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How to kill a rational peasant
June 17, 2012 2:00 PM   Subscribe

How to kill a rational peasant: America's dangerous love affair with counterinsurgency. [Via]
posted by homunculus (66 comments total) 60 users marked this as a favorite

 
Holy crap!
posted by ZenMasterThis at 3:16 PM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes. Coming to a US neighborhood very near to you soon.
posted by bert2368 at 3:20 PM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm still reading this, but for some reason I didn't bother to look at the title or even the URL when I started. I got as far as David Galula before I started thinking "This sounds like Adam Cur... oh. Ah."
posted by Busy Old Fool at 3:21 PM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


You can hear his voice in your head.
posted by Wataki at 3:37 PM on June 17, 2012


So, let's get this all in order. We have trouble turning people away from revolution, because revolution is attractive. So we need to convince the people that we are more attractive, but all we have is money. So we use money*, but then the people take the money but go on supporting the revolutionaries. So we need to get rid of the active revolutionaries, so people will just take the money. So we pay people to turn over the revolutionaries, but, since people who turn people over to a regime that will at the very least imprison them and probably kill them for money aren't the nicest or most trustworthy people, we discover that they just denounce anyone convenient (we still obligingly imprison and/or kill them just to be safe). So we resort to torture to find the truth, except, as we ought to have learned by now, torture really doesn't get at the truth in any systematic way. Eventually, we come to, knee deep in mutilated corpses, wondering how it came to this and looking for a "few bad apples" to blame it on.

Is that about right?

*Just to be clear, by this point "we" could be actually us or the proxies were are propping up. The scenario runs the same nevertheless.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:04 PM on June 17, 2012 [40 favorites]


To be fair, "we" could also be "you." I don't want to be exclusionary.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:04 PM on June 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


You can hear his voice in your head.

You can hear John Carpenter's music in your head, just as you can also see ominously edited stock footage in your head.
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:05 PM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: Cash is not the solution to your nation's intelligence woes.
posted by vhsiv at 4:31 PM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Everyone knows the way to kill any kind of peasant is to feed him/her sugar-, fat- and salt-laden processed food diet for roughly 50 years. Profitable and effective.
posted by absentian at 4:49 PM on June 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


Er, "feed him/her a sugar..
posted by absentian at 4:52 PM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


GenjiandProust: As far as I can tell COIN is basically the old "Divide et imperia" colonial game of pitting tribe v. tribe that's been given a shave, a nice haircut, and taught how to lie, both to the domestic audience and to itself about it's goals, methods, and probable outcomes.
posted by Grimgrin at 4:56 PM on June 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


Metafilter: Cash is not $5 is the solution to your nation's intelligence woes.
posted by Blue_Villain at 5:23 PM on June 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Also, are we allowed to make rules that stories this long should not be arbitrarily formatted like this. Having four inch margins on either side of the text made this twice as difficult to mentally digest than would a normally formatted text document.

It's not the first story I've seen like this though, so I'm sure it's not the last.
posted by Blue_Villain at 5:26 PM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


The way to win hearts and minds in the shadow of military power is to put local oppressed women in charge of dysfunctional societies. This is reversing the problem. Societies are dysfunctional because of brutal traditions that create gang hierarchies based on machismo. Educated women are just sitting there waiting for the chance to take their culture to the next level and could capitalize on our military control without abusing it. but we usually make the mistake of putting the rival gang in charge.
posted by Brian B. at 5:29 PM on June 17, 2012 [8 favorites]


Brian B: So your solution to the problem of insurgencies against military occupation is military occupation until the society being occupied has been radically restructured, to a degree most societies haven't managed in a nearly a century of improvements in the status and rights of women?
posted by Grimgrin at 5:53 PM on June 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Brian B: So your solution to the problem of insurgencies against military occupation is military occupation until the society being occupied has been radically restructured, to a degree most societies haven't managed in a nearly a century of improvements in the status and rights of women?

My solution is to not leave with a militarized gang in charge. I realize that many people don't want to see an American invasion succeed by having it work out in the end, but I'm not invested in the bad reasons, just the human outcome. And I don't romanticize tribal or village structures. I'd rather be a goat in most places. The modern struggle is with local hierarchy itself and it always was. We should not deal with any gang hierarchy, but get to the point of change. If we measure a functional society as women's rights and better schools and hospitals, and less ignorance, disease and corruption, then we need to keep our eye on the ball and not buy into their ancient male fears and local taboos. It's pretty clear in some places who they are afraid of.
posted by Brian B. at 6:24 PM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


So... insurgents are the ones fighting the occupation, correct? And the USA is occupying Afghanistan and Iraq specifically to "counter" the "insurgents"? Seems like circular reasoning to me, but luckily this country is run by competent civil servants. Otherwise I might start wondering what the hell the point is of anything this fucking country does.
posted by eurypteris at 6:27 PM on June 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


So, let's get this all in order. We have trouble turning people away from revolution, because revolution is attractive. So we need to convince the people that we are more attractive, but all we have is money. So we use money*, but then the people take the money but go on supporting the revolutionaries. So we need to get rid of the active revolutionaries, so people will just take the money. So we pay people to turn over the revolutionaries, but, since people who turn people over to a regime that will at the very least imprison them and probably kill them for money aren't the nicest or most trustworthy people, we discover that they just denounce anyone convenient (we still obligingly imprison and/or kill them just to be safe). So we resort to torture to find the truth, except, as we ought to have learned by now, torture really doesn't get at the truth in any systematic way. Eventually, we come to, knee deep in mutilated corpses, wondering how it came to this and looking for a "few bad apples" to blame it on.

And then you say fuck it, robot death planes sound so much simpler.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 6:36 PM on June 17, 2012 [13 favorites]


I do not think winning hearts and minds is the goal here. A destabilized region is much easier to mould. Once a government has stabilized, it starts getting ideas. Like ejecting your military. And nationalizing resources. The CIA plays a very long game, and it is basically whenever the punching bag clown face rocks back up, punch it down again.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:49 PM on June 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


Brian B., once we've done all that, what do we do with our surfeit of ponies?
posted by wilful at 7:21 PM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


My solution is to not leave with a militarized gang in charge

I know this is a pretty radical idea, but in general I bet the US military could stop needing to leave if it wasn't there in the first place.
posted by brennen at 8:27 PM on June 17, 2012 [8 favorites]


wilful: "once we've done all that, what do we do with our surfeit of ponies?"

I'm betting it won't involve turning round and working on "women's rights and better schools and hospitals, and less ignorance, disease and corruption" back home. That might take unicorns, not ponies.
posted by Pinback at 8:34 PM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Brian B.: If we measure a functional society as women's rights

...then I'm not sure we're in any position to be deciding whose is a functional society and whose isn't. We have politicians attempting to force transvaginal ultrasounds on women who are trying to exercise a right they've had since the highest court in the land settled the issue some 39 years ago.
posted by axiom at 8:49 PM on June 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


...then I'm not sure we're in any position to be deciding whose is a functional society and whose isn't.

We're in an actual position, not a theoretical one. It's a matter of redemption at this point. We'll always have bad laws in America, but that doesn't mean that our foreign policy is dictated by them. Let them try to oppose it. Then there's the moral argument anyway.
posted by Brian B. at 9:13 PM on June 17, 2012


I know this is a pretty radical idea, but in general I bet the US military could stop needing to leave if it wasn't there in the first place.

It will leave anyway, but whether or not they make any lasting contribution under different administrations is another matter. To argue they can't or shouldn't try is a more awkward position.
posted by Brian B. at 9:16 PM on June 17, 2012


Brian B: Fundamentally, you're buying into the neo-conservative fallacy, that you can change a society, in a few years, with a small army, at a tolerable cost. It doesn't matter if your fantasy end state society is a representative free market democracy or radical equality for women. The problem is you can't get there with an army unless you commit to massive, open ended occupation.

As long as there's an insurgency, there's going to be an armed gang waiting in the wings to take over. If you've trained a local army and security force to fight them, two armed gangs. The insurgency in your scenario is going to be made up of pissed off traditionalists who are angry that what they view as a proper social order has been upended by a foreign army. In theory you can stay and prop up the new order you've created using the army until the support for the insurgency fades organically. The problem is in practice, you don't have that much time until the folks at home get sick of the expense in money and lives of the entire thing. At which point you leave. Then there's a brief interlude. Then the women you put in power flee the country or die horribly.

You could always extract sufficient wealth from the country you've occupied that the whole thing becomes self financing I suppose. But that opens a whole different can of worms.
posted by Grimgrin at 9:35 PM on June 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


Brian B: Fundamentally, you're buying into the neo-conservative fallacy, that you can change a society, in a few years, with a small army, at a tolerable cost.

It's neither neo-conservative, nor fallacious to introduce equality back into a society by starting with gender. But it is a moral imperative during a liberal administration. If it fails, we repatriate the risk takers and never owe the rival gangs anything of the sort. The oppressors are properly placed in a weaker position in their own culture as new ideas emerge in media and government, appealing to the majority without propaganda.

The women I'm refering to came from intellectually supportive families, and aren't practiced in brutality, and are motivated to change things without tribal loyalties, from both experience and desire. They can create a new tradition, because they contain the family. Besides, it's their right to rule in a power vacuum because they were oppressed by what came before.

Note that dividing genders is how inequality is originally introduced into any society. Once anyone agrees to it, they sign up for their own lower status on principle. Anyone who tries to avoid equalizing genders as a moral authority is a poser, and that's how the world can tell. For example, when MacArthur left Japan after WW2, it was reported that Japanese women lined up for miles to see him off.
posted by Brian B. at 10:14 PM on June 17, 2012


Counter insurgency: the tactical need you share with Herodes and Darth Vader.
posted by joost de vries at 10:41 PM on June 17, 2012


"Fundamentally, you're buying into the neo-conservative fallacy, that you can change a society, in a few years, with a small army, at a tolerable cost."

In a lot of ways, you can do that — you just don't use the army. It's a lot easier to change at a tolerable cost, and it does less damage when things are fucked up.
posted by klangklangston at 11:01 PM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Brian B:

Your arguments about equality are identical to neo-conservative arguments about democracy. No one is arguing that introducing gender equality is a bad thing. No one was arguing that democracy was a bad thing. The argument is about what it takes to reshape a society, and whether or not it's possible to make the changes proposed with the resources available.

I'm saying that if you want to reshape a society, you need to either beat the entire society down to where they are incapable of resistance, or you need to deal with the inevitable insurgency.

In Japan, the US beat them down. Women lined up to see MacArthur off? Great. But this is the kind of shit it took to get there. It was a massive, bloody, costly military effort.

You're talking a lot about the changes you think we need to make in a foreign society and very little about how many people we'd realistically need to kill, and how long we'd need to keep forces in place to make it happen.

The oppressors are properly placed in a weaker position in their own culture as new ideas emerge in media and government, appealing to the majority without propaganda.

You're kidding right? "The oppressors" do not just go gently into that good night. That's the entire point of the insurgency debate. You occupy a country, in so doing, upend the social order, and people affected tend to register their dissatisfaction by terrorist attacks, from lynchings to poisoning schoolgirls it's all the same impulse, and with the same goals.

As the occupier, you're left with the same choices, you can either occupy until society changes, which is a multi-generational process, and impossible. Or you can inflict such pain beforehand that no-one even tries to resist. Which, I'd argue, is also impossible if you plan on completely reshaping their society, the north turned the south to charcoal and killed a huge chunk of the military age males, and still had a postwar insurgency against reconstruction.
posted by Grimgrin at 11:07 PM on June 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


The more things change, the more they stay the same. What a waste.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 12:15 AM on June 18, 2012


"Your arguments about equality are identical to neo-conservative arguments about democracy. No one is arguing that introducing gender equality is a bad thing. No one was arguing that democracy was a bad thing. The argument is about what it takes to reshape a society, and whether or not it's possible to make the changes proposed with the resources available."

Right. I'm not a relativist (at this level of description) and so I personally don't have any fundamental issues about attempting to restructure someone else's society if I agree it ought to be restructured (because, for example, it's misogynist...although, honestly, by those standards, we have plenty to do right here and now).

A lot of people, probably the majority, don't understand the neocons at all, confusing Cheney and Rumsfeld, and their obvious motivations, with that of the neocons. But Cheney and Rumsfeld were only nominally neocons — for them, the neocons were useful idiots.

And idiots they were and still are (though thankfully, we don't hear much from them anymore). The neocons didn't even have the dubious virtue of beginning from this COIN perspective, they just flat-out thought that you shoot the scary dictator, offer (somehow) democracy and a free-market to the masses, and everyone will be happy and peaceful and grateful. It's a colossal amount of criminal naivete, of a particular idealistic flavor that was, heretofore, mostly associated with starry-eyed liberals.

I don't even know how it is that a) such a foreign policy idealism could ever have been taken seriously by anyone with any actual influence in a Washington that had long ago accepted, universally, that a Kissinger-esque explicitly self-interested realpolitik was how all the grown-ups governed; and b) anyone proposing these ideas who found themselves taken seriously by VSPs didn't suspect they were being used. Except, with regard to the latter, I suppose of course they didn't realize they were being used...they're criminally naive.

Anyway, Brian B.'s argument is basically the same thing, as you say, only with some liberal/progressive sugar sprinkled on top to make it more palatable. And, hell, I'm not immune to this temptation: I'd been bitterly complaining for years about the Taliban's treatment of women and was among those who were quite happy to see them taken down.

But, no, you can't restructure an entire culture according to your whims in a few years. You just don't. It's not possible.

Yes, things can radically change in a few years, that's true. But that's because those changes have been working their way organically through the culture, for years, only to finally explode into sudden alteration of what are the more artificial, frangible parts of a society, which are its explicit political structures and other, similar institutions. How anyone who knows even a little bit about the last hundred years of history in the region could think that what would really be a westernized society could be imposed by force in a few years time is just incredible. That is to say, it's hard to believe that any of these guys knew any history of the region.

Anyway, the bottom line is that there's not an easy way to accomplish this sort of goal. The neocon (or naive liberal interventionist, take your pick) dream of a quick and relatively easy "liberation" turns out to be a dangerous illusion. So what happens next? We adopt another, slightly less naive dangerous illusion. COIN.

It's sort of interesting how a lot of people don't seem to be learning the lessons that they (we) should be learning from history about this stuff. Because, again, we also have the history of the Other Guys available, too. How effective were the communists (Soviets) at "liberation"? Not very.

And what you find is that anywhere and everywhere where revolution or insurgency has been successful has been where there are long-term, organic reasons that favor a radical change in sociopolitical structures, whether to the left or to the right.

A lot of people of all political persuasions, don't want to believe this. They believe as seanmpucket believes, and that is that we live in a top-down world, where the structures which we see around us all exist as the design of the very powerful. If you think that people are easily manipulated in ways that can alter their entire worldview, and in predictable, manageable ways, then you will be very inclined to think that a) political change occurs by virtue of effective propaganda; and, b) it's effectively opposed by virtue of even more effective propaganda.

Fundamentally, COIN — whether it's hearts and minds or hearts and minds plus terror — is either an entirely, or almost entirely, morally relativistic view. If it allows for any individual agency at all (that is, individual agency which collectively creates sociopolitical change and structures) then it reduces it to the hoary "rational agent" cartoon. Basically, it sees the insurgency as Pepsi and counterinsurgency as Coke. We just need a better ad campaign. Perhaps with a bit of added incentive in the form of bribery, torture, and terror. People who want to explain extant political structures with this paradigm, or who want to explain how their preferred structures could be achieved with this paradigm, basically disregard the possibility that individuals and groups of people collectively might have very damn good reasons for believing the things they believe and doing things the way they do them. Even though, of course, people tend to think that they have very good reasons for the things they believe and for the things they do and they are well aware that they're disinclined to change those things without extremely compelling reasons to do so. They just figure that everyone else are sheep, easily led.

History demonstrates over and over again that this isn't true. With regard to national interests and warfare, history shows that invasion and occupation (or equivalent) pretty much never produces the kind of change that it's sold to the population as being instrumental in achieving, except when it's either going to happen anyway, or when it's the product of many, many years of influence. And yet people are sold this bill of goods again and again. And that's because there's a collusion of interests in being blind to the truth of the situation. Foremost among them are the political and economic interests who will prosper in the short-term. These interests are almost always very powerful in politics because, sadly, politics (pretty much universally, regardless of system) is a game of short-term loss and gain.

It's not impossible that the kinds of goals that Brian B advocates or the neocons advocated could be achievable, at some cost and over some amount of time. But that's almost always going to be a greater cost, and certainly a much greater amount of time, than anyone really has much incentive to care about. With regard to time, it's far over the political horizon.

The irony about COIN is that it's like a cargo cult. It's so close to actually understanding something. But instead of investigating why the insurgents' planes fly, where the cargo comes from, how it's produced — that is, why they're really successful — it just decides that if our side builds some planes out of bamboo and some things that look like landing strips, well, things will start going our way again.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:56 AM on June 18, 2012 [10 favorites]


And so it goes on.
posted by adamvasco at 1:11 AM on June 18, 2012


Remember when America was a revolution against an occupying power?
posted by srboisvert at 1:43 AM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


The way to win hearts and minds in the shadow of military power is to put local oppressed women in charge of dysfunctional societies.
And how exactly do you "put" someone in charge? How do you ensure that they stay in charge after you leave?

This is an absurd idea. Thankfully people in Washington have finally figured out that the solution Afghanistan is to get the fuck out and let them figure out their own problems.

If the US was interested in expanding women's rights, which it obviously isn't, it would make more sense to start with our allies. How about Saudi Arabia, for example? Their leaders have investments all over the western world, which could easily be revoked if they don't do what we say w.r.t women's rights. There are tons of poor countries that could use our aide and might actually want us to come to their countries to build free schools and educate women. Why not build girl's schools in Kenya, or Bangladesh or South Africa? It would be so, so much cheaper because you wouldn't need a shitload of military there to protect you in the first place.

Trying to do this in Afghanistan is moronic. Anyone who helps us runs the risk of being labeled a collaborator
It's neither neo-conservative, nor fallacious to introduce equality back into a society by starting with gender.
the fallacy is that it's possible. That's the key question here: Is it possible to do. There doesn't seem to be any consideration of what actual actions you take to make it happen. You just say you "put women in charge" But "in charge" is not a physical thing that you can just put women in, like a cardboard box. Someone is in charge if people listen to them and do what they say. And there is no way you can force someone to do what you say, other then through violence.

So, if the men in a society refuse to do whatever it is the women you "put in charge" say, you have to kill them, put them in prison or coerce them in some other way. Or you give women the guns and weapons they need to keep control. In which case they will probably just end up as violent and brutal as the men would be.
posted by delmoi at 1:47 AM on June 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


if our side builds some planes out of bamboo and some things that look like landing strips, well, things will start going our way again.

Well said.
posted by Wolof at 2:19 AM on June 18, 2012


I can't help being interested in this from a purely intellectual, strategic point of view. Assume that there is some good, moral reason for invading some imaginary country and trying to depose the local warlords, replacing them with reliable allies who will govern humanely. Maybe there is never a moral reason for regime change, but I imagine a good novelist could make a compelling case in some hypothetical world, so let's just pretend we're in that world, for a moment.

Is it possible at all? If COIN isn't the way to do it, is there a way? Is the US occupation of Japan an example, and if so, what made it work? Sheer brutality? Did we succeed in changing hearts and minds with nuclear weapons? Does that mean that the Vietnam era hawks were right, in a sense, and we just weren't brutal enough there? Could we remake Afghanistan now if we gave up on COIN and just started wiping villages off the map? (If this is always the case, the only way to do it, it does make it harder to imagine the hypothetical "morally justified regime change." But I find it hard to believe that you win people to your side by upping the brutality more and more.)

What about Hong Kong? I know almost nothing about the history of Hong Kong, but I know that it still exists, even after the departure of the British occupiers, as an island of relative freedom and more western culture. How did that happen? How did the British win "hearts and minds" so effectively that China was forced to keep many of their institutions and structures in place by local demand, even after they left?

Are there any other examples? Maybe some parts of the Roman empire? Places where people have come to love their conquerors? Is COIN doomed because all such efforts are doomed, or is it just an ineffective strategy?
posted by OnceUponATime at 5:23 AM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Has it occurred to anyone in the Pentagon that counterinsurgency wars are, in general, a disaster for "great" powers? Has there ever been a successful one?
posted by thelonius at 5:26 AM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


The way to win hearts and minds in the shadow of military power is to put local oppressed women in charge of dysfunctional societies. This is reversing the problem. Societies are dysfunctional because of brutal traditions that create gang hierarchies based on machismo. Educated women are just sitting there waiting for the chance to take their culture to the next level and could capitalize on our military control without abusing it. but we usually make the mistake of putting the rival gang in charge.

I can see how this looks theoretically sound, but in practice, the most radical feminist organization in Afghanistan, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, has always been opposed to both the religious fundamentalists and the American occupation.
posted by jonp72 at 5:40 AM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Could we remake Afghanistan now if we gave up on COIN and just started wiping villages off the map?

Probably. If the US were willing to destroy any village that attacked it, then by the process of elimination the only villages left would be the ones that didn't attack the US. Is the US military able to indiscriminately slaughter hundreds of thousands of innocent people? No - the US military cannot pursue this strategy due to domestic and international political constraints. The insurgents know this, which is why at the war is basically a PR exercise: for every wedding bombed, point one Insurgents. The US hasn't figured out how to score points in this type of war yet.

In some cases, the strategy of "wipe out everything" hasn't worked - WW2 provides examples of countries willing to keep on fighting despite massive indiscriminate bombing campaigns. In these cases, the countries typically have unifying nationalism to rally around.

Is the US occupation of Japan an example, and if so, what made it work? Sheer brutality? Did we succeed in changing hearts and minds with nuclear weapons?

Not really. The Soviets were much more effective in changing the hearts and minds of the Japanese; the Japanese choice wasn't oppressor or no oppressor, but American oppressor or Soviet oppressor. It's easy to enthusiastic about your oppressors when the alternative was the Soviets. Furthermore, Japan on the brink of mass-starvation at the end of the war. The Americans didn't impose their rule on an otherwise functioning country - instead, they prevented mass starvation through dedicated aid work. This earned the Americans significant goodwill not available in an occupation of [insert country here].
posted by kithrater at 6:15 AM on June 18, 2012


In some cases, the strategy of "wipe out everything" hasn't worked - WW2 provides examples of countries willing to keep on fighting despite massive indiscriminate bombing campaigns. In these cases, the countries typically have unifying nationalism to rally around

It worked eventually. I mean, if your willing to kill every single person in the country, there's nothing preventing you from rebuilding society however you want.
posted by empath at 6:45 AM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


WW2 provides examples of countries willing to keep on fighting despite massive indiscriminate bombing campaigns

Or, indeed, Vietnam and Cambodia.
posted by Grangousier at 6:52 AM on June 18, 2012


It worked eventually. I mean, if your willing to kill every single person in the country, there's nothing preventing you from rebuilding society however you want.

True. I suppose my point is you might the genocide strategy might beat insurgents if the insurgents believe you're willing to commit genocide, but you might not beat a nation-state even if you are willing to commit genocide because genocide turns out to be really hard and costly. Of course, this hasn't been tested since the introduction of nuclear weaponry, so who knows what exciting developments the future will hold for military strategy.
posted by kithrater at 7:01 AM on June 18, 2012


As the occupier, you're left with the same choices, you can either occupy until society changes, which is a multi-generational process, and impossible. Or you can inflict such pain beforehand that no-one even tries to resist. Which, I'd argue, is also impossible if you plan on completely reshaping their society, the north turned the south to charcoal and killed a huge chunk of the military age males, and still had a postwar insurgency against reconstruction.
...
Anyway, Brian B.'s argument is basically the same thing, as you say, only with some liberal/progressive sugar sprinkled on top to make it more palatable. And, hell, I'm not immune to this temptation: I'd been bitterly complaining for years about the Taliban's treatment of women and was among those who were quite happy to see them taken down.
...
the fallacy is that it's possible. That's the key question here: Is it possible to do. There doesn't seem to be any consideration of what actual actions you take to make it happen. You just say you "put women in charge" But "in charge" is not a physical thing that you can just put women in, like a cardboard box. Someone is in charge if people listen to them and do what they say. And there is no way you can force someone to do what you say, other then through violence.


That's three impossibles, almost a choir. The assumptions are too many too late in the game. It presumes we need to leave first and act later. It presumes female influence is feared by the pedophiles running the Taliban, but that this is somehow a bad thing we need to consider in the Taliban's favor. It presumes a women-hating general population that can only be imagined. Finally, if I didn't bother to detail a full plan, it doesn't somehow make me wrong. When you have nothing to lose, play for the good guys.
posted by Brian B. at 7:17 AM on June 18, 2012


Finally, if I didn't bother to detail a full plan, it doesn't somehow make me wrong.

Until you can detail some kind of plan, you haven't refuted the "impossible" argument.

But actually what people are saying is actually little more nuanced than that: "Maybe possible but would require either a generations long occupation or near-genocidal tactics." If they are right, you could hardly say we "have nothing to lose"? But so far you've proposed no alternative.

I really like the approach of bypassing the gangs by putting women in charge, but you've made absolutely no argument that supports the idea that it can be done by an outside force without wholesale slaughter and/or turning Afghanistan into a US colony. I would love for you to convince me that it could be. I am an educated woman myself and therefor biased in favor of your plan, and I didn't have much of an opinion on the "is it possible?" question prior to reading this article and this thread, so I ought to be very convincable.

But so far you've made no argument at all, and I'm left thinking that actually, the COIN techniques described by the article, torture and all, may really have been among the most humane tactics available for attempting to impose our values on this foreign society, and that Bush and the neocons maybe weren't as evil as I thought, but rather, naive in somewhat the same way as people are saying that you are. Maybe they really wanted to do good things for people, and didn't listen to the voices that were trying to tell them about the cost...

But it's a harsh truth, if it's the truth, that there's nothing we can do to help women and victims of evil regimes short of wholesale destruction of their society, and I would rather believe you are right. I'd rather believe that somehow we can empower the "good guys" without drowning the country in blood. I'm just having real trouble seeing the "somehow," and it seems like you are too.
posted by OnceUponATime at 8:56 AM on June 18, 2012


Fascism is fascism is fascism. I think we've done quite enough in Afghanistan.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 9:15 AM on June 18, 2012


In some cases, the strategy of "wipe out everything" hasn't worked

I think it's positively disgusting how glibly we in this thread discuss massive bombing.

To americans this is always something that happens on a different continent. For some demonstrative cause (democracy, gender equality, stemming communism) or real politik cause (oil, revenge, power).
But any 'campaign' like that involves the total destruction of the entire world for local citizens. Total and irreversible destruction. Everything they love and a lot of people they love will be destroyed forever.

You people should be ashamed.
posted by joost de vries at 9:59 AM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


It Couldn’t Happen Here, It Does Happen There: The Value of American -- and Afghan -- Lives
posted by homunculus at 10:40 AM on June 18, 2012


Fascism is fascism is fascism. I think we've done quite enough in Afghanistan.

I strongly disagree that the invasion of Afghanistan was fascist in nature. Civilian and military targets in America were attacked because of the actions of the Taliban and the terrorists they harbored. It was legitimately a defensive war. It's become clear Bush lost that war when he focused on Iraq instead, but you can see why Obama felt it was necessary to give it another shot. Hopefully we are out soon.

In some cases, the strategy of "wipe out everything" hasn't worked

I think it's positively disgusting how glibly we in this thread discuss massive bombing.


I think it's only being discusses theoretically. I doubt anyone here really thinks it would be worth the cost, even if it does work. Americans like to think of themselves as the good guy, and indiscriminate bombing is a tough sell there.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 12:17 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


This interesting and enlightening presentation is more than a little scary. We loved the theory so much that we've used it everywhere from Vietnam to Iraq, and even farmed it out during Reagan and B-41. Never mind that it never worked in our behalf. Well, I guess it was good for the contractors. Even when we did it right (invaded Afghanistan and wiped out the local Taliban), we seem to be hell bent on going back to do it wrong. Again.

But never mind that. My main complaint is that the discussion in this thread seems to have overlooked the "Turn It Into A Glass Parking Lot" option. What the hell, it might work. Maybe we could pre-empt several countries in the area while we are about it.

Can't find a LeMay when you really need one.
posted by mule98J at 12:24 PM on June 18, 2012


You people should be ashamed.

Good view from that horse?

Discussions like this one tend to come off kind of glib precisely because the underlying subject matter is so often so horrifying in content. I don't see strong evidence that most folks in this thread feel otherwise. If you want to talk about this stuff, it doesn't do a whole lot of good to be simply rendered prostrate by the awfulness of the practices and outcomes you are trying to understand and criticize.
posted by brennen at 12:27 PM on June 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


Americans like to think of themselves as the good guy, and indiscriminate bombing is a tough sell there.

Plenty of the Americans I know love them some indiscriminate bombing. Strip the bitter sarcasm from mule98J's comment just below yours and that kind of insane genocidal fantasy about "glass parking lots" is more or less the sincerely held foreign policy position of a non-trivial number of Americans.
posted by brennen at 12:30 PM on June 18, 2012


Remember when America was a revolution against an occupying power?
posted by srboisvert


Has it occurred to anyone in the Pentagon that counterinsurgency wars are, in general, a disaster for "great" powers? Has there ever been a successful one?
posted by thelonius


I believe the United States of America was both an insurgency (against the British) and a counterinsurgency (against the Native Americans).

Also what about the Norman Conquest? The Malayan Emergency?

Sepp argues that studying counterinsurgencies show several successful and unsuccessful practices, which you can read about in the linked article.
posted by Comrade_robot at 1:13 PM on June 18, 2012


What about Hong Kong? I know almost nothing about the history of Hong Kong, but I know that it still exists, even after the departure of the British occupiers, as an island of relative freedom and more western culture. How did that happen? How did the British win "hearts and minds" so effectively that China was forced to keep many of their institutions and structures in place by local demand, even after they left?
Why would a Cantonese speaking person in HK feel more loyalty to a mandarin speaking government in Beijing then to an English speaking government in London?

The thing with Hong Kong is that there was basically nothing there, it was just an empty island that the British government setup a port on. So everyone who had moved there did so in order to take part in the economic activity being generated by the island being the UK's base of operations.

Another thing to keep in mind is that many people in HK are part British, and people there feel somewhat superior to mainland china, rather then a part of it. They actually complain about people from the mainland coming to HK to have children and thus gain HK citizenship, just as some Americans complain about Mexicans doing the same thing. (Remember, in china you actually have internal migration controls, you can't just go wherever you want like in most countries)

Beijing has been fairly hands off, but still people in HK are somewhat pissed
Probably. If the US were willing to destroy any village that attacked it, then by the process of elimination the only villages left would be the ones that didn't attack the US. Is the US military able to indiscriminately slaughter hundreds of thousands of innocent people? No - the US military cannot pursue this strategy due to domestic and international political constraints.
Right, the US has to make it seem like we are the "good guys". Historically, empires expanded by killing everyone who stood in their way. If a city didn't surrender, you raised it.

But the reason for doing that was to take land. The US isn't interested in land. It supposedly wants to 'prevent terrorism', if we did that, we would be the worst terrorists in history, and it would engender massive amounts of hatred against us in the rest of the world, possibly leading to more terrorism.
Finally, if I didn't bother to detail a full plan, it doesn't somehow make me wrong.
Yes, it does. Because in fact you haven't even said what we should do at all "putting woman in charge" is not a "thing" you can "do". You have to take actions in the real world that result in men listening to women and doing what they say. What are those actions?
When you have nothing to lose, play for the good guys.
The live of our troops? Trillions of dollars? How are those not 'things to lose'?
posted by delmoi at 1:28 PM on June 18, 2012


From comrade_robot's Sepp citation:
Successful Practices
l Emphasis on intelligence.
l Focus on population, their needs, and security.
l Secure areas established, expanded.
l Insurgents isolated from population
l Single authority (charismatic/dynamic leader).
l Effective, pervasive psychological operations
(PSYOP) campaigns.
l Amnesty and rehabilitation for insurgents.
l Police in lead; military supporting.
l Police force expanded, diversified.
l Conventional military forces reoriented for
counterinsurgency.
l Special Forces, advisers embedded with
indigenous forces.
l Insurgent sanctuaries denied.
I haven't read the article very carefully yet, but it looks to me like a summary of exactly those tactics which the linked article in the OP claims lead to torture and terror tactics on the part of the occupying forces.

From the OP's link:
But there was another side to this Counterinsurgency theory. If you could persuade the local people to come over to your side - then that would leave the insurgents who lived among the people drastically weakened. [...] But to do that you had to identify the insurgents - and that meant getting information from your new "friends" the local villagers. [...] Then an American military officer points out that what Atkins is doing is exactly the same as Mao's revolutionary theories set out to do - "win the minds and the hearts" of the local people. [...] Whereas in ordinary war the objective is to destroy the enemy and occupy his territory, the guerrilla's aim is to control the population. This, therefore, must be the aim of the counter-guerrilla as well [...] The aim of the protected villages and all the incentives was to separate the population from the insurgents.[...] And so - in 2006 - General David Petraus' team dug up Counterinsurgency again. They took David Galula's ideas and made them the central architecture for a new idea of how to rescue Iraq from the horror that had engulfed it since the invasion of 2003.
So the Sepp article was published in 2005, just before that push, and seems to be endorsing Counterinsurgency with a capital "C" as defined in the OP's link as the right strategy for the US to take in Iraq. But the OP's link suggests that though the "surge" was somewhat successful, it was not due to these tactics. And the Sepp article does not address the claims that the main article makes that this kind of approach inevitably leads occupying armies to behave like terrorists themselves.

If Counterinsurgency is supposed to be the kinder gentler alternative to carpet bombing and colonization, and still leads to such horrific human rights violations, then it is starting to seem to me as if there is no moral way to counter an insurgency at all. However terrible the insurgents themselves might be.
posted by OnceUponATime at 3:17 PM on June 18, 2012


Until you can detail some kind of plan, you haven't refuted the "impossible" argument.


Actually, no. A plan doesn't refute much of anything, and there is no impossible argument, that's just shrill emphasis. Either way , it's not impossible to try to put all capable or educated women in government service as a priority, therefore possible. The alternative to helping them succeed at all is to give most of them permanent visas to the West after the Taliban take over. By losing government posts they will have "earned" it, in a public relations sense.

The live of our troops? Trillions of dollars? How are those not 'things to lose'?

You lose them anyway without culturally marginalizing an absolutist enemy, politically neutralizing warlord-ism itself, and showing that change is possible. I further note that the Taliban have nothing to lose if their wives and daughters don't have something to speak for. Basically, we never even tried to win them over.
posted by Brian B. at 3:47 PM on June 18, 2012


I further note that the Taliban have nothing to lose if their wives and daughters don't have something to speak for.

Are you seriously suggesting that if we make sufficient improvement in the lives of Afghan women the Taliban will see the wisdom of it all? Seriously?

The Taliban have their own ideas about the role of women. They also have their own ideas about what should happen to women of any age who step out of that role.
posted by Grimgrin at 4:37 PM on June 18, 2012


Either way , it's not impossible to try to put all capable or educated women in government service as a priority

Sure, you can do that. But that isn't the same as putting them "in charge". That's just putting them in government. Once we leave, who's going to keep them there? And what's to prevent them from being pushed around by the men in government.
You lose them [troops, money] anyway without culturally marginalizing an absolutist enemy
No, if we leave, we don't lose them. That's the whole point.

And by the way, we're not in control of the Afghan government anyway. The Karzai government doesn't need us and doesn't take orders from us. So how would we even force the Karzai government to put women in positions of power? (That said, apparently about 28% of the delegates in the Afghan parliament are women)

posted by delmoi at 5:01 PM on June 18, 2012


Remember when America was a revolution against an occupying power?

No, I remember some tax dodgers.
posted by wilful at 7:21 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Are you seriously suggesting that if we make sufficient improvement in the lives of Afghan women the Taliban will see the wisdom of it all? Seriously?

The Taliban have their own ideas about the role of women. They also have their own ideas about what should happen to women of any age who step out of that role.


The Taliban were hardly a party worth mentioning a generation ago before we armed Bin Laden. They have their foreign funding too. Your fatalistic social pillars are pretty new in town, and as backward fundamentalists, most of them couldn't keep a wife unless they were captive. That's their weakness, because they need bad roads to go with that backwardness.

No, if we leave, we don't lose them. That's the whole point.

We're handing over power next year, and the Taliban is expected to succeed us in short order. If so, all losses from now will be for nothing. If you were proposing leaving today, as a hand-wringing exercise, I didn't read it, but that would be all losses for nothing until now. That would also be a ghost position stuck on arguing against entering the war there, when we are already there, with policies in place and appointments to defend.

You both seem to awkwardly assert the futility of having ever been there at all, although it took awhile to flesh it out. Anything redeeming the effort would offend your outlook and position.
posted by Brian B. at 9:20 PM on June 18, 2012


It. Seems like going after bin laden was a reasonable thing to do after 9/11.

Trying to re-form their society was something we should have done

If all you are arguing is that we should spend our last year there 'putting women in charge' of afganistan, explain how that can happen given the fact that afghanistan has its own, demcratically elected government.

A couple weeks ago, karzai refused to allow some critical us congress people to even enter the county. Like it or not, the afgans are already in control of their govenment. We don't get to tell them what to do.

There are already some women in the parlement, though
posted by delmoi at 12:41 AM on June 19, 2012


Um. Didn't the US pretty much hand-pick Karzai? If all Brian B. is saying is that we should have picked someone else, well, probably so. Probably we should have. But if he's saying we need to stay until it's certain that the Taliban won't succeed us in short order... Then again I ask how we can prevent that? Stay forever?
posted by OnceUponATime at 2:45 AM on June 19, 2012


You people should be ashamed.

Of what? I'm not condoning genocide - I'm discussing its use as a strategy. It's OK; I understand "you americans" often have difficulty distinguishing the dispassionate discussion of a topic from the endorsement of a topic.

Historically, empires expanded by killing everyone who stood in their way. If a city didn't surrender, you raised it.

One of the ways. The other popular method was to massacre a few people to show you mean business, then find the local ruler and offer him a deal - pay a tribute, and we'll leave you alone. However, as you point out, the American Empire isn't particularly interested in land; it's also not particularly interested in such crude forms of tribute.

The Taliban were hardly a party worth mentioning a generation ago before we armed Bin Laden.

It's debatable as to whether the US ever funded Bin Laden directly, or indeed provided any direct support at all. While Bin Laden certainly was cosy with some of the leading Afghan Mujahedeen, he didn't need American money: he could raise plenty on his own to donate to the cause. Likewise, the US and ISI weren't lacking for willing Afghan fighters, and so had no real need to divert money and training to non-Afghans.

Your fatalistic social pillars are pretty new in town, and as backward fundamentalists, most of them couldn't keep a wife unless they were captive.

And yet, the Taliban were seen as improvements to the status quo when they first came about (the status quo being the warlords of the mujahedeen era).

Perhaps that's the problem America faces in trying to "pacify" Afghanistan. The Afghans know the Americans are not planning on setting up a permanent outpost - the leaders of the insurgency are aware that American domestic politics will force the troops to return home within their lifetimes. And once the Americans are gone, no Afghan one wants to have been too enthusiastic about the Americans. So the locals will never fully support the Americans, and never fully shun the Taliban. And that allows the insurgency to live on, for the fishes to keep swimming in the sea.

And as such, the insurgency becomes a PR waiting game - make sure the Americans bomb enough weddings to keep the recruits signing up, make sure the recruits kill enough American soldiers to make the war unpopular in America, repeat until the American election cycle delivers you victory.
posted by kithrater at 3:45 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


FWIW, women currently hold 28 percent of the seats in Afghanistan's parliament (compared to 17% in the U.S.).
posted by naoko at 5:19 PM on June 19, 2012


FWIW, women currently hold 28 percent of the seats in Afghanistan's parliament (compared to 17% in the U.S.).

They have a 25% quota put in place by the State Department. This is expected to change very soon.

Naheed Ahmadi Farid, 27, the youngest member of the Afghanistan parliament, said she was satisfied with Clinton's support of her country. However, she added that she is not completely confident that what she learns at the institute will make a difference in her country when foreign troops leave in a few years.

At least Naheed will be able to escape on the list of political refugees.
posted by Brian B. at 8:25 PM on June 19, 2012


I'm not seeing the part where it says it's going to change soon - help?

Anyway...the literature on women's political participation generally says that reserved seats for women actually aren't the best way to increase their representation - there's a tendency there to create "ceilings" rather than "floors," and also the women in reserved seats don't seem to get the same level of public trust. Quotas for women on party ballots tend to get better results - weirdly, voluntary quotas set by parties themselves do even better than legally mandated quotas, but there could be a lot of factors at play there. This is something outsiders can recommend when assisting with constitutional development, political party development, etc., so I agree with you that it's not totally outside the realm of our influence, but it's certainly difficult.
posted by naoko at 7:44 AM on June 20, 2012


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