Is it worth it?
August 12, 2009 6:45 PM   Subscribe

Should the United States and Nato stay in Afghanistan? Andrew Bacevich wrote an article in commonweal saying that it is not and that the question has been insufficiently debated. Andrew Exum (A former US Army Captain, now researcher who blogs as Abu Muqawama out of the Center for a New American Security) quickly responded to Bacevich saying that the issue has been carefully debated, pointing to a Stephen Biddle article entitled Is It Worth It? as an example. As MeFi's may appreciate, the comments section of that post vigorously debated the point and an Exum has started an ongoing dialog at the abu Muqawama site. Resolved, day 1, day 2, day 3, day 4, day 5.
posted by shothotbot (30 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
A war on Afghanistan just doesn't have brand name cachet. At least Iraq had Saddam Hussein. If President Obama declared war on Iran, at least we'd know who the enemy was — Ahmadinejad is easily caricatured by our watchdogs in the MSM. Bush gave up on finding bin Laden years ago, so who can we paint the face of evil on? A few nameless warlords who would otherwise be shooting at each other, if we weren't already shooting at them?

Though I will take issue with this:

What is it about Afghanistan, possessing next to nothing that the United States requires, that justifies such lavish attention?

I wouldn't call oil pipelines that mess with Iran and Russia "next to nothing". In fact, I would call it pretty much the sole reason we're still there. (That, and an ample heroin supply for the CIA.) Freedom is just a convenient excuse.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:09 PM on August 12, 2009


Strange grammatical shift...
posted by ageispolis at 7:11 PM on August 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


the whole thing is farcical... what's interesting is the idea that a former U.S. military officer has any particular authority or expertise wrt U.S. foreign policy. I'm sure he knows a lot about fighting the wogs, but he has no more standing, perspective or experience with determining what is actually in the national interest than I do.

The fact that U.S. foreign policy has been thoroughly absorbed by the Dept. of Defense (and this goes way beyond Exum) says far more about the nature of U.S. foreign policy than a bunch of hot air.
posted by geos at 7:14 PM on August 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


What is it about Afghanistan, possessing next to nothing that the United States requires, that justifies such lavish attention?

More importantly, it allows us to maintain major air bases near Russia, China, and Iran.

This is just the 'Great Game' redux. Callow young men pretending to play chess with the world to impress old and corrupt men with great power and even greater venality.
posted by geos at 7:17 PM on August 12, 2009


There is new podcast of Bacevich extolling his ideas that is well worth a listen.

Surely after 8 years and every year some US government figure saying that the way would soon be won in 1-2 years is beginning to become obvious to people.

The war has been going on longer than WWII now. Kabul is less safe now than it was under the Soviet occupation.

The war has failed. It isn't worth the price. Pro-war spokespeople have such a bad record on the issue that they cannot be trusted.
posted by sien at 7:21 PM on August 12, 2009 [1 favorite]



The war has been going on longer than WWII now


Did this stop us in Vietnam?
posted by spicynuts at 7:38 PM on August 12, 2009


The Toronto Star ran this headline a few days back, which I guess came from the AP: Air strikes kill fewer Afghan civilians in July. Yeah, maybe it's time to try something different over there.
posted by chunking express at 7:44 PM on August 12, 2009


Surely after 8 years and every year some US government figure saying that the way would soon be won in 1-2 years is beginning to become obvious to people.

Don't be so defeatist... they'll be home by Christmas.
posted by pompomtom at 7:46 PM on August 12, 2009


Andrew Bacevich's article is brilliant and deserves careful attention. He asks the rhetorical question of whether the US would be willing to undertake the same mission in Mexico that we profess to be pursuing in A-stan. The answer is, of course, no, notwithstanding the inextricable ties, economic and historic, that bind Mexico to Los Estados Unidos.

Gen. McChrystal's call for ever-increasing troop levels in A-stan is eerily reminiscent of how the escalation in Vietnam began in 1964. I greatly fear that adoption of a "War on Insurgency"--another war on a tactic-- is just as sterile a concept as the justly villified "Global War on Terror." For what concrete strategic reason is the US proposing to bring "law and order" to the Graveyard of Empires?

Why on earth should the mission of the US Marine Corps be to "capture or kill" 50 Afghani "drug kingpins?" Why 50? Why not 52? How about a deck of cards with pictures of the desperados? If the Long War on Some Drugs has shown anything, however, it is that "drug kingpins," like cockroaches, are an infinitely renewable resource.

Long ago, they told us Catholic school kids: "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church." Creating a new generation of Afghani martyrs will only strengthen the will to resist of a proud people whose resistance to foreign domination is proverbial. And just as the Viet Cong could--and did-- win by not losing, so can the nativist and Islamist forces of Afghanistan.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Like it or not, American exceptionalism notwithstanding, irrespective of whatever COIN tactics are being carried out, Mr. Obama has fallen into the trap of pursuing a well-intentioned but futile strategic course in Afghanistan. It is the same dream that was pursued without success by the British Raj and the Russians, not to mention the Pakistanis. I urge any proponent of Obama's Afghan Adventure to show us all why it will be different "this time."
posted by rdone at 7:46 PM on August 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


Obamageddon:
"I am not among those who are currently whining that Obama has somehow "betrayed" his antiwar supporters – prominent among them the organizers of the principal peace coalition, United for Peace and Justice. After all, he’s just doing what he said all along he’d do, and that is fight the "right war," which, he averred, we ought to be waging in Afghanistan rather than Iraq. At the end of this month, his generals will report to him on how many more troops they need to "do the job," and you can bet they won’t be calling for any reductions."
posted by 445supermag at 7:54 PM on August 12, 2009


Don't be so defeatist... they'll be home by Christmas.

Absolutely, the question is always which Christmas.
posted by sien at 9:06 PM on August 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sien, I do not believe you're fully behind the permanent war campaign. Perhaps you should not be a Democrat or Republican.

Oh, right.
posted by pompomtom at 9:58 PM on August 12, 2009


Invisible History Afghanistan's untold story
Interview with the authors Elizabeth Gould and Paul Fitzgerald.
posted by hortense at 10:53 PM on August 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


pompomtom: C'mon, don't get cynical about American politics, the Democrats and the republicans are very different.

The Democrats say they have to go to war where as the Republicans say they want to go to war.

(not that AU is different)
posted by sien at 11:45 PM on August 12, 2009


Yes. They should. They caused the current political/security situation, and should stay as a result. Withdrawal will almost inevitably mean a civil war with thousands of deaths and millions displaced. Bacevich's article ignored the costs to the Afghans of withdrawal, and focused solely on the reasons for the US remaining, except some ill-educated boiler-plate on the role of tribal elders and how the US should incentivize cooperation, as though the eighties never happened and Hizb i Islami are on our side. The US went in - they should stay in as long as there is a chance it could be fixed.
posted by YouRebelScum at 1:51 AM on August 13, 2009


I urge any proponent of Obama's Afghan Adventure to show us all why it will be different "this time."

You don't need it to be different. You need it to be the same as the British strategy in the late nineteenth century - specifically that involving Abdur Rahman Khan (but ideally without the towers of skulls). Bring the Talibs to the table (which the fighting right now is designed to do, and might actually do). Cut all the major political players into the deal. Find a single probably Islamist tribal leader or warlord who can politick well enough and is ruthless enough to hold the coalition together. Give that warlord some red lines, crossing which mean re-intervention, including some don't-be-a-terrorist lines etc. Such a strategy would likely result in an ugly regime, but probably one better than a fullscale civil war which would come to the same result long-term anyway. And there is a chance of success.
posted by YouRebelScum at 2:22 AM on August 13, 2009


I find myself agreeing with YouRebelScum for the most part.

We screwed it up after the Soviets withdrew in 1989. In, 1998 Massoud implored the American people to do the right thing and help him help the Afghans settle things and eject the repressive Talib regime. Massoud was assassinated on Sept. 9th, 2001.

When we turned over the apple cart in late-2001 we took on the conqueror's moral obligation. Screwing around and being concerned only for whatever money can be made isn't going to help. What I fear is that the highest levels of military leadership are concerned mostly with getting a 'good enough' result that we can declare victory and leave so that they and our armed forces in general can save face, but leaving the situation as screwed up as it was to begin with.
posted by ob1quixote at 3:55 AM on August 13, 2009


Bacevich's article ignored the costs to the Afghans of withdrawal, and focused solely on the reasons for the US remaining

And your line of thinking ignores the costs to the Afghans of NATO/US staying. The thousands of deaths and displacements are already happening. I hardly think a continued U.S. war in Afghanistan is a much better prospect than a war without the U.S. At least the Afghanis won't bomb each other into oblivion from the skies.

The US went in - they should stay in as long as there is a chance it could be fixed.

That seems absurd to me. The same type of thinking that got the U.S. bogged down in Vietnam for years.
posted by IvoShandor at 4:31 AM on August 13, 2009


your line of thinking ignores the costs to the Afghans of NATO/US staying.

It doesn't. It takes them into account (unlike Bacevich) but evaluates them differently. I believe a civil war - like that of the nineties - would be worse for the Afghans than the present situation. I have heard enough tales from Afghan friends of that time. Sure, Afghans are dying now, but not to the same scale. The nineties would be replicated, but without the relative stability of the Peshawar camps for Afghans to escape to (at the height of the civil war there were 3 million or so refugees). Another such flood of displaced persons would further destabilise an already teetering situation (Iran stands on the brink, Pakistan too).

The position is not absurd. The US has a chance to mitigate the damage it has done, and therefore as long as that reasonable chance remains (and I agree that it is closing right now), the US should try to achieve it. If we abandon Afghanistan again, the consequences will be appalling for the Afghans, and probably for the region.
posted by YouRebelScum at 4:57 AM on August 13, 2009


They caused the current political/security situation, and should stay as a result.
I find this somewhat compelling, but I would not expect, or even desire, a commitment more than a year or so on this basis. What can reasonably happen in that time? The Afghan Army and Police can become more robust, a mixed blessing for the typical Afghan if the tales of corruption are to be believed.

What should we do if it turns out the Pashtuns want a re-branded Taliban as their government? Trying to "teach them to elect good men" has rarely worked out well for us.
posted by shothotbot at 7:02 AM on August 13, 2009


I would not expect, or even desire, a commitment more than a year or so on this basis. What can reasonably happen in that time?

Nothing. I find this view extraordinarily amoral. The US invades a country which is only just finding an equilibrium after ten years of bitter civil war, during which time the US took no notice of them. This despite the fact that the key factions in this civil war had earlier been heavily funded by US money, when they were used as proxies against an occupation by the enemies of the US. Just as a stable environment and peace is about to be achieved through the Taliban - albeit an oppressive peace - the US invade again. They had good reason, but they might have thought about some basic cause-effect relationships a little earler. They install a man with little support within his own clan, let alone Afghanistan-wide, with no army, and no police, while funding a bunch of bloodied thugs to root out the people they funded two decades earlier. Lo and behold, the thugs turn out to be 'bad men'. And you propose they commit to no more than one year's responsbility for his regime? It's like taking a pin out of a grenade and taking responsibility for the first three seconds.

What should we do if it turns out the Pashtuns want a re-branded Taliban as their government?

It's unlikely you'll get another hardline idealogue government. More likely you'll get a pragmatist. Deal with him. Provide some clear red lines as to what actions on his part would be found unacceptable, partly relating to their actions internationally but also to avoid internal war crime. Maintain contact with him and pressure. And be willing to intervene again if the red lines are broken.
posted by YouRebelScum at 7:39 AM on August 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Just for the record, as far as I can tell this is the official strategy of the United States:

Many people in the United States -- and many in partner countries that have sacrificed so much -- have a simple question: What is our purpose in Afghanistan? After so many years, they ask, why do our men and women still fight and die there? And they deserve a straightforward answer.

So let me be clear: Al Qaeda and its allies -- the terrorists who planned and supported the 9/11 attacks -- are in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Multiple intelligence estimates have warned that al Qaeda is actively planning attacks on the United States homeland from its safe haven in Pakistan. And if the Afghan government falls to the Taliban -- or allows al Qaeda to go unchallenged -- that country will again be a base for terrorists who want to kill as many of our people as they possibly can.

Which is clear on denying a base for Al Qaeda, but not clear on why we are there and not everywhere else this trans-national threat might be, like Somalia or Hamburg.

Here is Spencer Ackermann on the strategic debate in official circles.
posted by shothotbot at 7:41 AM on August 13, 2009


And you propose they commit to no more than one year's responsbility for his regime? It's like taking a pin out of a grenade and taking responsibility for the first three seconds.

Agreed. But I am not proposing that as an optimal or moral solution, but that is my guess for how long the US would be willing to sacrifice several hundred young men and $60B a year.
posted by shothotbot at 7:45 AM on August 13, 2009


Is is worth it? Probably not for the west but definitely for some. Karzai family's wealth 'fuelling insurgency'.
posted by adamvasco at 10:12 AM on August 13, 2009


Interview with a former Taliban commander. ( Apologies for posting twice in a row. I had a cat "incident". )
posted by adamvasco at 10:29 AM on August 13, 2009


Afghanistan passes 'barbaric' law diminishing women's rights: Rehashed legislation allows husbands to deny wives food if they fail to obey sexual demands
posted by homunculus at 12:48 PM on August 14, 2009


Ballots, bullets and bombs in Afghanistan
posted by homunculus at 6:45 PM on August 28, 2009


Are the Taliban Surrounding NATO Armies and Cutting them Off? Why Washington Needs Iran and Russia
posted by homunculus at 2:39 PM on August 31, 2009


I'd recommend Defence of the Realm as an excellent blog about Afghanistan and Iraq. That and the ARRSE forums will give you the best cross-section of experience with regards to the UK situation there.
posted by longbaugh at 2:59 PM on August 31, 2009


Afghanistan Roiled by NATO Air Strikes that killed almost 100
posted by homunculus at 2:32 PM on September 5, 2009


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