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June 23, 2010

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I'll take option C

sorry, it's no longer available. we haven't had that spirit here since 2001.

may i interest you in some lovely Option A ? it's so smooth going down, you barely notice it. plus, free refills! or perhaps you'd prefer a Bottomless Mug of Option B ? it comes in two flavors: Eternal Asskicker and Honorable Victory Delusion.

I don't think you understand. We have a new counter-insurgency strategy. This means it will work, unlike all those old counter-insurgency strategies which did not have the advantage of being a new counter-insurgency strategy.

So McChrystal is out, but I was struck by some comments on this TPM story:

vasu: Glad to see Obama asserting civilian control of the military

rstephen: Asserting civilian control means doing what the majority of civilians in both the US and Afghanistan want by getting the H out of there.

No kidding.

We have a war that most Americans do not think is worth fighting, and in particular, a larger majority of those that elected the current President and Congress don't want to continue.

I'm not one to think that following the whims of the polls is the way to govern, but I do think that when it comes to staggeringly expensive overseas military operations that are killing thousands of civilians, the opposition of the majority of the public ought to mean something.

We have a war that most Americans do not think is worth fighting

a majority of Americans thought Vietnam was a mistake in 1968. we stayed seven more years.

in late 2004, a majority of Americans thought Iraq was a mistake. six years later, still there.

since support for Afghanistan didn't fall below 50% until last year, i'd say we have at least 6 more years.

yippee

...i'd say we have at least 6 more years.

Or, as the kids say, one SuperFriedman.

Eric, C isn't an option politically. Obama, in one of the few decisions I agree with, called it right with a time limited surge. Had the US simply pulled out, it would have been viewed in extremist corners (and I am not going to get in a debate about what 'extremist' means) as a retreat by the US and a victory for extremists. That happened after the Lebanon debacle.

It's a caluculated risk, but declaring an 18 month timetable and using that time to attrit Taliban and other extremist elements and simultaneously drive home how unpleasant it is to tangle with a stepped up US presence (hopefully discouraging future acts that would require a US reprisal) seems as reasonable a manner of extraction as circumstances will permit.

American "public opinion" takes many forms. Poll results are one form. A different form is the knee-jerk response whenever anybody mentions being a soldier, having been a soldier, or being related to a soldier: "Thank you for your service."

This automatic genuflection to "our men and women in uniform" is not just getting tiresome, it's getting dangerous. The public may tell pollsters that fighting in Afghanistan is a fool's errand, but as long as it mouths pieties like "fighting for our freedom" at any mention of "the troops" doing the fighting, it's no wonder our politicians are hopelessly confused.

--TP

McKinneyTexas: So... when can we pull out of Afghanistan that won't be "viewed in extremist corners as a retreat by the US and a victory for extremists."? Seriously, is there such a time, or will every time the idea comes up, it'll be the same thing?

Because staying there is a "victory for extremists" too, since Bin Laden's stated plan was to draw the US into a drawn out, expensive war, like the Soviets in Afghanistan, or the US in Vietnam. So staying forever and bleeding ourselves dry and bombing weddings for however many Friedman Units is exactly what he wanted.

Don't forget option D: the troops from both Afghanistan and Iraq make their exit through Tehran. The new war has of course to be given a chance of 6-8 years before judging success. There are also (to quote one of Bush the Lesser's main henchbeings) more targets. Likely more than in Afghanistan and Iraq combined (the former never having that much in the first place and the latter now severely depleted). Obama could thus turn the tables on his opponents leaving them an unpopular costly war when leaving office.

Had the US simply pulled out, it would have been viewed in extremist corners (and I am not going to get in a debate about what 'extremist' means) as a retreat by the US and a victory for extremists. That happened after the Lebanon debacle.

Actually, I think "extremist" is a very good word. The point is, you want to emphasize that the "extremists" are fringe, radical, extreme and don't represent Islam.

Aside from that, I think it's important to look at what the actual lesson from Lebanon was.

It was this: If we inflict enough pain on Western armies, they will withdraw from Muslim lands.

Not only is that lesson undeniably true, it is also not particularly pernicious to us, unless we plan on maintaining armies in Muslim lands going forward.

But it's not as if extremists decided, "I'm going to commit a suicide attack on American soil because they pulled out of Lebanon and that means they're weak and won't retaliate."

Not only is the suicide bomber dead, but the planners were hoping for retaliation - over reaction at that.

But you have a point about the political optics.

i'd say Nate's point is 10x stronger, tho.

there isn't any way we leave that won't be construed as a retreat, by at least some of our enemies. or, do we think alQ's communications office is above misrepresenting the truth to make a point ?

the foolish hope of a decisive (unquestionable, even to the enemy) victory is exactly why we will never leave.

cling, warmongers, cling.

Sure, I obviously agree with Nate as well.

As I mentioned, it's a calculated risk. Sure, any departure can be construed as a retreat. However, scenario A is that the US ups and leaves as soon as there is a change in administration. Not exactly a message of strength and resolve. Scenario B is the US giving this 18 more months, i.e. leaving on our schedule, not anyone else's. Scenario B is augmented by significant operations geared to leave a lasting impression on enemy combatants, the message being, "Don't do anything stupid enough to make us have to come back."

Whether it will work remains to be seen. Getting out of Afghanistan is the primary objective. Obama had a lot of options, none of them particularly palatable and the situation was not one of his making although I suspect in hindsight he wishes he'd been a bit less vociferous during the campaign. I think he picked the least unpalatable of all. I think our military leadership should be embracing a plan that gets us out of a war that not only can't be won, but one in which 'victory' can't even be defined.

McTex: I don't wholly disagree with that. You are certanly righ about the "none palatable" part.

What a mess.

It really is a mess and one about which the right has no business dumping on Obama. Clearly, I am no fan of the president, but after 8 years of fiddle f'ing around in Afghanistan, to complain that O isn't doing enough is total BS. BTW, not wanting to ruin your day, but you and George Will seem to be on the same page on this one.

I know.

In truth, I'm not that far off from a realist when it comes to foreign policy - although I have a bit softer edges.

A "Progressive Realist," as the evolving nomenclature would have it.

I'll see your chastising of the righ, with a little of my own pox on both houses: While Bush does deserve some blame for neglecting Afhganistan (especially early on in the fight when Osama was still in theater), truth be told, the fundamental nature of the conflict (and the realities of Afghanistan) defies the nation building vision that has been rhetorically played up, regardless of Bush or Obama.

We were never going to "win" on those terms, and it's not Bush's fault that we were never going to.

Some things are beyond our abilities, within anything approaching reasonable costs.

Some things are beyond our abilities, within anything approaching reasonable costs.

Why do you hate america Eric?

We were never going to "win" on those terms, and it's not Bush's fault that we were never going to.

No, but hanging around for 8 damn years with no forward movement and no exit/resolution plan is unforgivable.

Agreed. Costly and unforgivable.

there isn't any way we leave that won't be construed as a retreat, by at least some of our enemies. or, do we think alQ's communications office is above misrepresenting the truth to make a point ?

And goodness knows the best way to craft foreign policy is on the basis of what Osama bin Laden will say about it, right?

HSD--this is a bit of a straw man. No one cares about what OBL says, it's what others, such as the Taliban, do to support him and others like him. The idea is to discourage others from aiding ALQ. We can't fix Osama or change his views or keep him from lying in whatever manner he chooses. We can make the cost of providing him a safe harbor prohibitively high.

That is actually a valid and important goal.

And from all accounts, many Talibs have gotten that message.

The question is, really, to what extent we need to emphasize/make clear that the new administration is not without resolve in such matters.

The question is, really, to what extent we need to emphasize/make clear that the new administration is not without resolve in such matters.

The president seems committed to his timeline but his rhetoric is so high-blown about our need to be in Afghanistan being tied to ongoing threats from ALQ that, if he is right, a long term committment as opposed to 18 months, is justified.

What he should be saying is that he believes we can adequately degrade the Taliban's ability to support ALQ in 18 months and simultaneously serve notice on whoever else might have thoughts of aiding ALQ of the price they too will surely pay.

He should also say that we will help Afghanistan in every reasonable way that we can while we are there, but after we leave, they need to work things out for themselves. I think most Americans would be fine with this.

HSD--this is a bit of a straw man.

A bit of a joke, too, in direct response to:

or, do we think alQ's communications office is above misrepresenting the truth to make a point ?

Let me know when you're done laughing, McKTex. (That's a joke, too, 'cause I'm not really that funny. Get it?)

McKinney: If Bin Laden's going to make hay from us leaving, and intended for us to bankrupt ourselves and alienate the Muslim world by invading Afghanistan (which didn't, but then we decided to chase Iraq), is the hypothetical "Al Queda PR boost" more important than the amount of money and lives we're spending there, and the horrible things these wars have done to us, our reputation, and our economy?

I'm really not sure the hypothetical terrorist PR outweighs all the other costs, though at this point, eight years in, I don't think leaving at any pace can do anything other than staunching the US's bleeding. I'm pretty sure it's not worth billions of dollars and people's lives to preventing Republican "Stab in the back" PR, either.

Option C works, but only to win. Ask the British and Afrikaners how it worked during the Boer Wars and what the results were afterward.

HSD--ok, I am a little slow. I may not be laughing, but I am smiling.

Nate--in very general terms, the object of any military action is to either respond to an attack or to deter/prevent a future attack and any and all permutations thereof. I am leaving open the question of who is being or might be attacked, i.e. self defense, defense of an ally, prevention of genocide or mass murder. Once action is taken, however, the timing of when to retire is guided by a host of factors, the dominant one in Afghanistan today being only after a truly lasting impression has been left with the extremist elements within the Taliban who might otherwise contemplate future support for someone like OBL.

But what's the threshold for leaving that impression? You could say that by December 2001 the Taliban had been taught that lesson, having lost control of the country and with their leadership in hiding. Or you could say that the lesson won't be learned until every Taliban member has repented or been killed. Presumably the standard we are aiming for and that you have in mind is something less extreme than that, but what makes some indeterminate point in the next few years a better threshold than saying that the lesson was taught in 2001?

The problem is that we have defined success as the total elimination of the Taliban, something we are guaranteed to fail at because it is impossible, and furthermore something that is almost totally irrelevant to American security. By defining success as something that is impossible to accomplish, we grant the Taliban victory just through their not being completely obliterated, and overshadow the fact that the real punishment for harboring OBL was enacted 9 years ago.

By defining success as something that is impossible to accomplish, we grant the Taliban victory just through their not being completely obliterated, and overshadow the fact that the real punishment for harboring OBL was enacted 9 years ago.

If I can tempt any of you to engage in a mental experiment, I'd like to know what you think could have been accomplished under a well considered plan to eliminate as much of AQ and their closest supporters in Afghanistan with the limitation on the plan, known in advance, being that from the time the first American solder landed there and the time the last American soldier left, no more than 1 year shall have passed (meaning, of course, that there would be no residual American military presence afterward).

Iirc the Taliban had looked for a face saving way to get rid of bin Laden & Co without violating the ancient customs of hospitality.
But for the US (leadership plus large parts of the population) it was deemed necessary to blow something up big time* as a reaction to 9/11. Bush&Co also refused any help from Iran btw because "we don't speek with evildoers".

*remember also that Afghanistan was only second choice because 'there are no good targets'.

JD--you raise a fair point that I thought I had addressed implicitly. Step One is to set a timetable for disengagement. Step Two is to inflict maximum attrition on hostile elements during the stated time period, consistent with minimizing friendly and civilian casualties. In other words, the threshold is defined by the time period. This is a case specific analysis geared specifically to events in Afghanistan where we screwed around for seven of the first eight years with no coherent plan other than to 'take the battle to the enemy' and 'prevent future terrorist attacks.' I'm all in favor of both of the above, but I don't see where leaving 30-80K troops in Afghanistan into perpetuity is a reasonable means of achieving either.

Sometimes, the threshold is unconditional surrender as in WWII. Circumstances and the nature of the opposition drive strategy and war ends. The consensus is that ALQ and those of a similar bent are fairly severely degraded. By and large, Bush gets credit for this. Obama seems to be pressing with similar aggressiveness (to the chagrin of parts of his base and without adequate recognition and support by the right). The going forward strategy should continue with what works on the intelligence and interdiction side of the equation with sufficient stand off military assets available for surgical strikes, mostly by air and occasionally by land at known extremist concentrations.

HSD--that was pretty much my armchair recipe for dethroning Saddam. More generally--and this requires firm executive guidance--future endeavors need, as the initial planning stage, a firm understanding of what can be accomplished in what period of time with what assets. Mission creep, absent truly unforeseeable circumstances, should be tantamount to a request for early retirement.

The military stands in extremely high regard these days, as it should; however, that regard is abused when we are told that the job can be done in 18 months and then the timetable gets pushed back and back again.

Iirc the Taliban had looked for a face saving way to get rid of bin Laden & Co without violating the ancient customs of hospitality.

Not exactly. While several Talibs had long considered Bin Laden & Co to be problematic, Mullah Omar was not really interested in turning him over.

That still leaves my point that I do not believe that Bush* really tried to find a way that did not involve blowing things up big time. I am inclined to say that going into Afghanistan was justified as far as bin Laden was concerned (but no further). But that does not exclude seriously looking for a different way before. Sowing division among the Taliban might have been an option (albeit a (too?) slow one).

*with large parts of the US agreeing. There had to be blood.

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