Why are we fighting in Afghanistan?

Summary: a debate about our role in the Afghanistan War, and more generally about the limits of America’s power and military power. As our share of global income declines, this is increasingly the same thing.
Don’t ‘pull an Iraq’ in Afghanistan“, Benjamin H. Friedman, Christian Science Monitor (3 April 2008) — “Massive state-building efforts are not a good use of tax dollars.”
This article sparked a discussion about the Afghanistan War with Joshua Foust at Registan.net (“Central Asia News – All Central Asia, All The Time”). What can we gain by fighting in Afghanistan? Is it worth the cost? See “Why we fight” for the full text of the debate.

In the opening round, Friedman makes what I consider powerful arguments.

This week at a NATO summit in Bucharest, Romania, American officials asked Europeans to send more troops to the war in Afghanistan. Leaders in both the Democratic and Republican Parties agree that higher troop levels and a deeper commitment to state-building are the path to victory in Afghanistan. But both sides are wrong, and Iraq shows why.

…what US involvement in Iraq principally demonstrates is the limitation of American military power in reordering foreign societies. US troops can check violence in areas they occupy, but cannot repair the tensions that produce such violence. Those tensions stem from political problems that only Iraqis can solve, as the current unrest in the Shiite south indicates.

If Iraq teaches Americans that flooding troops into other states racked by civil war and that undertaking massive state-building efforts is a good use of tax dollars, they are misguided. Disappointingly, US foreign-policy makers have embraced this false lesson. The politicians and think tank experts likely to guide the next administration’s military policy seem to believe that if Americans only plan better, coordinate more, and master counter-insurgency doctrine, the country can succeed in future wars meant to build foreign governments.

The public may have learned enough to change their opinion, but Washington’s hubris is essentially intact.

…Defending American interests in Afghanistan requires nothing more than ensuring the absence of a haven for international terrorists and making an example of those who provide one. Those two reasonable goals justified the war in Afghanistan, unlike the Iraq war.

…Only Afghans can properly build Afghanistan.

This nicely summarizes what Chet Richards writes in his masterly new book If We Can Keep It (see a review here).

In reply, Foust advocates for a large military involvement in Afghanistan — one of the best I have seen for this war. Foust is an area expert, so these are not frivolous arguments. There are three components to his case. First, the need for troops…

For the moment, there is simply no available substitute for the military in maintaining order in Afghanistan. That it does so imperfectly is a testament to its underfunding: there are simply not enough troops to provide meaningful security in their areas.

Whose military? America has neither the wealth nor the power to be the world’s policeman – let alone the wisdom to play God in foreign lands. Should the Tailban rule Afghanistan, or the Pashtun, or our hand-picked puppets? Should Afghanistan exist as a unitary state? Perhaps we should let them sort it out.

From a different perspective, whar are the basis for our intervention? Perhaps Allah’s law, the part describing government of the faithful by infidels. What is this our obligation to Afghanistan, and what does Afghanistan owe us in return? Money, obedience, gratitude?

Perhaps charity, an obligation under many religious and ethnic systems. Sending combat troops — armed men to kill for reasons of State policy — is not charity. It is a red line, to be crossed only for the most serious of reasons. Perhaps utilitarian grounds, enlightened self-interest. More on that below.

Second, the locals want the troops…

The other key difference between Iraq and Afghanistan? Iraq can quite easily be called a hostile occupation: most of the population opposes the U.S. presence.

Survey after survey, as well as anecdotal evidence, suggests that while the typical Afghan has become disillusioned with the U.S. presence, they’d still rather live under U.S. than Taliban suzerainty. That matters a tremendous amount: normal people on the ground want us to keep the Taliban away, but they don’t trust us to. We have given them plenty of reason to think so.

Wait until they get their US income tax forms, and legions of colonial administrators to remake their society in the image we determine best. Perhaps the survey did not ask the right questions, or we did not understand their answers.

Also, those “typical Afghans” presumably do not include the folks shooting at us. There must be many atypical Afghans; otherwise we would not need to send more troops.

Third, Foust forecasts bad consequences if we do not wage war in Afghanistan.

We thought we had no obligation to rebuild Afghanistan after we helped to shatter it in the 1980s. The result was a decade of unimaginable misery resulting in the Taliban and al-Qaeda… and the attacks of September 11, 2001. W e’ve seen what happens when we wash our hands and walk away, consigning them to their fate. Why would we want to repeat that? Surely the cost is too high.

This is a sample set of one, from a large number of post-WWII military expeditions to help foreigners. For example, we have tried all forms of intervention in Africa. The results have varied from ineffective to horrible. Why is Afghanistan different? What is the basis for belief that our intervention will have good effects, not creating resentment and hostility — leading to bad or worse results than just providing aid?

Saying that conditions are bad and military intervention is the only alternative ignores history and logic. To use an analogy, this is like a pre-modern doctor saying bleeding the patient is the only alternative to painful death. Now we know that doing nothing, however difficult, is the better course. The patient will have to find his own cure. We can help with aid and training. But crossing the line to armed force, shaping their society for them, probably does more harm than good.

Afghanistan’s history suggests that withdrawal will have direct, and dire, security consequences for the U.S. and Europe.

If van Creveld is correct, we will see more States fail during the next few generations. Since military interventions have a low success rate, we might rely on — for lack of better tools — simple carrot and stick “solutions.” Aid and — if that fails — strikes and raids (either pre-emptive or retailiatory). That we want better solutions does not mean that we have better solutions. Life is like that.

Foust also includes some cogent critiques of our aid and assistance programs.

The real failure in Afghanistan has been in the International Community. I’ve long been a critic of how aid and development work has proceeded — it’s seemed systematically designed to undercut the national government. … At the same time, money gets sunk into opium eradication (which also systematically undercuts support for the national government) while other, institution-building measures, such as the World Bank’s capacity building projects, or anti-corruption efforts, languish with unfunded mandates.

My thanks to Joshua Foust for this discussion. The comments section of this post at Registan.net has the full discussion, including a response from Friedman himself. Please share your comments by posting below (brief and relevant, please), or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

Updates:

I, Where Less Is More“, Rory Stewart, New York Times op-ed (23 July 2007) — Except:

America and its allies are in danger of repeating the mistakes of Iraq in Afghanistan. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and even some Republicans are insisting on withdrawing from Iraq and sending more troops and resources to southern Afghanistan. The Bush administration’s gloomy National Intelligence Estimate last week on the fight against Al Qaeda will only lead others to make such calls. But they should think again. T he intervention in Afghanistan has gone far better than that in Iraq largely because the American-led coalition has limited its ambitions and kept a light footprint, leaving the Afghans to run their own affairs.

II. Winning not a standard of success in Afghanistan, says general“, Canwest News Service (7 April 2008) — Except:

“A lot of people talk, ‘We need more troops, more troops.’ I think it is more about better synchronization between security, development and governance in terms of a comprehensive plan for Afghanistan.”

III. More Troops Needed in Afghanistan?, Abu Muqawama (8 April 2008)

For more information about the Afghanistan War

  1. Learning the Right Lessons from Iraq“, by Benjamin H. Friedman, Harvey Sapolsky and Christopher Preble, Cato Institute (13 February 2008) — What lessons should we take from Iraq? How do they apply to Afghanistan?
  2. Testimony about the war’s status and trends on 2 April before the House Foreign Affairs Committee by David W. Barno (Lt. General, US Army, retired), Director of the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies: click here for the 3 page PDF. He does not paint a happy picture.
  3. How long will all American Presidents be War Presidents? (21 March 2008) — Why the war in Afghanistan is not the “good war.”
  4. Why are we are fighting in Afghanistan? (9 April 2008) — A debate with Joshua Foust.
  5. Click here for other posts by Fabius Maximus about our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

25 thoughts on “Why are we fighting in Afghanistan?

  1. Thanks for posting this, Fabius. I look forward to your readers picking it apart. I have to respond to some things you wrote here:

    From a different perspective, whar are the basis for our intervention? Perhaps Allah’s law, the part describing government of the faithful by infidels. What is this our obligation to Afghanistan, and what does Afghanistan owe us in return? Money, obedience, gratitude?

    Perhaps charity, an obligation under many religious and ethnic systems. Sending combat troops — armed men to kill for reasons of State policy — is not charity. It is a red line, to be crossed only for the most serious of reasons. Perhaps utilitarian grounds, enlightened self-interest. More on that below.

    That’s a pretty big red herring. We invaded Afghanistan precisely because it was knowingly hosting the terrorists who murdered 3000 American citizens on American soil and caused billions of dollars of damage to two of our most important cities. That was the basis of the intervention; the intent of it once the invasion was over with was the creation of a state that would not harbor such men again—and that is all the U.S. has publicly demanded of Afghanistan. It is not a lofty goal: “Please do not become a haven for international terrorism again.” Yet you treat it like this mystical, unattainable phoenix creature. It is not.

    This is a sample set of one, from a large number of post-WWII military expeditions to help foreigners. For example, we have tried all forms of intervention in Africa. The results have varied from ineffective to horrible. Why is Afghanistan different? What is the basis for belief that our intervention will have good effects, not creating resentment and hostility — leading to bad or worse results than just providing aid?

    “We?” I must be missing something. Do you mean “Europe?” The UN? Or are we discussing American interests and values? They are not the same. Also, the “sample set of one” is irrelevant: the entire implication of my entire argument is that Afghanistan is a special case, it is an exception. Most interventions (like the Balkans) involved countries where merely bad things were happening—their continued status as failed or failing states did not pose immediate security threats to the U.S. Afghanistan did, and it still does. It has proven it does. Simply saying “that’s just one example” doesn’t address that unavoidable point.

    Also, it’s unfair to ask what basis there is for thinking this intervention will be successful with more troops (leaving aside the buried racism that Afghans are incapable of rebuilding the stable, unitary state they enjoyed for quite some time without outside or internal coercion), then to discount (as you did repeatedly) the most methodologically sound surveys that indicate widespread, yet falling, support for a continued U.S. presence.

    Also, those “typical Afghans” presumably do not include the folks shooting at us. There must be many atypical Afghans; otherwise we would not need to send more troops.

    Actually, that is true. The number of Afghans who live in Afghanistan and pick up arms is small, but it is growing as the reliance on air power — those bomb strikes Friedman casually tossed out as the proper solution to throwing Afghanistan back into chaos — kills unarmed civilians. You simply cannot be “precise” with a 2000 lb. JDAM, no matter how close it hits the GPS marker. Similarly, an Excalibur round is only as accurate as its blast effect, which means any buildings nearby pose the risk of creating more insurgents on revenge quests. This can be ameliorated through a stronger troop presence.

    Oh, and the vast majority of the Taliban? They are actually Pashtuns who have lived their entire lives in Pakistan. They are not “typical Afghans” as there is no such thing. But they are certainly not native to Afghanistan. One of the points Ahmed Rashid drives home in his history of the Taliban (later reinforced by Giustozzi’s brilliant history of the neo-Taliban) is that they are foreign, a product of a deliberately radicalized refugee population directed by ISI agents and Saudi demagogues. There are now even reports that Punjabs who studied in the same Madrassas but have mostly fought in Kashmir may be taking up the Afghan cause. It’s not a given, but that is the crowd we’re fighting, not a typical villager in Khost.

    If van Creveld is correct, we will see more States fail during the next few generations. Since military interventions have a low success rate, we might rely on — for lack of better tools — simple carrot and stick “solutions.” Aid and – if that fails – strikes and raids (either pre-emptive or retailiatory). That we want better solutions does not mean that we have better solutions. Life is like that.

    Awesome. Recent experience shows aid is ineffective in a chaotic environment. Just last month, nearly 2 million liters of fuel was incinerated when the Taliban attacked a supply convoy at the Torkham border crossing. One of the primary reasons MSF pulled out of the country in 2004 — back when everything thought the light footprint was going swimmingly — was a series of attacks on its workers. Aid is meaningless without security. So there IS in fact a better solution—that just happens to be a larger force present to protect aid and reconstruction.

    The patient will have to find his own cure.

    We tried that. Well, we didn’t — in fact, the current state of affairs is due to a sloppy intervention in the 1980’s, when we armed them to the teeth and set them against each other hoping they’d settle their affairs smoothly. The Taliban resulted. Your medical analogy is more appropriate to hoping a patient will cure cancer on his own—yes, his own immune system must play a major role, but the oncologists still employ surgery, chemo, and radiation to help things along. Imagine trying to fight a cancer with only one of these tools at 1/10 the strength the neighboring patient (like Iraq) while a non-relative is yelling that you should just let nature take its course.

  2. (And I should add to the intervention note above: the U.S. has a poor record of state intervention in Africa in part because the record is so very small: I can only think of Somalia in 93 off the top of my head, since in 2007 we paid Ethiopia to do it for us. In other words, I could also it is a sample set of one, and thus inappropriate for use here.)
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    Fabius Maximus: To clarify, I was speaking of the universe of all post-WWII military interventions — of which there have been many.

    Confident assertions about both the need and the consequences of inaction do not give me confidence that our soldiers lives are worth expending on this project, nor that we should borrow funds from China for its execution.

    I would like to see a (1) roster of military interventions, successful and otherwise. Then we can see if there are (2) common elements to the successes. From this we might produce an (3) analysis of why we military intervention in Afghanistan is the best option — and why it has decent odds of success.
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    Without any of these things we have military intervention as policy in the sense that “rattle our beads and feed mystic berries to the patient” is medicine.

  3. This discussion treats AFghanistan as if it was a state in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Was our goal just to get rid of the Taliban? Why were we negotiating with them just a year or two earlier over a pipeline through their territory? Or was it simply to get rid of (and punish) al Q’aeda? Our failure to capture Bin Laden proves we were after something else.

    You can’t talk about Afghanistan without talking about Russia, the Caspian basin, Pakistan and then the whole “strategic crescent” of which Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia are the southern points. Outside of “the grand game”, the northern countries are all meaningless.

  4. “Oh, and the vast majority of the Taliban? They are actually Pashtuns who have lived their entire lives in Pakistan. They are not “typical Afghans” as there is no such thing. But they are certainly not native to Afghanistan. One of the points Ahmed Rashid drives home in his history of the Taliban (later reinforced by Giustozzi’s brilliant history of the neo-Taliban) is that they are foreign, a product of a deliberately radicalized refugee population directed by ISI agents and Saudi demagogues.”

    I would hesitate to call a Parkistani Pashtun a foreigner in Afghanistan. The Pashtuns most likely do not see national borders the same way as people from NATO countries do. Do we even know what meaning the population of Afghanistan connects to the word “Afghans” and how the meaning may change across the region “Afghanistan”.

    Take Africa as an example. A main cause of problems in Africa are the huge number ethnic groups which lives in two or more countries. The Darfur conflict is a case in point.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: That’s a powerful point, how we overlay our concepts of nationalism on the dynamics of a region runnign on different values.

  5. Hey, I thought we were there to revitalise and protect the opium industry ;) The only measurable change in Afghanistan (except for an even further collapse in the local standard of living from awful to dreadfully awful) has been the great increase in poppy growing, generating plenty of money for our great allies, the various warlords, etc, since those terrible Taliban banned growing (tsk, tsk).

    Go to war in Iraq for oil, Afghanistan for opium, what next, take over a coffee producing nation. Invade France for wine? Columbia for cocaine (oops sorry, I forgot the US is already there).

    Is it a coincidence that all the players there, all have healthy heroin markets to feed ;) [I don’t know the sign for an ironic, cynical smile]. Makes more sense than anything else I have ever heard or read.

    Can’t be the oil/gas pipeline, the Taliban had signed up for that years ago, the invasion killed that project stone dead (incidently leaving the way open for Russia). So its drugs. Otherwise you have to assume the leadership of the US, all the NATO countries, Australia, et al, have a collective IQ considerably less than my shoe size (or are all Russian/Iranian/Chinese moles .. now there’s a thought).

    Back to work now, constantly grumbing at the thought of my hard earned tax money being wasted on this nonsense.

  6. I believe we need to answer the following questions with “yes” first to justify our support for the Western participation in the civil war in Afghanistan.

    1st: Can we expect that the Taleban have a comeback if we leave?

    2nd: Can we expect that the Taleban would again harbor/support terrorists after a comeback (who fight us)?

    3rd: Are these terrorists significantly more dangerous if supported by Taleban than without this support?

    4th: Can we expect that our presence there keeps the Taleban away?

    5th: Can we expect that our participation there hurts us less than would otherwise do additional terror strikes against us (killed & wounded citizens, economic losses)?

    I would answer these questions at least three times with “No.”

    If we want to help foreign people who are in a serious economic situation, we can do so with much higher efficiency (same money, much more helpful effects) elsewhere first.

    Hmm, I should recycle this post.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Agree on all points, and I believe the history of interventions supports your reasoning.

  7. Two more remarks;

    A) Success of interventions in Africa. The French did quite a lot there, not very well-known outside the Frensh-speaking world. It seems as if they generally succeeded to stabilize the governments. They often send the foreign legion or a flight of Mirages (to raid a Libyian airfield that supported Northern Tchad muslim insurgents, for example). Afaik they stayed out of the lengthy quasi-occupation business.

    The French interventions were iirc more like temporary attachment of some military detachment to the foreign state’s forces for a specific operation (and probably much better prepared by intelligence services than was the American hunt for Aidid in ’93).

    B) USA/NATO/Europe/other friends’ interests:
    Gates recently (few weeks ago) complained that the alliance didn’t help enough in the war against radical muslims. Well, it seems as if somebody told him in the past weeks that the Alliance is in no such war.

    The Neocons are in such a war, and dragged the USA with themselves, but the Europeans are not. They are in a suprrisingly (too) long Afghanistan operation and their intelligence services and police services are busy to prevent terror strikes at home. That’s it.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: All great points! All military interventions are not the same.

    In If We Can Keep It, Chet Richards divides interventions into strikes, raids, and occupations (many troops, long-time presence). He notes that strikes and raids have far higher success rates than occupations (with, of course, more modest objectives).

  8. “…the history of interventions …”

    Military history is obviously irrelevant for the politicians who decided about the Afghanistan mission. They’d have laughed at the idea of occupying Afghanistan or establishing a puppet regime if they knew about military history.

    Afghanistan has a custom dating back to the hellenic period; Afghans endure invasions, but ultimately they throw the foreigners out of their country with violence. It is especially ridiculous that the British participated.

  9. At some point linking 9/11 to Afghanistan becomes a form of “waving the bloody shirt.” Note these quotes:

    ‘We invaded Afghanistan precisely because it was knowingly hosting the terrorists who murdered 3000 American citizens on American soil and caused billions of dollars of damage to two of our most important cities. That was the basis of the intervention; the intent of it once the invasion was over with was the creation of a state that would not harbor such men again—and that is all the U.S. has publicly demanded of Afghanistan.”

    From the discussion on Registan: “In Afghanistan, the “leave and bomb” option, however, has an appalling record of failure, namely September 11, 2001. I’d rather not tempt fate twice, thank you.”

    The 9/11 hijackers were not natives of Afghanistan. They were not funded from Afghanistan. They were trained in Florida. Since al Qaeda’s Afghanistan bases were not essential for 9/11, our intervention in Afghanistan was a reprisal. What is the basis for belief that the Taliban will repeat their unpleasant experience with al Qaeda?

  10. OldSkeptic and Fabius could team up and make this a really stunning blog!

    NATO’s support of the Afghanistan mission has not been considered in this discussion so far. It’s easy to dismiss Afghanistan as another example of American folly, but then why are our Western European partners wasting their treasure on it too? Compared with their absence in Iraq, they seem to be saying that Afghanistan is worth fighting for.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: They have made small committments, in terms of troops and money. Perhaps to keep the US happy, perhaps to prevent terror strikes at home, perhaps to give their troops something to do, perhaps something else. Attributing motives to these things is difficult.

  11. Not really. It’s like 18th century cabinet politics for many European governments. They sell their soldiers to please other powers.

    The Eastern Europeans do so to please the USA as grateful new NATO members, and Germany participates in many international nonsense missions to buy a permanent seat in the UN security council. That’s at least one reason.

  12. I would hesitate to call a Parkistani Pashtun a foreigner in Afghanistan. The Pashtuns most likely do not see national borders the same way as people from NATO countries do. Do we even know what meaning the population of Afghanistan connects to the word “Afghans” and how the meaning may change across the region “Afghanistan”.

    Actually, most Pakistani Pashtuns would consider the Taliban to be foreigners (think of the reaction of Pashtuns in formerly peaceful areas of Pakistan like the Swat and Dir valleys, who consider the Taliban, though they share a language and religion, to be foreign invaders). The Taliban interpret Islam through an extremist variant of Deobandism, which has its origins in India, while the majority of Pashtuns have adhered to naqshbandiyya, which is a Sufi order of Islam with roots generally in Afghanistan and eastern Iran. Furthermore, the Taliban tend to become radicalized in socially extreme environments: gender-segregated religious academies populated mostly by refugees, which has very little connection to the traditions and culture of most forms of Pashtun village life (c.f Louis Dupree’s description of pre-war Pashtuns in 1970 versus Ahmed Rashid’s descriptions of the Taliban’s genesis in 2000). As I’ve written elsewhere repeatedly, there is no such thing as “Afghan” culture; hell, I’d argue there really isn’t any such thing as “Pashtun” culture, since strictly speaking it’s not really an ethnicity. But that may be pushing beyond the bounds of this discussion. The point is, the overwhelming majority of “Afghans of concern” (for our purposes, Pashtuns in the east and south, since the opposition to the Taliban of the Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazara, along with their general friendliness to the West, is already well known) are patriots, and don’t appreciate us only slightly less than the Taliban. They’d rather be left alone, but consider us the lesser of two evils.

    As for Afghanistan in a broader context, it is precisely that context that makes it so essential to stabilize. Rashid makes an impassioned argument for the U.S. to reverse its priorities in the region, excerpted here for length (it’s a bit long, and not easily quoted). I found it persuasive.

    Sven: given the stated intentions of the current Neo-Taliban insurgency, which is to re-occupy Afghanistan, and given its still-close ties with Zawahiri and al-Qaeda (don’t forget, by the way, that all the 9/11 hijackers received their indoctrination in Afghanistan, even if they got their flight skills in the U.S. — they arrived stateside with both ideology and intent), I’d need to see more reasoning behind “no three times over” to be convinced. The leaders of the Taliban have not changed in a real sense, and I would argue the operators, the new generation commonly called the “Neo-Taliban,” have become even more brutal and dangerous. If we were to pull out, why would they behave any differently than they did in the 1990’s? Their way of life would have been vindicated.

    Fabius Maximus replies: All great points! All military interventions are not the same.

    Exactly. Which is why I’m arguing Afghanistan is different than most military interventions.

    Afghanistan has a custom dating back to the hellenic period; Afghans endure invasions, but ultimately they throw the foreigners out of their country with violence. It is especially ridiculous that the British participated.

    I agree that including the British as such a major force, especially in the south where it was particularly unstable and unwelcoming (and even more importantly, where resistance to their invasions normally formed once they took Kabul), was a dumb idea. The other ethnicities in Afghanistan are far less inclined to be hostile toward the British (and it is important to note that almost all Uzbeks, Tajiks, Hazara, Kuchi, Pashai, and even Baloch are friendly — and they make up about 60% of the population). The Pashtuns down near Kandahar? A large number think of the Brits, “oh, they’re here for the fourth time.” That was a bad idea.

    Afghanistan’s actual history with outsiders, however, is much more complicated. To assume they just shrug off all invaders is simplistic. To call the U.S. action an invasion akin to the First, Second, and Third Anglo-Afghan Wars (or even to the Soviet invasion) is, similarly, simplistic and misleading. Foreigners, from the Saffavids to the Ghazavids to the Mongols, have ruled the land for centuries with relatively few qualms; other Empire-wide issues created their downfall, not mass uprisings. In fact, both the Soviets and the Taliban would have succeeded in conquering the entire country if outsiders hadn’t funded resistance movements (Pakistan with the Soviets, and Iran with the Northern Alliance).

    Especially from a group arguing for a deep understanding of history, I’m a bit surprised to see its complexities here shrugged off so blithely.

    And the unavoidable fact remains that the circumstances surrounding the U.S. invasion and occupation are historically unique, as are the terms of its occupation, as are the reactions of the vast majority of the population.

    In other words, there are great theoretical objections to the U.S. mission in this thread; I have yet to hear any practical, concrete reasons why we should pack up and leave (and, more importantly, why that would not lead to yet another disaster).

  13. Just a few correction points:

    . The Taliban were willing to give up BL, provided they were given evidence (which was available).
    . They would have been more willing if a negotiation along the lines of he was handed to the International Criminal Court.
    . He wasn’t going anywhere, winter was approaching, where movement is impossible, Pakisatan would have made sure he couldn’t have moved there. Iran (who gave us great help at the time) would have made sure he wasn’t going that way. It was a different time, the whole world was united in getting this guy. I mean everyone, including the so called ‘bad guys’, Iraq, Syria, Iran, etc

    I give it to the neo-cons, they got their ‘Pearl Harbour’ moment and grabbed it and ran and got their agenda. Then they made their agenda the ‘perceived wisdom’ of the US elite which the entire Congress agreed to (except for a very few honourable American exceptions, e.g. Ron Paul), heck what do you expect from Trotskyites.

    But, from a personal point of view, I really, really wanted to see him in court. Then sent to jail forever (I’m totally against the death penalty for both practical and ethical reasons). I would have stayed up all night watching the court proceedings. Instead the miserable (but very smart) swine is laughing at us. The only thing he prays for every day is that the US attacks Iran, when that happens he can peacefully die a happy man (and incidentally as the greatest military strategist of all time, with only 20+ people he has destroyed every enemy he had, Saddam, Shiites, the US, etc, etc, etc). Now if we can just attack Saudia Arabia then he would be in rapture.

  14. @Foust; I may limit the Afghan history rant to three centuries next time and not play the dramatic card.
    But the British invasions of 19th century were not really different – they wanted indirect rule, which is very similar to the recent attempt to create a west-friendly democratic central state (that would of course agree with all that the USA asks for simply for military aid).

    I see you think that the Taleban would again host AQ if in power (I give this 60% probability at most) – that’s still not enough justification for the occupation. At least all four other points need to be answered with a “yes” as well.

    Btw, I’m not part of a “group” concerning such topics afaik.

    @OldSkeptic:
    The USA were also willing to lift the UN embargo on Iraq if SH proved he had no WMD left. Sometimes, such a ‘willingness’ is irrelevant because the persons in question will never be convinced anyway.

  15. OS, you are so right! But the original question remains, what are we doing in Afghanistan? If 9-11 was merely our “Pearl Harbor” moment (and I totally agree with you there), and we skipped out of Afghanistan as soon as we decorously could, why are we still there? And, BTW, is Fabius correct in calling the British contingent “small”?
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    Fabius Maximus replies: The UK currently has 7,800 troops in Afghanistan, per this article in the Telegraph 7 April 2008). That is small vs. UK troop strengh, and trivial vs. the size and population of Afghanistan.

  16. What I have never understood about the failed effort to rebuild Afghanistan is that it would be so ridiculously easy to just buy up the entire opium crop each year. Or, why not pay farmers not to plant? After all, these are the two ways our agricultural subsidy system works at home in the US.

    If we did this, we could potentially win over vast segments of the Afghan (Pushtun, Tajik, Uzbek, Hazara, etc.) peasant population, who are the vast majority of the population of Afghanistan. Wouldn’t a Mao or a Giap do this?

    Every single time we intervene in these poor countries we make the mistake of ignoring the masses. And it is *only* through their help that we could possibly eliminate the insurgency. That for me is the lesson of Malaya. You must BEFRIEND THE PEASANTS. If you can’t, you’ve already lost. We have this hubris that makes us think we lost Vietnam during Tet, but if you read the reports of the correspondents who were there before 1964, you realize that we were never going to win, as long as the peasants in the Delta and in the Central Highlands saw the Vietminh as their only friends.

    Moreover, as a postscript, there are plenty of important medicinal uses for opium and its derivatives, so it’s not like we’d be buying rocks. We could sell morphine to China or something.

  17. Greg, I heard (via a podcast) a good idea (forgotten the program, it was on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation – ABC, night have been Background Briefing) exactly on these lines. That the farmers should be paid to grow legal opium, as there is a great morphine shortage in the world! Obviously there would have to be checks and balances, but it seemed such a better idea than aerial spraying that merely takes peasants livelihoods away from them.

    Personal note: I don’t know how my wife could have got through the last few weeks if she hadn’t had morphine, so the thought of millions of people having to suffer extreme pain unnecessarily literally makes me cry (like most people, I’d rather suffer pain myself than watch someone I love suffer).

  18. Okay, Sven — I don’t think you’re really meaning to equate a 19th century conquest for land, riches, access to Persia and a buffer against Russia and a 21st century reactionary counterstrike against state-supported non-state terrorists, so I won’t address your history argument.

    And again, all of this supposition about AQ’s likelihood to reconstitute itself. None of the major players have been killed. The madrassas in Pakistan remain flush with indoctrinated students. Though AQ and the Taliban are very distinct, if through combined action they kick us out of Afghanistan they emerge hugely victorious. On what basis do you give them a 60% chance of coming back in a similar fashion to the 1990s? And why would remaining in the country to prevent a 60% likelihood be reckless? I asked why you would answer “no” to the other points as well, since I’d answer yes to most if not all of them. No explanation either. Data, please. Then we can evaulate merits.

    Greg, opium is a much more complex issue than simply legalizing or subsidizing/purchasing it. We cannot avoid the role of the smugglers, who have ties to several transnational drug gangs. And no American government would ever intentionally fund them.

    But I fully agree with you about paying attention to “the masses.” A constant fixture of my critiques of military policy is that (to paraphrase several years of writing) the military focuses on the macro issues but makes micro decisions — i.e. it’s more imporant to kill every single terrorist than it is to prevent civilian casualties (or worse yet, to distinguish between patriotic opposition to a foreign invader, ideological opposition to the U.S., religious opposition to non-Muslims, and al Qaeda/the Taliban).

    The trick is, most peasants are still friendly with us. They are just wary… because they are as aware as we are of all the talk about us leaving, or NATO pulling back, or us allowing the Taliban to reestablish footholds. These things damage us immensely when our officials talk of our boundless generosity and commitment to the cause.

  19. I don’t know what type of game you play, but I will certainly not discuss future policy options on the basis of “data”, as “data” about the future does not exist.

    In fact, not those who want to stop/prevent a war need to prove their case, but those who want to wage war, thereby allowing the killing, wounding, destruction and expenditure.

    Prove to me that all five answers to all five questions can be answered with “Yes”, every time with a very solid base.

    The attitude that makes people think of war as normality and ask for evidence that specific wars are a bad idea instead of asking for 100% waterproof war justifications is the product of a tri-continental brainwashing exercise (Zeitgeist) that kept us busy in the past years.
    The tough questions about the war justifications have barely been asked, instead lots of assumptions were accepted as facts.

    And the 19th century Afghanistan wars were similar to what happens today. It’s possible to find many differences, but to consider these wars as completely different, you need to be biased and ignore the similarities.
    Hints: The Vietnamese honestly believed that the Americans wanted to colonialize Indochina in the 60’s – it was irrelevant what Americans truly wanted. And to consider the ongoing operation in Afghanistan as a 100% counter-terror operation is naive.

  20. Sven, I’m asking for data behind your 60% reasoning. It comes off as arbitrary. If you’re to downplay what I consider to be reasonable fears of a resurgence of a internationally activist Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan (a fear shared, coincidentally, by others such as Ryan Crocker), I’d need to see why you do it. Hence, the plea for data. I’ve written extensively about how the structure and ideology of both al-Qaeda and the Taliban have not been significantly or meaningfully degraded (and some have argued that they have been strengthened) by our current, lopsided policy in Afghanistan. This forms the basis of my belief in the need for a greater security presence in the disputed provinces. You can’t simply dismiss it all as unfounded then demand I present evidence. You need to explain why you find those reasons unpersuasive.

    This isn’t about war as a normality, and I’ve never argued as such. So please don’t accuse me of that, or lump me in with the more war-thirsty of the analysts out there. I am not a Kagan. I oppose the Iraq War as, unlike Afghanistan, it was not justified by any ex-post facto reasoning. When pre- and post-invasion justifications still apply to a conflict, it’s worth persuing in my view.

    I have laid out the reasoning behind both the current conflict in Afghanistan and the ways it needs to be changed to have a greater chance of success. Aside from generalities and theories about conflict, I’ve yet to see any argument here that those specific reasons are invalid beyond mere assertions they are. Sorry, that doesn’t cut it. Pretend I’m dumb. Lay out the bread crumbs.

    I’m honestly surprised you think Afghanistan in 2001 is comparable to Afghanistan in 1838. I’m curious to see the similarities you feel are important. From where I sit, the differences far outweigh them.

  21. 1st: Can we expect that the Taleban have a comeback if we leave?

    The Taleban are one of several civil war parties and their primary foreign fighter recruitment argument is the fight against the infidels. Inside of Afghanistan they have the added recruitment argument that they’re the only power that fights the foreigners.
    When the Taleban rose to power, their enemies received little outside help in comparison to what they could expect this time. The odds for gaining power are much worse this time than the first time.

    2nd: Can we expect that the Taleban would again harbor/support terrorists after a comeback (who fight us)?

    This assumption is only an assertion. Most likely there would be some AQ personnel in Afghanistan if the Taleban were back in power, but not with overt infrastructure (camps). To sit in Afghanistan means to be quite isolated from the movements elsewhere as electronic communication is next to useless to them.

    3rd: Are these terrorists significantly more dangerous if supported by Taleban than without this support?

    Considering the minimal requirements for strikes like 9/11, why should it help them to sit in Afghanistan? They can use Pakistan and several other places in the world to indoctrinate and educate. The past years proved that they do not need Afghanistan to keep enough of their key personnel alive.

    4th: Can we expect that our presence there keeps the Taleban away?

    Doubtful, especially as we certainly don’t want to stay there for decades. To defeat terror organizations/movements can take generations. Ask the Spanish about their ETA experience; their conditions are much better than the conditions in Afghanistan, but the ETA is still a problem.

    5th: Can we expect that our participation there hurts us less than would otherwise do additional terror strikes against us (killed & wounded citizens, economic losses)?

    Since 9/11, we (NATO countries) certainly had more dead and wounded citizens due to fighting in Afghanistan than to terror attacks. This is no strong argument, as others can claim that fighting there keeps terrorists away. But it’s quite obvious that fighting there does at least create additional terrorists. We’re killing the backward Pakistan-levied personnel there, not the intellectual type of terrorist that did the 9/11 strikes, after all.

    I might be wrong on some of these points, but if I’m right on only one, it’s enough reason to stop the operation.
    And as I mentioned before; the pro-war folks need to have the perfect justification, not the contra-war folks.
    War means to allow 19-year-olds to kill and wound people and to blow up things and get money for it. That needs a justification.

    Finally; why not have a try and leave? We can come whenever we want.

  22. The use of a “domino” argument to support continuing in Afghanistan is laughable. What state besides Afghanistan might fall to Islamic fundamentalists if the Karzai government collapses when US forces leave? Bring the US forces home now.

  23. you fucking ass hole the troops should be coming home not staying its thanks to you guys that their still over there.

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