Polls show that support for the Af-pak war is fading. The standard rationals for the war — prevent another 9-11, nation-building — are demolished. The debate has shown the war’s advocates without an substantive reasons for the war. We will soon see if the American public notices. Or cares. Or can make its voice heard.
To save the war, some of the more creative among them have come up with a new reason why we fight: to prevent atomic war between India and Pakistan. These wild stories, with no evidentiary foundation, show the intellectual bankruptcy of the war.
- “9/11, American Myopia and Nuclear War“, Jari Lindholm (Finnish journalist), posted at his blog, “The stupidest man on earth, 20 August 2009
- “Breaking: Finnish Blogger Nibbled to Death by Fellow Doves“, 24 August 2009
- “The Case for Afghanistan: Strategic Considerations“, Joshua Foust, Registan, 27 August 2009
- “Shedding Blood For Pakistan?“, Chris Bodenner, posted at Andrew Sullivan’s site at The Atlantic, 30 August 2009
As usual since these wars began, there is some mild questioning of this latest reason why we fight: “Analyzing the Case for Afghanistan“, Michael Cohen, 27 August 2009.
But as they total spent grows to the trillions, and the numbers of dead rise to uncounted totals, some grow willing to speak more strongly Bernard Finel of the American Security Project provides the necessary rebuttal in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nuclear War. Please read this in full. Summary:
As it turns out, these arguments are wrong — but not just wrong in details, but wrong in strategic logic and structure as well. I mean, they are essentially as wrong as wrong can be. They are in a way, the antithesis of what a reasonable debate about national strategy ought be.
Of course, if we are to take this theory seriously, there are other questions to be answered (from Foust describes the case for our war in Afghanistan):
(1) Do the folks involved consider this a serious problem? Do they believe that we’re the solution?
(2) If so, why have their governments not formally asked us for help? (”us” being whoever they believe best suited for the task). Otherwise we’re playing Father Knows Best. Neo-colonialism. Their request for assistance would give our efforts greater legitimacy — to the people in the area, the other nations of the world, and (not least) the American people.
(3) How many of the people in Afghanistan and Pakistan want want our help? Forcing it upon them might destabilize the region even further. Evidence from Pakistan suggests that our efforts are unwanted.
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For more information about this topic
To see all posts about our new wars:
Some posts about the war in Afghanistan:
- Why are we are fighting in Afghanistan?, 9 April 2008 — A debate with Joshua Foust.
- Stratfor: “The Strategic Debate Over Afghanistan”, 13 May 2009
- Real experts review a presentation about the War (look here, if you’re looking for well-written analysis!), 21 June 2009
- The Big Lie at work in Afghanistan – an open discussion, 23 June 2009
- “War without end”, a great article by George Wilson, 27 June 2009
- “Strategic Calculus and the Afghan War” by George Friedman of Stratfor, 17 July 2009
- Powerful insights about our war in Afghanistan, part 1, 18 July 2009
- We are warned about Afghanistan, but choose not to listen (part 2), 19 July 2009
- Powerful insights about our war in Afghanistan, part 3, 20 July 2009
- You can end our war in Afghanistan, 20 August 2009
- The love of an ally is sweet to behold, 21 August 2009 — About Pakistan.
- We must stay in Afghanistan to prevent atomic war!, 24 August 2009
15 thoughts on “The advocates for the Af-pak war demonstrate their bankruptcy. Will the American public notice?”
But how can we leave when the troops are having such a good time.
The French in Indochina had small groups of men living in isolated villages in the jungle who organized the villages to resist the communists. When the French pulled out of Indochina they left these men behind and for months these groups broadcasted curses on their former commanders on being abandoned, until one by one they were silenced by the vietminh.
Not a problem for echo company.
In short: No, the American people aren’t going to notice anything about AfPak. It is too distant from them and they have become sheep; grazing, bleating, and occasionally being slaughtered by the shepherd.
Like the sheep in biblical times, they’ve accepted the deal to be (mostly) protected and nurtured by the shepherd in exchange for being sheared and completely losing control over their future.
Two brief stories to highlight my opinion:
1. I recently went to a “town hall meeting” and wound up sitting next to a nice and seemingly intelligent woman who turned into a screaming maniac in short order, spouting nonsense of the highest order that just barely stopped short of declaring that Obama to be an extraterrestial alien.
I tried to get her to calm down and analyze how she came to these extraordinary conclusions. This is something I’m good at and have done successfully many times in the past. She did calm down but I couldn’t help her to actually analyze where her fears were coming from. She just vaguely indicated that “everybody knew part of the truth but nobody knows all of it.” True but not useful.
The other thing she mentioned was that she’s had an abiding premonition since the elections that something bad is going to happen so she was here to make sure the the government didn’t cause the problem. I couldn’t get her out of her fears long enough even begin to analyze that statement and left before the main event started (which quickly turned into a three ring circus because of people like her).
Story #2 occurred a little while after 9/11. One of my coworkers, a brilliant business analyst with several college degrees, took 9/11 very hard. She literally could not believe that people could be so angry towards the US and needed to go on sabbatical to clear her head. But even after she returned she still kept breaking out into tears several times a day. She didn’t have any relatives or friends who had been directly involved, this was just a body blow to her view of the US’s place in the world.
Finally she approached me and asked me why AQ so hated the US. I had just read a really good analysis and so was able to tick off AQ’s various and somewhat distorted talking points about how badly we’ve messed up their lives. I made sure that I spoke in neutral terms and kept emphasizing that I didn’t agree with AQ’s points. After I listed the last point she looks at me with tear-filled eyes and says, “So what? None of those points, even if they were all true, give them the right to take a single American life.”
I was a little bit stunned by that statement and (rather fearfully) said, “So what do you think we should we do about this?”
Her response stunned me even more. “I don’t know. Whatever the government thinks we should do, I guess.”
I pointed out that in a democracy the two of us were a small part of the leadership and have a duty to try to influence government behavior in the best possible way.
She smiled pityingly at me and said, “That’s what they want you to think.”
FM, it seems to me that the ratio of sheep to thinking citizens in this country is at least 10:1 and might be closer to 100:1. To paraphrase Lincoln, “a house owned by thoughtless people will not long survive.”
I’ve said this before: It’s time to start considering the possibility that the US in it’s current form is doomed and to start figuring out how influence events to the least bad course.
While the national security arguments against AfPak are in favor now more than ever, the domestic political issue must be considered in the administration’s AfPak policies. Let us not forget that Obama campaigned to fight the war in Afghanistan and was elected with support of moderates who could view a pullout as weakness. To execute such a pullout would be a tremendous expense of political capital and give plenty of fodder in 2010/2012. Is National Security Obama’s priority over other issues, such as Green Energy, Economic Recovery, and Healthcare reform? Judging by his choice over Secretary of Defense domestic issues are his chief concern, and absent of a tremendous loss of blood and treasure in Afpak matching or exceeding Iraq these domestic issues will continue to be the priority.
Fabius Maximus replies: But the cost is already vast. The US government is experiencing major financial stress due to its unprecedented borrowing. This limits Obama’s ability to stimulate the economy and take significant domestic policy actions. Our wars suck the oxygen from his Administration.
Example: The cash for clunker program had a large impact, costing $3 billion dollars. We spend almost twice that every month in the Af-Pak War.
Comment #3: “Let us not forget that Obama campaigned to fight the war in Afghanistan…”
And FDR campaigned against Herbert Hoover in 1932 on a platform of cutting government spending. Then he got into office and created the New Deal.
Effective Presidents know that when campaign promises and reality conflict, it’s smarter to abandon the promises than to try and fight the reality. Or as John Maynard Keynes put it, “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”
It strikes me that this “go to war to prevent war” thinking is in the tradition of the post WWII counter-factual “if only someone had stomped on Germany prior to the Czech crisis, the subsequent worse war wouldn’t have happened.” Usually that argument goes fist-in-glove with “America should not have become isolationist.” It’s pure nonsense and ignores the political realities of that era, but has been used by the US ever since to justify all kinds of military adventures. If anyone can think of any that ended well for us, please say so.
On 9/11/2001, 19 hijackers successfully circumvented a blinkered security system and caused horrifying death and destruction. Imagine those hijackers were Americans in the Tim Mcveigh tradition instead of Arab jihadis. What if the US government had then declared martial law and occupied a huge portion of Appalachia or the Rocky Mountains, and tried to crush the anti-government sentiment? How do you suppose that would work out? If you can’t see that ending well in our own backyard, why in the hell would it ever work in Afghanistan?
Getting out of our war commitment in A. is the easier part of the challenge. We have no discernible foreign policy, a broken financial system and a national security apparat that desperately needs overhaul. I see not a scrap of evidence that either the administration, the Congress or the American people are prepared to do even the preliminary work to begin accomplishing these urgent tasks.
Obama could create a national commission and suggest that McCain resign from the Senate to be Chair. It would carry out a review of national defense posture, manpower, management and purposes. The Pentagon needs an overhaul and it would be best if it is carried out in connection with thinking how we can strengthen our industrial and manufacturing base. You know putting Americans back to working making useful things that people need rather than putting crap from China on Walmart racks.
Fabius Maximus replies: A grim but probably correct summary. But putting McCain in charge? Disaster guaranteed.
Comment #6: “Obama could create a national commission and suggest that McCain resign from the Senate to be Chair…”
So-called “blue-ribbon” commissions are a standard political tactic for deferring actual action on difficult subjects. The 9/11 Commission was one of the very few that actually produced useful results that prodded changes in policy. Much more frequently these commissions cogitate for a few months and then issue a report nobody reads, by which time passions have cooled and the issue has fallen off the agenda.
Agreed 110% that we should be thinking hard about how to reinvigorate our industrial economy, though.
Comment #4: “And FDR campaigned against Herbert Hoover in 1932 on a platform of cutting government spending. Then he got into office and created the New Deal.”
And that is certainly true, but the circumstances are not nearly as dire. As I mentioned in my comment, if they become dire then action will occur.
FM seems to believe the situation already is dire and the financial cost of the conflict will allow Obama to pull out without the substantial loss of political capital. I believe by doing so he will not be able to push the domestic policies he’s trying to champion. What will be more important to him?
Even George Will has now come out against U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, and for years he was screaming that anyone who advocated withdrawal was a cut-and-run traitor.
Has the tide turned?
The 9/11 Commission was the single worst coverourass performance in American history. Nathan Bedford Forrest would have done better looking into origins of the Civil War. Congress is braindead would love to see them all replaced, except for Jim Webb. Why do you say McC. would be a disaster? He did expose the Boeing tanker scandal, a tip of an icesheet of selfdealing as we know. He is old etc. but who else has his…whatever it is that he still has. Not much I agree. Do you have a first step?
The main constituency getting screwed right now is primarily men who were recently flushed out of what is left of manufacturing and construction, aka, our industrial economy. It is they who are ripe for revolt and change. They, I suspect, increasingly understand the cost of our diversions in distant wars. My sense is that in our politics, a coalition of women’s identity politics groups (NOW etc,), trial lawyers and politico’s (elites), investment bankers, once powerful publishers,…(am I forgetting anyone?) oh yea, military industrial complex types, is losing their grip (through media control) on our real economy, and the men and women who try to make it work.
The NOW folks are emblematic. It is they who pressed to divert palliative stimulus dollars away from construction projects to the detriment of these dispossessed men. Obama waves his wrist and talks about how “..the plumbing isn’t working,..have to fix the plumbing”. Too many of us think this way. Growing the food,.. making electricity,..that’s all boring crap. All of that runs in the background on autopilot, unaffected by more important and contentious decisions we make about war, educating our children,..basically everything FM is noting on this site.
These self identified interest groups, in total, make up our society. We are now finding out that unfortunately, this boring crap is in fact tightly linked to other decisions we have been making.
Bankruptcy? Those are strong words, Fabius. One almost would think you’re accusing us of arguing in bad faith or lacking honesty.
Fabius Maximus replies: Not at all. Bankruptcy implies neither moral weakness or turpitude. It does not matter if we’re speaking financially or (as in this case) metaphorically. Lincoln went bankrupt, as have many other outstanding citizens: Buffalo Bill, Ulysses S. Grant, William McKinley, Thomas Paine, Mark Twain, Henry Ford, and William C. Durant (founder of General Motors).
The reference here is clearly to intellectual bankruptcy. Out of ideas. just as financially bankrupt means out of money.
Perhaps I have missed the appropriate articles linked here, but what strategy do we – meaning senior U.S. policymakers and military officers – use to extricate ourselves from Afghanistan without appearing defeated, and suffering the international loss of face? I’m not a poker player, but haven’t we doubled-down again and again these last eight years, upping the ante each time? After 9-11 we could have gone in with the stated intention of conducting a punitive raid, and then left after doing so. We are way past being able to exercise that option. We have set such lofty and unattainable goals – the transformation of Af-Pak society, nation-building, ridding the region of terrorists, eradicating the opium trade, et cetera – that it will be tough to disengage without looking defeated. Success has a thousand fathers, failure is an orphan, especially in Washington. Obama does not want to be known has the LBJ of the 2000s, nor General MacCrystal the Westmoreland, so the situation remains unchanged. The military is heavily invested in the conflict also, and does not want to suffer the loss of prestige that would accompany a withdrawl under, shall we say, less than optimal conditions.
Saving face is held to be a uniquely Asian cultural construct, alien to Americans and westerners, but IMO this is false, at least in this case. Americans prefer genuine victory, but if that is not attainable, the next best alternative, apparent victory, or at least the appearance of not losing and keeping our honor intact.
All foreign armies eventually leave for home, we know it and so do the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan; the question is under what circumstances we exit.
We’ve got to leave sometime, but no one wants a photo of a chopper lifting off of the American embassy rooftop, redux 2010.
What would Colonel Boyd have done? Anyone know Bill Lind’s thoughts on this problem?
“Let us not forget that Obama campaigned to fight the war in Afghanistan and was elected with support of moderates who could view a pullout as weakness. To execute such a pullout would be a tremendous expense of political capital and give plenty of fodder in 2010/2012.”
Even if that were true: The DUTY of the President of the United States is to do what he thinks is best for the COUNTRY, NOT himself. If doing the right thing means damaging the chances of his re-election, then its a damn shame, but that’s what he’s SUPPOSED to do.
Obviously, politicians justify this with lines like “My enlightened leadership is necessary to help save the country so I’m justified in doing XXX in order to get re-elected”, but that doesn’t mean its correct.
“We’ve got to leave sometime, but no one wants a photo of a chopper lifting off of the American embassy rooftop, redux 2010.”
Unless that’s whats required, then we will get exactly that.