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“Going for Broke – 6 ways the Af-Pak War is Expanding” – Engelhardt

26 May 2009

Summary:  Today there are few more important issues for America today than our ever-widening Middle Eastern wars.  Not only are they strategically problematic (aka nuts), and can we ill afford the cost, but they divert the Obama Administration’s most scarcest resources:  time and political capital.  This emperils both its true agenda and its ability to deal with the economic crisis.

Today’s attempt to grapple with these protean wars is an excerpt from “Six Ways the Af-Pak War Is Expanding“, Tom Engelhardt, posted at TomDispatch, 21 May 2009.  As always, I recommend reading it in full. 

A.  Introduction

… {T}he recent sacking of Afghan commander General David McKiernan after less than a year in the field and McChrystal’s appointment as the man to run the Afghan War seems to signal that the Obama administration is going for broke. It’s heading straight into what, in the Vietnam era, was known as “the big muddy.”

General McChrystal comes from a world where killing by any means is the norm and a blanket of secrecy provides the necessary protection. For 5 years he commanded the Pentagon’s super-secret Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which, among other things, ran what Seymour Hersh has described as an “executive assassination wing” out of Vice President Cheney’s office. (Cheney just returned the favor by giving the newly appointed general a ringing endorsement: “I think you’d be hard put to find anyone better than Stan McChrystal.”)

… All of this offers more than a hint of the sort of “new thinking and new approaches” — to use Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’s words — that the Obama administration expects General McChrystal to bring to the devolving Af-Pak battlefield. He is, in a sense, both a legacy figure from the worst days of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld era and the first-born child of Obama-era Washington’s growing desperation and hysteria over the wars it inherited. …

B.  An Expanding Af-Pak War

… At this point, the early moves of the Obama administration, when combined with the momentum of the situation it inherited, have resulted in the expansion of the Af-Pak War in at least six areas, which only presage further expansion in the months to come:

1. Expanding Troop Commitment

In February, President Obama ordered a “surge” of 17,000 extra troops into Afghanistan, increasing U.S. forces there by 50%. (Then-commander McKiernan had called for 30,000 new troops.) In March, another 4,000 American military advisors and trainers were promised. The first of the surge troops, reportedly ill-equipped, are already arriving. In March, it was announced that this troop surge would be accompanied by a “civilian surge” of diplomats, advisors, and the like; in April, it was reported that, because the requisite diplomats and advisors couldn’t be found, the civilian surge would actually be made up largely of military personnel.

In preparation for this influx, there has been massive base and outpost building in the southern parts of that country, including the construction of 443-acre Camp Leatherneck in that region’s “desert of death.” When finished, it will support up to 8,000 U.S. troops, and a raft of helicopters and planes. Its airfield, which is under construction, has been described as the “largest such project in the world in a combat setting.”

2. Expanding CIA Drone War

The CIA is running an escalating secret drone war in the skies over the Pakistani borderlands with Afghanistan, a “targeted” assassination program of the sort that McChrystal specialized in while in Iraq. Since last September, more than three dozen drone attacks — the Los Angeles Times put the number at 55 — have been launched, as opposed to 10 in 2006-2007. The program has reportedly taken out a number of mid-level al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders, but also caused significant civilian casualties, destabilized the Pashtun border areas of Pakistan, and fostered support for the Islamic guerrillas in those regions. As Noah Shachtman wrote recently at his Danger Room website:

“According to the American press, a pair of missiles from the unmanned aircraft killed ‘at least 25 militants.’ In the local media, the dead were simply described as ’29 tribesmen present there.’ That simple difference in description underlies a serious problem in the campaign against the Taliban and Al Qaeda. To Americans, the drones over Pakistan are terrorist-killers. In Pakistan, the robotic planes are wiping out neighbors.”

David Kilcullen, a key advisor to Petraeus during the Iraq “surge” months, and counterinsurgency expert Andrew McDonald Exum recently called for a moratorium on these attacks on the New York Times op-ed page. (“Press reports suggest that over the last three years drone strikes have killed about 14 terrorist leaders. But, according to Pakistani sources, they have also killed some 700 civilians. This is 50 civilians for every militant killed, a hit rate of 2 percent — hardly ‘precision.'”) As it happens, however, the Obama administration is deeply committed to its drone war. As CIA Director Leon Panetta put the matter, “Very frankly, it’s the only game in town in terms of confronting or trying to disrupt the al Qaeda leadership.”

3. Expanding Air Force Drone War

The U.S. Air Force now seems to be getting into the act as well. There are conflicting reports about just what it is trying to do, but it has evidently brought its own set of Predator and Reaper drones into play in Pakistani skies, in conjunction, it seems, with a somewhat reluctant Pakistani military. Though the outlines of this program are foggy at best, this nonetheless represents an expansion of the war.

4. Expanding Political Interference

Quite a different kind of escalation is also underway. Washington is evidently attempting to insert yet another figure from the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld era into the Afghan mix. Not so long ago, Zalmay Khalilzad, the neocon former American viceroy in Kabul and then Baghdad, was considering making a run for the Afghan presidency against Hamid Karzai, the leader the Obama administration is desperate to ditch. In March, reports — hotly denied by Holbrooke and others — broke in the British press of a U.S./British plan to “undermine President Karzai of Afghanistan by forcing him to install a powerful chief of staff to run the Government.” Karzai, so the rumors went, would be reduced to “figurehead” status, while a “chief executive with prime ministerial-style powers” not provided for in the Afghan Constitution would essentially take over the running of the weak and corrupt government.

This week, Helene Cooper reported on the front page of the New York Times that Khalilzad would be that man. He “could assume a powerful, unelected position inside the Afghan government under a plan he is discussing with Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, according to senior American and Afghan officials.” He would then be “the chief executive officer of Afghanistan.”

Cooper’s report is filled with official denials that these negotiations involve Washington in any way. Yet if they succeed, an American citizen, a former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. as well as to Kabul, would end up functionally atop the Karzai government just as the Obama administration is eagerly pursuing a stepped-up war against the Taliban.

Why officials in Washington imagine that Afghans might actually accept such a figure is the mystery of the moment. It’s best to think of this plan as the kinder, gentler, soft-power version of the Kennedy administration’s 1963 decision to sign off on the coup that led to the assassination of South Vietnamese autocrat Ngo Dinh Diem. Then, too, top Washington officials were distressed that a puppet who seemed to be losing support was, like Karzai, also acting in an increasingly independent manner when it came to playing his appointed role in an American drama. That assassination, by the way, only increased instability in South Vietnam, leading to a succession of weak military regimes and paving the way for a further unraveling there. This American expansion of the war would likely have similar consequences.

5. Expanding War in Pakistan

Meanwhile, in Pakistan itself, mayhem has ensued, again in significant part thanks to Washington, whose disastrous Afghan war and escalating drone attacks have helped to destabilize the Pashtun regions of the country. Now, the Pakistani military — pushed and threatened by Washington (with the loss of military aid, among other things) — has smashed full force into the districts of Buner and Swat, which had, in recent months, been largely taken over by the Islamic fundamentalist guerrillas we call “the Pakistani Taliban.”

It’s been a massive show of force by a military configured for smash-mouth war with India, not urban or village warfare with lightly armed guerrillas. The Pakistani military has loosed its jets, helicopter gunships, and artillery on the region (even as the CIA drone strikes continue), killing unknown numbers of civilians and, far more significantly, causing a massive exodus of the local population. In some areas, well more than half the population has fled Taliban depredations and indiscriminate fire from the military. Those that remain in besieged towns and cities, often without electricity, with the dead in the streets, and fast disappearing supplies of food, are clearly in trouble.

With nearly 1.5 million Pakistanis turned into refugees just since the latest offensive began, U.N. officials are suggesting that this could be the worst refugee crisis since the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Talk about the destabilization of a country.

In the long run, this may only increase the anger of Pashtuns in the tribal areas of Pakistan at both the Americans and the Pakistani military and government. The rise of Pashtun nationalism and a fight for an “Islamic Pashtunistan” would prove a dangerous development indeed. This latest offensive is what Washington thought it wanted, but undoubtedly the old saw, “Be careful what you wish for, lest it come true,” applies. Already a panicky Washington is planning to rush $110 million in refugee assistance to the country.

6. Expanding Civilian Death Toll and Blowback

As Taliban attacks in Afghanistan rise and that loose guerrilla force (more like a coalition of various Islamist, tribal, warlord, and criminal groups) spreads into new areas, the American air war in Afghanistan continues to take a heavy toll on Afghan civilians, while manufacturing ever more enemies as well as deep resentment and protest in that country. The latest such incident, possibly the worst since the Taliban was defeated in 2001, involves the deaths of up to 147 Afghans in the Bala Baluk district of Farah Province, according to accounts that have come out of the villages attacked. Up to 95 of the dead were under 18, one Afghan lawmaker involved in investigating the incident claims, and up to 65 of them women or girls. These deaths came after Americans were called into an escalating fight between the Taliban and Afghan police and military units, and in turn, called in devastating air strikes by two U.S. jets and a B-1 bomber (which, villagers claim, hit them after the Taliban fighters had left).

Despite American pledges to own up to and apologize more quickly for civilian deaths, the post-carnage events followed a predictable stonewalling pattern, including a begrudging step-by-step retreat in the face of independent claims and reports. The Americans first denied that anything much had happened; then claimed that they had killed mainly Taliban “militants”; then that the Taliban had themselves used grenades to kill most of the civilians (a charge later partially withdrawn as “thinly sourced”); and finally, that the numbers of Afghan dead were “extremely over-exaggerated,” and that the urge for payment from the Afghan government might be partially responsible.

An investigation, as always, was launched that never seems to end, while the Americans wait for the story to fade from view. As of this moment, while still awaiting the results of a “very exhaustive” investigation, American spokesmen nonetheless claim that only 20-30 civilians died along with up to 65 Taliban insurgents. In these years, however, the record tells us that, when weighing the stories offered by surviving villagers and those of American officials, believe the villagers. Put more bluntly, in such situations, we lie, they die.

Two things make this “incident” at Bala Baluk more striking. First of all, according to Jerome Starkey of the British Independent, another Rumsfeld creation, the U.S. Marines Corps Special Operations Command (MarSOC), the Marines’ version of JSOC, was centrally involved, as it had been in two other major civilian slaughters, one near Jalalabad in 2007 (committed by a MarSOC unit that dubbed itself “Taskforce Violence”), the second in 2008 at the village of Azizabad in Herat Province. McChrystal’s appointment, reports Starkey, has “prompted speculation that [similar] commando counterinsurgency missions will increase in the battle to beat the Taliban.”

Second, back in Washington, National Security Advisor James Jones and head of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen, fretting about civilian casualties in Afghanistan and faced with President Karzai’s repeated pleas to cease air attacks on Afghan villages, nonetheless refused to consider the possibility. Both, in fact, used the same image. As Jones told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos: “Well, I think he understands that… we have to have the full complement of… our offensive military power when we need it… We can’t fight with one hand tied behind our back…”

In a world in which the U.S. is the military equivalent of the multi-armed Hindu god Shiva, this is one of the truly strange, if long-lasting, American images. It was, for instance, used by President George H. W. Bush on the eve of the first Gulf War. “No hands,” he said, “are going to be tied behind backs. This is not a Vietnam.”

Forgetting the levels of firepower loosed in Vietnam, the image itself is abidingly odd. After all, in everyday speech, the challenge “I could beat you with one hand tied behind my back” is a bravado offer of voluntary restraint and an implicit admission that fighting any other way would make one a bully. So hidden in the image, both when the elder Bush used it and today, is a most un-American acceptance of the United States as a bully nation, about to be restrained by no one, least of all itself.

Apologize or stonewall, one thing remains certain: the air war will continue and so civilians will continue to die. The idea that the U.S. might actually be better off with one “hand” tied behind its back is now so alien to us as to be beyond serious consideration.

C.  The Pressure of an Expanding War

President Obama has opted for a down-and-dirty war strategy in search of some at least minimalist form of success. For this, McChrystal is the poster boy.

… For those old enough to remember, we’ve been here before. Administrations that start down a path of expansion in such a war find themselves strangely locked in — psychically, if nothing else — if things don’t work out as expected and the situation continues to deteriorate. In Vietnam, the result was escalation without end. President Obama and his foreign policy team now seem locked into an expanding war. Despite the fact that the application of force has not only failed for years, but actually fed that expansion, they also seem to be locked into a policy of applying ever greater force, with the goal of, as the Post’s Ignatius puts it, cracking the “Taliban coalition” and bringing elements of it to the bargaining table.

So keep an eye out for whatever goes wrong, as it most certainly will, and then for the pressures on Washington to respond with further expansions of what is already “Obama’s war.” With McChrystal in charge in Afghanistan, for instance, it seems reasonable to assume that the urge to sanction new special forces raids into Pakistan will grow. After all, frustration in Washington is already building, for however much the Pakistani military may be taking on the Taliban in Swat or Buner, don’t expect its military or civilian leaders to be terribly interested in what happens near the Afghan border.

… So the frustration of a war in which the enemy has no borders and we do is bound to rise along with the fighting, long predicted to intensify this year. We now have a more aggressive “team” in place. Soon enough, if the fighting in the Afghan south and along the Pakistani border doesn’t go as planned, pressure for the president to send in those other 10,000 troops General McKiernan asked for may rise as well, as could pressure to apply more air power, more drone power, more of almost anything. And yet, as former CIA station chief in Kabul, Graham Fuller, wrote recently, in the region “crises have only grown worse under the U.S. military footprint.”

And what if, as the war continues its slow arc of expansion, the “Washington coalition” is the one that cracks first? What then?

About the author

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. He is the author of The End of Victory Culture, a history of the Cold War and beyond, as well as of a novel, The Last Days of Publishing. He also edited The World According to TomDispatch: America in the New Age of Empire (Verso, 2008), an alternative history of the mad Bush years.

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 Afterword

Please share your comments by posting below.  Per the FM site’s Comment Policy, please make them civil and relevant to this post.  Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).  Posts over 250 words will have a fold inserted (putting a “more” button in the comment), so make the opening text an interesting summary of your comment.

For information about this site see the About page, at the top of the right-side menu bar.

For more information from the FM site

To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar.  Of esp interest these days:

Posts about our wars in Afghanistan:

  1. Scorecard #2: How well are we doing in Iraq? Afghanistan?, 31 October 2003
  2. Quote of the day: this is America’s geopolitical strategy in action, 26 February 2008 — George Friedman of Statfor on the Afghanistan War.
  3. Another perspective on Afghanistan, a reply to George Friedman, 27 February 2008
  4. How long will all American Presidents be War Presidents?, 21 March 2008
  5. Why are we are fighting in Afghanistan?, 9 April 2008 — A debate with Joshua Foust.
  6. We are withdrawing from Afghanistan, too (eventually), 21 April 2008
  7. Roads in Afghanistan, a new weapon to win 4GW’s?, 26 April 2008
  8. A powerful weapon, at the sight of which we should tremble and our enemies rejoice, 2 June 2008
  9. Brilliant, insightful articles about the Afghanistan War, 8 June 2008
  10. The good news about COIN in Afghanistan is really bad news, 20 August 2008
  11. Stratfor says that our war in Pakistan grows hotter; Palin seems OK with that, 12 September 2008
  12. Pakistan warns America about their borders, and their sovereignty, 14 September 2008
  13. Weekend reading about … foreign affairs, 19 October 2008
  14. “Strategic Divergence: The War Against the Taliban and the War Against Al Qaeda” by George Friedman, 31 January 2009
  15. America sends forth its privateers to pillage, bold corsairs stealing from you and I, 9 February 2009 
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15 Comments leave one →
  1. 26 May 2009 10:52 am

    With all due respect to Tom, who is a good journalist running a great site, it would be far more useful to have some productive analysis of this matter than a hail of obvious brickbats. The following are real problems, and demand real solutions:

    The unviability of the Durand Line, the inability of either country to control this border, and Pashtun nationalism – the US, NATO, and the greater world community need to figure this out somehow. There are not many options and none of them are very good. We can try to manage it as is, which is not working nor likely to… nuke it, occupy it, those both will not happen and should not… so what is left is to come up with a way to part with the ancient and manipulative British borders. See Iraq.

    The unviability of Karzai in the situation – sure, we can’t overthrow or assassinate him, but as T. E. Lawrence might say, he is no Faisal. The lack of charisma and the connection to corruption are major problems.

    As it currently stands, we are making it way too easy for factions who really have little in common to unify against us, when our energies should be put toward splintering them. Isolating, and winning a propaganda war against, people who throw acid in the faces of young girls should not be terribly difficult.

    Similarly, it is in the enemy’s interest (assuming there is a clear enemy, and it is a combination of al-Qaeda and fundamentalist extremists of the acid-hurling proclivity) to have the front in the war as wide as possible, and include not only the area around the Durand Line but additional portions of both countries. It is in our interest to narrow the front… which would have to start by dealing with that border area, some form of sequestration from both sides, some form of statehood or relative independence for the Pashtuns, who could then be, since empowered, held responsible for who is in their territory and what they do.

    Let us not forget that this is where Osama bin Laden escaped to. Let us also not forget that in order to execute the ridiculous adventure in Mesopotamia we failed to follow up success and an advantage in this area.

    What is needed is ruthlessly pragmatic strategizing, and a holistic approach that incorporates a rapprochement with Iran, settles the Israel/Palestine question, and addresses the border issue, the Pashtun issue, and the rest, while narrowing the front such that any remaining unacceptables (and this is a determination to be made… do we follow the model with Saudi Arabia and ‘permit’ societies that oppress women, but not too much, no driving is fine but acid-throwing is out?) are confined to a small area that can be quarantined, patrolled, attacked at will as needed within international norms.

    Difficult, granted, but not necessarily impossible, but certainly outside the confines of accepted ‘conventional wisdom’ of either left or right or center, so far.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Why are these our problems? Clear and practical goals, linked to a rational grand strategy, are the starting point — a step usually skipped when discussing how fast and widely to expand the Afghanistan War.

    “rapprochement with Iran, settles the Israel/Palestine question, and addresses the border issue, the Pashtun issue, and the rest,”

    And do we get time off on the 7th day, or will “the rest” expand to include feeding the hungrey and healing the sick?

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  2. mclaren permalink
    26 May 2009 12:57 pm

    Obama and his people think the global economic meltdown is their central issue, but if they fail to the Af-Pak quagmire, it will eventually consume and destroy their administration just as the Iraq quagmire consumed and destroyed the previous administration.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: On what basis do you say that “Obama and his people think the global economic meltdown is their central issue”? Do they have a “central issue”? I see no signs of anything but a hodgepoge of unrelated decisions — without overall plan — on both war and economic policy.

    Washington elites often love crisis decision-making. It concentrades discussion on the senior level, without those mid-level experts whose knowledge challenges their bosses’ generalities, and skips the grunt work of research and thinking.

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  3. erasmus permalink
    26 May 2009 1:06 pm

    “the districts of Buner and Swat…causing a massive exodus of the local population..”

    Perhaps that is the mission there, forcing people out, and it’s working.Getting that many people to leave what are largely, I believe, rural low population density areas, takes concerted effort and some time, i.e. is not the result of a few pinpoint raids here and there.

    What’s there? Oil, new pipeline territory?
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Your imagination is not a substitute for research. There is probably nothing there, in the sense that you mean. This is standard counter-insurgency tactics, punative strikes at rebel-held areas.

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  4. erasmus permalink
    26 May 2009 3:19 pm

    Is it standard result of COIN that 1.5 million people get displaced? That is rather a lot, you know.
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    Fabuis Maximus replies: As a fraction of the population it is not much larger than similar ops in Iraq. Pakistan is roughly 5 1/2x the population of Iraq. In 2003 Fallujah had a population of 426 thousand, a large fraction of which was driven out in the fighting. How many Sunni Arabs were cleared from Baghdad during the “surge”? How many Arabs have been cleared from Kurdistan?

    And that assumes that the 1.5 million total is not exaggerated, as such numbers so often are.

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  5. senecal permalink
    26 May 2009 3:38 pm

    Admirable summation by Tom, similar to many during Bush’s war, all implying imminent disaster if these policies continue. This kind of writing makes us want to take to the streets, which is its purpose. However, Iraq never descended into the ultimate chaos of total civil war, which was often predicted, and however shameless, brutal and ugly our role has been, the final result has been a somewhat stable, weakened state, with guaranteed US military presence, both semi-reasonable objectives of a “realistic” foreign policy.

    The same may be in store for AFghanistan. Tom leaves out several factors: recent suggestions that the US is secretly pursuing negotiations with the Taliban, attempting to separate them from Al Q’aeda (similar to the tactic of bribing the Sunnis in Iraq); Al q’s threat to US supply lines — an imminent threat that can’t be ignored; Pakistan’s unstable state, in which US planners and special forces are probably already playing a role; Iran-Pakistan relations, illustrated in the recent pipeline agreement.

    There may be a larger strategic picture involved here, and a different end-state than the one we imagine by simply focusing on Afghanistan and US statements and actions there.

    At the same time, I like the idea that US planners love to focus on present emergencies, and often have no long-term, larger strategy. Putting McChrystal in charge may be nothing more significant than the San Francisco Giants renting an expensive free-agent in mid season in order to keep their fans content.

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  6. erasmus permalink
    26 May 2009 3:56 pm

    PS. i.e. that is more than the entire population of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland combined, for example.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: How nice, if this were trvia pursuit — or happening in Canada. It’s not, however. Dense Asian populations mean large numbers vs. similar activities in other parts of the world. Relative sizes are usually all that matters when determining significance of such things.

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  7. erasmus permalink
    26 May 2009 4:16 pm

    Well, you are right to point out I am just guessing etc.,but the original point was not so much about the possible why’s as to remark that this seems like rather a huge displacement for a relatively small military operation. You are also very right to point out that the figures might be exagerated, although that seems – after a quick glance of several articles – to be somewhat agreed upon in that these now represent numbers of refugees needing attention.

    The entire population of Swat, btw, is reported to be 1.5 million of which 60% have been evacuated. At the same time, this is supposedly all in order to go after pockets of Taliban fighters in squads of 20 here, a large force of 50 there. You have to admit, the whole thing is all rather odd. Indeed, Juan Cole is questioning the entire story.

    Here’s another take on Swat:

    http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/the-newspaper/editorial/starvation-stalks-swat-valley-359

    The bottom line seems to be that: the Pakistani government, in mounting whatever sort of attack (assisted by our drones and whatever else in our black-ops playbooks perhaps), has managed to clear out a huge number of people from a rather large, mainly rural area going after rather small numbers of enemy combatants. I guess you can call it COIN; if so, maybe it’s an emergent evolution: evacuate territories as much as possible, then flatten what’s left presuming that most of the relatively small number of the enemy you are after in this huge territory did not disguise themselves as locals and evacuate with all the rest since it appears their main purpose in being there in the first place was to use the locals as cover.
    Well, if victory is that they get the Talibs and then the population returns to their farms, fair enough. We’ll know soon enough if that transpires.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I will spell this out, as a likely reason for the Pakistan government’s activities: P-u-n-i-t-i-ve S-t-r-i-k-e-s. This is one of the oldest and most common counter-insurgency methods. We did quite a bit of this in Iraq, albeit (like Pakistan) never admiting it.

    Definition: “inflicting punishment; “punitive justice”; “punitive damages”.

    This is just one possible explanation for events, althought the most simple. As always during war, we know so little that definitive analysis is not possible. Journalists and flashy experts like Prof Cole often prefer to guess about complex conspiracies (usually false, but fun).

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  8. erasmus permalink
    26 May 2009 4:26 pm

    You are also right also about population density: continuing the trivial pursuit: Swat as about 150 per sq. km versus Nova Scotia’s 10 and is about one quarter the size. Of course there is also Buner etc. but still my impression of it being sparsely populated, mountainous etc. was simply wrong. (Based on reading too many histories of the area from before the ice age up to the middle ages.) Apologies for the digression, but I must say I find the whole thing rather extraordinary and find it hard to believe that all that is going on is flushing out a few Taliban.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I suggest reading some history about government actions to fight rebels. Stalin — or some Roman emperiors — would consider this (the Swat raids) a mild warning, suitable for first offenders. Like your observation that the US is a tyranny, this suggests a view that the world is like Iowa City. It’s not.

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  9. 26 May 2009 4:29 pm

    FM, according to my reading of history, the UN has an obligation to intervene in extreme humanitarian cases (such as when women have acid thrown in their faces) and when an ethnic group is stateless due to arbitrarily drawn imperial borders such as the Durand Line. NATO and the US are in the UN. In addition, both al-Qaeda and the Taliban threaten legitimate sovereign states that are our allies, and have attacked the US and taken refuge in the stateless border area. I would think that provides the strategic underpinning, and is obvious. What is pathetic, again, is that we lack the insight to win a propaganda war against such people.

    Secondly, granted that the Israeli/Palestinian question is extremely difficult… mostly because of corruption here in the US… still, money talks and all else walks. Send me, you, a ham sandwich, anyone chosen at random from the Birmingham, Ala. phone book, or a qualified diplomat to that area in 2002 with the trillion dollars we just burned in Iraq, and spread that dough across Tel Aviv, Gaza, Damascus, Cairo and wherever else, and you will have peace on a platter with your choice of sauce.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Does the UN have an “obligation” to do anything, let alone interfer in a nation’s domestic affairs? I suspect that are incidents of women in the US having had acid thrown in their faces. Certainly rape is pervasive in our inner cities (in my experience in the late 1970’s many inner city projects were run by gangs, with which young girls had to make some relationship to surrive. What level of intervention does this warrant?

    As for your #2 point, that’s a powerful point. “Trillions for war, but not for peace” is the essence of our grand strategy. Insane, of course.

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  10. Ralph Hitchens permalink
    26 May 2009 8:58 pm

    I dislike a lot of things about our Afghanistan/Pakistan involvement but think the view from an elevated perspective is not so bleak. Does the Taliban seriously threaten the Afghan government? Probably not. Do they threaten the Pakistani government? Definitely not. Englehardt raised some valid points but he lost some credibility right off the bat by endorsing Seymour Hersh’s nonsense about the “executive assassination” business. I think blowback from airstrikes is the worst single problem with our conduct of the war, and more boots on the ground might reduce our recourse to that tactic. The analogy with Karzai and Diem does have some analytical merit, and I hope the Obama administration will not make the same mistake Kennedy and his people made in 1963.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: You are stating the views of those opposed to our intervention in Af-pak, that the situation does not warrant American intervention.

    As for “more boots on the ground”, history shows that more US troops in-theater results in more airstrikes to protect them. That was the result in Iraq, and will almost certainly be the result in Af-Pak.

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  11. phageghost permalink
    26 May 2009 11:30 pm

    Greg,

    Nothing I’m aware of in the UN charter obligates members to “intervene” (by which you presumably mean militarily attack) countries with humanitarian failings (otherwise the globe would be encircled by fire), nor to forcibly redraw the world’s borders according to “ethnic” lines (which necessarily entails taking of territory from existing states). I would like to keep it this way. The UN member states _are_ obligated to provide military forces at the disposal of the Security Council.

    WRT to your second para, agreed.

    Like

  12. anna nicholas permalink
    27 May 2009 1:36 am

    We know too little about Them . ( see the Onion , Relations Break Down Between U.S.And Them . )The media feed us the ‘ enemy eat babies ‘ and we are hooked .
    How terrible it must be to live in a society where women are attacked with acid . A quick Google gives me 3 recent acid throwing results for 2 women ( one mentally handicapped ) who refused sex , and one man who tried to stop a fight , getting acid-ed . One of the women was described as having had a ‘ face of pure beauty ‘ . She now has to be fed through a tube . This is a disgrace . What sort of society would tolerate this ?
    The same society where God’s appointed govenor was overthrown by an upstart general , who in the name of his extreme religion destroyed religious icons and things of beauty , forbade public singing and dancing , slaughtered many , tore the country apart pitching son against father , brother against brother .
    His name was Oliver Cromwell .
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Are you saying that Cromwell had acid thrown on a woman’s face? Do you have evidence for this? More generally, this period was one of massive religious wars. Under Cromwell, the Brits had a time out — a period of relative calm and tolerance compared to the rest of Europe (esp Germany and France).

    For more about this see “What did you Puritans ever do for us, Oliver?”, Lucy Powell, The Independent, 16 November 2008 — “Well, there’s sexual liberation, personal hygiene, press freedom… On the eve of a new drama about Cromwell and the English Revolution, its writer Peter Flannery tells Lucy Powell we’ve got the Roundheads all wrong.”

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  13. 27 May 2009 9:48 am

    Who’da thunk it would be so easy to get agreement on the israel/palestine question and not on af-pak. Tough crowd here but a good one. If we cast aside humanitarian intervention, the question of al-Qaeda remains, and immediately begs a solution to the Durand Line problem. Any coherent solutions there? Other than what I stated earlier?

    As to that other place where acid was thrown in the face of women… you’re not scoring points in this direction when it comes to Britain. Given their record of attempted genocide (see Tasmania and Australia), the difference between some Brits and the Nazis is that the latter had better technology. The record indicates that bombing civilians was a British policy that the US had to be talked into, and that it ironically won the Battle of Britain by so infuriating Hitler he attacked cities in retaliation, rather than concentrating on the strategic RAF, and thus lost. This underlies McNamara’s point that the Allies would have been justifiably tried for war crimes had they lost WWII. The difference between Britain and Germany, it says here, was one of degree, and one can at least understand if not empathize with the position of Joe Kennedy Sr. and neutral Ireland, that of a plague on both their houses. It is interesting how underinformed the US is about the conduct of the British Empire internationally, and how something once so oppressive as to justify rebellion has been romanticized into nostalgia and a special relationship. PR goes a long way and winners write history. The messes in Af-Pak and Palestine, all have to do with the mess these imperialists created… and all modern involvements by the like of Blair and Ferguson have at least some roots in wanting to still be part of the Great Game.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I have no idea what point you are making. This issue arose about the UN’s authority to intervene in a nation where acid was thrown into women’s faces on one or more occasions.

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  14. erasmus permalink
    27 May 2009 4:22 pm

    FM replied: “Stalin — or some Roman emperiors — would consider this (the Swat raids) a mild warning, suitable for first offenders. Like your observation that the US is a tyranny, this suggests a view that the world is like Iowa City. It’s not.

    That is a very interesting characterization. Am currently reading up on the Bolshevik revolution precisely because I am NOT of the opinion that we are in Iowa and that, even though many instantly recoil at the notion that we might be headed into a tyranny of sorts, perhaps that is not the case.

    The example in Swat is pertinent. It is described in most US media, if at all, as part of a distant and rather small military side show. And yet this small sideshow has recently displaced over 60% of a provinical population. What this means to me is that things happen routinely that are closer in scale to Stalin-esque type initiatives but we perceive them as minor ripples in our friendly world-is-like-Iowa ponds.

    My point about the tyranny is based on the perception that we DON’T live in Iowa city and that the sort of terrible things that happened in the world barely 2-4 generations ago, and have happened throughout history in one form or another, could happen again, and even happen in the US.

    Although the Bolshevik takeover was described at the time as a bottoms-up revolution overthrowing a corrupt, tyrannical autocracy, in fact it was a top-down coup d’etat which quickly disenfranchised owners from their property, be they nobles or farmers and rapidly destroyed the average Russian’s standard of living, and for generations. Apart from the conspirators, I suspect very few people living in Russia at the time had any inkling of what was being visited upon them, could scarce imagine it. But it happened. And it wasn’t long ago. And they were not so different from us.

    Moreover, many of the exact same corporations who were involved in that coup are still extant and still involved, via central banking cartels, lobbying groups and suchlike. It is widely reported, for example, that the neocons intellectual lineage comes down through Trotsky and his ilk, the same bunch who siezed power, told enormous lies, raped and pillaged the country, shipped thousands of pounds of gold into the coffers of the same bunch still stealing today, albeit now from the US Treasury. Those types did it before in Russia. They can do it again in the US. It is naive to think otherwise. And dangerous. So kyudos to you, FM, for spotting that!
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    Fabius Maximus replies: This does not make much sense to me.

    (1) “My point about the tyranny is based on the perception that the sort of terrible things that happened in the world barely 2-4 generations ago, and have happened throughout history in one form or another, could happen again, and even happen in the US.”

    But almost anything that happened in the past could happen to us. We’re all human, after all. But that provides no basis to consider every possibility as likely to happen to us. Comparison of the US to Czarist Russia seems esp daft. What are the similarities, esp vs. the massive differences?

    (2) “many of the exact same corporations who were involved in that coup”

    What corporations? Unless you define “corp” very loosely, perhaps as social rather than economic units. To call an “intellectual linkage” a corporation seems a misuse of the word.

    Like

  15. anna nicholas permalink
    27 May 2009 11:30 pm

    FM , the acid attacks I mentioned were in England , recently . Cromwell’s statue in London depicts an intriguingly thoughtful man . Just thought it interesting to compare Roundheads and Taliban .
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I think that comparison would show the Roundheads in a very favorable light.

    Like

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