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November 04, 2009


I'll get back to this when I can, but for now this criticism of putting too much emphasis on training a central in Afghanistan is basically right.

After all, the last time the country was truly stable was with a very decentralized state. A strong central army's probably not the way to go.

Leaving specific strategy choices aside, how can Obama (or anyone else) continue this war without some kind of stated strategy/end game? Let's stipulate that Bush took his eye off Afghanistan due to preoccupation with Iraq. Let's also assume that, if we leave Afghanistan, life will be unbearable for the female half of the population, Taliban or not, and the male, non-Taliban portion of the country. That is, the past is past and it can't be fixed and the effect of leaving will be as traumatic, probably even more, than with the US staying, but that is true for any hyper-despotic regime that is temporarily displaced.

The question going forward, is: what strategy and what goal are we pursuing? If I had the answer, I'd give it, but I don't and I am not sure there is one.

My wife and I had friends spend the past weekend with us. They have a son and son-in-law in the Marines. The son-in-law is recently back from Iraq and the son is hanging fire on deployment to Afghanistan. Presently, it seems we are fighting a holding action. As an American without direct 'skin in the game', I want our president to fully evaluate his position and do what he thinks best. If I were like our friends, I would not be warm about my son or any of his friends 'holding ground' for much longer without some kind of plan in place. The men and women on the ground are due some kind of answer in the relatively near future.

"... In pursuit of this objective, Obama has so far committed to building ‘an Afghan army of 134,000 and a police force of 82,000’, and adds that ‘increases in Afghan forces may very well be needed.’ US generals have spoken openly about wanting a combined Afghan army-police-security apparatus of 450,000 soldiers (in a country with a population half the size of Britain’s). Such a force would cost $2 or $3 billion a year to maintain; the annual revenue of the Afghan government is just $600 million. We criticise developing countries for spending 30 per cent of their budget on defence; we are encouraging Afghanistan to spend 500 per cent of its budget.
Some policymakers have been quick to point out that this cost is unsustainable and will leave Afghanistan dependent for ever on the largesse of the international community. Some have even raised the spectre (suggested by the example of Pakistan) that this will lead to a military coup. But the more basic question is about our political principles. We should not encourage the creation of an authoritarian military state..."

>>mish-mosh strategy of multi-decade counterinsurgency<<

The few historical examples of successful counterinsurgencies have relied either on exceptional indigenous leaders (Magsaysay in the Philippines), or exceptional brutality (the example of the Mau Mau uprising holds some resonance for President Obama).

The former is utterly unrealistic, the latter unacceptable.

Thank you, Nigel. Thank you for pointing out basic arithmetic -- something which US politicians shy away from like vampires from garlic. But even you understate the arithmetic absurdities.

According to the CIA World Factbook, Afghanistan's GDP in 2008 was $22 billion in purchasing power parity, and just $12 billion at official exchange rates. Whichever figure we take as more meaningful, either one is much smaller than the $50 billion, minimum, that the US must spend annually to keep 100,000 soldiers in Afghanistan.

Whether the US "needs" to "win" in Afghanistan might be debatable. That US jingoes keep pushing for a ludicrously expensive way to go about "winning" is not. That US jingoes are almost exactly the same people who incessantly caterwaul about "wasteful spending" is just icing on the cake.


Let's also assume that, if we leave Afghanistan, life will be unbearable for the female half of the population, Taliban or not, and the male, non-Taliban portion of the country.

I don't really want to get into a side argument so early into the thread, but what I've read really makes me have trouble accepting that our departure will make things markedly less bearable than they already are, excepting perhaps in Kabul.

Some more realistic plans ;-)
1. Make Afghanistan the 52nd state (51st being Israel), then it would be troops on American not foreign soil and the expenditures would be petty cash compared to the total defense budget.
2. Award US citizenship to all interested Afghan females and let them relocate free of charge to the US mainland
3. Buy the whole poppy harvest each year, refine it (or substitute it with pot) and offer it at low or no charge to the population. A permanently high population will have less interest in making trouble at home or abroad.

Eric: in what's good for the goose is good for the gander mode:

mish-mosh is a slang word, and far less acceptable in formal writing then irregardless, which, contrary to your previous assertion that it isn't an "actual word" is listed in numerous dictionaries as a prescriptive non-standard adverb, "used on occasion by educated speakers from a desire to add emphasis" because of the conjunction of the two negative elements ir- and -less.

And, of course, if you type irregardless in the comment box below you won't see the red error line below it for non-existent or incorrectly spelled words.

A dreadful language? Man alive!
I’d mastered it when I was five.
And yet to write it, the more I tried,
I hadn’t learned at fifty five.

—T.S. Watt

Other than that, carry on. :)

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