“Strategic Divergence: The War Against the Taliban and the War Against Al Qaeda” by George Friedman

One of the few sensible voices I have heard about our strategy in Afghanistan.  A mild voice, as usual for Freidman, but a logical and incisive one.  Let’s hope decision-makers are listening.

As usual, he provides no summary.  Note the bold emphasis I’ve added to his conclusions near the end.

Strategic Divergence: The War Against the Taliban and the War Against Al Qaeda“, George Friedman, 26 January 2009 — Text in full.  Emphasis added.

Washington’s attention is now zeroing in on Afghanistan. There is talk of doubling U.S. forces there, and preparations are being made for another supply line into Afghanistan — this one running through the former Soviet Union — as an alternative or a supplement to the current Pakistani route. To free up more resources for Afghanistan, the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq probably will be accelerated. And there is discussion about whether the Karzai government serves the purposes of the war in Afghanistan. In short, U.S. President Barack Obama’s campaign promise to focus on Afghanistan seems to be taking shape.

We have discussed many aspects of the Afghan war in the past; it is now time to focus on the central issue. What are the strategic goals of the United States in Afghanistan? What resources will be devoted to this mission? What are the intentions and capabilities of the Taliban and others fighting the United States and its NATO allies? Most important, what is the relationship between the war against the Taliban and the war against al Qaeda? If the United States encounters difficulties in the war against the Taliban, will it still be able to contain not only al Qaeda but other terrorist groups? Does the United States need to succeed against the Taliban to be successful against transnational Islamist terrorists? And assuming that U.S. forces are built up in Afghanistan and that the supply problem through Pakistan is solved, are the defeat of Taliban and the disruption of al Qaeda likely?

Al Qaeda and U.S. Goals Post-9/11

The overarching goal of the United States since Sept. 11, 2001, has been to prevent further attacks by al Qaeda in the United States. Washington has used two means toward this end. One was defensive, aimed at increasing the difficulty of al Qaeda operatives to penetrate and operate within the United States. The second was to attack and destroy al Qaeda prime, the group around Osama bin Laden that organized and executed 9/11 and other attacks in Europe. It is this group — not other groups that call themselves al Qaeda but only are able to operate in the countries where they were formed — that was the target of the United States, because this was the group that had demonstrated the ability to launch intercontinental strikes.

Al Qaeda prime had its main headquarters in Afghanistan. It was not an Afghan group, but one drawn from multiple Islamic countries. It was in alliance with an Afghan group, the Taliban. The Taliban had won a civil war in Afghanistan, creating a coalition of support among tribes that had given the group control, direct or indirect, over most of the country. It is important to remember that al Qaeda was separate from the Taliban; the former was a multinational force, while the Taliban were an internal Afghan political power.

The United States has two strategic goals in Afghanistan. The first is to destroy the remnants of al Qaeda prime — the central command of al Qaeda — in Afghanistan. The second is to use Afghanistan as a base for destroying al Qaeda in Pakistan and to prevent the return of al Qaeda to Afghanistan.

To achieve these goals, Washington has sought to make Afghanistan inhospitable to al Qaeda. The United States forced the Taliban from Afghanistan’s main cities and into the countryside, and established a new, anti-Taliban government in Kabul under President Hamid Karzai. Washington intended to deny al Qaeda bases in Afghanistan by unseating the Taliban government, creating a new pro-American government and then using Afghanistan as a base against al Qaeda in Pakistan.

The United States succeeded in forcing the Taliban from power in the sense that in giving up the cities, the Taliban lost formal control of the country. To be more precise, early in the U.S. attack in 2001, the Taliban realized that the massed defense of Afghan cities was impossible in the face of American air power. The ability of U.S. B-52s to devastate any concentration of forces meant that the Taliban could not defend the cities, but had to withdraw, disperse and reform its units for combat on more favorable terms.

At this point, we must separate the fates of al Qaeda and the Taliban. During the Taliban retreat, al Qaeda had to retreat as well. Since the United States lacked sufficient force to destroy al Qaeda at Tora Bora, al Qaeda was able to retreat into northwestern Pakistan. There, it enjoys the advantages of terrain, superior tactical intelligence and support networks.

Even so, in nearly eight years of war, U.S. intelligence and special operations forces have maintained pressure on al Qaeda in Pakistan. The United States has imposed attrition on al Qaeda, disrupting its command, control and communications and isolating it. In the process, the United States used one of al Qaeda’s operational principles against it. To avoid penetration by hostile intelligence services, al Qaeda has not recruited new cadres for its primary unit. This makes it very difficult to develop intelligence on al Qaeda, but it also makes it impossible for al Qaeda to replace its losses. Thus, in a long war of attrition, every loss imposed on al Qaeda has been irreplaceable, and over time, al Qaeda prime declined dramatically in effectiveness — meaning it has been years since it has carried out an effective operation.

The situation was very different with the Taliban. The Taliban, it is essential to recall, won the Afghan civil war that followed the Soviet withdrawal despite Russian and Iranian support for its opponents. That means the Taliban have a great deal of support and a strong infrastructure, and, above all, they are resilient. After the group withdrew from Afghanistan’s cities and lost formal power post-9/11, it still retained a great deal of informal influence — if not control — over large regions of Afghanistan and in areas across the border in Pakistan. Over the years since the U.S. invasion, the Taliban have regrouped, rearmed and increased their operations in Afghanistan. And the conflict with the Taliban has now become a conventional guerrilla war.

The Taliban and the Guerrilla Warfare Challenge

The Taliban have forged relationships among many Afghan (and Pakistani) tribes. These tribes have been alienated by Karzai and the Americans, and far more important, they do not perceive the Americans and Karzai as potential winners in the Afghan conflict. They recall the Russian and British defeats. The tribes have long memories, and they know that foreigners don’t stay very long. Betting on the United States and Karzai — when the United States has sent only 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, and is struggling with the idea of sending another 30,000 troops — does not strike them as prudent. The United States is behaving like a power not planning to win; and, in any event, they would not be much impressed if the Americans were planning to win.

The tribes therefore do not want to get on the wrong side of the Taliban. That means they aid and shelter Taliban forces, and provide them intelligence on enemy movement and intentions. With its base camps and supply lines running from Pakistan, the Taliban are thus in a position to recruit, train and arm an increasingly large force.

The Taliban have the classic advantage of guerrillas operating in known terrain with a network of supporters: superior intelligence. They know where the Americans are, what the Americans are doing and when the Americans are going to strike. The Taliban declines combat on unfavorable terms and strikes when the Americans are weakest. The Americans, on the other hand, have the classic problem of counterinsurgency: They enjoy superior force and firepower, and can defeat anyone they can locate and pin down, but they lack intelligence. As much as technical intelligence from unmanned aerial vehicles and satellites is useful, human intelligence is the only effective long-term solution to defeating an insurgency. In this, the Taliban have the advantage: They have been there longer, they are in more places and they are not going anywhere.

There is no conceivable force the United States can deploy to pacify Afghanistan. A possible alternative is moving into Pakistan to cut the supply lines and destroy the Taliban’s base camps. The problem is that if the Americans lack the troops to successfully operate in Afghanistan, it is even less likely they have the troops to operate in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. The United States could use the Korean War example, taking responsibility for cutting the Taliban off from supplies and reinforcements from Pakistan, but that assumes that the Afghan government has an effective force motivated to engage and defeat the Taliban. The Afghan government doesn’t.

The obvious American solution — or at least the best available solution — is to retreat to strategic Afghan points and cities and protect the Karzai regime. The problem here is that in Afghanistan, holding the cities doesn’t give the key to the country; rather, holding the countryside gives the key to the cities. Moreover, a purely defensive posture opens the United States up to the Dien Bien Phu/Khe Sanh counterstrategy, in which guerrillas shift to positional warfare, isolate a base and try to overrun in it.

A purely defensive posture could create a stalemate, but nothing more. That stalemate could create the foundations for political negotiations, but if there is no threat to the enemy, the enemy has little reason to negotiate. Therefore, there must be strikes against Taliban concentrations. The problem is that the Taliban know that concentration is suicide, and so they work to deny the Americans valuable targets. The United States can exhaust itself attacking minor targets based on poor intelligence. It won’t get anywhere.

U.S. Strategy in Light of al Qaeda’s Diminution

From the beginning, the Karzai government has failed to take control of the countryside. Therefore, al Qaeda has had the option to redeploy into Afghanistan if it chose. It didn’t because it is risk-averse. That may seem like a strange thing to say about a group that flies planes into buildings, but what it means is that the group’s members are relatively few, so al Qaeda cannot risk operational failures. It thus keeps its powder dry and stays in hiding.

This then frames the U.S. strategic question. The United States has no intrinsic interest in the nature of the Afghan government. The United States is interested in making certain the Taliban do not provide sanctuary to al Qaeda prime. But it is not clear that al Qaeda prime is operational anymore. Some members remain, putting out videos now and then and trying to appear fearsome, but it would seem that U.S. operations have crippled al Qaeda.

So if the primary reason for fighting the Taliban is to keep al Qaeda prime from having a base of operations in Afghanistan, that reason might be moot now as al Qaeda appears to be wrecked. This is not to say that another Islamist terrorist group could not arise and develop the sophisticated methods and training of al Qaeda prime. But such a group could deploy many places, and in any case, obtaining the needed skills in moving money, holding covert meetings and the like is much harder than it looks — and with many intelligence services, including those in the Islamic world, on the lookout for this, recruitment would be hard.

It is therefore no longer clear that resisting the Taliban is essential for blocking al Qaeda: al Qaeda may simply no longer be there. (At this point, the burden of proof is on those who think al Qaeda remains operational.)

Two things emerge from this. First, the search for al Qaeda and other Islamist groups is an intelligence matter best left to the covert capabilities of U.S. intelligence and Special Operations Command. Defeating al Qaeda does not require tens of thousands of troops — it requires excellent intelligence and a special operations capability. That is true whether al Qaeda is in Pakistan or Afghanistan. Intelligence, covert forces and airstrikes are what is needed in this fight, and of the three, intelligence is the key.

Second, the current strategy in Afghanistan cannot secure Afghanistan, nor does it materially contribute to shutting down al Qaeda. Trying to hold some cities and strategic points with the number of troops currently under consideration is not an effective strategy to this end; the United States is already ceding large areas of Afghanistan to the Taliban that could serve as sanctuary for al Qaeda. Protecting the Karzai government and key cities is therefore not significantly contributing to the al Qaeda-suppression strategy.

In sum, the United States does not control enough of Afghanistan to deny al Qaeda sanctuary, can’t control the border with Pakistan and lacks effective intelligence and troops for defeating the Taliban.

Logic argues, therefore, for the creation of a political process for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan coupled with a recommitment to intelligence operations against al Qaeda. Ultimately, the United States must protect itself from radical Islamists, but cannot create a united, pro-American Afghanistan. That would not happen even if the United States sent 500,000 troops there, which it doesn’t have anyway.

A Tale of Two Surges

The U.S. strategy now appears to involve trying a surge, or sending in more troops and negotiating with the Taliban, mirroring the strategy used in Iraq. But the problem with that strategy is that the Taliban don’t seem inclined to make concessions to the United States. The Taliban don’t think the United States can win, and they know the United States won’t stay. The Petraeus strategy is to inflict enough pain on the Taliban to cause them to rethink their position, which worked in Iraq. But it did not work in Vietnam. So long as the Taliban have resources flowing and can survive American attacks, they will calculate that they can outlast the Americans. This has been Afghan strategy for centuries, and it worked against the British and Russians.

If it works against the Americans, too, splitting the al Qaeda strategy from the Taliban strategy will be the inevitable outcome for the United States. In that case, the CIA will become the critical war fighter in the theater, while conventional forces will be withdrawn. It follows that Obama will need to think carefully about his approach to intelligence.

This is not an argument that al Qaeda is no longer a threat, although the threat appears diminished. Nor is it an argument that dealing with terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan is not a priority. Instead, it is an argument that the defeat of the Taliban under rationally anticipated circumstances is unlikely and that a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan will be much more difficult and unlikely than the settlement was in Iraq — but that even so, a robust effort against Islamist terror groups must continue regardless of the outcome of the war with the Taliban.

Therefore, we expect that the United States will separate the two conflicts in response to these realities. This will mean that containing terrorists will not be dependent on defeating or holding out against the Taliban, holding Afghanistan’s cities, or preserving the Karzai regime. We expect the United States to surge troops into Afghanistan, but in due course, the counterterrorist portion will diverge from the counter-Taliban portion. The counterterrorist portion will be maintained as an intense covert operation, while the overt operation will wind down over time. The Taliban ruling Afghanistan is not a threat to the United States, so long as intense counterterrorist operations continue there.

The cost of failure in Afghanistan is simply too high and the connection to counterterrorist activities too tenuous for the two strategies to be linked. And since the counterterror war is already distinct from conventional operations in much of Afghanistan and Pakistan, our forecast is not really that radical.

Acknowledgement

Printed with permission of Stratfor Inc.

Afterword

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Other posts about the war in Afghanistan:

  1. Why are we are fighting in Afghanistan?, 9 April 2008 — A debate with Joshua Foust.

19 thoughts on ““Strategic Divergence: The War Against the Taliban and the War Against Al Qaeda” by George Friedman

  1. This is very insightful, well researched and thought out, and not much to argue with. It does seem that sound strategy for the US is to treat governments of foreign countries, especially those with cultural and historical and geographical frameworks so different from our own, as black boxes… where we don’t much care about the internal workings but insist on certain results, a controlled interface… such that they not harbor or encourage or ally with those who have attacked us or would in the realm of reasonable expectation. Obama seems to have already articulated this distinction.

    It seems to me, based on counting the years, that the Islamic world is in somewhat the position the West was in around the era of the Crusades and leading into the Renaissance. That, is the first wave of religious and imperial expansion having crested and collapsed, and followed by a relatively fallow period, there is going to be some sort of a rising and there is the natural tension between conservative elements and more liberal ones, between fundamentalists and reformers and so on.

    Much of this they are simply going to have to work out for themselves and it will probably happen faster if we just get out of the way. However, in the meantime, it makes sense for us, following the inverse of Lawrence’s example, to narrow rather than widen the front militarily, and offer fewer opportunities for 4GW on the part of the fundamentalists. Instead, humanitarian and trade missions that penetrate deep into the culture, well infiltrated by our intelligence services, will play out the best for all sides. Tribal and cultural patterns need to be manipulated for our benefit, rather than approached with ideology and violence that insists to some extent that they be transformed to match our own. This will not happen as the result of force of arms, if at all.

  2. The linked article below details many aspects of how the Taliban and Al Qaida should never have been lumped together either tactically or strategically and also intimates that USG has been aware of this all along. It is quite conceivable, in fact, that the entire operation over there is an enormous ‘false flag’ used by the USG, spearheaded by the intelligence and military wings of the military-industrial-congressional complex to maintain a state of perpetual war in order to keep military and other production lines booming and along with it the enormous percentage of national GDP perceived as necessary, justified expenditures of taxpayer funds. In other words, just more of the same old racket.

    The above analysis is good, but it is helpful to consider why we are over there in the first place. Which has never been explained in any responsible, satisfactory fashion and which, I believe, is fundamentally bogus from the get-go.

    How Bush Was Offered Bin Laden and Blew It“, Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair, Counterpunch, 1 November 2004

  3. Al Qaeda is running low on funds due to low oil prices. Its sponsors in the Arabian Gulf cannot afford the high upkeep of profligate terror youth gangs at this time. The death of Al Qaeda will be the death of excess young males within the Ummah. Fertility must decline among Muslims to end bloody jihad.

    Afghanistan has never been a solid nation in western terms. For the US to pretend it must only leave behind a stable nation is delusional. Obama is becoming a neo-con and playing his supporters for fools. Opium is the life’s blood of Afghanistan, it is foolish to deny it or to fight it.

  4. “Al Qaeda is running low on funds due to low oil prices:

    Exactly, unlike like US, here in the developled westernised world, currently we’re just rolling in excess funds and unlimited resourches to throw into this bogus dead end venture. And the future is bright, I say the time is jsut right to bring on yet another multi trillion dollar boondogle. We’ll call this one the war on stupidty. Eramus said it all.

  5. (1) Since Russia and Iran are allegedly having trouble with the Taliban, (2) Russia is allegedly helping arm the Afghan National Army, and (3) allegedly blocking alternative supply routes to Afgh, I guess its time for the next Great Chess Game move. US is on the wrong side and should realign with the Taliban. This will be a great releif to the Saudis and Israelis .
    The UK will be in a fix here, since most UK soldiers, if they have a mission beyond buddyhood, (4) seem to think they are fighting for Women’s Rights. (5) As the commie gov in Afgh allegedly did better on Womens Rights than the Taliban, (6) this would be a good moment for UK troops to quietly pop home. Pity about the dead and injured .
    (7) When Russia and US have divided Afgh between them and erected the fashionable Wall, the Mujahadeen will start their insurgency …
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Other than #5 and #6, these all look questionable to me. Do you have any supporting links for #1 – 5? The last, #6, seems very improbable IMO.

  6. You leave out the Russians who are just champing at the mouth to get revenge for what we helped the Taliban do to them. Besides, we are now broke and cannot realistically fight an expensive war.

  7. Max in Comment #4: “..currently we’re just rolling in excess funds and unlimited resourches (sic)..”

    What is ‘questionable’ about this comment? Do you think that {the bailout costs} are a beneficial outcome for the USA? A make-believe economy based on printing presses?

    Comment #2: “.. spearheaded by the intelligence and military wings of the military-industrial-congressional complex to maintain a state of perpetual war…”

    Please, take a closer look at the way US economy is structured (but you already know it).Useful link here “The Economic Cost of the Military Industrial Complex“, James Quinn, posted at Seek Alpha, 13 August 2008. BTW, would be nice if someone could provide a financial chart describing interdependancy between US Pension Funds and Military Industrial Complex.

    Afganistan? I’m sorry but, after following your blog for a quite long time, I do feel badly let down. Your ‘bold emphasis’ is way off the mark. Should have started at the beginning, like here: ‘What are the strategic goals of the United States in Afghanistan?’ Bold, bolder, the boldest?

    Even the MSM is already on the ball, before you: “Afghanistan: Soviet failures echo for US“, Christian Science Monitor, 19 December 2008. And Centcom does not even bother with the lies anymor (hat tip to Commenter No.2): last update on 3 MAY 2007.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: What an odd comment!
    * Max was being ironic in comment #4; he does not believe we are in fact “rolling in funds.”
    * The absurdity of our military spending has been a theme on this site from its inception …
    * as has our lack of strategy in Afghanistan.

    A year ago — when Democrats and Republicans were talking about Afghanistan as “the good war” — I wrote “This is America’s geopolitical strategy in action“. Two quotes from that post show how little things have changed. First, George Friedman’s conclusions at that time:

    “{The war} is a holding action waiting for certain knowledge of the status of al Qaeda, knowledge that likely will not come. Afghanistan is a war without exit and a war without victory. The politics are impenetrable, and it is even difficult to figure out whether allies like Pakistan are intending to help or are capable of helping. Thus, while it may be a better war than Iraq in some sense, it is not a war that can be won or even ended. It just goes on.”

    I concluded with this analysis:

    In Afghanistan we are in the eighth year of fighting al Qaeda, a foe that might not be there. That might not even exist in substantial form. The tribes we actually fight have no grievance against us — and we have none against them, nor any national interests at stake (other than the fight against a possible foe that might be there). The effort further strains our overstressed forces. We borrow the money for the war from foreign governments, as our economy slides into a recession.

    No intelligence, no rational strategy, no realizable goals. War without end, without meaning. This is the tangible expression of an America in decline.

    This is an election year. America need not be run in such a manner. We have only ourselves to blame if things remain unchanged in 2009.”

  8. This is an admirable analysis, although it incorporates the myth that capturing bin Laden or Al Q’aeda was ever our purpose in launching the war in AFghanistan. At least, though, the writer concedes that Al q’aeda “prime” probably no longer exists as a meaningful enemy. That’s an improvement over the administration’s rhetoric of the last seven years.

    I dont know whether the new “great game” over the Caucasus will allow us to just walk away from Afghanistan in a few years. Also,the CIA may well have its fingers in the flourishing drug trade, which puts it at odd with Taliban rule.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: You raise an important question. What is our leaders’ strategy in Afghanistan? We can deduce their purpose in Iraq — oil and bases from which to project power. But our plans for Afghanistan remains a mystery to me.

    Perhaps we don’t have a coherent plan, just vague intentions. That’s all we had for Vietnam (see the opening vignette in this post).

  9. “But our plans for Afghanistan remains a mystery to me.”

    Ongoing maintenance, justification and refurbishment of military-industrial machine that dominates the USG discretionary budgets outside of basic so-called ‘entitlements’.

    I remember reading an excellent piece by a Russian General (on his way out of Baghdad a few days before Shock and Awe began) predicting almost to the day how long the bombardment phase would last basing his prediction on their intelligence of how much military ordinance the US had to empty inventory of combined with various new models that needed to be tested to determine which ones would next go into production. Maybe the whole thing was playful disinformation, of course, but he made a good point nonetheless.

    A less cynical explanation along the same lines could maintain simply that to the warrior culture, war is an end in itself, a natural function, so of course they find ways to prosecute them and in so doing, they believe, maintain the strength and vigor of their society.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I too have guesses.

  10. The article is interesting, though not a word about Karzai. Let me do the math here, split Al Qaeda from the Taliban and Karzai sticks around. Fight Taliban and Al Qaeda together and Karzai, err, goes away. Ahem. The tea leaves look bad for Karzai right now, that article that came out about ‘too little good governance’ in Afghanistan — an “I’m shocked there’s gambling in this establishment” moment if there ever was one.

    It all reminds me a teensy bit too much of the coup that brought down Diem in Vietnam. They might find a new guy who is more favorable to having bombs dropped on his country, but I don’t that’s going to go well. Karzai is as good as they’re going to find.

  11. sj071: thanks for the link to the M-I complex article.

    Here’s one I enjoyed (from an unlikely source) a while back that shows, using Lockheed as the example, just how ridiculous the whole thing has become. “Lockheed Stock and Two Smoking Barrels“, Playboy, 16 January 2007.

    But then again, around a hundred years ago you had Krupp agents shuttling over to Tokyo to sell there latest 10 mile range gun for X millions and then three months later whipping over to Beijing (or wherever) to sell their 10.5 mile range gun and so on. (Though of course, Krupp made damn good guns!)

    Given its ubiquity in human affairs, geopolitical analysts should be wary of discounting the effects of deliberate and/or instinctive corruption simply because they fear being pictured in the minds of their readers as wearing tin foil hats!
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Great article, thanks for posting it!

  12. Al Qaeda has won. Bin Ladin stated quite openly in several addresses that his strategic aim was to bankrupt the US (google the references and actually read his speeches .. yeh I know they are painful).

    He succeeded, and goes down into that pantheon of very rare leaders who have achieved their strategic goals .. its a short list …. and he did that with so little resources. But never forget he knew the US elites, military, ‘intelligence’, business, etc, intimately. He knew their hubris, weaknesses and played to them, almost perfectly (he only made a slip up in Iraq, but that was a tactical mistake).

    He sits now laughing at us as our whole system collapses and dreams of us attacking Iran (a hated enemy of AQ) or adding more troops to Afghanistan. When he dies it will be with a smile on his face — the miserable swine — so ably helped by his ‘useful idiots’ in the US and Israel.

    If we can’t jail him then we should at least lock up all his ‘useful idiots’, Bush, Chaney, Rice, Olmert, etc etc — it is sadly a very, very long list. At least his successors wont then be able to manipulate us into doing what they want!

    Gosh now if we can just break up Pakisatn then AQ will finally get nuclear weapons. Sadly we are that stupid.

    Afghanistan means nothing, Pakistan is vitally important. Totally dft dreams of encircling Russia not withstanding (have we learnt nothing for 1983).

  13. As usual, STRATFOR relies on assumption more than argument. Their analysis of the ground situation here is pathetic, and what’s with the requisite throwaways to the Soviet and British retreats? There are many reasons to remain pessimistic about the American mission in Afghanistan (Ahmed Rashid’s essay “Graveyard of Analogies” is an excellent look at them), but STRATFOR only offers a rather shallow look at a limited set of interests.

    Fabius, you can do better than reprinting this crap.
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    Fabuis Maximus replies: Despite your certainty about these things, I will continue to report both sides of these cutting-edge issues.

    Correction to the above: except for our wars in the Middle East, which I consider insane.

  14. I should clarify: in the last year or so since you and I had our bloggy back-and-forth. You’ve been advocating a very specific message with regards to Afghanistan. Which really is okay by me — there are a lot of reasons to doubt our reasons for being there, and they deserve to be argued strongly and honestly. But STRATFOR doesn’t do that.

    And you don’t really “report both sides.” That’s why I seem snippy above.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Perhaps you should check the archive (“Iraq & Sub-continent Wars – my articles“) before writing such comments. The previous post about the war in Afghanistan was 20 August 2008. The one before that was “Brilliant, insightful articles about the Afghanistan War“, 8 June 2008 — about one of your articles.

  15. If you believe that the US has a defense budget that is indefensibly large, an acquisition program that is out of control, is this not a really good time to reconsider what is its foreign policy aims, what forces does it need to defend itself and project power to the extent this is necessary. Objection to the war in Iraq is not greater than objection to the Vietnam War but the absence of the Soviet threat allowed the world to speak up. Vietnam was indefensible. Saddam was a murderous psychopath who could maintain power only by making war. Overthrowing him was desirable even necessary, occupying Iraq simply stupid. Now is a really good time for the US to examine itself. We have zero interest in A. Bin Laden and Co. shelter in Pakistan and operate with funds from Saudi. When will the US stop pandering to the Saudis and face up to the reality that it exports extremism? Pakistan is a failed state and attempting to force India to disgorge Kashmir, as is suggested in some circles is Obama’s intention, is absurd. Better to get Pakistan to shed its TRibal Lands and let them join A. where everything is local government. This should terrify Iran into reconsidering its version of global jihad. Maybe. Meanwhile the world’s neighborhoods get to consider life without the US there all the time. We should also cut our funding to the UN by half and end UNRWA tomorrow morning. None of this will happen but the US really needs it to happen. This is not an argument for Pax Americana or Isolationism. We are a Great Power, we need to restore our Navy’s role as guarantor of the Sea Lanes. We are a Pacific Power and we should not treat Asia like the Caribe, sending in the Marines. We can support Thailand, Vietnam and the people of Burma in their suffering from the threat of Nearby and we should support India’s development as a great democracy but we have no interest in continuing to prop up Pakistan. We should support any effort to reform it, to control its dangerous supply of nuclear weapons, but not at the expense of India. We have to talk turkey with the Chinese about North Korea. If they want Japan to become a nuclear power, please continue propping up the criminals in the north. Otherwise, cooperate, get the South Koreans to agree to forego nukes in exchange for some form of reunion and neutrality.

  16. OldSkeptic – Al Qaeda has won. Bin Ladin stated quite openly in several addresses that his strategic aim was to bankrupt the US (google the references and actually read his speeches .. yeh I know they are painful).

    I’ve read the speeches and you’re right about how bad they are. I can only assume that they are better in the original Arabic.

    But I’d like to disagree with your comment that Al Qaeda has won. Yeah, they’ve cost us a boatload of money and a few thousand lives but the primary effort of bankrupting the US was achieved exclusively by citizens of the US with no intention of furthering fundamental Islam.

    Bin Laden can claim credit, but the current economic mess would have occurred without him.

    He sits now laughing at us as our whole system collapses and dreams of us attacking Iran (a hated enemy of AQ) or adding more troops to Afghanistan.

    I expect that you are right on all points. But as the article above points out, his organization is crippled and getting weaker. About the only tool he still controls is his ability to goad the US into stupid actions and he’s got much less control over us than he had with the previous administration (which tended to charge anybody who waved a red flag).

    Bin Laden’s been drinking way too much of his own Kool-Aid for the last few years and I suspect he’s becoming ever more dislocated from reality. He’s still a dangerous nuisance but we don’t need to continue this long and wasteful war on Terror (what an amazingly stupid concept, shall we wage war against heavy breathing next?). As long as we’re relatively diligent in keeping him from catching his breath, we’ve got bigger and more important fish to fry than him.

  17. Heh, heh, sorry for the laughter, I always chortle when Bill Lind is proved right.

    We, the US, NATO and (god knows why) Australia only are there until Russia decides that we have been bled dry enough. Note they have just sent a warning (an intellectual exercise grasshopper to find today’s reference).

    Plus, they can just give the Taliban brand new anti-armour and anti-aircraft (stinger revenge) hand held missles, at any time they want .. and then it is over (Russia has probably stockpiled them in preparation). Only this time no helicopters out of the embassy (they’d be shot down), rather more like the English in 1841.

    They have been real nice to us up until now, mainly because (deep in their hearts) they want Russia to be part of the EU, but they could really, I mean really screw us up just about everywhere if they finally got pissed off enough (think s-400 = the end of western air dominance anywhere it is installed).

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