Afghanistan: Unscrewing the Pooch

Some problems cannot be solved, rectified, or un-SNAFUed. Some messes cannot be tidied up. That’s the plain truth of it. And I say that’s the case with Afghanistan. I think that whatever beneficial result might have been obtained there slipped away late in 2001 and was irretrievably lost in 2003.

In the early paragraphs of his speech yesterday, President Obama restated the reasons for the military action in Afghanistan in 2001. In 2001, I thought those were legitimate reasons. Eight years later, those reasons are moot. Bringing them up now as a reason for further military action in Iraq strikes me as a “gassing the Kurds” argument.

(For those who don’t get the reference — in the months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, righties screamed incessantly that Saddam Hussein must be deposed because he was “gassing his own people.” But the gassing to which they referred took place in 1988. It was a little late to ride to the rescue.)

At this point, there are these are the issues that need to be addressed:

  1. Can anything of tangible benefit to the United States be accomplished by further investment of blood and treasure in Afghanistan? And is that benefit worth the cost? Put another way, is that benefit obtainable for the amount of blood and treasure we are willing to pay?
  2. Would our abandonment of Afghanistan enable a genuine threat to the United States?
  3. Would our remaining in Afghanistan enable a genuine threat to the United States?

I lack the expertise in Afghanistan to even pretend to know the answers to those questions. President Obama’s argument for escalation in Afghanistan is that it would serve a genuine national security objective. There remains a connection between the the Taliban, which operates in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and al Qaeda safe havens in Pakistan, he said. He administration’s purpose is “narrowly defined as disrupting, dismantling, and defeating al-Qaeda and its extremist allies.”

Now, I don’t disagree with the objective. The Taliban are (is?) thoroughly malevolent. From what I know of them, they are less interested in striking the U.S. than in enforcing their toxic religious ideas in the Middle East. However, they are a destabilizing influence in the Middle East, and the stronger they are, the more support they can offer al Qaeda. So there is some benefit in “disrupting, dismantling, and defeating” them.

However, would the action the President outlined yesterday be effective enough to be worth the cost? I am skeptical. Juan Cole really, really doubts it. David Ignatius, on the other hand, is mostly supportive, although not without quibbles.

Another way to look at this issue is to consider the resources we have to spend on national security and how most effectively to use them. Thomas Friedman argues that our resources would be better put to use by “nation building” here at home and by developing energy sources that are not oil. Very basically, Friedman says oil money keeps repressive Middle East regimes in power, and the repressive regimes create a context that grows violent extremism.

Indeed, in the speech, the President said,

That’s why our troop commitment in Afghanistan cannot be open-ended: because the nation that I’m most interested in building is our own.

I hope he means that.

Reactions to the speech from Left and Right are mostly negative, although for different reasons. Negative reactions from the Left mostly boil down to “it’s too much like Bush,” or “it’s not a big enough departure from Bush.” Many lefties don’t agree that there is a substantial benefit to be purchased with additional blood and treasure. Either Obama will keep us bogged down and hemorrhaging in Afghanistan, or else whatever might be accomplished with this escalation will disappear as soon as we leave, so what’s the point? Lose/lose.

Possibly the most controversial part of the speech was the President’s announcement that we will begin to withdraw troops in July 2011. However, as Fred Kaplan points out, the pace of the withdrawal will depend on a lot of matters outside of our control. Thus, quagmire remains a real possibility.

Reactions from the Right are mostly that the speech wasn’t rah-rah enough. For example, Andrew Malcolm complained that in he speech President Obama didn’t once use the word victory. Bush was a better war president, see, because he used the word victory a lot.

Righties on the whole refuse to acknowledge that military victory is an outmoded concept. As somebody once said, when the enemy is a stateless movement, not a government, trying to achieve “victory” through military power is like playing whack-a-mole with mercury.

Righties also refuse to acknowledge the finite nature of America’s military and other resources. They don’t want to pay taxes, but they want the federal government to be infinitely resourceful; good luck with that.

Fred Barnes wrote,

I had hoped Obama would declare that nothing will deter him, as commander-in-chief, from prevailing in Afghanistan. But it turns out a lot of things might deter him. He listed a few of them: the cost of the war, its length (if more than 18 months from January 2010), the failure of Afghans to step up to the task sufficiently. He hedged.

It’s called “being honest,” Fred. We had eight years of George W. Bush mouthing meaningless words about “victory” and “resolve” that had little connection to anything happening in the real world. President Obama was acknowledging that there are limits to what we can do, and those limits are getting tighter all the time.

49 thoughts on “Afghanistan: Unscrewing the Pooch

  1. As I see it, my ‘hero’ Obama delivered a lot of gooble-dee-gook last night. Wading through it, I got that our ‘mission’ is to ‘train’ enough Afghanis to be able to combat al Qaeda and the Taliban effectively thus weakening them to the point where they won’t have a base-of-operation and thus can’t be a viable threat to the US.

    On the one hand, the ‘mission’s’ goal is to, basically, eradicate crime. (That’ll be a first in the history of the world.) But, more interesting is the belief that the Afghani people are helpless when it comes to effectively combatting any group with take-over in mind. If I remember correctly, the local Afghani Mujahideen Resistance got rid of the Russians. Took ten years, but the Ruskies ended up quietly departing with their tails between their legs.

    Our conceit – or is it our ongoing need to justify spending our treasure on a huge military-industrial complex – is that, aside from the developed world, the world needs our military and our treasure and our sacrifice. The story is getting very old, very tired, and very transparent.

  2. Please lets get real folks. If Obama said lets leave Afganistan next monday, the Taliban/AQ would chase us out of the country like they did the Russians. Do you want to have that broadcast all over the world. Hopefully when we bring our army home the Afgan army will be guarding our back.

  3. Just sit back and enjoy the ride, it’ll only be a couple hundred more young American lives lost and a few 100 billion dollars…In the mean time, just hope that you don’t lose your home, or all you ever worked for as a ravaging economy devours the hopes and dreams of millions of American families.

    It’s a strange sensation watch Obama speak and to hear George Bush through his words. One part of Obama’s speech I found touching..I guess I just have a tendency to melt when I get my patriotism stroked. When Obama mentioned the Berlin wall coming down, the tears in my eyes were coming down also.

  4. Let’s finance these wars with a voluntary subscription – kind of like the public TV membership drives. The wars would go on as long as the American people “support the troops” with their own cash.

  5. It is fatuous and simple-minded to believe that the mere presence of American troops on the soil of Afghanistan somehow prevents al-Qaeda (all 100 of them) from plotting another terrorist attack on the United States. 9-11 was not all planned in Afghanistan. The tactical and logistical details were planned in Hamburg, Germany; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Las Vegas. Think about how foolish this assertion is, folks. If we really wanted to reduce the likelihood of Islamic terrorism, it would be far better to surround Israel and force them to have meaningful peace talks with the Palestinians.

  6. It’s not clear to me that cleaning up Afghanistan in the manner Obama contemplates — even if reasonably possible — will significantly reduce the risk of 9/11-style terror attacks. Attackers don’t need a “safe haven” nation to plan and execute such attacks; indeed, the 9/11 attackers did plenty of planning (and all of the execution) while living right here. And, according to the 9/11 Commission’s report, they did it for somewhere around $500k. What’s to prevent someone else from doing the same from a base in New York?

    I think that one key to reducing the risk of such attacks is a long-term push to promote rational thought, and thus to weaken religious fundamentalism. This will, in turn, make it more difficult for the remaining fundamentalists to get the support they need to wage attacks.

    This is a very long-term project that involves little weaponry and few big explosions. For these reasons, and also because we have our own religious fundamentalists, it’s unlikely ever to be implemented.

  7. I think we are trying to give Afghanis the ability to take care of themselves and keeping things in semi control there, while Pakistan has time to stablize and hopefully get things more in control. It is important that nuts don’t get control of nuclear weapons and Pakistan has the nuts now that they have crossed the border from Afghanistan and the nuclear weapons too.

    As for the Russians, I think we were undermining them and helping the other side.

  8. As somebody once said, when the enemy is a stateless movement, not a government, trying to achieve “victory” through military power is like playing whack-a-mole with mercury.

    I apologize for repeating myself from the Chris Matthews post, but I think it bears repeating here:

    Under the Dana Milbank post, Sam Simple made a comment that I thought nails the problem: Obama continues the mistaken thinking that we should respond to Al Qaeda as if it were an army, when in fact it has much more in common with a crime syndicate. “You don’t use a wrecking ball to kill a pesky mosquito,” is how Sam put it. Someone else once told me, “When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” If Obama’s advisors are all military-centric (as opposed to criminal justice-centric, or statesman-centric), then everyone is telling him we can only use the hammer (or wrecking ball).

    So, imo, we’re looking at mostly- or at least partly-right goals, but completely-wrong tools and methods. I agree with Swami, it was a strange (unpleasant) sensation listening to Barack Obama speak and hearing George W. Bush in so much of what he was saying. He wants to avoid nation-building in Afghanistan, but what’s the alternative? Wrecking a nation and then walking away, as we’ve done in Iraq.

    Obama needs to starting listening again to the likes of Samantha Power, and dial down the volume on Robert Gates et al. And those horrible people who think Obama should be yapping about some fantastical “victory” should be reminded to, simply put, stfu.

  9. The problem is “Taliban” has become a catch all, like Bush used “terrorist” to describe the opposition.Notice I wrote “opposition” not “enemy”.
    It is entirely possible that the “Taliban” is the entire Pashtu tribe, the Pathans.
    My link in the comments for a previous post explains this. Eric Margolis has some thoughts regarding this on his blog.
    The war in Afghanistan will morph into a full blown civil war between the Tajiks and the Uzbeks ( Northern Alliance) Vs. The Pashtu.
    It seems to me that the way to contain the situation is to let it flourish in the “tribal” areas of Pakistan and in the hinterlands of Afghanistan; unless we want to kill millions of “true believers”.
    Remember the war between the protestants and Catholics in Ireland?
    Prosperity cured the problem. I’m not sure Neoliberalism will suceed in the “tribal” areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
    BTW, The middle east does not include Afghanistan, it is more like Central Asia.
    Central Asia will be the main battle ground in the next 20 years, unless we start on a real path towards energy resources other than oil and gas.Iran is stuck between Iraq and Afghanistan; I wouldn’t want to be an Iranian right now (in particular).

  10. I too was very disappointed in President Obama’s decision to continue the war in Afghanistan in this way. At the time of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and on Flight 93, we had the opportunity to score an unmistakable and totally justifiable international victory against terrorism and its perpetrators. However, it was an opportunity that the Bush administration used for illegitimate purposes. The war in Iraq was an inexcusable and unjustified distraction from the real enemy in Afghanistan. The principal threat to the United States has always been the possibility of Pakistan losing control of its nuclear weapons to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The question is whether our current deployment along with the small increase projected for next year is sufficient to insure stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan AND the elimination of the threat posed to those nuclear weapons by the terrorist groups therein. I submit that our position is neither tenable nor will it produce the desired results. Failure is inherent in American strategy. Our planners (and the American public) are unable to visualize a situation that requires moving the players to achieve strategic and/or operational advantage. Let me use two familiar sports analogies to demonstrate what I mean. American football, played on a linear field requires a team to move from one end to score at the other. Play allows for lateral movement but not rearward movement (without criticism). On the other hand, soccer permits a team to move the ball (also on a linear playing field) anywhere on the field of play to achieve advantages leading to a score. It is both necessary and accepted performance to actually return the ball to one’s own goal keeper who can then reposition the ball on the field of play. In geopolitical politics, American strategists play as if they were on an American football field. We do not have the resources to consistently feed troops into a losing war. We have to rethink our position, have the guts to withdraw and relocate resources to achieve strategic, operational, and tactical advantages.

  11. ‘Say goodbye to Hollywood, say goodbye to America…’
    We have now morphed into The Soviet Union (in psychohological terms, you become what you fear), and are now set for an economic Apololypse.
    We spend MORE on the Defense budget IN ONE YEAR, than we would in 10 years to provide the basics of health care for the nation. It must make sense to someone! This tells me that our stupid drug laws are probably not strict enough when one thinks about The House and Senate. Maybe there’s some shit in the water, or something…
    Our pritority:
    Defend ourselves with every last dollar against enemies that really can’t threaten us without us destroying them 1,000 times for every time they can destroy us.
    Health Care? No can do, Big Guy! We can’t afford it. We’re too busy defending ourselves against, against, against… Uhm, you know. AGAINST!!!
    So, live fast, die young, and leave a pretty corpse…

    ‘I am tired… I am weary… I could sleep for a thousand years…”* I want a one month vacation from politics. I would love to experiment with peyote, pot, LST, bourbon, and read novels for that time. Just ignore the smog of stupid that’s in the air every time I breathe a breath in this country.

    *Bonus points: Who wrote those lines, and what group sang them?
    No prize. Just the scary thought that you’re on the same wave-length as I am… BOO!

  12. Weird. Just listened to the speech, and I am very, very encouraged. ALL of the commentary I’ve seen, from left and right, had given me the impression that the ONLY thing Obama announced yesterday was an Afghanistan “escalation”.

    In fact, he outlined a three point plan, of which the military part was simply one leg … and was not meant to be the part that actually accomplished the change. The military part is the enabler of the other two parts. And in fact, he gave a specific date for when we would be LEAVING Afghanistan, whether Afghanistan is ready for us to leave or not.

    Anybody that seriously believed Obama was going to just announce that fuck it, Afghanistan’s broke, we’re leaving, was deluding themselves. Anybody that didn’t understand that the only chance we’ve got of actually accomplishing anything in Afghanistan would require more troops was just not paying attention.

    I’ve always thought that there is NO purely military solution to Afghanistan. The military can ONLY act as an enabler and supporter for a solution that includes diplomacy and aid and cooperation.

    That’s exactly what Obama announced yesterday. So, if anything is going to work, this is it.

    Now, IS it going to work? I’ve got no idea. Could be we’ll get to the end of the next 18 months and things will be the same or worse.

    In that case, we’ll be able to credibly say we did absolutely everything we possibly could have, and it failed because of lack of cooperation from the Afghans (because if it fails, that’s why it’s going to fail), and get the hell out.

    But, I think it has a very good chance of succeeding.

    And, seeing Obama make this decision, one which he knows will be deeply unpopular with most of the left wing, and which of course will be deeply unpopular with all of the right wing simply because it’s him doing it, has reaffirmed why I voted for the man in the first place.

    In summary, I really have no idea if this is going to work, and I guarantee you neither does anybody else, but I do believe it is the best of the bad options available.

    Now, go ahead, flame on, I’ve donned my asbestos suit, so feel free to make it as toasty as you like.


  13. Ian,
    You bring up some very good points. I agree with a lot of them. Leaving Afghanisan will be, as usual, based on conditions on the ground. That’s much too open for me, and something I’ve heard waaaaaaay toooooo many times in the last few years.
    Despite the points that you mention, I still think he/we are making a huge mistake. You can correct the time on a broken watch all that you want. But, until you change the mainspring, it’ll only be right twice a day – or, as many times as you keep moving the hands. And if it’s a modern digital watch, it’ll only be right ONCE a day.
    I don’t know anywhere near as much as Obama knows, and probably wouldn’t want to. I just that for him, and especially us, I pray he’s right. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. But, I still maintain that what we’re doing militarily is unsustainable and that we are heading for collapse.

  14. Here’s my opinions about your questions:

    1. Can anything of tangible benefit to the United States be accomplished by further investment of blood and treasure in Afghanistan?

    Maybe. Nobody really knows. Obviously Obama thinks or hopes so. History is much less optimistic.

    2. Would our abandonment of Afghanistan enable a genuine threat to the United States?

    Maybe. But it won’t come directly from the Taliban, who are the main characters in Afghanistan, who are pre-occupied with things there. As you point out, Al Qaeda isn’t there any more, but they could possibly return. Al Qaeda is the real threat to the US, not the Taliban, and it’s frustrating to hear people conflate them. And as others have pointed out, waging war against a nation isn’t the brightest way to fight a stateless enemy.

    3. Would our remaining in Afghanistan enable a genuine threat to the United States?

    Yes. Our presence is destabilizing Pakistan, probably the most dangerous country on earth.

    I see the whole thing as a remix of Nixon’s “Peace – With Honor” strategy to declare Victory and leave. The best thing we can say about Obama’s plan – if he can be believed – is that it will likely end the war (for the most part) within a couple years.

    Despite my opinions, I’m no expert. Despite my growing distrust of Obama’s instincts and actions, I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt on this one, reluctantly.

  15. Ian –

    I agree with most of your post. I understand Barbara’s concern that it’s too late to undo the mess Bush made of Afghanistan. One thing that I thought was pretty clear from the speech is that Afghanistan and Pakistan are linked by a border infested with bad guys. Afghanistan can’t solve it’s problems if the baddies can retreat to Pakistan & vice versa. While we can’t erradicate the mindset of these people, we don’t want them to have a center from which to grow.

    Speaking of growing, the south is where the cash crop of Afghanistan grows – opium. If the Taliban controls this area, it’s a source of funds. Yes, these people can hide in caves, but they can’t grow opium in caves. Separating the bad guys from financing seems like a good idea.

    I happen to be a big believer in human rights – not just when it’s convenient. From what I read, women in Pakistan and Afghanistan do not want to slide back into the dark ages. It’s not just access to education or not allowing husbands to commit murder on a whim. There’s a political weapon here – the biggest blow we can strike against radical Islam is not by military might but by empowering women in Afghanistan (and Pakistan). That advocacy can’t happen if the Taliban can operate with impunity.

    Pakistan has Nukes. Radical Islamic groups are trying to destabilize Pakistan. I don’t think I am engaging in fantasy by suggesting that if the opium trade can finance the radicals from Afghanistan, that money could be used to topple Pakistan, and who the hell knows where the nukes would go. I’d rather not see one smuggled aboard a container ship detonate in NY harbor. The idea that lack of ICBM delivery systems makes us immune is wishful thinking.

    On the legislative side, I’d like to see the funding of the war tied to higher taxes on the wealthy – in fact it wouldn’t break my heart to make it retroactive and get the fat cats to pay for the Iraq war they bought on a government credit card. Let the GOP vote against funding the war they love – attached to a tax hike.

    Mostly, I want it to work. I see a hundred ways it could fail, and a much narrower path to success – not victory in a military sense – but not the failure that abandoning Afghanistan might precipitate. I’m not often inclined to pray, but I might take it up.

  16. What I worry about is the people in charge under President Obama, our CIC.
    Are they making stupid decisions? I certainly have to question their abilities to lead if they have radio station programming that makes continuous snide remarks about our leader blasting over bases daily. To some, it may seem a small thing, it seems huge to me. If they do not see that as a problem, what else are they missing that will just make our goals more of a struggle.

  17. Hmm … much less toasty reception than I thought I’d get … goes from generalizing from other blogs I guess, should’ve known there’d be a higher class of commenters here 🙂

    Doug Hughes makes exactly the point that makes me most believe that this is necessary :: Pakistan’s nukes. I’ve seen others on the left side of the blogosphere treat that argument as if it were just Domino Theory Redux. The problem with that is those nukes DO actually exist, they are real, and they must be factored in to any thinking about the stability of the region.

    The only question, in my mind, is whether we are acting as more of a stablizing influence or a destabilizing influence in the region. I believe the latter is true, given the correct set of strategies, both diplomatic and military. I also believe our absence would not automatically stabilize anything, because there are certain acters in the world who want nothing more than a highly destabilized region.


  18. Well, sure, Ian–the question is whether we can protect Pakistan’s nukes from Taliban/fundamentalists if we stay or go from AFghanistan is a huge question. Its not “necessary” for us to stay in Afghanstan because its far from clear that a) we are stabilizing afghanistan or that stabilizing afghanistan actually protects Pakistan from Afghanistan. There’s a damned good argument to be made that if the afghans turn the civil war inwards, on themselves, they will be too busy to invade pakistan.

    I think we should turn all our attention and money onto Pakistan and deal with the fact that our war with afghanistan looks completely different to them than it does to us, just as our realtionship with india looks differently to them than it does to us. If pakistan is the problem why keep trying to settle afghanistan as a proxy for putting all our energy and time into pakistan? We’ve turned pakistan into our enemy by using it as a launching pad against the taliban/obl and afghanistan. Perhaps withdrawing from afghanistan is a prerequisite for becoming a partner with pakistan instead of an enemy?


  19. Doug Hughes makes exactly the point that makes me most believe that this is necessary :: Pakistan’s nukes. I’ve seen others on the left side of the blogosphere treat that argument as if it were just Domino Theory Redux.

    Here’s where I’m confused. How does our military presence throughout Afghanistan have to do with Pakistan’s nukes? The only way that argument works is to assume that the extremists in the borderlands might topple or infiltrate the government of Pakistan and gain control of those nukes… which is what, again? “Domino Theory Redux.” (Sorry, but that’s exactly what it is.) And even then, I can’t see how attempting to control the whole of Afghanistan militarily is necessary to cope with threats in the borderlands.

    It simply doesn’t work to conflate two completely different situations, or to continue misrepresenting “an international criminal conspiracy” (per Andrew Bacevich this morning on NPR) as an organized, centralized army.

    Many experts in Middle East relations, like Bacevich, do grasp the distinctions, and are expressing the same concerns maha expresses in this post. So I’ll say it again: Obama should be listening to more of those people and fewer from the Pentagon. Hammer, meet things that are not nails.

  20. I suppose if Newt Gingrich is not conservative enough, it was only a matter of time till Our Lord was due for a makeover. Too many dirty hippy types in that there bible for their liking I suppose. I remember reading about this some time back. Reading this article the name Schlafly caught my eye, then conservapedia, then it all made sense. Apple not fall far from tree.

  21. joanr16, the problem is that Pakistan is fairly unstable already. It’s not as if we’re talking about a rock solid government with a few bandits on the borderlands, this government is having to constantly scramble to stay in power. One of the power blocs involved is, of course, fundamentalist islam … not necessarily radical extremist islam, but definitely very fundamentalist, and sympathetic to the radicals.

    So yes, it is possible that the radicals, given free reign, might very well end up with a nuke or two. That is not a radical thing, nor does it involve the kind of theoretical, purely hypothetical threat that was the Domino Theory. There are very specific people with very specific goals, with very specific pathways TO those goals.

    Is it a likely thing? No, I don’t think so. If it could be called a likely thing, we’d be acting much more directly against Pakistan. It is, however, a risk, very real, and very specific.

    And, all of the most likely, and therefore most dangerous to us, of those paths either depend on or would be greatly aided by a neighboring country that is effectively in anarchy.

    You say “It simply doesn’t work to conflate two completely different situations, or to continue misrepresenting “an international criminal conspiracy” (per Andrew Bacevich this morning on NPR) as an organized, centralized army.” And of course you are absolutely correct. al Queda, if it even exists at all, is nothing much more than a criminal conspiracy, which obviously cannot be dealt with in a purely military fashion.

    That, however, is not what we are trying to do here.

    Military power, in the form of infantry on the ground (air power really sucks at this) can absolutely be used to suppress militants in a given area, calm things down, and enable the other aspects of the policy to begin working.

    We can’t just kill the Taliban, obviously. First of all, the taliban is not really the actual threat here, radical islam is, and the taliban, while being very fundamentalist islam, is not inherantly radical. However, what the taliban can offer, when backed by the arms and money of radical islam, is peace in the daily lives of people who’ve had no peace in decades. In order to even begin to let diplomatic and foreign aid efforts work, we need to be able to offer at least that. That is what the military is for. We then need to go further, and offer them more than the taliban backed by radical islam ever could by actually tangibly improving their lives.


  22. Joan asks : “Here’s where I’m confused. How does our military presence throughout Afghanistan have to do with Pakistan’s nukes? ”

    “Zakaria: I used to believe that the Pakistani nuclear weapons were secure and the Pakistani army was strong enough to maintain control over them, but I have seen recent reports, including one from Bruce Riedel who is advising the president on this which cast doubt on the security of nuclear command and control, the security of the weapons themselves.

    So yes, reluctantly I would have to say the president was right to raise the specter of some possible collapse of parts of the Pakistani state which could put the nuclear weapons in the wrong hands.”

    Zakaria IMO is not a Chris Matthews neocon. It’s just my opinion, but we do need to cut off the flow of money from the opium fields to radicals who might target Pakistans nukes. I like the imagery of ‘playing whack-a-mole with mercury’. It’s exactly true – wherever a pool of mercury is large enough to be poisonous, we smack it. If we can deny the extremists the opium trade and the nukes in Pakistan, these are blows worth striking. I don’t think Obama believes this is where a lasting peace will come from.

  23. While simply packing up and leaving Afghanistan probably is not the wisest choice, I fear additional forces will be as helpful to us as it was to the Soviets. True, our objectives are different, but to many Afghans, that difference doesn’t seem to mean a great deal. Our greatest problem is undoubtedly the Karzai government, followed by the insurgents.

    If the Afghans do not trust their government and if we cannot somehow change the stunning levels of corruption there, then we have already lost.

  24. Pakistan’e nukes are in check by India’s nukes. This is why Indis’s grand pubah was in Washington last week.How are the “Taliban going to deliver nukes to the U.S., PASSENGER PIGEON?
    Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.
    This whole thing is about the TAPI and control of Caspian Basin oil, everything else is smoke and mirrors.

  25. I always thought it was incredibly folly to enter Iraq, but I never dreamed a president would point in the direction of the Soviet’s greatest quagmire. But then, I suppose if you’re a Democratic president, you have to beat up somebody’s civilian population.

  26. erinyes,

    Arthur Silber has written some wonderfully insightful stuff in the past, but he’s off here. Where are President Obama’s “uncritical, mindless adulators”? That’s a myth, and Silber’s buying into the myth makes a lie of his entire premise.

    If he were on my blogroll I’d take him off it, but I never got around to blogrolling him.

  27. erinyes, Pakistan’s nukes are only kept in check by India’s nukes if some rational state actor holds them. That’s why MAD works … both sides understand and accept that usage of nukes would entail self-destruction, so they don’t use them.

    If they are in the hands of terrorists, particularly foreign terrorists who could really care less about Pakistan’s people, that doesn’t apply. If Pakistan comes under the control of particularly insane extremist rulers, that also doesn’t apply.

    I don’t know if you remember, but it seems to me that just about every 5 years, India and Pakistan come close to going at it … this last time everybody thought there was a very good chance it would be The Big One. If the rulers on either side had been just a BIT more insane … disaster.

    As to how they could be delivered to the US, the routes in are still distressingly large. I think the most likely route is still by shipping container on one of the big cargo ships, but if it could be smuggled in anywhere in central america, it could be taken overland.

    Nevertheless, it doesn’t really need to be exploded in the US for it to be disaster … it would be much, much easier to get it to Berlin, Paris, London, etc etc etc. Way too easy for comfort.


  28. That is not a radical thing, nor does it involve the kind of theoretical, purely hypothetical threat that was the Domino Theory. There are very specific people with very specific goals, with very specific pathways TO those goals.

    First, not all the anti-communist domino theory was hypothetical, so that argument fails the historical-accuracy check. Second, you would have to name for me the “very specific people with very specific goals,” because I think that sentence fails the rhetorical-accuracy check. Pakistan has a variety of angry insurgents with a variety of goals that often are at cross-purposes; they are blowing up one another’s mosques, for pete’s sake. It appears to me Pakistan’s current situation echoes nothing so much as IRA and UDF crimes against the UK or each other, during the Thatcher/Major years. A US/NATO-led invasion didn’t solve that problem, as I recall.

    Ian, I respect your desire to be optimistic; but I see too much inaccurate assessment in that optimism, just as I heard in Obama’s speech the other night. We need to leave unrealistic optimism, for a leader who’s only listening to a narrow range of opinions, to the Right.

  29. Damn it … had a whole big long comment typed out, hit submit before filling in the name and mail field, and lost the entire damn thing. And got work to do *sigh* In brief, I think perhaps you are being more optimistic than I in your assessment of the strength of the Pakistani government. I think it is way way more shaky than you seem to.

    I am not particularly optimistic about our chances in Afghanstan, but I think we need to try, for the sake of global security. And Obama’s strategy seems to me to be the least awful choice of a whole range of universally awful options.


  30. Ian, we need to remember there are more than two options here; they aren’t simply Leave the region versus Ratchet up the US military presence. Everything I see and hear indicates to me that Obama and his circle have overlooked other, more appropriate options just as BushCo did, although probably for more honest reasons. Put another way: size matters much less than what we do with it.

    BushCo cornered the market on “Hey, look! WMDs! Also Elvis!” So we need to be careful that our assessments aren’t so incomplete that we’re doing the Right’s work for them. Since Pakistan came into being, its government has usually been shaky. There’ve been coups, assassinations, and governments-by-religious rabblerousers. The country’s had nukes for more than 15 years. Of course we should continue to keep one unblinking eye on that danger, but “Pakistan’s got nukes” is still a justification-after-the-fact for Obama’s stated plans in Afghanistan. It still relies on the concept of dominoes falling, and on the US propping up first one, then another, shaky government.

    The great tragedies of the original, anti-communist “domino theory” were brought about by inappropriate American actions: witness, for example, Cambodia’s killing fields, Pinochet’s reign of terror in Chile, and the Salvadoran contras’ civil war. As Pogo said back in the Sixties, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

    So I will remain extremely skeptical, as long as Obama’s plans stick to the same old either-or. And if I’m proven wrong and this all turns out for the best, no one will be happier than me.

  31. Once my 2:36 pm gets out of the moderation box: I meant Nicaraguan contras (dammit!). Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador: we damaged them all in the 1980s.

  32. Just to be clear, I don’t believe Obama is using an either-or strategy at all. I think that ratcheting up the US military presence is just one part of a strategy that also includes diplomacy with both Afghanistan and Pakistan, aid in Afghanistan, black ops in various places (altho, hopefully not the torture-y kind, more the locate and eliminate known bad guys kind), and so on.

    The greater military presence is not really meant to “win the war”, it’s only meant to keep things calm enough for all the rest to start working.

    And with that, I think we’re the closest we’ll come to any kind of constructive agreement, so I’ll leave it there.


  33. Joanr16…I remembered that it was “Nicaraguan” Contras. The reason I remember so well is that I was buying boots for them at a time when I couldn’t afford to buy shoes for my own children. It’s strange how we can associate financial hard times with American foreign policy.

  34. Maha, I don’t agree completely with Silber, the link was intended to show the level of descent that is growing.

    Ian, I think you are way off base. If Pakistan’s nukes were a threat, make no mistake, the U.S would first crush pakistan with sanctions, then bomb them into the stone age. If you don’t believe that, you haven’t been paying attention.

  35. Well, I base my assessment on what Obama actually said in his lengthy address the other night; not on what I might imagine he meant to say but forgot, or he might be doing in secret if he really were evil, or whatever. But more power to ya, Ian.

  36. Swami, I bet you weren’t buying boots for the contras… weren’t they the Reagan-backed counter-revolutionaries? The Sandinistas and Daniel Ortega, I believe they were the leftists. And I’m sure they appreciated the boots. Thanks to the United Fruit Co., the CIA and the Reagan administration, for about 40 years our tax dollars created a lot of misery down Central America way.

    For some reason, the current climate feels kind of 1970ish to me. Not sure why. I think I’ll go listen to some Van Morrison….

  37. <i.Swami, I bet you weren’t buying boots for the contras… weren’t they the Reagan-backed counter-revolutionaries

    In those days I worshiped at the altar of St. Ronnie and the Church of the True American…I even sported an Ollie North haircut in emulation of the true American patriot. Although my generosity toward the Contras was without my knowledge, and through my tax dollars…just like the rest of the American public

  38. joanr16, I’m not entirely certain what you mean. What Obama actually SAID during his lengthy address last night is exactly what I’ve been saying. This is why I started off this chain complaining about how it’s weird that all I’ve been seeing is that he’s increasing troop presence, I’ve not been seeing the other aspects of the plan he explained, which included using the military to calm things down while he he increased diplomatic efforts and aid efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

    The only aspect I’ve mentioned that was not actually in his speech is the presumable black ops that will be going on, and I believe it’s extraordinarily safe to assume those will happen.

    OK, on second thought, there is also the fact that he didn’t actually say that the primary goal of all this is to address Pakistan’s nukes, but that is because that’s not the only thing he’s trying to accomplish here. It is the only thing I think makes the sacrifice worthwhile, tho, so that’s the position I’ve been arguing from.

    erinyes, Pakistan’s nukes ARE a threat, I guarantee you that. There is absolutely no question that is true. Whether or not Obama’s strategy with Afghanistan is the best one for addressing that threat is obviously very arguable, but the idea that they are somehow not a threat is just wishful thinking.

    Sanctions and bombing right now would only serve to make the threat greater. It would make a shaky government much, much shakier. As for future scenarios, well, the only way that makes sense is if the government actually falls, and we’re trying to clean up that mess. In that chaos, islamic radicals would have the best chance they’re ever gonna get to get their hands on a nuke or seven, and us adding sanctions and bombing would only serve to increase the chaos.

    If it ever comes to that, I’m sure we’ll try and use tactics like that to try and stuff that particular genie back in the bottle, but the Afghanistan strategy is designed to try and make sure the genie never gets out in the first place.


  39. Pakistan is where we need to focus, not Afghanistan. Pakistan is the real worry. THEY have nuke’s. The Afghan’s have stones and IED’s.
    We need to radically increase aid to Pakistan, not spend money on some BS “hold ’em and mold ’em” effort in Afghanistan.
    Give the Afghan’s money to try to change their main agricultural from poppy’s and hash to some other sustainable crops. Then, let them take over some other aspect of our own manufacturing economy that we’ve pissed away to China, India, etc. It won’t help the job situation here, but it’ll help there. Hell, it’s better than risking 35,000 more lives. And hey, it can’t hurt…

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