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October 01, 2009

Comments

"Obviously unaddressed in this post are our strategic interests for prolonging our occupation of Afghanistan."

And however we may disagree on that, I can certainly appreciate you for making the distinction.

Right. This really was intended to focus on some of the assumptions underlying the "for the good of the Afghan people we must prolong this occupation" argument.

Basically: For the good of which Afghan people? Do they get a vote?

It is an unstated, reflexive act of dehumanization to associate our favored factions with the "Afghan people" while relegating those groups that oppose the Afghan government to some form of limbo status in terms of their humanity/national identity.

Very nicely put. Thanks for this, Eric.

So now the libs want to say Taliban=Afghan people to justify surrender in Afghanistan. As if it weren't easy enough to tell a warlord from a poor little girl trying to go to school.

So now the libs want to say Taliban=Afghan people

So now the conservos want to say Taliban = Swedes? Irish? English?

If not Afghan, what nationality are the Talibs?

Please, enlighten us libs.

And what on earth does "surrender in Afghanistan" mean. Surrender what? We're not ceding them California fercryinoutloud. If by surrender you mean eventually withdraw our military forces from their country, that is one of the more strained definitions of surrender I've come across.

Eric,

I don't understand your logic. Of course the Taliban aren't English. But saying that all Taliban are Afghan doesn't imply that all Afghans are Taliban, or even that the majority are. It's kind of like how all members of al-Qaeda are muslim, but not all muslims are members of al-Qaeda.

And no, by "surrender" I do not mean "eventually withdraw our military forces from their country." I mean it in the colloquial sense of give up, capitulate, or quit. We went to war to drive the Taliban from power. After 9/11 we told them to surrender Bin Laden or we would drive them from power. They never gave us Bin Laden. If withdraw from Afghanistan with them still in control of the country, they win. It's pretty obvious. If you're willing to let your enemy win because you don't want to fight anymore, that's the definition of surrender.

I don't understand your logic.

Are you sure you read the post?

Of course the Taliban aren't English. But saying that all Taliban are Afghan doesn't imply that all Afghans are Taliban, or even that the majority are.

OK, show me where I argued - or implied - that all Afghans are Taliban. Or even that a majority are.

All I said was that Taliban are Afghans too. That is all. You, on the other hand, questioned that by asking if liberals were now saying that the Taliban are Afghan people. Strange.

We went to war to drive the Taliban from power.

I disagree. We went to war to kill and disrupt al-Qaeda. In the process, we toppled the Taliban because we viewed that step as necessary - which I agreed with at the time and stand by.

If withdraw from Afghanistan with them still in control of the country, they win. It's pretty obvious.

First of all, they are not "still" in control of the country. So, obvious? No. Second, the war to disrupt al-Qaeda was quite successful, so we won. The only way those gains can be turned back is if al-Qaeda is able to set up camps with the same range of motion as before the war.

This won't happen even if we withdraw because we can disrupt from afar.

So, again, not obvious.

If you're willing to let your enemy win because you don't want to fight anymore, that's the definition of surrender.

Except your premises are all wrong about who our enemy is, and what constitutes winning.

"For the good of which Afghan people? Do they get a vote?"

Well, not to quibble, but technically they did -- even if the vote wasn't given the respect it deserved.

As I understand it, though, the recount is still ongoing -- meaning the final tally could show Karzai with less than 50%, and that would mean a runoff between Karzai and Abdullah.

If that election could be handled decently -- and I realize this is a lot of "ifs" so far -- the legitimacy issue could be dealt with yet.

I know this is a little off topic, so I understand if you don't want to respond here.

Shit. Let me try something

That work?

Well, not to quibble, but technically they did -- even if the vote wasn't given the respect it deserved.

Well, yeah they got "a" vote. But so did the Iraqis under Saddam. An extreme example, I admit, but the point being getting a vote is meaningless if the outcome is predetermined regardless, or the fraud so prevalent, as to disregard the will of the people.

Well, not to quibble, but technically they did -- even if the vote wasn't given the respect it deserved.

Point, I read Eric's comment about the vote as referring to whether Afghans got to vote over continued occupation. Clearly, results in the recent election tell us nothing about whether Afghans wish us to continue occupying their country.

If that election could be handled decently -- and I realize this is a lot of "ifs" so far -- the legitimacy issue could be dealt with yet.

Many people believe that Karzai is a crook who rigged an election. If he refuses to rig another election, that does not settle the legitimacy issue. If I murder someone and get off on a technicality, my refusal to murder the judge in my trial does not mean I'm a good citizen.

OK, show me where I argued - or implied - that all Afghans are Taliban. Or even that a majority are.

From your original post:

This formulation ignores the obvious rejoinder that for US forces to stay and battle the "Taliban" (whatever that term is supposed to mean on any given day) means to target large swaths of that same Afghan population.

Now, maybe you didn't intend "large swaths" to imply majority, but that's what it sounds like, and it at least implies a substantial portion. I was trying to read your post charitable by assuming that you meant something more than the trivial point that Taliban fighters are of Afghan nationality, which is obvious and not in dispute by anyone I've ever heard of.

The problem is that Taliban does not comprise "large swaths" of the population. They have a small number of highly motivated fighters. To the extent that Afghan civilians "support" the Taliban, they tolerate them because they are scared for their lives. Or because they're even more afraid of people like Dostum. Removing the US from the country is not going to help these people. A real COIN operation, however, with the goal of victory will. (It's funny how afraid some people are of the V-word.)

the war to disrupt al-Qaeda was quite successful, so we won.

Google Tora Bora. Plus, this ignores the fact that we did NOT go to war just against al-Qaeda: we also explicitly went to war against the Taliban as well. The Taliban harbored al-Qaeda, refused to turn them over, and we publicly declared that we would make no distinction between terrorists and the regimes that harbored them, i.e. between al-Qaeda and the Taliban. That was a major part of U.S. strategy, and the President repeated it over and over. You may disagree because you think Bush "stole" the election or whatever, but you can't just pretend it didn't happen or push it down the memory hole.

And yes, the Taliban are in control of the country. At least outside of Kabul. At least at night. The Afghan people know this, which is why they accept them, but you misjudge this as authentic support.

"This won't happen even if we withdraw because we can disrupt from afar."

I apologize if you've made this point before but -- weren't we "disrupting AQ from afar" throughout the 1990's? I'm pretty sure we made a number of predator drone strikes and the like.

Problem was we had some trouble getting intel on their locations, given restrictions on the ground, so our opportunities were few and far between. Nowadays, drone strikes and other such "disruptions" have become commonplace (with their share of fallout and collateral damage).

So wouldn't "withdrawal" (and I apologize if this mis-characterizes the position) bring us back to the position we were in before?

(PS I should probably explain my last short comment was an attempt to reverse the italics problem, which now seems resolved.)

Eric, just to be clear, your last response was part of the point of the original post.

We're in no disagreement on the the illegitimacy of the initial vote results.

I apologize if you've made this point before but -- weren't we "disrupting AQ from afar" throughout the 1990's? I'm pretty sure we made a number of predator drone strikes and the like.

I think Eric has already explained why this is wrong here.

Problem was we had some trouble getting intel on their locations, given restrictions on the ground, so our opportunities were few and far between.

I imagine we must be getting spectacular intel now from all those Afghani towns and villages that have cut deals with us requiring that we never go anywhere near them. I'm still confused how we're supposed to get good intel just by having soldiers sitting there.

Removing the US from the country is not going to help these people. A real COIN operation, however, with the goal of victory will. (It's funny how afraid some people are of the V-word.)

I don't hear you clapping! LOUDER!

So wouldn't "withdrawal" (and I apologize if this mis-characterizes the position) bring us back to the position we were in before?

Yeah, exactly. It's designed to restore the status quo ante. Rewind the clock to September 10, 2001.

Uncle Kvetch,

Is that some kind of inside joke. I'm sorry, but I don't know what that means.

Now, maybe you didn't intend "large swaths" to imply majority, but that's what it sounds like, and it at least implies a substantial portion.

Imply majority? No, I was going for the actual definition. Substantial portion? Yes.

was trying to read your post charitable by assuming that you meant something more than the trivial point that Taliban fighters are of Afghan nationality, which is obvious and not in dispute by anyone I've ever heard of.

But you wouldn't know that if you listened to the rhetoric about abandoning the "Afghan people" and "abandoning Afghanistan." As I pointed out in the post, so you wouldn't get confused.

The problem is that Taliban does not comprise "large swaths" of the population.

But they do. Read the linked pieces. Read about the Tajik factions joining the coalition of resistance groups.

To the extent that Afghan civilians "support" the Taliban, they tolerate them because they are scared for their lives. Or because they're even more afraid of people like Dostum.

This is simply not true in the absolutists terms that you are using. This actually proves my point about disregarding certain Afghan civilians as actual Afghan civilians!

A real COIN operation, however, with the goal of victory will. (It's funny how afraid some people are of the V-word.)

No, a goal of "victory" doesn't help anyone. Achieving "victory" could, in theory. But, pray tell, what is this victory that people are so afraid of. Please provide a definition to dispel fears.

Google Tora Bora.

I did. It says nothing about disrupting and killing al-Qaeda.

Do yourself a favor and google Marc Sageman, Peter Bergen and any other terrorism expert and read what they say about our efforts to disrupt al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.

Plus, this ignores the fact that we did NOT go to war just against al-Qaeda: we also explicitly went to war against the Taliban as well.

Only for their relation to al-Qaeda. We were actually on decent terms with the Taliban otherwise. But we toppled the Taliban, and accomplished that goal too.

we publicly declared that we would make no distinction between terrorists and the regimes that harbored them, i.e. between al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

Don't be fooled by speeches and public rhetoric. We make obvious and significant distinctions. See, ie, Pakistan.

That was a major part of U.S. strategy, and the President repeated it over and over. You may disagree because you think Bush "stole" the election or whatever, but you can't just pretend it didn't happen or push it down the memory hole.

No, you're getting fooled again by speeches. I don't care how Bush was elected, we clearly distinguish between the Pakistani government and their terrorist proxies, be they Lashkar or al-Qaeda.

And yes, the Taliban are in control of the country. At least outside of Kabul. At least at night. The Afghan people know this, which is why they accept them, but you misjudge this as authentic support.

Again, you illustrate my point!

The Afghan people don't support the Taliban. Therefore, any people in that region that support the Taliban aren't the Afghan people. You speak for the Afghan people, and they are solely comprised of our allies or those too scared of the Taliban (who aren't the Afghan people?)

"If I murder someone and get off on a technicality, my refusal to murder the judge in my trial does not mean I'm a good citizen."

This metaphor has a few problems, but one sticks out:

Namely, the point of murdering somebody is, presumably, to make that person dead, which, once done, is irreversible.

Whereas a stolen election, the point is to stay in power, and if that prospect is endangered (with, say, a runoff election where you can't double down on fraud), the point is lost.

Yeah, exactly. It's designed to restore the status quo ante. Rewind the clock to September 10, 2001

No, please see the link Turbulence provided for why this is wrong on so many levels.

This metaphor has a few problems

I agree, and yet I think that Karzai is damaged goods beyond repair.

Unfortunately, it will be very hard to find a pro-US voice that isn't immediately compromised by virtue thereof.

So now the libs want to say Taliban=Afghan people to justify surrender in Afghanistan.

This was disingenuous(1), question-begging(2) and irrelevant(3) when it came from a front-page poster a week ago, ("If you think that US interests are best served by leaving Afghanistan as a failed state or under Taliban control, it won't change your outlook on the war. You'll still want the troops to come home.") and following so soon on von's heels, it's boring too.

(1) He simply did not say "Taliban=Afghan people". He said the former were a subset of the latter. You read into his statement that "large swathes" implies majority for no reason I can see - even only 10 percent of the population of a country of millions is a large swath. You should really either clarify what you meant or apologize for your own misunderstanding or misstatement, whatever it was.

(2) Actually, yes, it often is hard to tell the difference between Taliban supporters and non-Taliban supporters. The difference between a poor little girl about to go to school - with an apple to put on the teacher's desk, maybe? - versus a warlord may be obvious, but what's the difference between an Afghan teenager who's mad at American soldiers because he's been drinking Taliban Kool-Aid and an Afghan teenager who's mad at American soldiers because he's a teenager? What's the difference between villagers who want us to pay because they like the Taliban and villagers who want us to pay because a NATO airstrike just blew up their brothers?

(3) OK, even if you're right, so what? Obviously a politician can't say this, but I'm not running for an elected office at the moment. What if we leave Afghanistan even if war fetishists could honestly describe it as "surrender"? There's an argument to be had about that, but you aren't making it, you're just questioning the patriotism, or maybe balls, of people who disagree with you.

The difference between a poor little girl about to go to school - with an apple to put on the teacher's desk, maybe? - versus a warlord may be obvious

The harder distinction is between a warlord we classify as "Taliban" and another that we don't.

One more thought:

The problem is that Taliban does not comprise "large swaths" of the population. They have a small number of highly motivated fighters

And yes, the Taliban are in control of the country. At least outside of Kabul. At least at night.

So let me get this straight:

A small group of fighters controls an entire country, despite the best efforts of over 100,000 NATO/Afghan gov forces.

How is that possible? Are they that good, this small group of fighters, that they can control that much territory despite US military opposition? Wow.

Uncle Kvetch, Is that some kind of inside joke. I'm sorry, but I don't know what that means.

Here's a primer. HTH.

Whereas a stolen election, the point is to stay in power, and if that prospect is endangered (with, say, a runoff election where you can't double down on fraud), the point is lost.

Legitimacy is about trust. If the President tried to steal an election and was caught in the act, would you trust him? Would you consider him a trustworthy leader? More to the point, let's assume that the runoff is not rigged. Why should an average Afghan believe that to be true? The rational thing to do is to assume that Karzai is an untrustworthy crook who cheated once, got caught, and has now found a way to cheat without getting caught.

Once you've destroyed trust, it is extremely difficult to rebuild it. I mean, if Karzai is such a dishonest crook that he would rig an election, what rational basis is there to believe that he's trustworthy? And if he's not trustworthy, how can his government possibly have any legitimacy, no matter how many elections he "wins"?

My main problem with this post is that Eric seems determined to believe that the Taliban are, in fact, representative of "large swaths" of the Afghan population. By fighting the Taliban, we are also fighting these people and their rights, because the Taliban are their legitimate representatives.

I think this vastly overestimates Taliban support. Eric hasn't marshaled any real evidence for this view, and I have major problems using the DFID "poll" for this purpose. The "poll" is really interviews with a grand total of 192 people from three insurgent-heavy areas of Afghanistan - Wardak province, Kandahar, and areas near Kabul that are under insurgent attack.

The purpose was to determine why people might join insurgent groups, NOT to figure out how broad Taliban support was. Naturally a survey of enemy motivation will find many complaints about foreign forces and corrupt officials, just as an equivalent survey of ANSF recruits might find stories of Taliban atrocities or determination to protect Afghanistan's first elected government.

Compare vs. the BBC's poll of over 1,500 Afghans from every province in the country, which shows massive and broad rejection of the Taliban (only 4% want a Taliban government, while 90% reject the presence of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan).

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/bsp/hi/pdfs/05_02_09afghan_poll_2009.pdf

The Afghan gov is undoubtedly corrupt and filled with cheating and vote-rigging. But better a government of such than one that openly denies the right to an election at all.

The Afghan gov is filled with people who are determined to see Afghan women cowed and submissive, yes. But the Afghan government also promotes education for women and girls, and encourages women to work. The Taliban is adamantly and openly against both.

To say that there is no difference between even a brutal and corrupt Afghan gov influenced by Western donors and a Taliban government influenced primarily by jihadis from al-Qaeda and the Pakistani military is a lie. The Afghan people know the difference, and we should as well.

No, you're getting fooled again by speeches. I don't care how Bush was elected, we clearly distinguish between the Pakistani government and their terrorist proxies, be they Lashkar or al-Qaeda.

I think, if we're discussing what the goals of a war were, repeated declarations by the President as to the goals of the war, made at the time the war commenced, are pretty relevant, if not conclusive.

As for "the Afghan people," we seem to be talking past each other. I understand that the Taliban are themselves Afghan, so it's inaccurate to say that 100% of Afghanis oppose the Taliban because the Afghanis in the Taliban do not oppose themselves. The question is their level of "support" among the civilian population, and what constitutes "support." I'm not trying to be absolutist: I'm sure there are SOME Afghan civilians who think the Taliban are just swell. But they are not typical or representative, which is the impression given by your "large swaths" comment.

I don't care how Bush was elected, we clearly distinguish between the Pakistani government and their terrorist proxies, be they Lashkar or al-Qaeda.

This is a red herring. I was talking about Afghanistan . In Afghanistan it was explicitly US policy NOT to distinguish between al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Did we consistently apply this principle to other nations and other terrorists groups? No, but this has no bearing on the point. Are you seriously trying to argue that we didn't go to war against the Taliban? Saying that we were "on decent terms" with the Taliban, except for the whole 9/11 thing, is like asking "except for that Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the theater?" After 9/11, we were most certainly not on good terms with the Taliban. We publicly threatened them with war, issued an ultimatum, and when our demands were not met we went to war against them. No that war isn't working out so well, so instead of trying a new strategy (COIN), you want to pretend like they were just innocent bystanders.

I mentioned Tora Bora because that's where Bin Laden got away. He's still putting out videotapes, but you pretend we've been remarkably successful.

After 9/11 we told them to surrender Bin Laden or we would drive them from power. They never gave us Bin Laden

They tried.

The Taliban government knew damned well that if the US wanted to start bombing their country, there was nothing the Taliban could do to stop them. They attempted, at least twice, to offer a negotiated settlement that would have included surrendering Osama bin Laden for trial: the Bush administration rejected it.

Had the issue simply been wanting Osama bin Laden on trial for the terrorist attack on the US, the direct and obvious option would have been a backroom deal with the Taliban offering aid to Afghanistan in exchange for information about exactly where bin Laden was to let him be captured by a small strike force.

From my memory of the weeks between 9/11 and 10/8, there was such an overwhelming blood lust in the US - a need to hit back at something - that mere police work of taking bin Laden would not have satisfied. Americans wanted a war: they wanted thousands of "ragheads" to die: they had (many of my friends) the fantastic belief that American missiles and bombs would only ever hit deserving targets.

The country which could be said to be directly responsible for 9/11 and al-Qaeda, Saudi Arabia, was a country the US could not afford to attack, both for oil-related and religiopolitical-related reasons. And attacking Iraq required a lot more build-up. So if the US people were to be satisfied with a rapid-response war, Afghanistan was a safe target.

By early 2002, Marc Herrold pointed out, even the news reports (which we can guess may have shown 1/10th of the total casualties) were recording at least three thousand Afghan civilians killed. People who had absolutely no power to surrender Osama bin Laden: who probably couldn't have found New York on a map: who were not Taliban or al-Qaeda or anything but innocent victims of the US bloodlust following 9/11.

The claim that the US is in Afghanistan for the benefit of the Afghan people was always a lie. Afghans are paying for the US occupation with their lives.

Also, let's not confuse Nuristan or the Korengal Valley with the rest of Afghanistan, or even the rest of the Afghan south. It's an extraordinarily remote place, ethnically and religiously different than the rest of Afghanistan (Korengalis are the only Afghans who embrace Wahhabism), and the quite ferocious opposition there is more likely Taliban-backed local militias fighting for timber smuggling rights and revenge rather than Taliban themselves. Joshua Foust certainly doesn't believe that we should withdraw from Afghanistan (quite the opposite), so it's a bit dishonest to use him to back your argument.

There's an argument to be had about that, but you aren't making it, you're just questioning the patriotism, or maybe balls, of people who disagree with you.

No, just your judgment. I never said anything about "patriotism" or "balls." This is an old rhetorical trick. Liberal advocates a position that Conservative thinks endangers national security. Instead of dealing with the Conservative's concern, Liberal accuses of Conservative of questioning his patriotism. Thus, Conservative either has to accept Liberal's policy or be portayed as a McCarthyite. It's an old trick, and I'm not falling for it.

Uncle Kvetch,

Ok, I read that link, what's the point. It's some Peter Pan analogy to Donald Rumsfeld? What does that have to do with anything? Or is it just some kind of all-purpose liberal taunt?

The Taliban are also killing the Afghan people, twice as fast as ISAF-ANA. The answer, to me, is to refrain from actions that put civilians at risk, which is what we've started doing, which will expose Taliban tactics for what they are.

Scott Simon from NPR recounts how good for the people the Taliban was, and Afghans weigh in here. They want a change in strategy, too, specifically better security:

"It's not just me saying this," said Gul Mohammad, 60, a shopkeeper reclining contentedly beside his bicycle in Kabul's Shar-e-Now park. "Whoever can bring security to Afghanistan will make a lot of people happy."

The Pakistani government says that our presence is for the good of its people.

Concerning your Foust link, his point was that Nuristan had little to no strategic value, and he makes sense.

In your "Testing Hypotheses" link, this point is also highly relevant.

5. Most radicalisation appears to happen after young men join a Taliban group. The evidence from the field study is that young men become Taliban combatants for amix of reasons (religious sentiment may be one) but their peers then ‘radicalise’ theminto presenting their cause only in terms of jihad and only with reference to Islam. In other words the real process of radicalisation appears to happen after they havebecome combatants. (This was also a finding in Pakistan).

Rather than cut and run, Eric, I think we can do it better, and I think McChrystal should have a shot in trying.

"We have [a] hardened our targets, [b] trained enormous amounts of intel resources on al-Qaeda, [c] began coordinating between intel outfits (foreign and domestic), [d] unleashed economic warfare... Today we [e] have rules of engagement regarding missile strikes that are arguably too loose, but in any event NOTHING like before 9/11."

I'll try to get back to talk about step e, but:

Steps a and d are fine enough for making life a little harder for AQ, and steps b and c are fine in preventing terrorist attacks -- but when it comes to finding the bases, to capture or (more likely) kill those within, you need a little something more.

Like I said, I'll try to get back...

think, if we're discussing what the goals of a war were, repeated declarations by the President as to the goals of the war, made at the time the war commenced, are pretty relevant, if not conclusive.

Not if the rhetoric is demonstrably false. You said that we make no distinction between regime and terrorist group, and we know this because Bush said so. I pointed out that this was clearly false. Also, stated goals change. Bush's initial goals of building a western liberal democracy were altered also. Doesn't mean the new goals = surrender.

This is a red herring. I was talking about Afghanistan . In Afghanistan it was explicitly US policy NOT to distinguish between al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

Not a red herring, a direct refutation of your proof.

I mentioned Tora Bora because that's where Bin Laden got away. He's still putting out videotapes, but you pretend we've been remarkably successful

We have been extremely successful in disrupting al-Qaeda. This is a consensus opinion amongst experts. Look to the West Point Counterterrorism Center. Look to the NCTC. Look to Bergen, Sageman, etc. Osama got away. That was most unfortunate, and a big mistake of the Bush team. But that doesn't change the fact that we have greatly, greatly disrupted al-Qaeda. In fact, Petraeus says they aren't even in Afghanistan any more. That's pretty good. Unless you think he's lying?

See, also:

http://washingtonindependent.com/58518/al-qaeda-is-almost-finished

Are you seriously trying to argue that we didn't go to war against the Taliban?

I'm saying that we went to war with them because of their relationship to al-Qaeda. Meaning, we could and did tolerate their existence but for that connection. Thus, we could again tolerate their existence if that connection is not an issue. And this would not equal surrender since our goals should be focused.

you want to pretend like they were just innocent bystanders

Nonsense. Show me where I said or implied this?

But the Afghan government also promotes education for women and girls, and encourages women to work. The Taliban is adamantly and openly against both.

So are key parts of the Afghan government! See my post on women's groups for a recap.

To say that there is no difference between even a brutal and corrupt Afghan gov influenced by Western donors and a Taliban government influenced primarily by jihadis from al-Qaeda and the Pakistani military is a lie.

I actually never said that. But, yeah, good point otherwise.

Also, the Taliban are not so much influenced by al-Qaeda. Mostly, the Taliban are a Deobandi sect that is inwardly looking and not interested in international affairs. al-Qaeda are Salafists, whose raison d'etre is motivating the ummah in a mass uprising.

Steps a and d are fine enough for making life a little harder for AQ, and steps b and c are fine in preventing terrorist attacks -- but when it comes to finding the bases, to capture or (more likely) kill those within, you need a little something more.

But why? What about our success in Yemen? Somalia? Pakistan before the Afghan invasion?

How were those possible without a massive occupying army?

Jes' history is pretty much BS.

The Taliban offered to detain bin Laden or turn him over to Pakistan for trial under their version of sharia law. These were obviously not serious offers --- these were attempts to play for time.

Had the issue simply been wanting Osama bin Laden on trial for the terrorist attack on the US, the direct and obvious option would have been a backroom deal with the Taliban offering aid to Afghanistan in exchange for information about exactly where bin Laden was to let him be captured by a small strike force.

In what fantasyland does this scenario occur? What makes you think the Taliban, who were already harassing and ejecting the aid organizations in the country, wanted more foreign aid in exchange for selling out bin Laden and al-Qaeda? By this time AQ forces constituted a majority of their most dedicated fighters which they needed in order to complete their conquest of the north or even to hold onto power.

The country which could be said to be directly responsible for 9/11 and al-Qaeda, Saudi Arabia, was a country the US could not afford to attack, both for oil-related and religiopolitical-related reasons. And attacking Iraq required a lot more build-up. So if the US people were to be satisfied with a rapid-response war, Afghanistan was a safe target.

Like you would have supported an invasion of Saudi Arabia. Like an invasion could even be justified. The only reason why Saudis were chosen as hijackers on 9/11 was because Saudis could get American visas much more easily than other Arabs. Afghanistan was attacked because that was where bin Laden was, and he was not coming out on his own.

Seriously, I hate it when my own leftists embrace the same sort of distortion of history as the neocons.

Joshua Foust certainly doesn't believe that we should withdraw from Afghanistan (quite the opposite), so it's a bit dishonest to use him to back your argument.

No, not dishonest at all. Because I never said that Foust favors withdrawal. I merely cited Foust's findings on a certain matter, and did so with 100% accuracy.

If McChrystal issues a report that says X, and I argue that because of X, we should leave, that's not dishonest.

Just a quick word:

"I think that Karzai is damaged goods beyond repair."

You may well be right (and I'd probably just agree with you on it if I hadn't seen crazier shit happen in these past years). But even so, it's not like Abdullah Abdullah is a Taliban fan; it's not necessarily the end of the mission.

(I'll still try to get back with more detailed rebuttals, building on the last post.)

No, just your judgment. I never said anything about "patriotism" or "balls." This is an old rhetorical trick... Conservative either has to accept Liberal's policy or be portayed as a McCarthyite. It's an old trick, and I'm not falling for it.

True, you didn't use the word "patriotism," nor "balls." You did, however, say "now the libs want to say Taliban=Afghan people to justify surrender." You also said "It's funny how afraid some people are of the V-word." Maybe those have some coherent message that relates to Eric's points in the original post rather than just the character of people who oppose this war, but if so I confess it's just going right over my head.

"But why? What about our success in Yemen? Somalia? Pakistan before the Afghan invasion?"

Like I said before, I'll get back to you on that. (Did I mention I'm at work?)

But I will say, for now, that the AQ bases in Afghanistan were a little more central than those places...


Also, the Taliban are not so much influenced by al-Qaeda. Mostly, the Taliban are a Deobandi sect that is inwardly looking and not interested in international affairs. al-Qaeda are Salafists, whose raison d'etre is motivating the ummah in a mass uprising.

I don't think you know what Salafi means, no offense. Salafi just means follower of the companions of Muhammad. There's nothing contradictory between Salafis and Deobandis. Deobandi is to South Asian what Wahhabbi is to Arabia. The idea that there's some theological barrier to these groups working together is absurd.

Rather than cut and run, Eric, I think we can do it better, and I think McChrystal should have a shot in trying.

Cut and run, huh!

Wow. Deja vu all o0ver again.

In your "Testing Hypotheses" link, this point is also highly relevant.

I don't disagree, but I don't see that as an argument for continuing the occupation

The Taliban are also killing the Afghan people, twice as fast as ISAF-ANA.

Based on whose count?

Scott Simon from NPR recounts how good for the people the Taliban was?

There is no doubt that the Taliban were and are extremely unpopular in certain regions and with certain groups. There is also little doubt that they were and are brutal and retrograde. Unfortunately, some of our close allies in the current government are the same in many if not most respects. And there are Afghans that believe in and support Taliban rule.

The Pakistani government says that our presence is for the good of its people.

You mean the parts of the government that aren't sheltering Mullah Omar and the other Taliban elements that are killing US troops! You mean the parts that aren't funneling arms and money to the Taliban in Afghanistna??

Come on Charles, you know better than that.

Cyrus,

I think people like Eric should be honest and admit that they advocate surrender. I don't think Eric advocates surrender because he's unpatriotic or lacks testicles. I think he thinks surrender is preferable because victory isn't worth the cost. I disagree, but that position doesn't make Eric a bad person in my view either. I just wish he wouldn't pretend that driving the Taliban from power wasn't a major objective in the war, and that ceding the country to them is something other than defeat.

I don't think you know what Salafi means, no offense. Salafi just means follower of the companions of Muhammad.

Salafism is also a sect of Islam - one that seeks to recreate life as in the time of the companions of Mohammed. They ape the same dress code, and some even take to copying posture and body language.

So, I'd say you don't reall know what it means, no offense.

There's nothing contradictory between Salafis and Deobandis.

Contradictory is the wrong word, but then I never used it. They are different sects, with different worldviews.

The idea that there's some theological barrier to these groups working together is absurd.

Um, I never said that. Yet again, you score points against a strawman. Still, al-Qaeda is not the agent influencing the Taliban. Their brand of Islam predated al-Qaeda, and their outlook vis-a-vis international affairs has not changed.

Pericles -- if, as many on your side claim, the Taliban has little support in Afghanistan, then why is our withdrawal equivalent to ceding them the country? What factors keep the majority you claim is there from exercising their legitimate political power?

I just wish he wouldn't pretend that driving the Taliban from power wasn't a major objective in the war, and that ceding the country to them is something other than defeat.

I wish you would just be honest and admit that the only reason we targeted the Taliban is because of their connection to al-Qaeda.

That's my point.

If you can disrupt that, then the Taliban qua Taliban are relatively meaningless to us. Even if part of the reason that we went in was to topple them, that was only because of the primary concern of al-Qaeda. It would be a huge mistake to get into a war with the Taliban outside of that context.

I think people like Eric should be honest and admit that they advocate surrender.

I'll note that I asked you for a definition of "Victory" (the word that I have a hard time uttering), and you remain silent.

Any updates?

My main problem with this post is that Eric seems determined to believe that the Taliban are, in fact, representative of "large swaths" of the Afghan population. By fighting the Taliban, we are also fighting these people and their rights, because the Taliban are their legitimate representatives.

I think this vastly overestimates Taliban support. Eric hasn't marshaled any real evidence for this view

Tequilla, I'll repeat my query upsthread: If the Taliban are such a small movement, and they have no real base of support, then how could they pose such a risk should we leave? How can they be gaining ground now with us there? With our superior firepower and manpower? With our superior training and equipment. Something doesn't jibe.

They are currently gaining ground, with significant presence in 97% of the country, as described here.

If they are such a hated, tiny, fringe element, how can they do that?

Results 1 - 10 of about 118 from obsidianwings.blogs.com for "Charles Bird"+"cut and run".

Ok, I read that link, what's the point. It's some Peter Pan analogy to Donald Rumsfeld? What does that have to do with anything? Or is it just some kind of all-purpose liberal taunt?

The point is that the fetishization of the v-word is not a plan. There's about 8 zillion words on the subject on ObWi, just check the comments of any post by Charles Bird since 2006 or so if you need more info.

No, just your judgment. I never said anything about "patriotism" or "balls." This is an old rhetorical trick.
Yet


So now the libs want to say Taliban=Afghan people to justify surrender in Afghanistan.
and
It's pretty obvious. If you're willing to let your enemy win because you don't want to fight anymore...
and
(It's funny how afraid some people are of the V-word.)

So you're not questioning his patriotism or balls, just claiming that he wants to justify surrender, doesn't want to fight anymore, and is afraid of the word "victory."

It's an old trick, and I'm not falling for it.

You are not falling for it. You are *living* it. Rather than discussing why Eric's criticisms aren't correct, you suggest that he just lacks willpower and is frightened of victory. To paraphrase, this is an old conservative trick, and no one is falling for it.
Contrasted with Point and tequila, who are actually debating the matter at hand. Even Charles managed to raise a reasonable point about radicalization before his tired, obligatory "cut and run" smear.

Eric,

I don't see the difference between what we said about Salafisim. I called them "followers of the companions of Muhammad." You called them a "sect" that "seeks to recreate life as in the time of the companions of Mohammed." It seems we're saying the same thing and your response is just pique.

If you didn't mean to suggest that there was anything about Salafi and Deobandi theology that would inhibit a working relationship between Salafis (Al-Qaeda) and Deobandis (Taliban), then I apologize, but in that case what's your point?

You were clearly pointing out a perceived contradiction--or whatever else you want to call it--between the supposedly "inward looking" Deobandis and the Salafis. (And, as you later noted, and I tried to point out, the "raison d'etre" of Salafis is to recreate the brand of Islam that existed in the time of the companions, not start a "mass uprising" as you originally claimed.) Your persistent strawmen accusations are, well, strawmen.

I don't see the difference between what we said about Salafisim.

Are you serious? You were the one that suggested there was a difference! You were the one that claimed I didn't know what Salfist means. You said:

I don't think you know what Salafi means, no offense. Salafi just means follower of the companions of Muhammad.

But, (a) it doesn't mean just that (that is an overly broad definition, at least in the context of discussing sects of Islam), it is also the word for a distinct sect; and (b) me describing al-Qaeda as Salafists would not indicate that I was unaware of this.

My point in labeling each by particular sect was to illustrate that there are differences between the two - not that they would never work together. Obviously, they had in the past! Rather, I was making a point about to what extent the Taliban were influenced/controlled by Pakistani intel and al-Qaeda (a response to a point upthreatd). I don't see the influence there. That is all. You're the one who made it more.

So, I guess, you win the straw fight.

So are key parts of the Afghan government! See my post on women's groups for a recap.

Sure. But they are not stopping women or girls from working or going to school, because other groups in the Afghan gov are against them.

The Taliban, OTOH, are actively burning down girls' schools in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Boy, I wish I could figure out who was worse for women. If only there was a way ...

I actually never said that. But, yeah, good point otherwise.

No, you don't quite come out and say it. But you equivocate, you complain bitterly about the GoA's disregard for women's rights, about their corruption, etc. While never, ever doing the same for the Taliban. While advocating the removal of our support for the GoA, because, don't ya know, the GoA really sucks. But that would NEVER lead to the Taliban, who are incomparably worse in all respects, taking over. Oh no.

Come on. Just come out and say that the Taliban ruling Afghanistan is not that bad, and indeed quite acceptable for the U.S. Just don't play around and pretend to care about Afghan civilian casualties at U.S. hands, because they will be far worse at Taliban hands, or Afghan womens' rights under the GoA, because they would be unbelievably worse under the Taliban.

Also, the Taliban are not so much influenced by al-Qaeda. Mostly, the Taliban are a Deobandi sect that is inwardly looking and not interested in international affairs. al-Qaeda are Salafists, whose raison d'etre is motivating the ummah in a mass uprising.

Really? Are you speaking of their original roots, or their current situation, where the Taliban gleefully uses al-Qaeda style tactics like suicide bombing of civilian targets and the beheading of hostages in both Pakistan and Afghanistan? Does the TTP in Pakistan strike you as inwardly focused and non-expansionist?

I don't think you know what Salafi means, no offense. Salafi just means follower of the companions of Muhammad.

This is as bluntly stupid as claiming that Baptists are distinguished from other Christians solely because of their belief in or emphasis on baptism. Because that's what the name means, right?
And the Methodists, they are presumably distinguished from other Christians by their belief in some sort of Method.

I'll note that I asked you for a definition of "Victory" (the word that I have a hard time uttering), and you remain silent.

Any updates?

Sorry, Eric, I'm trying to work too. I would define victory as accomplishing what you set out to accomplish. If we had opted from the beginning to only launch limited strikes against the al-Qaeda training camps, then we would have already achieved victory. But we didn't. We decided to go to war against the Taliban too. (Yes, I "admit that the only reason we targeted the Taliban is because of their connection to al-Qaeda," in the sense that we wouldn't have gone to war with them absent al-Qaeda and 9/11.) Having gone to war against the Taliban, with the express purpose of removing them from power, anything that cedes the country to them constitutes not victory, but defeat. To withdraw forces and accept this defeat is to surrender. Yes, Carleton, hoping for victory is not a plan; I never said it was. I think COIN is a viable plan. Obviously many here disagree. Many believe there is no way to attain victory at all, in which surrender is a rational course of action. But I'm not ready to give up on the Afghan people like that yet.

But I'm not ready to give up on the Afghan people like that yet.

Round and round we go...

Pericles,

Just to get a handle on what you mean by "victory" and "defeat", would you characterize our withdrawal from Vietnam as either a "defeat" or "surrender"? If so, do you think that "victory" was achievable?

Sure. But they are not stopping women or girls from working or going to school, because other groups in the Afghan gov are against them.

But that's not true. In certain non-Taliban regions (not Kabul), women are subjected to the same bans on education.

Boy, I wish I could figure out who was worse for women. If only there was a way ...

It's not that hard to figure out. And you'll get no argument here on that baseline point. But what Afghan women's groups have been saying is that the ongoing war is worse than any alternative - they'd rather live under the Taliban. It's all at the post I've linked to.

While advocating the removal of our support for the GoA, because, don't ya know, the GoA really sucks.

But I don't actually advocate that. Please re-read. I advocate a measured withdrawal of our armed forces, with a continuation of support for the GoA.

But that would NEVER lead to the Taliban, who are incomparably worse in all respects, taking over. Oh no.

But they're not worse in all respects. Actual Afghans cited in the report want both sides to be held accountable for atrocities. They cite the hypocrisy of the blacklist. And there is a consensus that the Taliban were much better in terms of corruption. Yours is an overstatement.

Come on. Just come out and say that the Taliban ruling Afghanistan is not that bad, and indeed quite acceptable for the U.S.

Come on, just come out and say that you don't care if we spend ten trillion dollars and 30 years trying to turn a bunch of corrupt warlords into models of liberal democracy. Even though they are unpopular at home, despite what YOU say is there incomparable advantage in every way.

And in the process, do you care about the Afghans that we'll be killing to achieve this?

Come on. Just come out and say that the Taliban ruling Afghanistan is not that bad, and indeed quite acceptable for the U.S.

Is that right though? I mean, the Taliban already ruled Afghanistan for a period, and was death and destruction occurring on a larger scale than now? I don't think the numbers back you up on this.

Really? Are you speaking of their original roots, or their current situation, where the Taliban gleefully uses al-Qaeda style tactics like suicide bombing of civilian targets and the beheading of hostages in both Pakistan and Afghanistan?

Not sure what you mean here. Suicide bombings are popular in Sri Lanka too. I'm not sure that's an al-Qaeda tactic per se. And even still, it's just a tactic.

Does the TTP in Pakistan strike you as inwardly focused and non-expansionist?

They strike me as focused inwardly and on India (Kasmir in particular). But there are myriad regional conflicts around the globe, and we lack the resources to get involved in each.

I think COIN is a viable plan

COIN are tactics, not strategy. Nor are they a plan.

But I'm not ready to give up on the Afghan people like that yet.

Maybe I should write a post about that linguistic tic, and the underlying myopia it betrays.

Tequilla, I'll repeat my query upsthread: If the Taliban are such a small movement, and they have no real base of support, then how could they pose such a risk should we leave? How can they be gaining ground now with us there? With our superior firepower and manpower? With our superior training and equipment. Something doesn't jibe.

They are currently gaining ground, with significant presence in 97% of the country, as described here.

I'd dispute that 97% of the country. The BBC poll noted that the majority of Afghans, while viewing the Taliban as the major threat to the country, had not personally experienced or knew of Taliban attacks, etc.

But they are gaining influence --- at the point of a gun --- because both us and the Afghan government are extremely weak, far too concentrated in certain areas (Kabul and super-FOBs like KAF and Bagram), and not much of a presence in many others. They are moving into a governmental vacuum, not outcompeting us or the ANSF or the GoA.

Now why is this the case? Why are they able to do this?

Because from 2001-2005, we followed exactly what you and other advocates of the "light footprint" are pushing as the solution now (unless you're pushing complete and total withdrawal). We concentrated on killing AQ and Talib commanders. We pulled ourselves into isolated super FOBs which allowed us to avoid casualties and also the Afghan population.

The result was allowing the Taliban to collect their strength and recover to the point where we are now. It also allowed AQ to launch deadly attacks in London, Madrid, Turkey, Iraq, and of course Pakistan. Not the best strategy in the world, IMO.

Having gone to war against the Taliban, with the express purpose of removing them from power, anything that cedes the country to them constitutes not victory, but defeat.

First, you have hobgoblins in your mind.

Second, any nation that refuses to recalibrate strategy to match objectives in a fluid environment is doomed. There are myriad choices between rote "victory" and "surrender." I reject your classification.

Third, how could our departure be "ceding" them the country when they are only a small, ragtag, fringe group that no Afghan people support?

Neither you nor tequila have been able to explain this conundrum.

Larv,

Yes. We were defeated. We surrendered. Could we have attained victory? Possibly by invading the North, but that may well have started a war with China.

Eric,

COIN is clearly strategy, not tactics. It's not a particular battlefield maneuver, which is the traditional definition of a tactic. I don't want to quibble over semantics, but that was a really odd point to bring up.

Eric,

I've already said that people are willing to submit to them because they're afraid. That was my point that the apparent "support" you refer to is just fear, not genuine support. I never said they were ragtag; I said they were highly disciplined. As to how a small group of insurgents can defeat a much larger occupying force, that's the nature of insurgency.

But they are gaining influence --- at the point of a gun --- because both us and the Afghan government are extremely weak, far too concentrated in certain areas (Kabul and super-FOBs like KAF and Bagram), and not much of a presence in many others. They are moving into a governmental vacuum, not outcompeting us or the ANSF or the GoA.

But isn't McChrystal advocating a refocus on Kabul and major cities/hubs? Isn't that what Foust was discussing vis-a-vis Nuristan?

It also allowed AQ to launch deadly attacks in London, Madrid, Turkey, Iraq, and of course Pakistan. Not the best strategy in the world, IMO.

Are you sure about that? The London bombers were not trained in Afghanistan. And the Madrid bombers weren't either. There were reports that one had been, but he left when the conflict broke out. As for Turkey, same basic story. Iraq too - Zarqawi left Afghanistan before the invasion. Not sure this adds up. As for Pakistan, those are Pakistani militants that have been, and are still, in Pakistan. Are you saying that our posture in Afghanistan is affecting this to the point that they wouldn't have sanctuary in Pakistan otherwise? How?

But they are gaining influence

Enough to take over the country if we leave? Enough to gain ground with us there?

How much influence? The support of large swaths of the population? Less? Percentage?

Come on, just come out and say that you don't care if we spend ten trillion dollars and 30 years

Eric, stop that. You know costs have no place in this discussion. The topic at hand is whether you believe in victory or surrender. Talking about money makes it all so cheap and tacky.

As to how a small group of insurgents can defeat a much larger occupying force, that's the nature of insurgency

But only with the support of the population! That's the whole point of employing COIN tactics.

COIN is clearly strategy, not tactics. It's not a particular battlefield maneuver, which is the traditional definition of a tactic. I don't want to quibble over semantics, but that was a really odd point to bring up.

But we quibble. COIN doctrine provides a series of tactics to employ (and where there is an objective, it can become a strategy), but what is the underlying objective? That is, what constitutes "victory." At least let's agree that COIN is not an end unto itself. What is the end then? What is "victory"?

You know, I thought it was us libs that were supposed to be afraid of the word, but you seem to be avoiding it like the plague when it comes down to providing a definition.

Also, tequila, you said:

Because from 2001-2005, we followed exactly what you and other advocates of the "light footprint" are pushing as the solution now (unless you're pushing complete and total withdrawal).

2009 is coming to a close soon. So, if you will, what strategy did we pursue between 2005-2009? Was it more successful? Less? Same? Why?

But only with the support of the population! That's the whole point of employing COIN tactics.

That gets back to the meaning of the word "support." If "X supports Y" is equivalent to "X is intimidated by Y and acquiesces to Y out of terror," then I would agree. But I don't think we should use the word "support" that way.

I already gave you a definition of "victory." Victory in the case of Afghanistan requires defeating the Taliban. Basically, creating a stable pro-US government that will not allow the country to fall into the hands of the Taliban. What's so hard about that?

What's so hard about that?

Well, 8+ years and several hundred billion dollars later, you tell me.

But I don't think we should use the word "support" that way.

Again, there are clearly some Afghans that support the Taliban because they agree with their worldview.

tequila: Jes' history is pretty much BS.

Tequila is basically just BSing here.

True, I can't prove the bloodthirstiness of the American people between 9/11 and 10/7. That is based on my personal observation of Americans talking online - friends, acquaintances, and strangers, on blogs, newsboards, craigslist, yahoogroups, etc. I kept no records and I'm certainly not about to attempt to collect them now. But I witnessed friends talking eagerly about an attack on Afghanistan - and dismissing my protests with a handwaved "Our military will target their attacks" - and others talking eagerly about thousands of "ragheads" who would and should die.

The facts are that the Taliban offered to surrender Osama bin Laden for trial twice - and that the Taliban were desperate for international aid - is undisputed. Tequila claims that the offers weren't serious: we don't know and can't know because the fact is the Bush administration preferred to bomb Kabul. Preferred to kill civilians rather than try to capture Osama bin Laden.

No, of course I wasn't in favor of the US attacking Saudi Arabia. Any military attack on Saudi Arabia which in any way put the holiest sites of Islam at risk would be an appallingly stupid thing to do.

I wasn't in favor of war as a response to a terrorist act, period. War kills civilians. It is irresponsibly stupid and beyond pointless to set out to kill civilians as a reaction to a terrorist attack by a non-state group. That the Bush administration preferred war to justice did not surprise me even then: that anyone could defend their actions after eight years of thousands of Afghans being killed by the US military ... doesn't, in fact, surprise me now.

But that's not true. In certain non-Taliban regions (not Kabul), women are subjected to the same bans on education.

But in many areas, they ARE getting an education and working. Do these women not count?

But what Afghan women's groups have been saying is that the ongoing war is worse than any alternative - they'd rather live under the Taliban. It's all at the post I've linked to.

No, that's two Afghan women writers for Alternet wrote. Please don't misrepresent their opinion as that of the majority of Afghan women.

But I don't actually advocate that. Please re-read. I advocate a measured withdrawal of our armed forces, with a continuation of support for the GoA.

You realize that this means ceding large parts of the country to either the Taliban or bandits/warlords/opium barons because of the way we've under-resourced and bungled the war for the past eight years?

But they're not worse in all respects. Actual Afghans cited in the report want both sides to be held accountable for atrocities. They cite the hypocrisy of the blacklist. And there is a consensus that the Taliban were much better in terms of corruption. Yours is an overstatement.

What report? The DFID report where they interviewed less than 200 people, many of them Taliban or Taliban supporters?

Come on, just come out and say that you don't care if we spend ten trillion dollars and 30 years trying to turn a bunch of corrupt warlords into models of liberal democracy. Even though they are unpopular at home, despite what YOU say is there incomparable advantage in every way.

And in the process, do you care about the Afghans that we'll be killing to achieve this?

The ten trillion figure is so ridiculously overboard, it's hard to take you seriously when you quote it. I might as well say if the Taliban take over, 25 million Afghans will die. Neither is going to happen.

And unpopular at home, compared to what? Please don't cite your DFID report next to the BBC poll. They're apples and oranges.

Suicide bombing used to be popular in Sri Lanka, until that supposedly invincible insurgency was defeated. And it was actually quite different from what AQ practiced, in that most Tiger suicide bombings were assassination-oriented or aimed at political or military targets, as opposed to mass-casualty bombings as AQ likes. More to the point, the Taliban has embraced the religious justification for suicide bombings that AQ uses, which they never used to before 2001. That it's become a major tactic for them indicates a very close relationship between them, perhaps even operationally close.

They strike me as focused inwardly and on India (Kasmir in particular). But there are myriad regional conflicts around the globe, and we lack the resources to get involved in each.

You're confusing Islamist groups. Find me a single TTP attack in Kashmir. However, there are many, many TTP attacks outside of Pashtun areas inside Pakistan, aimed specifically at weakening the Pakistani government, and spreading their rule out of the FATA and the NWFP. Point being the TTP went from being nothing to taking over the entire FATA to invading the Swat Valley to attempting to encircle the capital, never mind their numerous suicide attacks on Pakistani political, military, and civilian targets.

"Basically, creating a stable pro-US government that will not allow the country to fall into the hands of the Taliban. What's so hard about that?"

I think Eric's fear, aside from the prohibitive cost and low chance of success of victory-as-you-define-it, is that a stable pro-US government might be a nasty oppressive one that would closely resemble the Taliban. Notice how "stable pro-US government" was once a good description of Iraq.

The ten trillion figure is so ridiculously overboard, it's hard to take you seriously when you quote it.

I have yet to see you counter with a more realistic figure, tequila, let alone suggest where it will come from.

I don't expect that to change, mind you...

@tequila:
That it's become a major tactic for them indicates a very close relationship between them, perhaps even operationally close.

Wait, what? Post hoc ergo propter hoc much? If group X takes to imitating a (pretty damned simple) tactic that has widely and dramatically been publicized by group Y, where on earth do you derive the least evidence that it's evidence of a very close relationship, let alone an operational relationship, between the two? I mean, seriously.

Pericles - do you want a stable *representative* government, or just a stable government? Can we have both a stable representative government and a pro-US government in Afghanistan? Can we have both and still afford the level of protection for women that we are holding up as one of our cause celebre for not giving up on the Afghan people? What parts of the equation would you prioritize over the others if any of these are in conflict?

Or were the answers to these questions implied in your original answer?

But in many areas, they ARE getting an education and working. Do these women not count?

Of course they count! I've never said that they didn't, or that life wasn't better for some than under the Taliban. The question is, how does that translate into policy? IS that enough to spend the trillions and decades necessary. And even then, is the Karzai government good enough to safeguard these things regardless.

No, that's two Afghan women writers for Alternet wrote. Please don't misrepresent their opinion as that of the majority of Afghan women.

Actually, no, those women are not simply "writers for Alternet." One is the leader of a very large Afghan woman's group. The other is a member of another.

I never said theirs are the opinions of a majority of Afghan women. Those were your words. Please don't misrepresent me. But they aslo speak more for just themselves in their individual capacity.

You realize that this means ceding large parts of the country to either the Taliban or bandits/warlords/opium barons because of the way we've under-resourced and bungled the war for the past eight years?

You realize this is inevitable regardless, right? That is, unless you plan on spending several trillion dollars and a couple decades (at least) in large scale occupation. Might need a draft too to cover the manpower requirements.

What report? The DFID report where they interviewed less than 200 people, many of them Taliban or Taliban supporters?

Really? That was the first you'd heard of corruption or atrocities by the current Afghan govt? You know, right, that some of the current Afghan govt is actually Taliban factions that agreed to join the govt. So they are just as bad as...well, Taliban factions that didn't in almost all respects.

Here's more information on corruption and such:

http://www.cfr.org/publication/10551/

The ten trillion figure is so ridiculously overboard, it's hard to take you seriously when you quote it.

Wow, really? You get to use outlandish hyperbole, and mindread, and when I do it it's somehow guache. Gotcha. Obviously 10 trillion is an exaggeration. I was responding in kind. But the price tag will be trillions in the plural.

And unpopular at home, compared to what? Please don't cite your DFID report next to the BBC poll. They're apples and oranges.

Really? First of all, the BBC poll is old - pre-election. Second, if you read McChyrstal's leaked report, he goes on and on about how unpopular the current Afghan government is. He considers it a major impediment to success. So how about we forget the DFID report, and focus on McChrystal's report as the go-to resource on how unpopular the current government is. Here are some excerpts.

http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=48553

Find me a single TTP attack in Kashmir.

I was being charitable and cautious in conceding that most of these militant groups will cross borders for Kasmir. But I'm more than willing to concede that point.

Point being the TTP went from being nothing to taking over the entire FATA to invading the Swat Valley to attempting to encircle the capital, never mind their numerous suicide attacks on Pakistani political, military, and civilian targets.

And this makes them internationally oriented how?

2009 is coming to a close soon. So, if you will, what strategy did we pursue between 2005-2009? Was it more successful? Less? Same? Why?

We pursued a very under-resourced version of COIN. Some units tried COIN, that is before they rotated out. All, however, were tied (and still are tied) into the super-FOBs built between 2001-2004, and the incredibly confused lines of authority between ISAF and U.S. forces and the Afghan gov made things and still make things incredibly difficult. There was no unity of effort, no unity of command, and definitely not anywhere close to enough resources or troops (see Iraq).

The facts are that the Taliban offered to surrender Osama bin Laden for trial twice - and that the Taliban were desperate for international aid - is undisputed.

For trial in a sharia court. Once to Pakistan, and once they offered to try him themselves. If you can't see these for the farcical efforts to buy time that they were, I really don't know what to say to you.

Also, please provide any example possible of their desperate pleading for humanitarian assitance, given that they did things that endeared them to the international community like banning female aid workers from driving and blew up the statues at Bamiyan.

Since then, they've murdered hundreds of aid workers and Afghan employees of aid organizations. Such humanitarians, the heart bleeds.

You realize that this means ceding large parts of the country to either the Taliban or bandits/warlords/opium barons because of the way we've under-resourced and bungled the war for the past eight years?

You realize that large parts of Afghanistan are already ceded to the Taliban or to warlords? That the only way to change this is via long term investment in Afghanistan - which investment necessarily requires the full withdrawal of the foreign military occupation which has killed, kidnapped, bought, and tortured Afghans over the past 8 years? How convincing can any foreign military be when they claim "Sure, we were bombing, kidnapping, torturing, and killing you pretty much randomly for eight years, but from now on we're only going to kill bad people! (Our definition of bad, by the way. Not yours.)"

Oh, and how convincing can any expression of good will be when the current US administration is expanding Bagram Airbase so that they can hold even more extrajudicial prisoners there in an oubliette to which none but the US military and the CIA have access?

We pursued a very under-resourced version of COIN. Some units tried COIN, that is before they rotated out. All, however, were tied (and still are tied) into the super-FOBs built between 2001-2004, and the incredibly confused lines of authority between ISAF and U.S. forces and the Afghan gov made things and still make things incredibly difficult. There was no unity of effort, no unity of command, and definitely not anywhere close to enough resources or troops (see Iraq).

Not that was an interesting answer, and one that we don't even disagree on ;)

“But I'm not ready to give up on the Afghan people like that yet.”

How profoundly noble, of you, you must be very proud of yourself.

Like a Roman citizen proclaiming his allegiance to the people of Moses, in Palestine, willing to see millions of them die, so that they may one day be free of those pesky radicals who obviously hate Civilization.

How are the breads and circuses, you brave and proud cheerleader.

Jesurgislac: Oh, and how convincing can any expression of good will be when the current US administration is expanding Bagram Airbase so that they can hold even more extrajudicial prisoners there in an oubliette to which none but the US military and the CIA have access?

The New York Times (Sept. 12,2009): Since July, the prisoners at Bagram have refused to leave their cells to shower, meet with family members or Red Cross officials, or take part in other activities, to protest their indefinite imprisonment, human rights advocates said.

Sapient, from the same article:

The Obama administration had sought to preserve Bagram as a haven where it could detain terrorism suspects beyond the reach of American courts, agreeing with the Bush administration’s view that courts had no jurisdiction over detainees there.

Granted (I hadn't been aware of that) the Obama administration is apparently going to give the Red Cross/Red Crescent the names of the prisoners being held in the new expanded extra-judicial prison camp. But the Obama administration's belief that they can continue to use Afghanistan as a long-term base to hold the prisoners who are being held illegally, doesn't suggest that the Obama administration thinks of Afghanistan as anything more than a useful black hole.

You don't set out to build prison camps where kidnap victims can be held illegally for as long as you want, if you have any goal of bringing any justice or a system of law or democracy to a country.

Probably best to link to the article rather than excerpt it.

Well, after all that, I still find myself pressed for time responding. I apologize for not giving my promised extension the thought and effort it deserves -- in fact, I can really only add a quick comment. That said:

"What about our success in Yemen? Somalia? Pakistan before the Afghan invasion? How were those possible without a massive occupying army?"

In addition to my aforementioned point about Afghanistan's centrality in relation to these nations, I should note that two of them -- Yemen and Pakistan -- are less friendly to AQ, and so it was unlikely they received any support on the ground, or local government support.*

I realize also promised to get to missile and drone attacks -- Eric's point is that there increased usage is mainly attributable to changes in the rules of engagement (par 9/11).

So here's the attempt, in what time I have: The drone attacks, arguably, never had a serious problem with rules of engagement, as such -- from accounts I've read of the Clinton administration, he was pretty supportive, especially in his later years, of sending these things after a man he considered the most dangerous to national security.

The difficulties were more in the mechanics than the legalities -- for example, the administration couldn't really send off these planes from anywhere in the region, so the long flights cut down on volume. Plus, intel on the organization's center was few and far between, because what we got had to come from the global organization.

But now that were in the region, these problems are greatly reduced -- from bases in Afghanistan, we can send more unmanned aircraft, and the people on the ground can get intel from locals who know locals who actually encounter AQ's moving leadership.

But that said, I do take Eric's point -- even if we did withdraw, the military would have new rules of engagement, so it wouldn't be exactly like the 1990's again. I just don't think our strategic losses would be so small, either.

*(And FWIW, I'd speculate that the US gave some kind of head's up to parts of said governments -- with deniability, of course. I would emphasize "FWIW" and "speculate" though.)

@ Pericles:

I remember how I defined victory in 2002: Victory means that the ideology of your opponents has been discredited. I was using WWII as a model. My hope was that, five years after we invaded Afghanistan, virtually everyone would think that it was a good thing that the Taliban was no longer in power. This was an incredibly ambitious goal, but I thought I had a shot at it. We were facing a toxic ideology, and the example of WWII shows that ideology can sometimes be discredited by applying military and economic power. I thought we should try to do this again.

When Bush talked about a "Marshall plan" for Afghanistan, I believed he agreed with me, but Bush's actions, as opposed to his words, made it clear that he didn't. You claim that our goal was to permanently remove the Taliban from power, but Bush's words don't count for much when they aren't matched by actions. After Kabul fell, the Bush Administration lost interest in Afghanistan, and so did the American press (which takes its lead from the Administration). As far as I can see, once Kabul fell, a majority of Americans, both in and out of the Administration, felt we had accomplished all we really needed to there, and the big question was what to do about Iraq. People may have hoped that the Taliban would be permanently out of power, but a hope is not an objective.

If victory is, "accomplishing what you set out to accomplish," I have a real problem with claiming that we have to destroy the Taliban in order to achieve victory in Afghanistan because it suggests there is or was some national commitment to achieving that goal that we now have to carry through on. I still think I was right in 2002, but I lost the argument. When you have troops in the field, I think you need to have a pretty strong reason to re-fight old arguments.

This is not meant as a rebuttal, and I don't endorse Mr. Rashid's positions (in full, anyway). But his voice is one that can't really be dismissed out of hand, I don't think. I'd be interested in any discussion of this interview that Eric or others would like to offer.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=113378138

You know, my personal feeling about the Taliban is: f**k them. They strike me as a bunch of fanatic authoritarian bullies.

But I'm not a conservative Muslim Pashtun.

If I'm not mistaken, the Taliban are an indigenous religious and political movement rooted in the Pashtun regions of southeastern Afghanistan and northwest Pakistan. I'm sure they royally piss off pretty much everyone in the area who isn't a Talib, and I'm equally sure that given a choice of a government run by the Taliban or a government run by an obvious US puppet, the odds that the average Afghani Pashtun is going to go with the Taliban are probably about even.

It strikes me that a definition of victory that includes "defeating the Taliban" is not one that reflects reality. Especially if you're talking in military terms.

When you kill a Talib, you're killing somebody's father, brother, uncle, cousin, or son.

Al Qaeda's a different kettle of fish, because they aren't locals. But they're conservative fundamentalist Muslims, so they for sure have a leg up on us in that part of the world.

And if we make it too hot for them in Afghanistan, or Pakistan, they'll just go somewhere else.

Our interest in Afghanistan is preventing Al Qaeda from using it as a platform for killing us. There may be other geopolitical brainiac objectives mixed in, but for the average American, the goal is to not get blown up or have their throat slashed with a box cutter.

If your goal is to reform Afghan society so that it more closely resembles the West, I guess my comments are (a) why?, and (b) good luck.

The Afghan people have their own fate to hammer out. We have interests there, but no more. It's not our place or our privilege to tell the rest of the world what kind of society to have.

Wow. Deja vu all o0ver again.

Indeed, Eric. I'm hearing the same "anti" arguments today as I did in January 2007, the previous major decision point.

I don't disagree, but I don't see that as an argument for continuing the occupation.

First, it's not an occupation. Second, why would you not be concerned about a growing Taliban and increasingly radicalized Afghan population? The Taliban is a cancer to both countries.

Based on whose count?

A credible source.

Come on Charles, you know better than that.

So should you. According to this survey, 86% of Pakistanis agree that the Taliban and al Qaeda are a serious problem, yet you're proposing that we bail out of a nation with a serious Taliban problem, and in doing so, will make it tougher for the Pakistanis to deal with it. Also, our credibility will be zilch with them because we will have given up.

First, it's not an occupation.

How is it not an occupation? Generally unpopular foreign troops are operating in the country with permission from the corrupt, anti-democratic government that they installed and continue to prop up. Sounds very much like an occupation to me, albeit one gussied up with a thin veneer of "democratic" legitimacy.

I'll add the qualifier that the scenario I outline above would not seem like an occupation to me if the installed government had a reasonable degree of control over said foreign forces. As one doesn't exactly get the impression they do, I repeat: how exactly is it not an occupation?

Charles - so the fact that, according to the Christian Science Monitor, coalition forces are only directly responsible for 38% of the 2k plus civilian deaths over the last two years is a metric for our superiority?

Are the Afghan people parsing the conflict this finely in order to allocate blame and responsibility? If you were a civilian in the region with a family in the line of fire between two groups of combatants would you be concerned with knowing which one of the groups exchanging fire killed your niece or would you curse them both for bringing their conflict to your doorstep?

We only keep count because we bear a share of the moral responsibility. Those truly in the middle have no reason to keep count this way.

Well, it is comforting to see that it's not me that is stirring things up. Stepping back a bit, insofar as there is a fair amount of anger involved, a lot of the passion can be attributed to the fact that there is a certain helplessness involved with all points.

Pericles, I don't think the liberal/conservative split explains what is going on here. George Will is on the side that Eric is on, and I'm on the liberal side, but I've tried to argue for the McChrystal option.

I think the question of whether the Taliban enjoys broad popular support or not is what a lot of questions here hinge on, and I don't think anyone here has an god's eye view of that. I think anyone who argues that the Taliban is a popularly supported indigenous movement rather than a much smaller group of 'hard men', supported by not only poppy money but also various donations is wrong, but I imagine the rejoinder is that I am merely taking Western propaganda as truth.

I also think that it will be necessary to actually bring Taliban elements into some sort of government, which was a big departure in the Obama rhetoric concerning Afghanistan. Of course, that might depend on having a Pashtun as president, so the act of going with Karzai may ruin any chance of success.

Eric strengthens his argument by cutting out the strategic questions, but that doesn't mean that they disappear. Pepe Escobar, a Brazilian journalist, has written a lot about the various strategic considerations. Scroll down for the Afghanistan related pieces. He's anarchist left, so he doesn't really countenance US military action, but I don't see how the strategic considerations that involve China, Iran, Russia and India can truly be set aside.

Here are some articles that express an opposite take here and here

I usually don't do consecutive comments, but I thought this WaPo article has a number of interesting points for both sides that I copy here.

Senior White House officials have begun to make the case for a policy shift in Afghanistan that would send few, if any, new combat troops to the country and instead focus on faster military training of Afghan forces, continued assassinations of al-Qaeda leaders and support for the government of neighboring Pakistan in its fight against the Taliban.

"A lot of assumptions -- and I don't want to say myths, but a lot of assumptions -- were exposed to the light of day."

Among them, according to three senior administration officials who attended the meeting, is McChrystal's contention that the Taliban and al-Qaeda share the same strategic interests and that the return to power of the Taliban would automatically mean a new sanctuary for al-Qaeda.

I wouldn't say automatically, but I would suggest probably, but a lot depends on whether this is true or not. I linked to the other article about financing, and I'd suggest that the kind of financing that is being talked about would be much more susceptible to pressure. The 'you can't eliminate safe havens' argument envisions terrorist cells setting up shop anywhere. I think that the ability to set up cells requires some sort of stable financial operations, so looking at it not as the potential of a small group setting up in an apartment, but on the logistical tail of such an operation suggests that you may not be able to eliminate safe havens, but you can make them much harder to set up.

In regard to utilizing the Petreus numbers as an argument against McChrystal

Senior White House officials asked some of the sharpest questions, according to participants and others who have been briefed on the meeting, while the uniformed military, including Gen. David H. Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command, did not take issue with McChrystal's assessment.

Of course, Petreus may have had his own agenda, but I think this suggests a danger in taking any 'fact' in this debate as a touchstone for a policy.

Asked whether a more limited counterterrorism effort would succeed in Afghanistan, [McChrystal] said, "The short answer is: no. You have to navigate from where you are, not where you wish to be. A strategy that does not leave Afghanistan in a stable position is probably a short-sighted strategy."

Of course, if where we are is a domestic polity that refuses to support the measures proposed, well, that's where we are. I can live with that, but I still think it would be short-sighted.

Several senior Obama advisers argued this week that two significant events since then have changed the calculus on the ground. (Chaudry's reinstatement and the Karzai election)

"Eight months ago, if you had asked people which was worse, everybody would have said Pakistan is worse and Afghanistan is in good shape," one senior Obama adviser said. "Today we find out they had an election that wasn't clean, the Taliban is doing qualitatively better than we presumed and Pakistan is doing so much better."

The discussion here has largely avoided any discussion of Pakistan, except the negative assertion that the Pak Taliban are not really interested in challenging the US, only the Pakistan government, which I disagree with. However, if the Pakistan government takes stronger measures against the 'Pak' Taliban, that would reduce some of my objections.

Republican leaders in Congress have called on Obama to approve McChrystal's request quickly, but one presidential adviser noted: "In eight months, it is impossible to reverse eight years of neglect."

This is something that I have tried to acknowledge, and I'll say it here again, that it may be too late. However, that is not a moral argument but a realistic one and people should avoid conflating the two.

I think anyone who argues that the Taliban is a popularly supported indigenous movement rather than a much smaller group of 'hard men', supported by not only poppy money but also various donations is wrong, but I imagine the rejoinder is that I am merely taking Western propaganda as truth.

The current Afghan government is supported by poppy money and donations. The fact that we're making the donations does not make the warlords we've decided to call a government any more or less legitimate than the Taliban.

I find the notion that your beliefs have been influenced by propaganda to be consistent with your rhetorical comparisons of the Taliban to the Khmer Rouge. I will admit, this is classier than comparing them to Nazis, but not really that different.

I also think that it will be necessary to actually bring Taliban elements into some sort of government, which was a big departure in the Obama rhetoric concerning Afghanistan. Of course, that might depend on having a Pashtun as president, so the act of going with Karzai may ruin any chance of success.

I concur.

I don't see how the strategic considerations that involve China, Iran, Russia and India can truly be set aside.

Perhaps they can't be set aside, but they're very hard to square with your "moral" side of the equation. If we're talking hardnosed geopolitics, a stable, functional democracy in Afghanistan (putting aside the extent to which such a thing is feasible) is hardly ideal. Democracies have an unfortunate tendency to not stick to the script that's been written for them. If we're really worried about Russia and China and India, the best bet is probably to prop up a compliant thug. It's hardly a novelty in US foreign policy, but not exactly the kind of "moral" approach you're talking about.

So it seems to me that those "strategic considerations" actually weaken your case more than they strengthen it.

Pericles - do you want a stable *representative* government, or just a stable government? Can we have both a stable representative government and a pro-US government in Afghanistan?

Ideally, I'd want both. But if forced to chose, I'd chose stability over democracy. Did that ever describe Iraq? Not so much. We supported Iraq in the war against Iran, but that was an enemy of my enemy thing. I would never describe the Hussein regime as pro-US.

Kenneth Almquist makes some really good points. I would say though that we never abandoned the goal of destroying the Taliban. We thought we could do that and invade Iraq at the same time. Poor calculation? Maybe. But the idea that Iraq was distracting from Afghanistan was a liberal meme against the Iraq war, the Bush administration never renounced the goal of defeating the Taliban.

Jesurgislac,

I would respond to you, but I'm due back on the planet Earth.

How is it not an occupation?

You said it yourself, NV. The key words are "with permission".

As dysfunctional as it is, the Karzai government is the internationally recognized government of Afghanistan, and we are there with government and UN approval. 62% of the Afghan people have a favorable opinion of the U.S. and 19% have a favorable opinion of the Taliban (cite). So who's the real occupier, the U.S. or the Taliban? I say the latter.

...coalition forces are only directly responsible for 38% of the 2k plus civilian deaths over the last two years is a metric for our superiority?

Of course not, nous. Eric asked me to back up my statement and I did. Civilian casualties at the hands of ISAF and ANA forces are unacceptable, and the high number reflects the incoherent and counterproductive strategy that we were employing.

McChrystal isn't just advocating for more troops, he's proposing a new strategy together with the resources and manpower to enable mission success. Like Petraeus was given for Iraq, I think McChrystal should be given that chance for Afghanistan.

On civilian casualties, the point I was making was that, lost in all the discussion about civilian deaths is that the Taliban are multiple times worse, and that doesn't count the bullying and intimidation tactics they're using. You talked about moral obligations. Well, I think we have a moral obligation to get it right and keep our word to the Afghan and Pakistani people.

So who's the real occupier, the U.S. or the Taliban? I say the latter.

Umm, this makes no sense. The Taliban, whatever it's many faults, is an indigenous movement. They can be awful and lack popular legitimacy, but they can't be an occupier. We, on the other hand, are a global superpower from the other side of the world that invaded their country, installed a government more to our liking, and maintains a significant and active military presence. And yet you claim the Taliban is the true occupier? Silly rhetorical flourishes like this weaken your arguments and make me less inclined to take anything else you have to say seriously.

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