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November 12, 2009

Comments

Get. Out. ASAP. It ain't that hard. Same with Iraq.

On the basic point of making sure you've got clear goals and an exit strategy, this makes sense. But only so long as these limitations don't limit our capacity to try other ways of pursuing the overall goals.

"Both of these approaches rest on the longstanding premise that al-Qa'ida wants another safe haven in Afghanistan. However, this premise is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of its strategic intentions. Afghanistan's value to al-Qa'ida is as a location for jihad, not a sanctuary."

I don't think it depends on such an assumption -- as long as a sanctuary can be reestablished for AQ, it likely will be.

If the jihad dies down, but an opening for a stronger sanctuary is established* in the process, the organization will likely look to breath new life into it with another attack on the US, which they will be in a new position to carry out.

*Granted, this is a moot point if the current base in Pakistan is able to develop into what AQ had before in Afghanistan.

Those goddamn wars have been a sinkhole of US lives, money and credibility.

The sooner we're out the better.

We sure as hell have better uses for the human and monetary resources we keep pouring down that pit.

But, sigh, we are a democracy with an poorly informed populace. The logic, while certainly correct is too indirect to convince the voters. And its not like we don't have a disinformation machine which will tell any lie, as long as it reinforces the myth that Democrats are the handmaidens of terrorists. The analogy represented by the saying "Only Nixon could go to China" probably applies here. Only a belicose republican could probably survive actually implementing such a policy. As such I don't hold out much hope for being able to escape being manipulated by our enemies in this manner.

I don't remember if I was reading ObsWi in March, but I was wholly unaware of these background views of yours. I'm glad to have has the chance to familiarize mtself with your earlier views. They fill in much of what has not been adding up for me in your views over the last few months. You're obviously a powerfully voiced and logical opponent of a major reintervention in Afghanistan, and along with many others are convincing on that front (though not for me completely conclusive, thouh increasingly so), but I have been caught short by what I found to be a perplexing lack of a positive proposal going forward. These two March posts fill in much of that gap; your views make much more sense now. I wonder why you came to focus so much on opposition to a strategy that clearly was never fully embraced while leaving newcomers to the blog to wonder what your prescription was, but that's old business now.

Two questions I would still have about your advocacy for "one last military push in Afghanistan": 1) Whether, back in March and then also still today, you envision, or in any case would support, a modest infusion of reinforcements far below that requested by GEN McChrystal, perhaps of one to three brigades, to maximize the effect on conditions that such a push could have, or whether you believe any escalation remains anathema to U.S. interests? And 2) What is the timetable you envision for this final push?

The only last comment I would have is that through all this debate, i believe one difference has been far overstated, and that is how greatly different the realistic ends are that are imagined to be achievable by the camps advocating far different means. From what you describe in your March posts, I find you to be hoping there for things that really are not all that far removed from what an honest representation of what COIN advocates say can be achieved would suggest. i think both sides have exaggerated the difference between their own set of believed-to-be-achievable objectives and that of their ostensible opponents.

Two questions I would still have about your advocacy for "one last military push in Afghanistan": 1) Whether, back in March and then also still today, you envision, or in any case would support, a modest infusion of reinforcements far below that requested by GEN McChrystal, perhaps of one to three brigades, to maximize the effect on conditions that such a push could have, or whether you believe any escalation remains anathema to U.S. interests? And 2) What is the timetable you envision for this final push?

What scares me about COIN is that its chief proponents put the timeline at a minimum of 15 MORE years, with a multi-Trillion dollar price tag. And even then, they counseled that their efforts would fail if they could not reorganize Pakistani society such that it could compel the ISI to abandon the Afghan Talibs, while coaxing Pakistan into engaging in a successful campaign to queit the border regions (assuming Pakistan could achieve this even if properly motivated).

The fact that Obama had sucked up so many COINdanistas from CNAS and all the rumblings from McChrystal have definitely caused me to push harder and more stridently than I did in March. This nation cannot afford what they want to do, and worse still, it wouldn't work.

As for a last push, it all depends. If we can trust the administration and military that it really was a last push, and my fears about a quarter century pipe dream could be assuaged, I think a few years is a decent timeline for push and withdrawal.

This nation cannot afford what they want to do, and worse still, it wouldn't work.

And what's weird is, they themselves, as you say, are pretty open about this (perhaps just adding a 'quite possibly' before 'wouldn't work'), and yet they get super indignant when Obama appears to be taking these considerations into account rather than blindly accepting their proposals. That reaction, which to me signals a lack of confidence in their position, more than anything else is what raises the hairs on the back of my neck, even though I was initially inclined to support a renewed effort.

Exactly.

Our discussions would be more useful if we realized (and acted like we realized) that there are more positions than just
a) keep going with COIN and lots of troops in country,
b) leave, and allow al-Qa'ida a sanctuary again.

We could, for just one instance, pull our troops out but retain, and use, the option to strike remotely from off-shore at any al-Qa'ida bases we identify. Not necessarily strike very often, but whenever they get a big enough base to make it worth the collateral damage. Doubtless there are other options as well.

wj: Agreed. I have consistently advocated a continuing counterterrorism mission. I'm flexible on the details.

wj, yes there of course also remains the Rabid Right(TM) solution*: nuclear vitrification aka the world's largest parking lot.
More 'realist': troops in the neighbouring countries with regular incursions into Afghan territory. That has been a US favorite for quite awhile.
Then there is the option of having just a few massive bases while abandoning the vulnerable small ones (the old Iraq plan)
Of course the 'realist' options are still very expensive** but it would keep casualities down (the only thing that matters to the Beltwayers).

*some of the advocates are regular guests on FOX btw
**and lucrative to military contractors (both mercenaries and the armaments industry)

wj,

i agree with your diagnosis of the debate -- that's how I have often felt reading here and elsewhere. Though it should be said, not that many people really are advocating quick withdrawal (except blog commenters). As I said at length above, I was not aware of Eric's background views on a positive approach. I'd recommend the posts he links to from March. Also, just to be fair to both sides, Andrew Exum recently had this post

http://www.cnas.org/blogs/abumuqawama/2009/11/alternate-strategies-afghanistan.html

listing some options other than population-centric counterinsurgency. The paper by LTC Davis, "Go Big or Go Deep" to my mind presents a plausible proposal for a mission in Afghanistan less ambition than COIN that does not depend on a substantial troop increase. It does not, however, contain a concrete exit strategy, rather laying out a vision of long-term engagement short of societal transformation. A long-term committment there is something I tend to be far less skeptical of than I do of the claims COIN makes about what it can achieve. Increasingly, however, I find myself fearing that COIN doctrine may in fact the the best modality for engagement going forward, and that given its cost and chance of failure under the best conditions, it isn't in our interest to attempt in in Afghanistan. The problem then becomes, is there any course I can support other than beginning to withdrawal.

My greatest concern, to tell the truth, is that I don't know who Obama has at hand either in the military currently or with sufficient experience who can formulate the orders he will give to General Petraeus, if that order is not to proceed with something along the lines of McChrystal's proposal for counterinsurgency, OR to begin preparations for withdrawal (something I don't think Obama is prepared to order yet in so many words, though perhaps he is readying himself for it and if so that would be a truly impressive transformation). The military awaits instructions, and it has a detailed plan ready to go. That alone is some serious pressure (comes with the job, i realize), and saying 'no' would take guts. But crafting a comprehensive set of orders other than the plan on the table or essentially 'nix'? i don't even know what that takes.

"But crafting a comprehensive set of orders other than the plan on the table or essentially 'nix'? i don't even know what that takes."

While I like Eik, this is really the crux of where we're at. The direction that the existing options weren't acceptable has come really late in the game. The actual plan for a next step is going to be hurriedly formulated, despite all the time that has passed, because the direction from the top has finally arrived.

The right direction may be worth the pain of a hurried plan, but it means we will be tweaking it more as we go, which creates its own challenges.

The US will be occupying Afghanistan and Iraq as long as there are strategic "interests"--oil, minerals, nat gas--that need to be kept under the 'influence' (bomb-sights) of USer military might.

The "small" death toll, and the lack of a draft, work against genuine "popular resentment" against the wars being effective...

It's all "real-Politik" overseas and kabuki at home...

One last push!? Are you volunteering Eric? I think to hell with a last push, it won't make a difference. This is a civil war, and we're on the weaker side. Before we intervened the Taliban had 90% of the country in their hands and were poised to take the rest. We should get out now. It is not worth the cost in American lives and dollars. Even our "allies" murder our troops. As some commenters suggested, if/when any Muslim terrorist group sets up shop there (terrorist groups don't need to be tagged "Al-Qaeda" to be effective), hit them with missle strikes, bombing runs, whatever is needed, even if it involves many civilian casualties.

Oh, and Eric, I've noticed that you've stopped your bleating about everybody's suffering (during the Bush days). Like I said, you really didn't give a damn about their suffering, you used their suffering as polemical tool.

I just do not see how it's in our strategic interest to stay in Afghanistan. It's my understanding that, at present, al-Qa'ida isn't too popular there. They were the ones who brought in NATO. Even if they were to re-establish a small presence in Afghanistan, it's not going to make much of a difference, given al-Qa'ida already has a small presence in large chunks of Africa, most major Western European cities and even the US. The price we will pay in blood and treasure to deny them a small presence halfway around the world simply isn't worth it.

I'm also deeply skeptical of the nightmare scenario whereby pulling out of Afghanistan destabilizes Pakistan and causes the rise of a militant government which may use, or allow nuclear weapons into the hands of terrorists.

For the sake of argument; let's say this does happen. I reckon most of the nations in that neighborhood would take care of things pretty quickly if they believed the US wouldn't do their dirty work for them. Do you think India will sit by and let nothing happen? China shares a small border with Afghanistan and I am sure there are some people in the western Chinese provinces who wouldn't mind seeing a mushroom cloud over a major Chinese city. I imagine the Chinese government is well-aware of this too. I don't think they would sit by. What would Iran do? Last time I checked, the Sunnis and Shias don't exactly get along. They've been fighting each other in Pakistan for a while.

My point is: It's nobody's interest to see nuclear weapons in the hands of militants. Something would quickly be done if this highly unlikely scenario unfolds.

Afghanistan is going to be a black hole of blood and lives. I originally supported the decision to go into Afghanistan and I think we might have had a chance of success had we really made an effort there in the early days, but that door has now shut. It is time to cut our losses.

If we're going to engage in nation building; how about we do a little bit of it here at home.

resulting in a revolution where a militant government running a semi-failed state gets access to nukes.

Oops. Forget that last sentence, I forgot to delete it.

Do you think India will sit by and let nothing happen?

No I don't, and that's one of the scariest things about all this. Are you seriously suggesting we outsource our foreign policy to India, China and Iran?

Are you seriously suggesting we outsource our foreign policy to India, China and Iran?

If it means saving us from a 25 year quagmire and further breaking the fiscal back of this country for a "victory" which may likely never come, then yes I am.

I admit it's a not a pretty option, but may be the lesser of two evils.

Of course, I seriously doubt this scenario plays out anyway, so it's a bit of a moot point. The whole, "this will spread to neighboring countries" sounds a little too much like the Domino Effect.

Oh, and Eric, I've noticed that you've stopped your bleating about everybody's suffering (during the Bush days). Like I said, you really didn't give a damn about their suffering, you used their suffering as polemical tool.

Um, actually, I do still write (bleat?) about human suffering. As I said then:

You can look it up in the archives, it's all there and then some.

Or, you could simply not read this site or this author again. We will greatly miss your insights if you choose the latter. Prig.

Funny: today's post on Iraq discusses the tragic situation. Today! During the Obama Administration! Why it's inbelievacable!

And this, from all the way one month ago.

Crack research Jim. You should apply for a job with the Red State Strike Force. You'd make a fine intern over at that hack shop.

Unfortunately, Spencer has retracted this post. Also, all of the stories say that every plan that Obama is considering is a troop increase. Some reasons why this might be the case can be found at the guestpost at Balloon Juice by soonergrunt and Hersh's recent piece about Pakistan's nukes in the New Yorker.

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