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Obama's War
October 15, 2009 6:24 PM   Subscribe

Frontline in Afghanistan
In a war that has lasted eight years, what is the way forward now?

BONUS
  • On The Front Lines With Frontline - "Pakistan is more an enemy of the United States"
  • Exum vs. Bacevich - "my fundamental contention is that we have better things to do than to try to transform Afghanistan into something it has never been"
  • On the chain of command - "the time to adjust the strategy is as new evidence comes in"
  • Obama On Afghanistan - "doesn't sound like a major counter-insurgency"
  • To Beat the Taliban, Fight From Afar - "American and NATO military forces themselves are a major cause of the deteriorating situation"
  • Nation building - "for some reason we believe that American policy is capable of accomplishing things in Pakistan and Afghanistan that we would never dream it could do in Mexico"
  • Lessons Learned - "the ongoing debate within the Army between those who say the service must prepare for major combat operations and those who argue irregular wars are the future is a false one... war is art, not science... trying to prevail in current conflicts and preparing for other contingencies, between institutionalizing capabilities such as counterinsurgency and foreign military assistance and maintaining the United States' existing conventional and strategic technological edge"
lastly, to give my personal opinion, after watching this i'm pretty convinced that escalation in afghanistan would be a debacle...
posted by kliuless (52 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
Excellent post.

I can also highly recommend photojournalist Steve McCurry's blog post on Afghanistan (he's been going there since the 1970s.
Maybe one definition of hell is that is the place where more effort produces fewer results. Five years ago, I could drive from Kabul over mountain passes in safety to the central highlands town of Bamiyan. Today, the only recommended way is to fly – if you can get a flight with the United Nations Assistance Mission. Today we have many more soldiers, contractors, and NGO’S than we did five years ago, yet it is far more dangerous today than it was then. We are getting fewer results with more boots on the ground. That tells me that we do not understand the country, the people, the terrain, the language, the religion, the culture.
The Afghanistan Dilemma
posted by gen at 6:45 PM on October 15, 2009


The quote about Mexico is a good one, and the comparison is apt, particularly the role of drugs and poverty in both countries. The linked article it's from is definitely worth reading. Indeed, the situation in Northern Mexico is arguably worse than it is in Afghanistan (and growing worse: Juarez is now the deadliest city on earth). And yet the idea of invading and occupying Mexico is one that most of us would agree to be totally insane. Why is Afghanistan any different?
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 6:46 PM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Latest Pakistan Attack Has New Twist: Women Jihadists

But I'm sure if Obama and McChrystal can get on the same page that we'll be able to turn things around over there.
posted by Joe Beese at 6:46 PM on October 15, 2009


I've always been a bit wary of Pakistan as an ally. I actually had a run-in with a Pakistani in Turkey that will make me forever wary of Pakistan.

I went to a pub on the oceanfront in Izmir with a Turkish friend of mine who also knew a fair bit of English (which made him an awesome Turkish teacher for me). Anyway, a guy he knew came up and they exchanged hellos then he invited the guy to sit across from us and have a beer and some oysters with us. My friend explained that this dude was from Pakistan, and I nodded and said I was an American soldier.

Well, this guy asks me, thru my friend's translating services, "Can you take me to disco? Can we go inside disco?" Sounds innocuous, right? Well, the U.S. has a nuke-proof installation under a mountain outside of Izmir, called DISCO-HIT. I didn't work there myself (I worked at an above-ground nuke-hardened communication facility), but I did have to go get my security briefiings inside DISCO-HIT. Don't ask me what the acronym stands for either -- no clue.

So anyway, I do my best John Travolta imitation and ask if he means the dancing kind of disco, and I was really hoping he did mean that, because the alternative was that he was trying to get me, a lowly grunt, to secretly smuggle him inside our most secure facility in the area and probably in the entire country...and that'd mean filing a report, paperwork, debriefing from OUR intelligence guys, blah blah BLAH.

Well, that's what he wanted. Kind of retarded to think that me, a freaking E-4 at the time, could -- or would -- smuggle a Pakistani stranger into a very sensitive and heavily protected military site. Like, yeah, that'd be a big career-booster for me. So I did have to file a report and talk to intelligence guys and even one of those sketch artist guys who I had to describe the guy to. Man, such a HUGE pain in the ass, and all I wanted was some oysters and beer!

So I remain wary of Pakistan. Maybe spying is in their blood or something, but as that bar hoosier in South Park might say, "We don't take KINDLY to Pakistani spies 'round here..."
posted by jamstigator at 7:07 PM on October 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


I essentially had to do the map twice because my computer had a sudden restart and I hadn't saved-- it was laborious the first time.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:12 PM on October 15, 2009


And I met someone from Pakistan who didn't ask me to get him inside DISCO-HIT. So I obviously thought all Pakistanis were wonderful, saintly people, down to the last man, woman, and child. But now that I read your story, I don't know what I should think about all Pakistanis! I am so confused.
posted by Flunkie at 7:14 PM on October 15, 2009 [11 favorites]


Jamstigator, I like you. I really do.

It's just that your story is very strange and also very shockingly racist.

I'm not sure how to feel about that.
posted by Avenger at 7:26 PM on October 15, 2009


Not bad snark, Flunkie. 1.5 on the 0-10 SnarkMeter(tm).

It was akin to meeting a stranger at a bar, who's on your same team (an ally), and he says, "Hey man! Can we go back to your place? And can we go inside your place? And can I see where you keep your safe and important documents? We're friends, right?"

Well, that's their military, and that's how they treat us. I have no idea what kind of people the PEOPLE of Pakistan are, but as political allies, I have my doubts, because you don't treat allies like that if they're *really allies. And if they're not really allies, why did we just give them $7 billion? I doubt we have anyone in Pakistan asking their folks to sneak us into their facilities, so I'd just assume their leadership not try to do that to us. Whether 99% of Pakistanis are way-cool people is irrelevant if the 1% calling the shots aren't.

I should have simplified things for you so you'd better understand, Flunkie. My apologies.
posted by jamstigator at 7:29 PM on October 15, 2009


Right, because "a dude from Pakistan" obviously is representative of the nation of Pakistan as political allies. You've convinced me! I hate them all now.
posted by Flunkie at 7:33 PM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


What racist? Because I tried to give him an out with the dancing thing? I already knew what he meant, I just didn't want to have to go through a big debriefing, so I gave him an EASY out. All he had to do was say, yeah, dancing, let's go! Or whatever. He didn't, and that put me in an awkward situation.

I didn't say I had anything against PAKISTANIS (generally), but PAKISTAN (the political entity). I'm not sure it's possible to be racist about a political entity, because they don't have a race. I don't much like Iran's leadership either, but I don't think that makes me a racist. Does it?
posted by jamstigator at 7:33 PM on October 15, 2009


you don't treat allies like that if they're *really allies

...and I'm sure that the United States would never even dream of thinking about spying on the Pakistani military.
posted by Tsuga at 7:34 PM on October 15, 2009


And how would I describe him, anyway? He was introduced to me as "BLAH, from Pakistan." I rephrased it to "dude from Pakistan" (who was trying to get me to smuggle him inside our top secret intelligence center), because I don't recall his name. Was that such a racist rephrasing? When people call me a dude from the U.S. are THEY being racist too? Because holy shit, I've been surrounded by racists in every country I've ever been to and didn't even know it! I'll have to give some friends a call and let them know that you guys think they're racists. We'll have a good laugh about that!
posted by jamstigator at 7:38 PM on October 15, 2009


I actually had a run-in with a Pakistani in Turkey that will make me forever wary of Pakistan.

This is just a flat-out racist statement.

I have no idea what kind of people the PEOPLE of Pakistan are...

Obviously.
posted by Avenger at 7:39 PM on October 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


WHOOSH
posted by Flunkie at 7:42 PM on October 15, 2009


Fantastic embedded photography. The best I've seen from Afghanistan.
posted by ...possums at 7:45 PM on October 15, 2009


Incidentally, here's the company that built (part of) DISCO, a Turkish company. It's at the bottom. I guess I see why they wanted to get inside -- it's our War Headquarters! Heh, and I didn't even know that, just got intel briefings there, so all I ever saw was a small auditorium and a few banks of equipment here and there.

And I won't take back a thing I said, and no, it's not racist. Did I mention color of skin, or anything OTHER than country of origin? When you can't even mention someone's country of origin without being called a racist, then you know you're around some crazy people. And when that country is saying one thing while acting in a different manner, yes, that makes me wary. And I think it should. If you disagree with that, that's up to you, no hair off my palms.
posted by jamstigator at 7:49 PM on October 15, 2009


http://www.metis.com.tr/indexx.php?sf=proje&k=319&u=255

oops. ;)
posted by jamstigator at 7:49 PM on October 15, 2009


OK jamstigator, maybe I'm being trolled, but I'll drop the snark and explain it explicitly:

No one cares that you called him "a dude". No one thinks you mentioned his "color of skin". No one objects to you mentioning his country of origin.

You drew a broad conclusion about an entire nation based upon your experience with one person. That's what was objectionable about your post.

Perhaps you had additional reasons for it -- you've since referred to things like "how their military treats us" -- but those reasons, if you had any, were completely unstated in your original post. That post was nothing other than:

"I met a bad guy. Therefore his nation is bad."

Seriously, that's essentially all you said, except fleshed out with specifics of how he personally was bad.
posted by Flunkie at 7:56 PM on October 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


You know why he's making a broad generalization?

Whether 99% of Pakistanis are way-cool people is irrelevant if the 1% calling the shots aren't.

The people in Pakistan who know about DISCO-HIT are the high-up guys. You don't just throw around knowledge like that, especially when you're the underdog and trying to scrap your way up, and you don't go randomly asking American military personnel about such facilities without higher orders. So the fact that you've got Pakistan's military looking to infiltrate, however ineptly, a secure American installation... yeah. Not so good, and it'd make me wary of seemingly friendly Pakistanis too.
posted by squorch at 8:09 PM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


You drew a broad conclusion about an entire nation based upon your experience with one person. That's what was objectionable about your post.

Wouldn' t that make him a nationist by way of a logical fallacy, rather than a racist?
posted by 445supermag at 8:13 PM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wouldn' t that make him a nationist by way of a logical fallacy, rather than a racist?
I never said he was a racist.
posted by Flunkie at 8:15 PM on October 15, 2009


a secure American installation...

As long as the derail set off by jamistigator's not especially insightful or relevant anecdote is in full swing, I would like to point out something about the degree of "weariness" in the world. The U.S. has over 730 permanent military bases in over 100 countries worldwide *. All someone from Pakistan has to do to become wary of the U.S. is look at a map. The conversation jamstigator told us about occurred in a country that is not far from Pakistan. Ask yourself if the U.S. would ever allow the Turks, Pakistanis, Iraqis, Afghans, or for that matter the Germans, British, or Canadians to house a "nuke-proof" installation on U.S. soil. The answer is of course no. And yet we are surprised to learn that our outsized global imperium generates rumors, contempt, animosity? Who should be wary of whom?
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 8:25 PM on October 15, 2009


Fucking hell- enough - take it to Meta.

If you watch the Frontline, the takeaway message is clearly that Pakistan is a fucking disaster and a two-faced fuck-farm. It's not a slag on Pakistanis, but the fact that they're lying through their teeth about their appeasement toward islamic fundies. I get where the visceral reaction to jamstigators tone-deaf post comes from, but read between the lines and there's a reasonable person's comment in there.
posted by docpops at 8:26 PM on October 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


jamstigator your story shows an interesting and note worthy bit of information from your own experience. I would simply, respectfully caution you against drawing conclusions here in the way you did in this comment, without being thoughtful of the implications. Thank you for your service. Watching this Frontline piece gives me a glimps into what are troops are going through, and I have much respect for that sacrifice.
posted by nola at 8:28 PM on October 15, 2009


Sorry about your post, kliuless. It was very good. But there's going to be no discussing of it because someone said something tangental and insensitive. Better luck next time.
posted by Mayor Curley at 8:29 PM on October 15, 2009


Watching the news today, in between the all-important Balloon Boy event, and saw the Obama's War logo. He(we) got saddled with 2 wars and a tanked economy. It's his war?
posted by theora55 at 8:32 PM on October 15, 2009


Ok, getting back to the actual subject matter of the FPP instead of the state of jamstigator's soul...

This quote, by Steve Coll, was by far the most sobering thing I took from the whole show:

"This could not be a more complicated war. If you think about it, the United States is essentially waging a war against its own ally. The Taliban are a proxy of the government of Pakistan. We are an ally of the government of Pakistan. We're fighting the Taliban. In the end, the Taliban will be defeated strategically when the government of Pakistan makes a strategic decision that its future does not lie in partnership with Islamic extremists."

I think the case is made, quite carefully and quite convincingly, that unless the serious political problems are solved, further investment of troops is a waste. Speaking of Helmand Province, McChrystal himself admitted that if we could not hold the area it would have been better not to have taken it in the first place. By the same token, if we cannot secure the political peace by ensuring fair elections and forcing Pakistan to break with the Taliban, then it would be better not to continue our military commitment in Afghanistan. It seems not to be a matter of committing 40,000 more troops to ensure success. It looks like the 40,000 are meant only to slow the progress of our eventual defeat.

If I had a spouse or child serving in Afghanistan right now, I'd be sorely pissed off.
posted by felix betachat at 8:33 PM on October 15, 2009 [4 favorites]


Note: Help maintain a healthy, respectful discussion by focusing comments on the
issues, topics, and facts at hand—not at other members of the site.


It's not just a good idea, it's the only way we're going to be able to speak to each other with any trust.
posted by nola at 8:34 PM on October 15, 2009


He(we) got saddled with 2 wars and a tanked economy. It's his war?

If he escalates the war (which he is), then yes, it's his war, and if he continues the policies that led to the financial crisis (which he is), then yes, it's his economy.
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 8:35 PM on October 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think the case is made, quite carefully and quite convincingly, that unless the serious political problems are solved, further investment of troops is a waste. Speaking of Helmand Province, McChrystal himself admitted that if we could not hold the area it would have been better not to have taken it in the first place. By the same token, if we cannot secure the political peace by ensuring fair elections and forcing Pakistan to break with the Taliban, then it would be better not to continue our military commitment in Afghanistan. It seems not to be a matter of committing 40,000 more troops to ensure success. It looks like the 40,000 are meant only to slow the progress of our eventual defeat.

Not to mention that Afghanistan's elections seem to be in question. In which case we are fighting for a government which may be fraudulent.
posted by nola at 8:43 PM on October 15, 2009


This piece in the Times Magazine is also pretty stark reading. The author is a bit more sympathetic to McChrystal's argument in favor of sending more troops, but that seems more because he's awed by the leadership abilities of McChrystal and not from any strategic accounting of the situation. Still, it's a good counterpoint to the Frontline episode.
posted by felix betachat at 9:12 PM on October 15, 2009


The politicians are losing this war by tying the military's hands.

In evaluating the enemy strategy, it is evident to me that he believes our Achilles heel is our resolve. Your continued strong support is vital to the success of our mission. Backed at home by resolve, confidence, patience, determination and continued support, we will prevail!

We will prevail if the President and Congress will just get out of the way, and provide all the additional American troops that General Westmoreland calls for.
posted by orthogonality at 9:22 PM on October 15, 2009 [4 favorites]


Perhaps there was a "golden hour" in 2001-2002 when a serious application of US military might and generous civilian aid may have been effective in rescuing Afghanistan. The Taliban was beaten, driven out, and, more important, utterly discredited in the eyes of the people--the Pashtuns--most likely to support Islamic fundamentalism. Thanks to Bushco, however, the chance was blown, almost certainly irretrievably. We have backed a crooked and powerless junta and made the resurgent Taliban seem like "Freedom Fighters™" again.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
posted by rdone at 9:22 PM on October 15, 2009


I can also highly recommend photojournalist Steve McCurry's blog post on Afghanistan....
Today we have many more soldiers, contractors, and NGO’S than we did five years ago, yet it is far more dangerous today than it was then. We are getting fewer results with more boots on the ground. That tells me that we do not understand the country, the people, the terrain, the language, the religion, the culture.
Steve McCurry in 2009? Sounds like John Paul Vann in 1967.
posted by orthogonality at 9:32 PM on October 15, 2009


theora55: " It's his war?"

February 18 - Obama orders more troops to Afghanistan

August 17 - Obama Says Afghan War 'of Necessity'

October 12 - Obama Quietly Authorized 13,000 Support Troops For Afghan War

Any questions?
posted by Joe Beese at 9:34 PM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


…I snuck into a secure American installation wearing a gorilla suit.

“It doesn't sound like a major counter-insurgency to me.”
Because post-9/11 everyone’s a COIN specialist.

“Pakistan is more an enemy of the United States”

Gosh, if only had someone said this, say, 13 years ago while the Pakistan was using the Muj and the Taliban as a cat’s paw in Kashmir… and if only someone had say, submitted a report saying “Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S.” or something before 9/11. We could have avoided all this. The more things change…

Seriously -
From the NYT piece: “America will best serve its interests in Afghanistan and the region by shifting to a new strategy of off-shore balancing, which relies on air and naval power from a distance, while also working with local security forces on the ground..” (emph mine)

Surprising coming from Pape. Otherwise solid. Not that I fully agree.
On the one hand, there’s a lot to be said for pulling back and simply maintaining force in the region. There’s also something to be said for splitting entirely.
And, as it looks now, perhaps we should do exactly that. No point in fighting if there’s no will for it there or at home whatever the mission.
And I think we would be much better served with a more broad international law enforcement based counterterrorism mission.

On the other hand, there are strategic interests in the region beyond counterterrorism (and beyond energy really) objectives.
One of those is preventing the escalation of aggression between the Taliban wing of the power bloc in Pakistan against India.
Hakimullah Mehsud said (today even) that once an Islamic state in Pakistan in created, he will launch terrorist attacks against India
Considering they both have nukes, that would be, y’know, bad.
And, contrary to Pape’s position, Mehsud said that if the Pakistan authorities stopped obeying western commands, he’d stop attacking them (also, as they did today on three separate government buildings).
That there would be one of differences between the situation in Mexico and the situation in that region. None of the cartels are saying they’re going to take out Brazil as soon as they take Mexico over.
Not that the chaos there isn’t a problem.
But again, the terrorism is a law enforcement problem as is the drug cartels.
What seems to require military intervention in Afghanistan and Pakistan is the existence of an outfit looking to take over the government and establish an aggressive nuclear theocracy.
Still, that’s ‘seems.’

But I look at what we didn’t do years ago when the Soviets pulled out. And what we didn’t do (and in fact aided) years later…
And hell, what we’re not doing now in Darfur and a number of other places…
Seems to me that given the populations there, a war between India and ½ Pakistan ½ Taliban could be catastrophic for millions, potentially billions, of people.
Maybe we can prevent that. Not fully sure why we should try though. Might just wind up creating more enemies, making the situation worse, sacrificing more young men.
All, over bad timing and bending to expediency.
I think we should be there for years if we're going to be there at all. Any counterinsurgency program is going to take years and dedication and troops. But if we can't sustain that, yeah, we have to leave now.

“The politicians are losing this war by tying the military's hands.”

Facetious, but y’know, the reverse could be true. I think this is better fixed politically and I think too many politicians think, as effective as the military is, that it’s somehow a magic wand where if you kill enough of, or the right, people, you can somehow just ‘win.’
But, of course the military is going to say ‘Yeah, we can do that.’ Confidence is a hazard of the profession. You want your doctor going into surgery saying “Well, I don’t know if I can pull this off…”

Conversely – your generals are not your doctor and they don’t know what’s best for the U.S.
Still – vastly different stakes there than in Vietnam.
And saying that, I still just want to yell “WTF are you people DOING?” at most of the staff.
Casualties on both sides in this human tragedy are still invisible as are the costs. The causes, the aims, are still (given the broader discourse) obscure.

Obama’s method is logical, but damn man, Pakistan doesn’t want to cut ties with the Taliban because they think, apparently, that’s somehow strategically advantageous against India or the Taliban is too rooted with the ISI and the high command, - people in the U.S., and around the world don’t want it, think it’s not worth it, screw it, pack up and go home.
Except people die in double handfuls doing that too. And maybe far far more in a decade or less.
I’d like to see an international commitment to stay there, provide security, etc. Make sure people aren’t abandoned. Y’know, again.
But hell the U.N. can’t get it together to even agree on the election.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:58 PM on October 15, 2009 [4 favorites]


Well, Curley, there is actually an angle here. Afghanistan will never be stable because it is not in the strategic interest of Pakistan for it to be stable. Afghanistan has long been the fallback zone for the Pakistani military should India, with its greater land army and air power, invade the comparatively narrow Pakistan. That is why they have always sought to keep it a weak vassal state. Pakistan is roped together with us in an alliance that makes neither country particularly happy or trusting of each other. It is an alliance, but it is between the elites of both countries for broad geopolitical reasons. It is one that has held through successive governments ranging from elected prime ministers to iron-fisted generals, because it is very, very valuable to Pakistan to have us on their side. They really cannot wait until we forget about Afghanistan all over again and go home, because it's a quite inconvenient wedge between the two poles of this alliance. Our interests and theirs simply do not coincide at the broad level.
posted by dhartung at 10:00 PM on October 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's completely ridiculous to think that the U.S. is trying to establish a democracy in Afghanistan. The U.S.'s intention in Afghanistan was to create a puppet government. We got the puppet part right, but it has yet to govern anything.

Debating the best way for the U.S. to accomplish its goals in Afghanistan is like debating the best way for China to achieve its goals in Tibet. If you're in favor of killing and oppressing defenseless people in the pursuit of geopolitical power, then it's fine. Otherwise, it's totally insane.

The U.S. should simply withdraw from Afghanistan. Period. Yes, we'll be leaving behind a horrible mess. If we're sincere in our desire to aid in the country's recovery, we can pay them reparations and support whatever reconstruction plan they choose.

However, none of this will happen without a large scale and very serious anti-war movement inside the U.S. The pro-war-but-in-favor-of-a-different-strategy movement has grown quite a bit, but the anti-war movement is still tiny.
posted by Clay201 at 12:04 AM on October 16, 2009


It's not that we could have won the war.
It's not that we still could win the war.
It's not that we can't win the war.

It's that there is no "war" and nothing to win. The people of the rural regions of Afghanistan have lived for thousands of years now without any real central government influencing their daily lives. Of course we can prop up a government that can hold Kabul and the big cities, but then what? Our goal, as far as I can even grasp it, is to "secure" Afghanistan to the point where there are no Al Qaeda/Taliban loyalists in the country, or no place left for them to gather in significant numbers.

Can you even imagine the amount of troops, infrastructure, and money it would take to seriously occupy every part of Afghanistan? We would need a draft. We would need every able-bodied man and woman to get on a plane to Afghanistan. We would need to drop health care and every other spending priority and become a society of Spartans, living only for constant war.

And then the Taliban and Al Qaeda would all go hang out in Pakistan. Our ally.
posted by drjimmy11 at 12:15 AM on October 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


Can you even imagine the amount of troops, infrastructure, and money it would take to seriously occupy every part of Afghanistan?

Strategic Hamlets for the win!
posted by orthogonality at 1:12 AM on October 16, 2009


Any questions?

The Afghan War started on February 12, 2009?
posted by IvoShandor at 3:44 AM on October 16, 2009


IvoShandor: "The Afghan War started on February 12, 2009?"

No. But on that date, Obama took ownership of it. That was the original question.

Since I have strong DFH tendencies, I'll try acceding to the wisdom of those cold-eyed realists among us - no believers in unicorns they! - who insist that we can't simply pack up and leave...

I merely ask them to explain their plan for paying for whatever multi-year (multi-decade?) commitment they have in mind. Having stipulated to their great seriousness and responsibility, I'm certain that they wouldn't simply charge it to the national credit card - what with its balance already heading north of 100% of GDP. No, sober and practical minds like these understand the importance of sacrifice...

Since our Af-Pak adventure has run up a $230,000,000,000 tab so far, let's assume for the sake of argument that maybe we could wrap it up for another hundred bil. So let's hear the specific budget items our stay-the-coursers propose cutting to save $100,000,000,000...

Medicaid? Education? Food stamps?
posted by Joe Beese at 5:24 AM on October 16, 2009


I'm in the middle of reading Steve Coll's Ghost Wars, a history of Afghanistan from the Soviet invasion to just before 9/11. And while fascinating, it's depressing as hell and leaves me with pretty much no hope that anything good will come of leaving troops over there. The quote in the original post about Mexico is good, but you can also flip it around: we're trying to do something in Afghanistan that the Soviets totally failed at, and they were operating right across their own border.

And I totally agree with dhartung about Pakistan having a really strong strategic incentive to keep Afghanistan weak and vassalized; between that military incentive and Islamists within ISI supporting the Taliban from the beginning, it just seems that Pakistan's interests are really strongly unaligned with those of the US.
posted by COBRA! at 7:03 AM on October 16, 2009


Don't give up! I got a really good feeling that THIS time we'll tame Afghanistan!
posted by Legomancer at 7:47 AM on October 16, 2009


Our goal, as far as I can even grasp it, is to "secure" Afghanistan to the point where there are no Al Qaeda/Taliban loyalists in the country, or no place left for them to gather in significant numbers.

Well, no, the idea has been to secure the country enough in the near-term that the Afghan government becomes stable and has a chance to develop its own security mechanisms sufficient to the task of keeping the Taliban from coming back in to sweep through Afghan villages, imposing their hardcore version of sharia law and putting up severed heads on sticks all around the village to discourage dissent, as they've done in the past.

Not that I think this is necessarily a realistic goal anymore either.

It really all comes down to Karzai: if he hadn't turned out to be such a douche bag, then the current Afghan authority would enjoy enough popular support it might be possible to get the locals fully behind a strong Afghan government with a robust enough security infrastructure to keep the Taliban out, but that ship has sailed, and it seems we're too far along now even for a change in the civilian leadership to get us where we need to be anytime soon.

Another even greater challenge is the fact that, well, damn, the Taliban still seem to be fairly free to hideout in Pakistan, so even if we get to a better situation in Afghanistan, it doesn't solve the problem, unless Pakistan somehow gets its shit together.

Another complicating factor is that Pakistan is a nuclear power. It really is a worrying thought that nuclear arms could potentially fall into the hands of a regionally ambitious political movement that does things like this:
Amnesty [International], whose report was based on testimony from local people who said they were eyewitnesses, said: "Taliban guards deliberately and systematically killed thousands of Hazara civilians during the first three days following their military takeover" of the city on August 8.

"The victims were killed deliberately and arbitrarily in their homes, in the streets where the bodies were left for several days, or in locations between Mazar-i-Sharif and Hairatan. Many of those killed were civilians, including women, children and the elderly who were shot trying to fleet the city."
I don't think it's fair to completely dismiss the concerns that many in the national security policy arena have raised about the dangers of the Taliban becoming a dominant political force in the region.

At the same time, I'm not sure there's anything we can do about it. It may be we simply need to pull back, watch Pakistan and its nukes as closely as possible, and maintain a small policing presence in the region to intervene when/if its necessary to prevent an immediate crisis and to support any nascent opposition among the local populations in Taliban controlled areas. (I think this is kind of the approach Biden has recently been promoting). In fact, maybe we let the Taliban take Afghanistan back, and then start funding the local opposition that will naturally arise down the road. Work with the backlash against the Taliban to beat them. (That approach has never blown up in our faces before, of course.)

I don't know. This isn't a simple problem, with easy, categorical solutions. But I agree that we need to find a way out. We simply can't afford to spend too much more time trying to solve this problem; our economic resources and focus need to be primarily on our domestic problems for now. We should maintain only as much commitment as needed to reasonably protect the national security of the US and its allies.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:48 AM on October 16, 2009


So I remain wary of Pakistan.

Jamstigator, I feel this way whenever I see an interview with a Pakistani government official. It's like they really just don't care if you can tell they're lying.

-
posted by General Tonic at 7:54 AM on October 16, 2009


(Also, jamstigator: I understood what you meant, though you may have used language that put some people off. Pakistan as a political unit--the military, the government, not the people--has consistently demonstrated itself to be a questionable ally, if not actually hostile to US interests. I half suspect (maybe even slightly more than half suspect) that the ISI and the military leadership have been deliberately leading us around in circles on a snipe hunt and laughing all the way to the bank for years now--previously, with Bush's help.)

Also, like it or not, it's neither Bush's war nor Obama's war. It's America's war.

Just because we substituted quarterbacks in the middle of the game doesn't mean the game started over (god I hate using sports analogies on this subject--believe me, I know this is not a fucking game!--but in this case, it's apt). When we invaded Afghanistan after 9/11, popular support for invading Afghanistan was overwhelming. And even now, we elected candidate Obama on a clear campaign pledge to focus more resources and effort on the Afghanistan war after rejecting every other candidate who supported withdrawal.

Don't the American people share some responsibility in the choices they make through the Democratic process?

President Obama could radically change his policy on Afghanistan now (he might end up with no choice and I kind of hope he does), but he would literally have to break a campaign promise to do it. Then what? It'll be used as an example of how he didn't keep his campaign promises, by left and right critics alike.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:11 AM on October 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yeah, saulgoodman, that's the hell of success in American politics. If, say, Obama pulls a miracle from his ass - going either way, committing for years and stabilizing the region or pulling out and keeping COIN to special ops, etc., and thereby averts a possible world war involving an escalating nuclear exchange - so? It didn't happen. Maybe it might have. But you can't prove it would have. So you're still a goat.
If you fail, at least it's a certainty and you can still wind up Joe Hero to a bunch of people. Hell, look at Nixon.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:48 PM on October 16, 2009


huh:
-Pakistan hits Taliban; urges NATO to seal border
-Afghan election officials fired ahead of run-off

obama's mushy steel ruthless cunning? otoh...
posted by kliuless at 1:32 PM on October 21, 2009


No. But on that date, Obama took ownership of it.

I realize that is what you meant. My point, very poorly articulated of course, was that Obama's ownership of this war is largely due to the blunders of the previous administration. Now he has to grapple with how to handle that, I can understsand the political ramifications at stake.

Regardless, I think we should have already left too, I was just prodding at you, it "begged the question.
posted by IvoShandor at 9:11 PM on October 21, 2009


Oh, and this from The Daily Beast, "The Taliban's Heroin Ploy". There's a bit of conjecture and a few questionable conclusions in the piece but overall I found it interesting.
posted by IvoShandor at 9:13 PM on October 21, 2009


Ex-State Department Official Explains Exit Over Afghan War Strategy, cf. viz.

Out of Race, Karzai Rival Is Harsh Critic of Election
Abdullah Abdullah announced that he would not participate in the Afghan runoff election, effectively handing a new term to President Hamid Karzai.

With Karzai, U.S. Faces Weak Partner in Time of War
President Obama faces a new complication in Afghanistan: Enabling President Hamid Karzai to regain enough legitimacy to help the United States find a way out of the war.
posted by kliuless at 6:40 PM on November 1, 2009


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