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February 12, 2010

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(You have a migratory E: "proposale of a possible power sharing arrangement between the disparat" -> "proposal of a possible power sharing arrangement between the disparate".)

Still reading the Rashid piece...

damn free spirited "e"

Convincing.

I had some (unexamined) sympathy for the "we abandoned them and it backfired on us" meme. Examining it now, I see it was silly. I guess I thought that had we continued to "be involved" (my words) somehow we could have counteracted the extremism (that we'd helped to foment in the first place) pushed by the Saudis and Pakistanis? Survey says... unlikely.

I suspect the US thought in 1989 was more about having the turmoil in Afghanistan spread to the Soviet controlled 'Stans bordering Afghanistan. And the Soviet offer was about preventing that spread, rather than a concern about Afghanistan.

Which doesn't make it right, but I think it was broader than simply embarrassing Moscow.

jr: I think that's about right. Conclusion as well.

Given that the Central Asian countries that were part of the Soviet Union have not been nearly the source of trouble for the US that Afghanistan has been, one wonders if the 80s-era arming & training of the Afghan mujahideen to fight against Soviet forces wound up doing the US any good whatsoever. It certainly didn't seem to do the people of Afghanistan any good.

Heresy, sure, since As We All Know the Soviet Union was brought down by (variously) its involvement in Afghanistan, Ronald Reagan's speeches, SDI, etc. (Nothing to do with its internal economic stagnation and collapse, of course.)

Back to today, the problem is that an ostensibly democratic government was set up that included no real representation for one of the major political movements in the country pre-invasion. And quite possibly early on there was no real hope of getting the Taliban involved in democratic politics given their situation. But the point of democracy is that it pulls all political factions into a single mechanism for peaceful resolution of differences, and by doing so it clarifies the degree of popular support that various factions have, which cannot be accurately determined during a period of civil war. Under a non-democratic government or during a civil war it's easy for both sides to claim (and believe) that they have the support of the majority of the population. You can't have that illusion under democracy, which reduces the ability of potential combatants to claim a popular mandate.

But if you exclude one party from the democratic process, that illusion can remain. I think the early model after the invasion was that the Taliban were something like the Nazi Party in post-WWII Germany, a group that had to be kept from participation in politics because of their basic illegitimacy. But that was a mistake, because even though the Taliban are offensive to liberal values - they're certainly offensive to me - they actually represent a substantial section of the Afghan population, and they have not been comprehensively discredited.

I don't exactly blame NATO & the US for failing to recognize that early on, I certainly didn't get it until quite recently, and it's no surprise that the Afghan government wasn't interested in that idea - you don't win a civil war so you can let your opponents share power. But I think it could have been recognized much earlier than now. Still, better late than never.

I don't exactly know how the offensive into Marja today fits in with that. Perhaps it will be a demonstration to the Taliban that they can't hope to hold major cities and therefore should compromise while their position is still relatively strong.

"I think the early model after the invasion was that the Taliban were something like the Nazi Party in post-WWII Germany, a group that had to be kept from participation in politics because of their basic illegitimacy. But that was a mistake, because even though the Taliban are offensive to liberal values - they're certainly offensive to me - they actually represent a substantial section of the Afghan population, and they have not been comprehensively discredited."

Okay, yes, Jacob, but the Nazis too represented a substantial part of the German population. Of course, we've decided that we can't eliminate the Taliban. I'm conflicted about Afghanistan and always have been. I can only hope we "win".

And a lot of Nazis came back in rather soon not even using the back door. Even the communist Eastern Germany made use of them (although only in lower ranks while in the West it ran up to the top). It's still debated whether that was a good or bad idea in the long run. I fear for a majority of Germans the Nazis were not discredited through their crimes but simply because they lost the war. It took another generation to actually deal with the dark past.

"I fear for a majority of Germans the Nazis were not discredited through their crimes but simply because they lost the war. "

I don't know many Germans at all, so have no idea about that. From what I observe here in the U.S. among people who lean towards approving of torture, etc., I can't really imagine what would help them change their minds. Appeals to their conscience, the Constitution, to international opprobrium, to reason - none of that is persuasive to them and I doubt that prosecution would be. I'm for prosecuting the crimes of the prior regime to have it on record that they were crimes, and contrary to our national values. Unfortunately, I worry that our current Supreme Court would uphold the Republican party rather than the law as they did in Bush v. Gore. And Americans who laud Ford's pardon of Nixon, etc., (who make up a much larger segment of the population than those in favor of torturers) would be cursing the Obama administration for derailing the country on a vengeance spree.

That's the explanation for the hesitation of the administration, I'm pretty sure.

If you have been helping defend someone from outside attack, and you stop, you can be said to have abandoned them. Likewise, perhaps, if you were defending someone from an internal attack (i.e. civil war).

But if you were helping defend someone from an external threat, and the threat is removed, and you leave, how can you be said to have "abandoned" them? Even if the removal of the external threat results in pent up internal conflicts breaking out. The only way I can see is if you think you have a right/duty to deal with anything and everything that is wrong with the world. Or, at minimum, if you are forever responsible for anywhere you have ever been involved.

If those crying "abandonment!" hold one of those positions, they could at least have the grace to say so explicitly. Of course they won't -- being, most of the time, closer to isolationists than anything else.

It's just another way to blame Clinton for 9/11.

I've never heard the word used by anyone I consider worth listening to.

Analogies to WWII are disfavored, and for good reason. I will say, though, that US policy in post-war Germany was heavily focused on preventing the spread of Communism into Germany/the West, a goal ex-Nazis didn't have any problem with.

I daresay we'd have had a lot less trouble in post-Taliban Afghanistan if we'd been in favor of keeping women out of jobs and girls out of schools.

Just as our fortunes in Iraq shifted when we embraced ethnic cleansing.

They may be disfavored by you, but unfortunately post-war planners in Iraq and Afghanistan didn't get that memo. De-Baathification in Iraq explicitly followed the de-Nazification model. More broadly, in both Iraq and Afghanistan I think the assumption was made early in the process that the evilness of the prior regime would be universally and automatically acknowledged, which fails to take into account that any group that manages to take power and hold onto it for a while has to be favored by some large segment of the population even if not a majority.

Suggesting that the Taliban should be allowed to play a political role is very far from saying that their policies should be enacted, and since their supporters would be a fairly small minority in Afghanistan, they wouldn't get to do so in practice.

And Americans who laud Ford's pardon of Nixon, etc., (who make up a much larger segment of the population than those in favor of torturers) would be cursing the Obama administration for derailing the country on a vengeance spree.

Do you have any data to back these assertions up?

At the time, Ford's pardon of Nixon led to a collapse of his approval ratings, which never recovered. But for the pardon, he may very well have been reelected. Certainly, the punditocracy loved (and loves) the pardon. But the American people? They hated it in 1974. And my guess is that most people today have little memory of the pardon...and probably don't even know or care what Nixon was being pardoned for.

That's the explanation for the hesitation of the administration, I'm pretty sure.

Then how do you explain the continuation of so many Bush Administration policies/claims regarding executive power? The Bush administration's crimes were--and remain--fairly bipartisan.

"Do you have any data to back these assertions up?" No, and I'd certainly be willing to be proved wrong. I'm strongly in favor of an investigation and prosecution of the Bush administration, as I was of the Iran-Contra criminals, and the Nixon gang. Perhaps you're right, and I hope you are, and I hope it happens.

"Then how do you explain the continuation of so many Bush Administration policies/claims regarding executive power?"
I think the administration, by testing these theories in court, allows them to be aired and litigated. Rather than turning every decision into a political football, and being accused of weakness on terrorism, they can abide by a court's ruling.

Clearly it doesn't take a post of this heft to conclude that U.S. Cold War policy in Central Asia was craven. If we can say that the events following on the mistakes around disengagement (again, simply assuming the level of engagement was mistaken) can be traced forward rather directly (as Rshid does) to 9/11 -- if we can enage in that level of hindsight -- then how can we possibly also say that a Soviet-structured post-conflict (not that conflict would have ceased) arrangement was a lost opportunity for a durable stability? This was 1989. Are you saying this would have forestalled collape indefinitely?

In any case, engaging, defeating, humiliating, and breaking the Soviet Union was the reason we were engaged in Afghanistan. There's no need to beat around that bush. The failure, and I think it is a pretty reasonable one given the paradigm in which terrorism was understood at the time, was to understand that the resulting instability -- which looks to me pretty close to unavoidable if a Soviet-backed peace is all that can be offered as a missed exit-ramp -- could ever eventually lead to a serious threat to the United States. Here I think not to credit an explanation for 9/11 in which it was less the product of historical conditions, necessary though those were, but instead was a more-or-less direct result of the actions of a Great Man, or in this case a few of them, is to fairly blatantly misread a pretty clear historical record. As has been frequently pointed out here: nothing about Afghanistan made it a uniquely necessary staging ground for that crime. What was necessary was the particular world-view, commitment to same, will, and organizational acumen that were united in that group of men. Or have we changed that assessment, and now believe the welcoming haven of Afghanistan itself -- and of no other place -- was uniquely necessary for the planning of 9/11?

...not that we had a reasonable expectation of breaking the Soviet empire in Afghanistan and thereby bringing down the state, though I think some Cold Warrioirs likely allowed themselves that fantasy (and wrongly claimed it as prescient afterward). But certainly engagement, defeat, and humiliation were the clear policy aims.

Beginning in 1979, following the Soviet invasion to bolster the besieged, Soviet-allied Afghan government, the United States backed the Afghan rebel groups (though some argue that our support for the rebels began before the Soviet invasion as a means to induce Soviet entry).

Among those who argue this is Zbigniew Brzezinski, who authorised it - and freely admits to doing so - in July 1979. The Soviets invaded in December.

I didn't even think people were allowed to make these sorts of arguments any more. I thought there was one sanctified version of U.S. history in Afghanistan.

Among those who argue this is Zbigniew Brzezinski, who authorised it - and freely admits to doing so - in July 1979. The Soviets invaded in December.

Ajay, from what I understand, there is an interview with a French periodical that quotes Zbig taking credit for it, but he denies saying so. And that is the only citation I have seen to him admitting it - though I admit my knowledge may incomplete and their may be other evidence.

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