyperbole aside, the principle is one I agree with; the government of the United States works for its citizens.

Remember, we're talking about protecting Americans from 9/11 level attacks, which have thousands of casualties.

Substantially more US citizens died in the Iraq war, which Bush chose to start, than died in the 11th September attacks. Just as substantially more UK citizens died in Iraq than in the tube bombings. They may be mostly soldiers rather than civilians, but that doesn't make them any less dead.

If you are really concerned about protecting US civilians, maybe you need to start sending drones to High Wycombe instead (although please be careful you don't blow up too many buildings, as that might be a damper on property prices there.

Remember, we're talking about protecting Americans from 9/11 level attacks, which have thousands of casualties.

...by fighting wars, which have hundreds of thousands of casualties.

And that is part of why I find it maddening that the proposed solution is kinder, gentler (ostensibly) colonialism.

This gets at the reason I asked whether you'd be willing to continue to support Karzai. In general, I lean toward Eric's side of the debate. But what I'm really worried about is being stuck in the middle, so to speak, and getting the worst of both worlds. It seems that we should either (A) get the hell out and wash our hands of the place or (B) go all in and commit whatever resources are necessary.

One of Eric's points about al-Qaeda's motivation is that it regards the secular regimes of the middle east as de facto American colonies. If we withdraw our troops but continue to send money, weapons, and training, the Karzai government will be perceived as an American proxy. If Karzai cannot defeat the insurgency, it will be perceived a failure of American power. Plus, the U.S. will be considered complicit in electoral fraud and endemic corruption. American will look both weak and malevolent, which is a bad combination.

I think Karzai crossed a line by stealing the election. His will never be a legitimate government. It seems like both sides of this debate want to sweep this under the rug. COIN can't work without the support of a legitimate local government. So any full-blown COIN strategy would have to commit to removing Karzai and starting a new government from scratch, which makes an already difficult task appear impossibly difficult. Advocates of withdraw, however, and confronted with a different dilemma: either withdraw all support from Karzai, which would almost certainly lead to an insurgent victory; or continue to prop Karzai up and and remain complicit in his corruption.

I understand this point, but the opposite is that a withdrawal makes the proposed solution isolationism, which is something that the US has always done very very poorly.

Not isolationism at all. What someotherdude said in response.

the fundamental purpose of COIN is to make the military less like a military.

Except it's never actually worked like that in practice, and the overlap of counterT missions (as JD pointed out) rules this out.

We will NEVER have a 100% pure army of soldiers that are: (a) culled randomly from the populationl; (b) trained to kill; (c) forced to undergo the stresses of war; and (d) able to abstain from committing atrocities, able to withold fire when feeling threatened, able to prevent civilian casualties.

No matter what.

Advocates of withdrawal, however, are confronted with a different dilemma: either withdraw all support from Karzai, which would almost certainly lead to an insurgent victory; or continue to prop Karzai up and and remain complicit in his corruption.

That is a true conundrum. I tried to carve out wiggle room in my response by asserting that aid would be contingent. We may also try to force the Karzai government to step aside and defer to the decisions of a loya jirga, or some other indigenous Afghan political solution. Which is what most Afghans want - not feeling comfortable with our Western imposed structures.

We may also try to force the Karzai government to step aside and defer to the decisions of a loya jirga, or some other indigenous Afghan political solution.

I was going to suggest exactly that. We should convene a loya jirga and select a new government.

My meaning is simply this: it is perfectly appropriate to note that because there are known Al Qaeda havens in countries other than Iraq and Afghanistan and invasion and occupation of those countries are not thought by most the preferred method of sealing, that is ample reason to examine the portion of any justification for continued occupation of Afghanistan that relates to concern that a drawdown or failure to escalate could lead to greater sanctuary there for Al Qaeda. That is a completely valid point on its own merits.

But it is far less supportable to suggest that the logic of a decision to escalate in Afghanistan partly because of such a concern can be reversed with perfect consistency to compel future invasions of other countries that proved space for Al Qaeda operations of international reach. That is nonsensical. The logic of continuation or escalation of ongoing wars cannot be extended to decisions about launching new wars; moreover war is a grave matter: certainly any decision by one country to invade another must be considered primarily in its own context, and not determined via analogy by consideration(s) that insofar as they can apply in the circumstance at hand, can only have been one fragment of the entire picture that was considered originally in the situation being referenced.

This seems sufficiently self-evident to that I can only assume that when the argument is made along the lines of the second paragraph above, what is meant is merely to communicate the valid argument in the first. But the first argument is compelling and sufficient on it's own; the hyperbole of the formulation warning of new invasions is entirely unnecessary.

"the preferred method of sealing"? What? Am I putting a new roof on my house?

I meant "the preferred method of dealing" with (perhaps better to say, 'containing') that threat...

"We may also try to force the Karzai government to step aside and defer to the decisions of a loya jirga, or some other indigenous Afghan political solution."

On that subject, am I mistaken that the recount in the election is still ongoing, and that a runoff election is still a possibility?

If that's (roughly) the case, could there be a payoff in making sure the runoff goes smoothly, if it increases the likelihood of an Abdullah presidency?

If that's (roughly) the case, could there be a payoff in making sure the runoff goes smoothly, if it increases the likelihood of an Abdullah presidency?

I suppose. It could keep more Tajiks in the fold.

But it is far less supportable to suggest that the logic of a decision to escalate in Afghanistan partly because of such a concern can be reversed with perfect consistency to compel future invasions of other countries that proved space for Al Qaeda operations of international reach. That is nonsensical. The logic of continuation or escalation of ongoing wars cannot be extended to decisions about launching new wars

While I appreciate your eloquence, I will go for the simple approach:

If the argument is that we must escalate in Afghanistan in order to deny a safe haven there, my response would be, why is denying a safe haven that important?

If the answer is: it is of X amount of importance, and X justifies spending trillions of dollars and committing to 30 years of nation building, my response would be, but X exists in other locations now, and could also emerge in the future.

Simply put, if X is so important as to justify such massive, mind boggling expenditures and resource commitments in Afghanistan, surely X is very important. To the extent that X can be shrugged off when discussing X in Pakistan or other potential locations, then my argument is: surely X is not important enough to justify such massive, mind boggling expenditures and resource commitments in Afghanistan.

Either it's crucial, or not.

If you say, it's only one small part of the justification for escalation, well fine. But then let's have an honest appraisal of just how relatively insignificant the denial of a safe haven is in the overall picture.

Rather than use the very emotionally charged, frightening specter to sell an occupation that is, in fact, based on ulterior justifications.

Which is what most Afghans want - not feeling comfortable with our Western imposed structures.

How do you know this?

How do you know this?

Well, I don't know with absolute certainty, but several large factions are calling for same, and reports from inside Kabul show locals asking for such processes. I feel safe assuming that the Taliban and other anti-government forces reject elections and would prefer a loya jirga.

Which is what most Afghans want - not feeling comfortable with our Western imposed structures.

Western imposed elections didn't work out so well.

Western imposed elections didn't work out so well.

Actually, even as election laws were being drafted and devised, there was significant pushback from Afghan tribal entities that preferred their traditional loya jirga. A

And then elections didn't work out so well. So one can imagine few converts to the election model, while some number of disillusioned.

"my response would be, but [safe havens] exists in other locations now, and could also emerge in the future"

Are there any other regimes (full or mini*) that are currently giving sanctuary to AQ, other than the Taliban**?

As to future threats, seems the best way to deal with them is to deter their emergence, where I would think disabling the current safe haven would play no small part.

*local powers, etc.

**(or Talibans, since they're also in Pakistan)

CHEESE EATING SURRENDER MONKEYS! You guys need to Michael Ledeen. Why don't you listen to a real expert. We can't withdraw from Afghanistan without jeopardizing our position vis-a-vis Iran. (And unless Obama's going to consent to a second holocaust, Iran needs to be dealt with.)

thanks for the comments. sod, I think whenever we label things, they tend to look like binary oppositions. So when I say that the US was at some point isolationist, it doesn't necessarily mean that there was no 'internationalist' (if that is the correct word) aspect. Isolationist can be seen in Washington's address warning to avoid foreign entanglements, one could view the Monroe doctrine as an isolationist one, essentially telling Europeans basically to stay the hell out of our back yard. Certainly the period going up the WWI has isolationist threads, as does the pre WWII period, with people like Lindburgh arguing for a stance.

But your point about how the US has never really been 'isolationist' actually underlies some of my points, because a withdrawal that leaves elements in place to strike when we like isn't really a withdrawal. It is doing a genuflection to public opinion while simultaneously trying to do an end-run around it.

Jacob wrote
Two more questions: firstly, what evidence is there that the military or anyone else wants it to be transformed wholesale into a counterinsurgency force?

I'm sorry, I can't find the two previous questions. In answer to this one, what the military wants is not really a good metric for what should happen. The Air Force didn't want drones or the Warthog, but I'm sure it still lusts after a fifth generation fighter, the Navy still longs for a 600 ship navy and many in the military still feel that the appropriate measure is a force that can fight a full scale war on two fronts as well as a smaller action.

Secondly, why does the United States need a military transformed into a counterinsurgency force? Such a force is only useful as an occupation force in a hostile (or partly hostile) country.

If one views a counter insurgency force as simply one that engages in enemy suppression in a situation where the enemy is difficult to separate from civilians, you might have a point. But when I think counter insurgency force, I think of peace keeping and nation building. Perhaps this is an idiosyncratic definition, but when McChrystal writes stuff like

We must do things dramatically differently -- even uncomfortably differently -- to change how we operate, and also how we think. Our every action must reflect this change of mindset: how we traverse the country, how we use force, and how we partner with the Afghans. Conventional wisdom is not sacred; security may not come from the barrel of a gun.

and

Economic Support to Counterinsurgency. ISAF has an important asymmetric advantage; it can aid the local economy, along with its civilian counterparts, in ways that the insurgents cannot. local development can change incentive structures and increase stability in communities. Economic opportunity, especially job creation, is a critical part of reintegrating the foot-soldier into normal life. Economic support to counterinsurgency is distinct from and cannot substitute for longer-term development initiatives. With some coordination it can lay the groundwork for, and complement, those longer-term efforts and show that the Afghan government is active at the local level. ISAF must increase the flexibility and responsiveness of funding programs to enable commanders and their civilian partners to make immediate economic and quality of life improvements in accordance with Afghan priorities.

These do not sound like a doctrine built solely on the projection of military force.

And as for needing it, a force along the lines I am thinking of would have been more useful not only in Afghanistan, in Bosnia/Kosovo, in Somalia, Darfur and Haiti. And we hold our collective breath over Yemen, Somalia, Zimbabwe and now Guinea.

What you're calling "isolationism" I call "not military adventurism".

I'd like to think one of the reasons we are not agreeing is that the definitions we bring to the debate are not the same. I say military and I think peacekeeping, you say military and you think shock and awe. I argue for the military to do this because it seems like the most likely candidate for such a mission and it consumes a lion's share of the US (and the world's) budget. Creating an organization that does this is going to have to rely on the military for transport, protection, and distribution, so it would be much more efficient to repurpose our military in some way to do this. And we already utilize the military for disaster relief, both national and international, so in some sense, it is merely filling in the area between.

I also think you're blurring the difference between counterinsurgency operations and counterterrorism operations.

at the level of absstraction that I feel this discussion is at, it is not so much that I'm blurring the distinction, but that the distinction is so faint at this distance that it is not meaningful. I can understand and appreciate if we want to carefully define counterterrorism and counter insurgency but if I were to say

[The counter insurgent force] has an important asymmetric advantage; it can aid the local economy, along with its civilian counterparts, in ways that the insurgents cannot. local development can change incentive structures and increase stability in communities. Economic opportunity, especially job creation, is a critical part of reintegrating the foot-soldier into normal life. Economic support to counterinsurgency is distinct from and cannot substitute for longer-term development initiatives.

That's from McChrystal's report. He goes on

With some coordination it can lay the groundwork for, and complement, those longer-term efforts and show that the Afghan government is active at the local level. ISAF must increase the flexibility and responsiveness of funding programs to enable commanders and their civilian partners to make immediate economic and quality of life improvements in accordance with local priorities.

To me, this sounds like this conception of COIN is a lot more than picking sides in a conflict.

A lot of this is trying to imagine how we move to a world where the use of pure military force is not an option. Already, pure military force is an incredibly disfavored option. We look at military history, and we imagine this core skill that carries over from the Iliad to Iraq and Afghanistan, but while that is true in one sense, it blinds us to the amount of change that warfare has undergone. Given what has happened in the past 10 years, it seems that another shift is inevitable.

In a Few Good Men, Col Jessup's speech justifying his actions starts off with

Son, we live in a world that has walls.
And those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who's gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinberg? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly
fathom. You weep for Santiago and you
curse the marines. You have that luxury.
You have the luxury of not knowing what I
know: That Santiago's death, while tragic,
probably saved lives. And my existence,
while grotesque and incomprehensible to
you, saves lives.

It's a great speech but when you pick at it, you realize that in a world where asymmetrical warfare is possible, does Jessup's rationale hold water? Does the metaphor of a guard at the wall really scale up to a military that spends $75 to every $1 dollar that Iran and North Korea spend? This is why fights over the F-22 and other similar projects are so bitter, cause if you start examining what the military actually needs, you end up going way back. Holding the outermost trench, as it were.

Yet the concepts of honor and the connecting to the history embodied by the military is not imaginary. SO it makes a lot more sense to use what still has value in today's world while discarding what is not.

Sorry, I started working on that after Jacob's comment at 3:06 while working on other stuff, so it doesn't address anything after that.

CHEESE EATING SURRENDER MONKEYS! You guys need to Michael Ledeen.

Yawn. Better parody trolls, please.

Uncle Kvetch,

Nobody's "parrodying" anyone. Do you even know who Michael Ledeen is?

Do you even know who Michael Ledeen is?

Yeah, he's the non-Farsi speaking expert on Iran. Who's never been there. Who's big scoop was that Khamenei was dead. Which came years ago. Despite Khamenei's continued, um, state of undead.

Otherwise, a serial warmongerer who pretends he isn't. In fact, Ledeen even had the stones to claim that he...get this...opposed the Iraq War!!!!

Oh man. What a clown.

Are there any other regimes (full or mini*) that are currently giving sanctuary to AQ, other than the Taliban**?

Depending on whether or not you believe the intel, Somalia and Yemen. The Somali regime's (Islamic Courts Union) harboring of al-Qaeda was the pretense under which we supported Ethiopia's invasion a few back. But the Ethiopians have withdrawn, and the ICU control large swaths of the territory.

Yemen is its own mess.

"what the military wants is not really a good metric for what should happen"

I agree, for the most part. It's just that what the military wants is a pretty good metric for what will happen.

On the points about the overlap between counterinsurgency and nation-building and peacekeeping, you're right to some extent, but then I'm dubious that in general the situations where the US is nation-building are ones we should be involved with. I worry that focusing on improving capabilities for the make-over of a country's government will encourage us to make use of those capabilities. For instance, nation-building in Iran - not high on my list of favored projects.

"To me, this sounds like this conception of COIN is a lot more than picking sides in a conflict."

But fundamentally, that's what it is. The paragraph you quoted about making improvements in lives and connections with the civil life of the inhabitants - those sound worthy, but those are also the goals of the insurgent groups themselves, and when we disrupt them, we disrupt their attempts to garner support, just as when they attack us they disrupt ours. So when you say that it's not about picking sides, I disagree. It's entirely about picking sides. If the Taliban were more to our ideological liking, we'd be helping them build wells and medical clinics instead of helping the central government.

one could view the Monroe doctrine as an isolationist one, essentially telling Europeans basically to stay the hell out of our back yard

No, that would not be isolationism at all. That would be telling other nations not to interfere with our imperial policy in our near abroad. And imperialism is never isolationism, even if you claim an exclusive right to engage in said imperialism.

But when I think counter insurgency force, I think of peace keeping and nation building.

Those are thoughts that are severely detached from the reality of our military, and our decisions to use such military. Peacekeeping involves keeping a peace that has already been struck. Counterinsurgency involves a multi-decades long campaign to suppress an insurrection.

As any COIN expert - including McChrystal - will tell you, COIN involves an enormous amount of "kinetic" operations. Read: killing people. This is true even if speeches and rhetoric are employed to provide euphemism and other cover for military doctrine.

Eric: don't forget Ledeen's bit part in Iran-Contra.

Good times.

Also: DNFTT.

"Depending on whether or not you believe the intel, Somalia and Yemen."

On Somalia, I'm trying to remember (or find) where I read the ICU was distancing itself from AQ, (but I'm pretty sure it came up on Eric's Somalia thread).*

And, even if they are in a mess, isn't the government of Yemen being pretty actively anti-AQ? Seems like helping them would be a lot more productive than just invading. But that wasn't an option in Afghanistan prior to the invasion**.

*I'm pretty sure it was "Are more guns really the answer", but I'm having trouble finding the specific thread.

**Whatever some commenters here may say...

a withdrawal makes the proposed solution isolationism

I really don't understand this assumption that a military withdrawal from Afghanistan means we'll never have anything to do with them again. I'm pretty sure we have lots of ways to engage with other countries besides the armed forces, although they've atrophied considerably under recent Republican administrations.

I really don't understand this assumption that a military withdrawal from Afghanistan means we'll never have anything to do with them again.

Based on the assumption that there's nothing that the US can do to Afghanistan but kill Afghans, I suppose.

If you move on from the idea that Afghans need killing, and it's the US's job to do it, there are manifold other things that need doing. None of them involve bombing, landmines, shooting people, or other forms of US army action.

"In a Few Good Men, Col Jessup's speech justifying his actions starts off with

Son, we live in a world that has walls.
And those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who's gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinberg? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly
fathom. You weep for Santiago and you
curse the marines. You have that luxury.
You have the luxury of not knowing what I
know: That Santiago's death, while tragic,
probably saved lives. And my existence,
while grotesque and incomprehensible to
you, saves lives.

This was an amazing quote, and in many senses it is a profoundly true quote.

The problem with Afghanistan is that it is not true there. The death of Santiago (any of our people or any Afghans) has little impact on saving lives here or elsewhere. You can talk about nation building and long term COIN, our responsibility to Afghanistan, or any of the convoluted arguments here, but they don't save lives.

Our militarys job is to expend resources and, where necessary, lives to save lives. There is not a short term or long term mission in Afghanistan that meets the bar of accomplishing that goal.

The US original purpose in Afghanistan was anti-terror. COIN is just a method, or just the way it worked out. We never had a reason to fight the Taliban before they decided to protect bin Laden.

Even if we pull out of AfPak, we have to protect the Pakistani nukes and probably deal with al-Queda, and kill OBL if we can. We can't just go home in the simple sense.

The idea of nation-building in Afghanistan is absurd; And we have no way of knowing what kind of nation we'd be building. Modernity fits Afghanistan like a saddle on a cow.

The problem in the Muslim Middle East isn't poverty, it's wealth. You'll notice that the poorer countries don't cause us much trouble unless they get funded by an oil state. Ending the petroleum cash flow will do more good than anything else.

Anybody know who gets more benefit from the opium, Karzai or the Taliban?

In other words, if we salt the opium fields with some super plant-killer, who wins and who loses?

In other words, if we salt the opium fields with some super plant-killer, who wins and who loses?

Well the Afghan farmers lose and thus all the Afghanis who are keen on eating (unless you have some kind of plant-killer that only kills poppies and is non-persistent in the soil). And also anyone whose health is damaged by the plant-killer loses big time. And the manufacturers of the plant-killer win, of course. And I'd say therefore that the Afghanis allied with the users of the plant-killer would probably lose more than the Afghanis fighting the users of the plant killer, myself.

f You can talk about nation building and long term COIN, our responsibility to Afghanistan, or any of the convoluted arguments here, but they don't save [American] lives.

I presume that you meant to specify American lives as "not saved" - since fairly clearly, working to rebuild Afghanistan's infrastructure will save Afghan lives.

Might have saved 3000 lives on September 11 if it had been thought of ten years before that.

May save a few thousand lives in ten years time - a "save" no one will know about if it doesn't happen.

The notion that no American lives are put in danger by crumpling up smaller, weaker countries, shredding them, and dismissing them as unimportant, is ... perfectly American foreign policy, and perfectly wrong.

I presume that you meant to specify American lives as "not saved" - since fairly clearly, working to rebuild Afghanistan's infrastructure will save Afghan lives.

[...]

The notion that no American lives are put in danger by crumpling up smaller, weaker countries, shredding them, and dismissing them as unimportant, is ... perfectly American foreign policy, and perfectly wrong.

This is why I find this discussion so compelling. Jes and I agree on this point and this drives my support of McChrystal's report. I have acknowledged that perhaps we are too late, perhaps the whole enterprise was an impossibility, but the fact that we have live in the manner we do makes it important that we attempt it. Yet arguments for withdrawal, while they start off as being 'for the good of the Afghan people', soon devolve into costing us too much and the average Afghan who is pissed at us isn't the real one to worry about us and we can interdict them from a distance. It is almost as if for their own good means that their own good is staying out of our notice, which makes sense if you are going to argue that the worst thing in the world is to be noticed by the US, but otherwise not.

Allowing Afghanis’ to take US American military and political elites to court, for irresponsibly deadly choices (conservatives would love that government officials are forced to take responsibility for their actions, right?), might show certain amount of sincerity in their well being. However, I suspect that would be crazy, downright irrational.

"The notion that no American lives are put in danger by crumpling up smaller, weaker countries, shredding them, and dismissing them as unimportant, is ... perfectly American foreign policy, and perfectly wrong."

America didn't crumple up a smaller country, we attacked the command and control center of an enemy that had attacked us.

It would have been perfect foreign policy had we come home then, dismissing them as unimportant is not what I(or anyone) is saying.

I'll try to be less eloquent then. Already being in Afghanistan, the cost of attempting to deny safe havens there, a place where attacks have originated, may be less than that involved in launching new invasions. There are also other considerations that must go into whatever decision we make about Afghanistan, because we are already there. That makes comparisons to notional new invasions inapt. If wew ere not already in Afghanistan, there would be no reason to treat it differently from other countries, but we are there. It is a different decision what we do about than what we do about other threats. You say 'if the argument is that we must escalate in Afghanistan in order to deny a safe haven there,' but you know full well that is not the entire argument being made. It may be most emphasized by politicians because they need to relate our purpose to Americans in a way they can grasp. If your point is just that politicians are not representing fully the true factors that go into U.S. foreign policy making, well then congratulations on an incisive observation. I thought this was a discussion of the actual considerations we want the deciders to be making. Within that discussion, saying an escalation in Afghanistan, or even just any continued presence there based on concerns about safe havens, is rendered unjustified because of our disinclination to invade every other country we think has safe havens is completely ridiculous. Cases differ. We're already in Afghanistan. Maybe it's not worth the cost of continued occupation of Afghanistan -- I likely agree with that. But the fact that we are not invading every other country in the world that gives some degree of sanctuary to Al Qaeda doesn't demonstrate that. Get real.

Marty: America didn't crumple up a smaller country, we attacked the command and control center of an enemy that had attacked us.

I'm not sure whether you're lying, fantasising, or just ignorantly repeating a fantastic lie, but this is completely non-factual.

The US never came anywhere near attacking "the command and control center" of al-Qaeda. And Afghanistan never attacked the US.

"The US never came anywhere near attacking "the command and control center" of al-Qaeda. And Afghanistan never attacked the US."

In your fantasy world maybe. AQ was comfortably ensconsed in Afghanistan and their leadership and command and control was there under the approval and protection of the Taliban who governed the country.

If they had been in Somalia at the time we would be having this discussion about Somalia.

The Taliban, then and now, did nothing to stop them. So we did. If you hide a felon in your house the police will break down the door, not worry much about what damage they do and then leave you to clean it up. In fact, under "the law" you are culpable for aiding and abetting.

Since it's been a few hours silence, I thought I'd ask:

Does anybody think that defeating the Taliban* will deter other regimes -- sovereign or local -- from giving sanctuary to global terrorists like AQ.

*I realize this is a ridiculously simple term that doesn't really capture what we're talking here, but I wanted to keep the question more open.

What would happen if we all just stayed in our own yard and cleaned our own mess first, as apposed to going to someone els's yard and creating a mess? What would happen if we all cared for strangers as if they were family?
How is it that we can value a dollar more than a sick child? We have more questions about our morales then we ever will have as a race of people. Remember ... it takes all kinds to make mankind.

Does anybody think that defeating the Taliban* will deter other regimes -- sovereign or local -- from giving sanctuary to global terrorists like AQ.

i don't.

seems to me that any country that would allow AQ sanctuary is probably pretty close to a failed state anyway. look at who tolerates them today: basket cases and anarchies.

Looking at this again (and openly acknowledging I have been influenced in the interim by attending two Andrew Bacevich speaking events in my university town over the weekend, as well as by reading his fine Boston Globe op-ed today), if what Eric was suggesting in his final paragraph was not that the argument would gain real credibility, but rather merely potential traction -- and the scare quotes around the word "forced" should have tipped me off to that -- then he may very well have a fair point there. I could only respond to that by referring to the main thrust of the talks I attended, which was that interventionism has had the upper hand in our governance for fifty years or maybe more like eleven decades depending on how you look at it, so you can most certainly count on the interventionary position to be well-represented at points future regardless of the decision on this war. (This contention is somewhat at odds with Bacevich, who sees a real oppotunity in the decision on the McChrystal plan to turn the long-term strategic tide against militarism as the default mode of U.S. engagement with the world. I tend to be less hopeful, bith about the long-term meaning of this decision, as well as the prospects for a clear rejection in Obama's upcoming decision on Afghanistan of COIN-as-the-U.S.-way-of-war, and so my impulse was to preserve for future battles the distinction between the present decision and decisions about future, as-yet-uninitiated interventions. I don't disagree with Eric that we are likely to hear Afghanistan cited in future discussions about proposed interventions that are asserted to be necessary for the common defense, though I'm not sure such will be avoided in any scenario. If the escalation is not approved, this will be defined by interventionists ipso facto as a defeat and harkened to as a shameful moment that must be atoned for with new wars. In either case, it seems to me sharpening distinctions between Afghanistan and future potential conflicts serves the cause of nonintervention better than conceding the analogy.

Probably too late on the thread, but:

cleek

My understanding* is that the only "power" giving sanctuary to AQ today is the Taliban. I may be wrong, but if not, it seems that even "regimes" in failed states can be deterred from certain things.

*see comment at 2:53

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