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November 06, 2009

Comments

The basic problem with Afghanistan is that the window for repairing their infrastructure has passed. Now, any new roads, bridges, etc. will be blown up for political purposes faster than it can be built - much like the Republican "just say no" plan for social spending in the US.

All in all, a good post. Quick impressions:

"Ten percent are hardcore ideologues fighting for the Taliban."

I think this lends credence to the strategy of isolating that section by making appeals to the other 90%.

"Painful as it is, the time has come to set aside the illusion of Afghan democracy and implement a new federal power-sharing agreement between those Afghans willing and able to provide security and governance in a sustainable manner for the Afghan people."

This doesn't have to be "painful", so long as we stay focused on keeping out, or at least minimizing the influence of, the same people we initially overthrew. We should remember that we care a lot more about who we don't want to see govern than who we do, and it's actually a short list.

This gets to the last post, which showed the dangers of insisting upon too much centralization in this nation.

Poin: agree with your comments almost entirely, which is progress for us! Must be the Friday air.

Yeah -- weird how people who disagree on ends can come to agree so much on strategy*.

That's the thing about pragmatism, I guess...

*Though, TBF, I think a lot of it is you making so much sense on it.

We stay focused on keeping out, or at least minimizing the influence of, the same people we initially overthrew.

"We" won't get to call the shots. That's the point.

I think in the current usage, 'Taliban' counts as a dysphemism, not a euphemism.

It isn't "someone else's" civil war. We helped create it in the first place. We have moral obligations that you are all too willing to wash your hands of.

If those moral obligations exist, is there a maximum cost - lives, cash, years - which they cannot exceed, or are they absolute obligations?

If there is a limit to the cost, what does that limit derive from? What argument can be made to support the idea that it has not already been exceeded, or that the cost limit is higher than the expected cost of meeting those obligations?

As for being someone else's civil war, yes and no. They were having a civil war before we showed up. We bear responsibility in part for having armed and supported one faction against another.

So, is it that past interference that means we have a moral obligation to provide more guns and training to the guys we like so they can more effectively kill the guys we don't like? We bear a responsibility because we interfered, so the answer is that we need to interfere more? This isn't logic I can follow.

What is it exactly that precludes this approach from remaining possible within at a leat an initial nominal accesstion to McChrystal's request? These posts are written almost uniformly from the perspective that the Obama administration is irretrievably wrong-headed about this conflict and that whatever might be proposed that could have a chance of working is clearly off the table. But who has ruled out a course like the one Mousavizadeh outlines? It seems to me such an approach could still be very much in play, even if there is a troop increase. Mousavizadeh is at pains to say, it seems to me, that the two are not mutually exclusive.

His proposal for a new Loya Jirga is one I have long thought sensible myself. My question would be how it would need to be constituted so as to avoid whatever defects in the 2001 meeting led to the state that now obtains. On the other hand, if we simply are to accept that this civil war that the Taliban has a legitimate stake in and that as such we must leave the country to sort out as it will, then what would be the purpose for another U.S.-orchestrated convention (perhaps this time in Baden-Baden?)? If that is our position, then is this not rightly hashed out between the belligerents, after which (if they ever see fit to come to terms), the disposition of a government can be settled by the indigenous parties? if we are not going to have a thumb on the scale in the civil war in order to settle it and instead believe we should allow it to play out, then isn't a new Loya Jirga at this time premature? Is not the time for that when the conflict has reached an equilibrium of its own dynamics?

Mike: These posts are written not from the perspective that the Obama administration is wrongheaded, but that certain proposals swirling around in the Obama admin universe are wrongheaded. Obama still has to decide, and could get it right, but the signs are not encouraging.

It isn't "someone else's" civil war. We helped create it in the first place.

When? How?

When? How?

From an interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter's National Security Adviser, first published in Le Nouvel Observateur January 1998: "it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention."

...and things got worse from then on.

The US and the USSR are both responsible for the shattering of Afghanistan as a functional country, from more than thirty years ago. But the US is the one still pouring in money and guns to kill Afghans for the sake of US politics.

Jes: the authenticity of that interview is in serious doubt. Zbig denies it.

Jes: the authenticity of that interview is in serious doubt. Zbig denies it.

I'm sure he does. However, on the same principle that the Republicans won by making George W. Bush's desertion from the US military all about whether or not specific papers had been forged - I don't desire to get into a massive argument about whether or not that interview is authentic, when there is plenty of additional evidence that the US had been intervening in Afghan internal politics, to Afghanistan's destruction, for three decades - whether or not this can get pinned down to an exact date in June 1979, making Carter initially responsible, or in 1980, making Reagan.

Either way: yes, Eric, the US is responsible in a large way for the shattering of Afghanistan as a functional country, and has been since long before the 2001 attack on Afghanistan.

The assertion that Afghanistan was a "functional country" prior to 1979 strikes me as fanciful. Even a superficial reading of the period 1920-1980 reveals a deeply unstable political environment.

The fact that hippies could go to Kandahar and peacefully discover the wonders of good hashish during the late 60's does not make it so.

The present administration has a hard choice to make: How dismal will our policy failure in this country ultimately turn out to be?

bobbyp: The assertion that Afghanistan was a "functional country" prior to 1979 strikes me as fanciful.

Perhaps. But from contemporary accounts of the country prior to 1979, whatever the current political division, it was possible for ordinary Afghans to go about their ordinary lives without risking death. To you, it may seem fanciful to call that "functional": to me, being able to live and work in ordinary ways seems not fanciful at all.

Before 1979, there were about 15 million people living in Afghanistan. between 1979 and 1988, over 1 million of them were killed and about 5 million of them became refugees in Pakistan or in Iran. This is not "fanciful". This is an enormous human disaster that both the US and the USSR can be held liable for.

But, as I said upthread: the US is the superpower still standing, still killing Afghans for the sake of US politics.

Afghanistan was undoubtedly a primitive country before 1979, Bobbyp, but the attitude "it wasn't much of a country before we broke it, so it doesn't matter what we did to it" is worse than primitive.

Further, I do not want to "wash my hands" of anything.

I question the presumption that we can help Afghanistan with a quarter century military occupation that involves killing tens-to-hundreds of thousands of Afghans.

I'm all for aid, and support, but I'm not sure our bombs and bullets are helping the situation.

Further, my question stands to Pithlord, as I doubt he subscribes to Jes' historical analysis, and yet I'm curious as to when and how he thinks we created the civil war.

Jes infers: "Afghanistan was undoubtedly a primitive country before 1979, Bobbyp, but the attitude "it wasn't much of a country before we broke it, so it doesn't matter what we did to it" is worse than primitive."

You recklessly rushed to attribute to me an inference that is simply not there to reach a conclusion I did not make. I did not declaim on the level of the country's 'primitiveness'--you did. I was refering to its political stability, which has been spotty at best, and feverish well before the Soviet intervention, so then you throw statistics at me POST intervention.

This was sloppy, unfair, careless, and lazy, culminating with a charge that was as utterly without merit as it was insulting.

The question as to whether or not the Great Powers "created" the country's ongoing civil war is a narrow one, and there is no doubt both the Soviet Union and the US have tragically exacerbated it leading to the costly consequences to human suffering which you cite. That neither superpower has nor WILL achieve anything near the pious cannards they trot out a policy goals "in the national interest" almost elevates these blunders to the level of the tragicomical if it weren't for all that human carnage.

Alas, it is all too rare for the powerful to pay the real costs of their folly. That they leave to their descendants.

I'm all for aid, and support, but I'm not sure our bombs and bullets are helping the situation.

What good is aid and support without security?

In a conflict scenario, aid will be siphoned off and used to reinforce whatever side gets ahold of it. You will be taking sides in a civil war no matter what you do.

...so better hitch our wagon to a corrupt, illegitimate star that promises to repay our support with subservience, and dole out carnage upon those they designate threats to "security"?

Why do people allow the war-crazed neocons to determine the language? The correct term for those fighting the occupation and its puppet regime is "Resistance" not "Insurgency".

"...so better hitch our wagon to a corrupt, illegitimate star that promises to repay our support with subservience, and dole out carnage upon those they designate threats to "security"?"

I think a better approach would be, rather than try to set up a liberal democracy, just help with what national government you can get, but with very decentralized powers. Sort of like what they had before*.

*e.g. under Zahir Shah, 1933-73

Another field report on the problems with the Afghan police:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/most-of-them-were-corrupt-and-stoned-on-opium-1814785.html

(Via Ken McLeod.)

The quotes he picked out were choice:

We went out to Helmand to mentor the Afghan National Police without understanding the level they were at. We thought we would be arresting people, helping them to police efficiently. Instead we were literally training them how to point a gun on the ranges, and telling them why you should not stop cars and demand "taxes".

Most of them were corrupt and took drugs, particularly opium. The lads would go into police stations at night and they would be stoned; sometimes they would fire indiscriminately at nothing.

[...]

It was difficult just getting them to a basic level, to do things like man a post. They would take drugs, go to sleep, leave their post, have sex with each other.

In a conflict scenario, aid will be siphoned off and used to reinforce whatever side gets ahold of it. You will be taking sides in a civil war no matter what you do.

But aid is already being siphoned off by the "Taliban" factions! That, and Taliban elements are receiving weapons and training from the US army via infiltration of the ranks of new recruits in the effort to ramp up Afghan forces on a rapid timetable.

And, yeah, tequila, I know that aiding one side would be taking sides. But doing that from a distance via aid is a far different animal than having 100,000 troops on the ground doing the fighting for a quarter century-plus.

But aid is already being siphoned off by the "Taliban" factions! That, and Taliban elements are receiving weapons and training from the US army via infiltration of the ranks of new recruits in the effort to ramp up Afghan forces on a rapid timetable.

Aid is definitely siphoned off by various local factions, many of which are Taliban or Taliban-allied. The solution for this would be to break these groups' power over local areas so they could not blackmail Afghan workers or aid organizations into funding their armies.

The solution for this would NOT be removing the most reliable providers of security so that ALL aid could be controlled by local power brokers, many of which are anti-Western.

Also I don't think you can find too many cases of ANA turning Taliban. ANP, yes, and not coincidentally they are the ones who have received the least amount of Western money and training.

And, yeah, tequila, I know that aiding one side would be taking sides. But doing that from a distance via aid is a far different animal than having 100,000 troops on the ground doing the fighting for a quarter century-plus.

You're right about that. But if you saw a massive withdrawal, I don't see why you wouldn't withdraw aid as well. It would be completely stolen by local power brokers, rather than simply sampled as now.

Can you provide me an aid model whereby we wtihdrew most of our ground forces but kept funding aid projects where the security and control over those projects wouldn't be handed over to the Taliban, which would greatly expand its area of control under such a plan, or local warlords?

Can you provide me an aid model whereby we wtihdrew most of our ground forces but kept funding aid projects where the security and control over those projects wouldn't be handed over to the Taliban, which would greatly expand its area of control under such a plan, or local warlords?

Are you saying that the northern Tajik-dominated regions would be under Taliban control in such a manner? If so, our mission is truly hopeless as the Taliban must be extremely powerful, beyond any estimation.

The solution for this would NOT be removing the most reliable providers of security so that ALL aid could be controlled by local power brokers, many of which are anti-Western.

And this differs from the wildly corrupt Afghan central government, which, according to recent reports, embezzles 75% of all aid dollars on average?

Sounds like we're in a lose-lose situation. And if that's the case, I could be convinced to lose cheaper and keep back the aid we can't control. But that doesn't seem like an argument in favor of continuing an occupation with such dysfunctional, corrupt and oppositional local reps.

Especially because COIN is built on the premise that the local reps will win over the population through their good governance/legitimacy.

Also I don't think you can find too many cases of ANA turning Taliban.

Due to the relative ethnic homogeneity of the ANA, that is more true than with respect to the police force. Also, not a recipe for a national body viewed as legitimate and representative going forward.

Again, damned if we do, damned if we don't.

Are you saying that the northern Tajik-dominated regions would be under Taliban control in such a manner? If so, our mission is truly hopeless as the Taliban must be extremely powerful, beyond any estimation.

No, but they would be under the control of regional warlords who would be more concerned with survival and fighting a real civil war with the Taliban rather than providing aid.

And this differs from the wildly corrupt Afghan central government, which, according to recent reports, embezzles 75% of all aid dollars on average?

What report shows that?

Also, the wildly corrupt Afghan government does not control CERP funds or the many foreign NGOs who are operating in the country. Yes, those NGOs must often pay local power brokers for protection, but again, a leak vs total control.

And if that's the case, I could be convinced to lose cheaper and keep back the aid we can't control.

So, abandon the Afghans.

But that doesn't seem like an argument in favor of continuing an occupation with such dysfunctional, corrupt and oppositional local reps.

No, it's an argument to push our Afghans towards better government at the local level, not to give up on the place.

Due to the relative ethnic homogeneity of the ANA, that is more true than with respect to the police force. Also, not a recipe for a national body viewed as legitimate and representative going forward.

Do you have any statistics on ANA vs ANP ethnic breakdown at all? Or just a few news reports?

The ANP actually has a much bigger problem recruiting Pashtuns due to the insecurity of the areas they are policing. The ANA serves in ethnically mixed units, which is superior to what we see in Iraq where many units are dominated by one sectarian group.

Also we have no idea how the ANA does in terms of how it is seen as a legitimate national institution.

The closest we have is the Asia Foundation's national polling, which shows massive and widespread support for the ANA (91% great deal or fair amount of confidence). As in Iraq, there will probably be some regional variation, but the ANA thusfar appears to have the trust of the Afghan people.

http://www.asiafoundation.org/country/afghanistan/2009-poll.php

So, abandon the Afghans.

If you're saying that any alternative short of multi-decades military occupation is unworkable, then we must deal with the reality of the situation.

No, it's an argument to push our Afghans towards better government at the local level, not to give up on the place.

How does one push thusly? Have we been pushing thusly? If not, why not? Do such pushes enjoy a track record of success under similar circumstances? How long do they take? How much money?

Suffice to say: I don't have a shred of faith in our ability to make such pushes in a lasting, meaningful way in Afghanistan.

What report shows that?

So says the Afghan Govt.'s anti corruption dept.

http://www.adnkronos.com/AKI/English/Politics/?id=3.0.3922144874

Also we have no idea how the ANA does in terms of how it is seen as a legitimate national institution.

Reports that I've seen raise questions based on regional perceptions - with populations in embattled regions complaining of ethnic makeup of the army, and the army as a whole.

There are also ways of incorporating different ethnic groups while still creating a segregated army because there are tribal cleavages that overlap ethnic groups. Karzai, after all, is a Pashtun, but that doesn't ingratiate him with the Pashtun factions that oppose his rule.

Steve Coll highlights some of the history:

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/stevecoll/2009/09/legitimacy-and-the-afghan-army.html

Again, Eric, your argumentation works only if you are also advocating we completely and totally leave the Afghans to their fate (a fate that we had no small part in creating) The arguments you raise again a national army suggest that any training we do would contribute to a 'civil war'. Yet any attempt to train individual ethnic groups would be an even greater contribution to a civil war. It would also be assuring the Taliban of Pashtun support and would go a long way to making the claims of Taliban legitimacy based on their being the representative of the Pashtun.

I apologize that I won't be able to follow up more on this, but my 5th dan grading for iaido is this weekend and next weekend is a (rather undeveloped at the moment) conference presentation, but if you could explain how your invocations of civil war can't be taken as a call for immediate and total withdrawal, I would appreciate it.

To whom does our moral obligation run? The Tajiks? The Pashtun? Everyone? The Taliban, too? They're Afghans, after all. The civil war in the 1990s wasn't our doing: people act as though we should have stopped it, but I don't see that we could have done so.

As with Iraq, imo, our moral obligations extend no further than our capabilities. If we can't 'fix" Afghanistan in 10 years, what are we doing?

The civil war in the 1990s wasn't our doing

...except insofar as it happened directly because of the war the US and the USSR were having in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Which, you know, it did.

people act as though we should have stopped it, but I don't see that we could have done so.

It's true: wars are much easier to start than to stop.

As with Iraq, imo, our moral obligations extend no further than our capabilities.

I disagree. An individual's, or a nation's, moral obligation towards their victims - may far exceed their capability of restoring what they took or destroyed. But the moral obligation will still exist, regardless of how limited the aggressor is. The US can cry poormouth and claim to be incapable and ineffective at anything but killing, kidnapping, and torturing Afghans: but US incapacity does not change the plain fact that the US is in large part directly responsible for the state Afghanistan is in today, and has a moral obligation in consequence.

This op-ed from the WSJ about Karzai is grist for the mill. Though I am not in the habit of agreeing with the WSJ op-ed page...

It's not the fault of the US that the various victorious factions could not find a way to rule Afghanistan after the departure of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Soviet backed faction. It's not our fault that (a) Pakistan backed a faction to end the chaos after 4 or 5 years and (b) the play worked. And then didn't.

Moral obligation from the 80s is a ridiculous concept at this point. Are you suggesting that the Russian (and Ukranian?) government ought to come play a significant role in shaping Afghan politics/society? You think this would be a good idea, much less a moral imperative.

The central problems of Afghanistan are essentially Afghan. The factions fighting over territory are Afghan. I have no objection to providing development assistance, especially via multilateral machinery. That's not what the debate is about. It's about whether we can win the Afghan civil war on behalf of a faction of our choosing/creation.

Again, Eric, your argumentation works only if you are also advocating we completely and totally leave the Afghans to their fate (a fate that we had no small part in creating

How did we create that fate?

Either way, my arguments work or don't based on their soundness and approximation of reality, not on what the desired end-state is.

We can want many things for the "Afghan people" (other than those we have killed and intend on killing and will kill by accident), but in the end, it comes down to a question of what we are able to do.

Don't blame me if the latter conflicts with the former.

It's about whether we can win the Afghan civil war on behalf of a faction of our choosing/creation.

Recognizing that 'victory' is only possible if Afghans overwhelmingly accept that faction as their legitimate ruler. It doesn't matter what the WSJ thinks, anyone commenting here thinks, what Pakistan, Russia, or Barack Obama thinks. We can't make the people buy what we're selling, and the idea that we have some kind of moral obligation to keep trying is pretty empty.

This is always the central problem with fighting in someone else's war. Our only legitimate (and moral) war aim is an end that is really an end. Everyone else fighting in the war has more specific goals in mind, which take priority over our war aim.

Off Topic - ERIC: don't know if you own a Maclaren umbrella stroller, but if you do they are the subject of a recall.

Either way, my arguments work or don't based on their soundness and approximation of reality, not on what the desired end-state is.

No, your arguments only work if you believe that a full and total withdrawal is possible. When asked how you justify that, you claim that you don't believe that. Some residual force, be it boots on the grounds or raptors in the air, will be there. If it is there, how do we avoid getting pulled into a civil war? Try to make sure that if we kill 1 one one side, we knock off someone on the other side?

It doesn't matter what the WSJ thinks, anyone commenting here thinks, what Pakistan, Russia, or Barack Obama thinks.

This kind of argument is intellectually nihilistic, unless you have some back door to the way the people of Afghanistan think. We argue based on the evidence we have. The WSJ piece points out that Karzai is not some election stealing anomaly. It also points out that it might just be impossible to have a non Pashtun leader. Do you deny that this is the case? Or is the fact that because the situation makes a Pashtun leader inevitable, the people of Afghanistan are getting what they deserve?

CC wrote
It's not the fault of the US that the various victorious factions could not find a way to rule Afghanistan after the departure of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Soviet backed faction. It's not our fault that (a) Pakistan backed a faction to end the chaos after 4 or 5 years and (b) the play worked. And then didn't.

Given the amount of aid given to Pakistan, it is difficult to accept the idea that it was Pakistan going off on a bender that we couldn't have if not stopped, at least managed a bit better. This page details the aid distribution to Pakistan. The page notes that 5.2 billion dollars was spent in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas from 2002 through 2007 and only 1% of that was directed towards development.

No, your arguments only work if you believe that a full and total withdrawal is possible.

Define "possible." I mean, you're not really suggesting that the US is incapable of complete withdrawal, right?

Some residual force, be it boots on the grounds or raptors in the air, will be there. If it is there, how do we avoid getting pulled into a civil war?

Target only al-Qaeda, and only when there is solid intel. Don't target any of the Afghan factions involved in the Afghan civil war.

ERIC: don't know if you own a Maclaren umbrella stroller, but if you do they are the subject of a recall.

Thanks Ugh. My firm was very generous and bought us one of them bugaboo monstrosities.

We should bring back the draft and send 3 or 4 million troops to Afghanistan, because, well, why not?

Eric you wrote here
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.

Now, you try to make this a question of the US ability to make a 'complete' withdrawal? Is this a discussion of what the US military can do or what it should do?

y computer crapped out and I've forgotten my password for ObWi - Lets see if I can post a comment here:
I'll admit that I was mistaken about Hilzoy. I projected my company's internet policy to a university, which is silly.

Not time to give up on ObWi, cleek. Perhaps Charles Bird can come back and post as well (Put him on the Alums list, by the way.)

Seriously, if Slart has the keys, why can't russell, Thullen, etc., post a few things? They could shoot Slart an email and with low enough standards:) , there could be a bit more content, if not continence. Cleek could provide photos and one liners for open threads. Gary has posted recently. Perhaps that could develop into a model that kenB suggested.

This kind of argument is intellectually nihilistic.

Success in this war depends on the Afghans believing in the legitimacy of their government, not on our believing in it. Nothing remotely nihilistic about that. Telling ourselves that we're on the right track isn't the same as being on the right track. You dispute this?

Of course we spent a boatload of dough after 9/11. What of it? We didn't cause discord between Afghan factions in the 1990s. We didn't have the juice, or, frankly, a dog in the fight to prevent Pakistan from helping the Taliban take over in the 90s.

Could we have used more leverage with Pakistan in the post 9/11 period? I don't see how. There's more to leverage than money: like having a fulcrum that isn't going to disintegrate if any pressure at all is put on it. The principal goal of our Pakistan policy is to avoid complete world-ending disaster. So far so good, but you wouldn't want to push that very hard.

Target only al-Qaeda, and only when there is solid intel. Don't target any of the Afghan factions involved in the Afghan civil war.

And stop killing civilians.

CharleyCarp: It's not the fault of the US that the various victorious factions could not find a way to rule Afghanistan after the departure of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Soviet backed faction.

It is the fault of the US that the civil war had become a struggle between the mojaheddin, backed by the US for their detestation of Communism, and the Soviet-backed faction.

The US had been a participant in the civil war and - with a strong degree of likelihood - one of the instigators of the Soviet invasion.

Trying to run away from American responsibility for Afghanistan's state over the past thirty years is irresponsible.

Of course the US military should withdraw completely. Massive amounts of aid need to enter Afghanistan, and NGOs need to be able work unendangered by the US military.

Jes, I don't believe that US participation in Afghan affairs in the 73-78 period was material to developments later on. I didn't like our policy in the 80s -- using Afghans to bleed Soviets -- but thought when the Soviets left that staying out of internal Afghan affairs was better than trying to pick winners and losers among the various warlords.

I'm not trying to run away from anything. I don't even know what it means in the context of discussing the difference between what I'd like the US to do and what you'd like the US to do.

Telling ourselves that we're on the right track isn't the same as being on the right track. You dispute this?

That can apply to Eric's argument as much as mine. Just because he believes the Afghanistan people want the Taliban back in power isn't the same as it being true. If the argument is that the Afghanistan people have made their will clearly known, that's an argument to make, but if it's just that neither of us knows the will of the Afghan people, well, that doesn't move the ball down the field at all.

As far as the policy in the 80's and 90's, I feel the US allowed Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to use the Taliban as a safety valve for bleeding off Islamic extremism. Furthermore, all thru the 90's negotiations were ongoing with the Taliban, see here and here.

He hasn't said that and I haven't either. I don't need to know what the will of the Afghan people -- or some set of them -- is to think that we ought to let them get to it on their own, rather than (a) decide for ourselves what it ought to be, and (b) impose that. Many Afghans support the Taliban. Many don't. Afghans are going to have to work that out.

Your position on the 90s -- way different from the 80s as far as activity -- stretches 'moral obligation' to the breaking point. Allowed??!! Negotiations!!?? GMAFB, lj. This makes the US responsible for the fate of Afghanistan, and, on the same grounds, everyone on earth. It appears to me that what you've got is a policy preference in desperate search of justification.

CharleyCarp: This makes the US responsible for the fate of Afghanistan

Well, in the decade previously, the US had been funding, training, and otherwise supporting, violent religious extremists in Afghanistan. Yes?

Those violent religious extremists did not just vanish into thin air when they ceased to be directly useful to the US.

and, on the same grounds, everyone on earth.

Well, to a certain extent, insofar as what the US does affects everyone on earth, that's true. But specifically here we're talking about a specific set of actions - that the US was demonstrably responsible for that demonstrably then did immense damage to Afghanistan - and that damage did not stop happening just because the US lost interest in promoting it. It's way easier to start a war than it is to stop it.

This makes the US responsible for the fate of Afghanistan, and, on the same grounds, everyone on earth.

No, you don't see me advocating that we need to do something about Myanmar, or invade North Korea, or send peacekeeping troops to any of a number of places. If you want to make some slippery slope argument about responsibility, you can, but the idea that our meddling was confined to a period between 1973-1978 is refuted by what we actually, you know, did.

Furthermore, it is the location of Afghanistan that forces our attention to it. It is inconceivable that there would be a withdrawal to the depth that you and Eric demand. If that kind of withdrawal is impossible, your calls for withdrawal are simply calling for a situation where we aren't really in, but we aren't really out. Unless we are able to make some magical cruise missiles that only kill bad guys and never harm civilians. It seems that you are opting for a policy preference that would never occur in real life and you are attempting to justify it by claiming that the Afghans are to blame cause you argue that it was a generation ago that we actually did something there. That money that was being pumped into Pakistan, that blind eye that let Saudi donors encourage madrassas run by Wahabbist radicals who are conveniently not going to cause troble domestically isn't something that we have a direct hand in, but we certainly stood by while it went on.

Now, you try to make this a question of the US ability to make a 'complete' withdrawal? Is this a discussion of what the US military can do or what it should do?

LJ: This is a discussion of a few things. Personally, I favor the gradual withdrawal approach and support for the GOA or whatever means of aid delivery that works best. The rest of the quote that you left out was that support for the GOA was contingent on the GOA's legitimacy and ability to meet certain criteria.

However, tequila said that my approach was unworkable and that aid would be siphoned off by the bad actors. To which I said that if the only choice is between complete withdrawal and quarter/half-century massive military occupation, I would take the former.

That's all.

Just because he believes the Afghanistan people want the Taliban back in power isn't the same as it being true.

What I believe, and please pay attention because you grossly mischaracterized my position, is that SOME Afghan people want to unseat the Karzai government.

Those would be the Afghan people that are either: (a) fighting the Karzai government; (b) actively supporting those Afghans fighting the Karzai government; and/or (c) those Afghans that tacitly support those factions fighting the Karzai government.

Some of (a) through (c) want the Taliban back in power. However, while we have a tendency of referring to them as "Taliban," roughly 90% of the insurgent fighters are not actually Taliban. One can imagine that the non-fighter supporters breakdown along similar ratios.

Most of (a) through (c) do not want the Taliban per se back in power, but just want Karzai and the occupation forces gone, with the various factions to make their claims in the aftermath.

It is indisputable that many Afghans fall into groups (a) through (c). That is not because I want it to be true, but because it is an incontrovertible empirical fact that there are many, many Afghans in groups (a) through (c).

Unless we are able to make some magical cruise missiles that only kill bad guys and never harm civilians.

We can greatly hone our rules of engagement on air strikes. Micah Zenko fromthe Council on Foreign Relations has written extensively on this very topic.

In fact, this is what McChrystal ostensibly supports doing! It's just that the reality hasn't yet matched the rhetoric.

It's way easier to start a war than it is to stop it.

Of course it is. There are three ways to stop a war: completely vanquish the foe, find a deal, walk away. In the 90s, the US did not have choices 1 or 2, because, indeed, it's foe was vanquished. Choice 3 stopped the US war, and that was that. People fought on who wanted to fight on, there were former US allies on all sides, and they fought on because they thought they'd do better on the battlefield than making a deal. The US could not have imposed a deal, or a structure, without more or less taking over the exact role played up to then by the Soviets, and so did not.

I think we're at a similar juncture now. I don't believe that the foe here can be vanquished (ours -- AQ -- maybe; not the religious extremist tendency among Afghans). We can try for a deal, or we can walk away.

Nothing about the 80s, 90s, or 2001-2008 tells us anything about what kind of deal is possible today, or the best choice for the future. Blame and responsibility are meaningless at best; excuses for rejecting compromises most often.

Can Karzai, and/or the warlords who back him, make a deal with the domestic Taliban? Maybe, but certainly only if we don't prevent it. Do I think that would be a happy fate for the women in what would end up being the Taliban zone? No, but I'm powerless to help them.

(It's not relevant to any policy choice facing anyone, but I'll say it anyway: I think, also, Jes, that your approach denies agency to the Afghans. It's not like the 78-89 civil war was our idea, and the factions we supported would otherwise have been happy in the Soviet orbit. These factions wanted our help and we wanted to give it. That the various groups we supported couldn't figure out a way to live together in victory isn't our fault. Really.)

It's not like the 78-89 civil war was our idea, and the factions we supported would otherwise have been happy in the Soviet orbit. These factions wanted our help and we wanted to give it.

Right. Those factions predated our assistance, as did the underlying conflicts. In fact, Afghanistan had had hundreds of domestic conflicts and civil wars of varying sizes before the United States was even a country.

In fact, this is what McChrystal ostensibly supports doing! It's just that the reality hasn't yet matched the rhetoric.

McChrystal also wants more troops! This is quite possibly because he feels that no matter how finely tuned the rules of engagement are, if you don't have boots on the ground to make sure, you are going to have problems. The fact that McChrystal is proposing something you want while at the same time proposing something that you think is an anathema should tell you that what you propose might not be as workable as you would like to think.

CC wrote
There are three ways to stop a war: completely vanquish the foe, find a deal, walk away.

It seems that future progress, not just in Afghanistan but all over the world, depends on us finding a 4th way to deal with conflicts, or at least some alternative that is option 1.5, where you force people to the table in order to make a deal without completely 'vanquishing' them.

I meant to highlight this Yglesias post and suggest that one reason we are going around in circles with this is that we are dealing with a policy transition (COIN v. conventional) in a situation where it has to unfold with all the stops and starts that armed conflict brings.

McChrystal also wants more troops! This is quite possibly because he feels that no matter how finely tuned the rules of engagement are, if you don't have boots on the ground to make sure, you are going to have problems. The fact that McChrystal is proposing something you want while at the same time proposing something that you think is an anathema should tell you that what you propose might not be as workable as you would like to think.

Not sure I follow this. You're saying that the person in charge of establishing the ROE, who has said that he has changed the ROE with respect to missile strikes, hasn't actually changed the ROE (and won't change the ROE) because of...not having enough troops?

So, just so we're clear: pilots are allowed to target Taliban, and do so based on loose intel, even where there is very high risk of numerous civilian casualties, because...McChrystal doesn't have enough troops? But if he did, he would restrict the ROE to al-Qaeda, and tighten the parameters on intel and civ casulaties? Why?

And this is supposed to prove something to me about how my proposal is unworkable? And the lesson, presumably, would be that the only way that we can limit our ROE on missile strikes is to increase our troop commitment? Do you have any evidence to back that up? A clearer hypothesis even?

Not sure I follow this. You're saying that the person in charge of establishing the ROE, who has said that he has changed the ROE with respect to missile strikes, hasn't actually changed the ROE (and won't change the ROE) because of...not having enough troops?

No, I'm suggesting that perhaps McChrystal doesn't think that changing the ROE is sufficient but it has to go hand in hand with an increaased presence. The lesson you should learn (aside from not using exclamation points!) is that you might want to think a little more critically before rummaging around in the McChrystal proposal to find the things you like and declaring that you are right because the McChrystal proposal supports it!

In fact, your proposal isn't really a proposal at all. Contrast it with the Austin Long proposal mentioned by Gary, and it's nothing but a bunch of platitudes and fewer troops than before, with invocations of civil war, and differences between Afghan and Pakistan Taliban and the assurance that AQ can be separately and discreetly targeted with cruise missiles without harming civilians. There will be fewer because fewer is better than more and Afghanistan has conflicts that predate our arrival, so it is just not our fault. It really never is.

No, I'm suggesting that perhaps McChrystal doesn't think that changing the ROE is sufficient but it has to go hand in hand with an increaased presence. The lesson you should learn (aside from not using exclamation points!) is that you might want to think a little more critically before rummaging around in the McChrystal proposal to find the things you like and declaring that you are right because the McChrystal proposal supports it!

Oddly, I didn't use any exclamation points in that comment. So, at least on that front, lesson learned.

Otherwise, I didn't declare that I was right because McChrystal said so. Not even close. Nor do I find your rationale for not changing the ROE compelling or even plausible. He won't change the ROE because it alone is not sufficient, even though he thinks it would help. It would seem that any positive outcome would be a positive outcome, even if individually insufficient to turn the tide of the war.

In fact, your proposal isn't really a proposal at all. Contrast it with the Austin Long proposal mentioned by Gary, and it's nothing but a bunch of platitudes and fewer troops than before, with invocations of civil war, and differences between Afghan and Pakistan Taliban and the assurance that AQ can be separately and discreetly targeted with cruise missiles without harming civilians. There will be fewer because fewer is better than more and Afghanistan has conflicts that predate our arrival, so it is just not our fault. It really never is.

What on earth is that supposed to be other than a temper tantrum? Take a deep breath and get back to me when you think you can keep yourself together for an actual discussion.

Or, instead, should I cobble together a bad faith, strawman, caricature of your positions and we can take turns flaming effigies?

I'd rather not, really. I have better things to do with my time. Very disappointing.

Or, instead, should I cobble together a bad faith, strawman, caricature of your positions and we can take turns flaming effigies?

This implies that I have made some bad faith representation of your position. I haven't used an exclamation point to imply you don't know what is or is not in the McChrystal report, I haven't gone with the socratic dialogue tone to question what you have suggested. I don't want to make a non-apology apology, but I really don't want you to think that I am accusing you of bad faith. Please do not take the shorter comments with simply a link and a few sentences as attacks, my time to pore over a comment is limited so the goal is to simply introduce more information into the conversation.

To start afresh, let me try and state what I think your proposal is and you can then correct my understanding.

The way I see it, either you want all troops out and use remotely guided weapons to strike at AQ or you want to have a small number of troops, presumably in hardened facilities, going out to kill AQ and AQ only without ever threatening or perhaps even dealing with Afghanistan natives. The problem with the first is that revised ROEs don't really mean anything unless you have the ability to determine if they were actually adhered to. That means boots on the ground. If you accept some boots on the ground, how many do you propose? Assuming that a Brigade Combat Team would be sufficient, you are suggesting that 1,500 to 4,000 troops. Perhaps people better versed with the numbers can comment, but I imagine that the logistical tail of such a unit might require at least a 1 to 1 ration and perhaps upwards to 3 to 1, which means you go anywhere from doubling to quadrupling that number.

This seems like a pretty big target and the Austin Long proposal deals with that by arguing that elite units be sent. These are the guys who have 'mess with the best, die like the rest' insignias. Perhaps that reputation will be enough in and of itself to prevent indigenous Taliban units (assuming arguendo that there is a clear cut division between the Afghanistan Taliban and the foreign Al Queda) from trying anything, which would include car bombs when US troops were anywhere other than their hardened facilities or trying to get Afghani workers in as suicide bombers.

Going back to the first option, where we get everyone out of the country, if Afghanistan were where Vietnam is, I would say hell yeah. But in Vietnam, we didn't have some revised ROE because we actually got out. Arguing that we have a revised ROE suggests that we aren't getting out, just ducking down.

If it were where Korea is, where we did/do have a force, I would say maybe. But since it sits on the crossroads routes for oil and natural gas pipelines to the sea, as well as close to the mineral wealth necessary to make green energy a reality, I don't see how you can even think that a full and total withdrawal is possible.

This will really be it from me until Monday, I have to work on my iai grading. Again, apologies for any intemperate remarks on my part. later

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