"Meet the Afghan Army: Is It a Figment of Washington's Imagination?"
September 21, 2009 11:25 AM   Subscribe

 
As much as I loathe the idea that Kissinger is walking around a free man at all, if somebody had asked him ten years ago about Afghanistan he would have certainly said something along the lines of "Well, the reason we armed and funded the Afghan warlords back in the day was that it was such a cheap way of keeping the Soviets bogged down in the area, at enormous expense to them. Nobody ever really wins wars in Afghanistan, the question is whether or not you can sucker the other guy into waging them."

And then somebody could have asked "So, should _we_ invade Afghanistan?" And he would have looked at you as if you're stupid, because it's a fantastically bad idea. As cynical and self-serving as it was, trading in that grounded cold-war realpolitik mindset for the the combination of blue-sky-fantasy idealism and overwhelming firepower was a really poor trade.
posted by mhoye at 11:36 AM on September 21, 2009 [4 favorites]


As cynical and self-serving as it was, trading in that grounded cold-war realpolitik mindset for the the combination of blue-sky-fantasy idealism and overwhelming firepower was a really poor trade.

Except it was that same cynical and self-serving realpolitik that armed the afghan warlords who later went on to establish the terrorist groups who carried out the 9/11 attacks. So the realpolitik approach hasn't really worked out so well for us either.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:40 AM on September 21, 2009


Except it was that same cynical and self-serving realpolitik that armed the afghan warlords who later went on to establish the terrorist groups who carried out the 9/11 attacks. So the realpolitik approach hasn't really worked out so well for us either.

Actually it wasn't the warlords that established the terrorist groups, it was the Taliban who let al Qaeda use Afghanistan as a base after the Taliban took over the country in a civil war with the warlords.
posted by QuestionableSwami at 11:55 AM on September 21, 2009


Watched a panel discussion between three journalists on the situation in Pakistan and naturally the topic of Afghanistan came up. The one veteran reporter who met all their army, intelligence and political types said at one point, "I've not met a single person in Pakistan who thinks the Coalition has any chance of succeeding in Afghanistan."
posted by Abiezer at 12:07 PM on September 21, 2009


Actually it wasn't the warlords that established the terrorist groups, it was the Taliban who let al Qaeda use Afghanistan as a base after the Taliban took over the country in a civil war with the warlords.

Well, this puts it a little more clearly:
The al Qaeda organization does indeed have its roots in a network of volunteers who had been sent by the Americans, Saudis, and Pakistanis in the 1980s to fight in Afghanistan. The organization became alienated from its first two sponsors during the Gulf war, but it maintained ties with Pakistan until the attacks of September 11.
We supported the Mujaheddin fighters and other fundamentalist elements within Afghanistan against the Soviets. They went on to become/support the Taliban and al Qaeda. Terminology aside, our realpolitik schemes led to clear, seriously negative long-term consequences.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:11 PM on September 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Afghans are world famous fighters, in part because they have a knack for gravitating to the winning side, and they're ready to change sides with alacrity until they get it right."
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 12:22 PM on September 21, 2009


On the surface, it looks as though we're trapped in Afghanistan-- not militarily, not strategically, but politically.

I've a suspicion, though, that the domestic consensus that we need to be there is actually fairly fragile; it appears unassailable ("What? Leave? And let Al Qaeda go unpunished? Noooo!")... and though there would be a tremendous short-term political expense to anyone-- particularly anyone in, for example, the White House-- who suggested we leave... I think the country would more or less breathe a sigh of relief after we left.

Note that said sigh would only take place nine months to a year after departure... and it would take at least six months of political conditioning prior to leaving, to ready the US public for leaving... and the departure process itself would take months... so, politically, leaving seems pretty unlikely, until after the 2012 (re-)election.

On the substantive level, Afghanistan was a shambles; the Soviets and ourselves made it more of a shambles; it's not likely to be anything but a shambles, for a very long time. At the very beginning of this intervention, it looked as though we might be able to recast the entire governance structure and culture of the place-- but that was before the culture of the place had time to reassert itself. Another shock-and-awe attempt would require *massive* (and ultimately unaffordable) resources, now that the Taliban have seen the whites of our eyes, and know that we're not invincible.

If we leave, the Taliban's more radical and aggressive elements will use it as a staging ground for attacks on the US and Europe; if we stay, um, the Taliban's more radical and aggressive elements will use it as a (less-convenient) staging ground for attacks on the US and Europe.

Better we should just maintain or even extend our bloody, sloppy, hatred-inducing, automated-assassination-by-air campaign, and get our troops out.
posted by darth_tedious at 12:31 PM on September 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Once upon a time Afghanistan was poised to be a modern country, the only problem,the government in Kabul was friendly to the Soviets,policy makers in America could not let this stand. some familiar names are still involved.
Le Nouvel Observateur, Paris, 15-21 January 1998 Interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski,
Question: The former director of the CIA, Robert Gates, stated in his memoirs ["From the Shadows"], that American intelligence services began to aid the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan 6 months before the Soviet intervention. In this period you were the national security adviser to President Carter. You therefore played a role in this affair. Is that correct?

Brzezinski: Yes. According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the Mujahadeen began during 1980, that is to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan, 24 Dec 1979. But the reality, secretly guarded until now, is completely otherwise Indeed, it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention.

Q: Despite this risk, you were an advocate of this covert action. But perhaps you yourself desired this Soviet entry into war and looked to provoke it?

B: It isn't quite that. We didn't push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would.

Q: When the Soviets justified their intervention by asserting that they intended to fight against a secret involvement of the United States in Afghanistan, people didn't believe them. However, there was a basis of truth. You don't regret anything today?

B: Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter. We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war. Indeed, for almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war unsupportable by the government, a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire.

Q: And neither do you regret having supported the Islamic fundamentalism, having given arms and advice to future terrorists?

B: What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?

Q: Some stirred-up Moslems? But it has been said and repeated Islamic fundamentalism represents a world menace today.

B: Nonsense! It is said that the West had a global policy in regard to Islam. That is stupid. There isn't a global Islam. Look at Islam in a rational manner and without demagoguery or emotion. It is the leading religion of the world with 1.5 billion followers. But what is there in common among Saudi Arabian fundamentalism, moderate Morocco, Pakistan militarism, Egyptian pro-Western or Central Asian secularism? Nothing more than what unites the Christian countries.
posted by hortense at 12:46 PM on September 21, 2009 [30 favorites]


Jeebus christ. Maybe somebody should have started training the Afghan Army eight years ago.
posted by notyou at 1:05 PM on September 21, 2009


Jeebus christ. Why can't I RTFA before commenting just once?
posted by notyou at 1:08 PM on September 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


We supported the Mujaheddin fighters and other fundamentalist elements within Afghanistan against the Soviets. They went on to become/support the Taliban and al Qaeda. Terminology aside, our realpolitik schemes led to clear, seriously negative long-term consequences.

This seems to me like arguing that the British should have known that by embarking on the French and Indian war they would cause the American Revolution. The Taliban were not necessarily inevitable; in some respects they were quite improbable. Nor was Afghanistan the only place in which Al Queda sought, and found, succor. It's hard to imagine Al Queda without the Afghan-Soviet war; the particular circimstances at that place and time were its crucible. But it was the Afghan-Soviet war; the US didn't start it, and Iran and Pakistan would certainly have taken an interest in it no matter what we did. Without our support the Afghans would have been _more likely_ to lose, doubtless. But even lacking our help, they may well have been able to get the Soviets to pull out. And then the same ingredients are there --- a very poor country whose major cash crop is opium poppies, fractured along ethnic lines, hardened by war. Unknown unknowns.

The article is striking, however. The woman tackles the subject from the perspective of a human rights campaigner and not a military analyst, to be sure, but I wonder if she hasn't struck something here....not sure what's to be done about it, though. Realistically, it seems like the best we can hope for if we pull out is that the country is engulphed in civil war once more, rather than swiftly taken over by the Taliban.....either way the ISI will have their playground back....
posted by Diablevert at 1:12 PM on September 21, 2009


One point more directly related to the linked article, which offers in closing:
Think instead about what you might have won -- and could still win -- had you spent all those military billions on food. Or maybe agriculture. Or health care. Or a civilian job corps. Is it too late for that now?
While it's easy enough to say we should drop all the military spending and instead pump aid money into Afghanistan to be used for for more constructive ends, it's hard to see how you go about, in practical terms, actually doing that.

Without a better security situation on the ground, what do you suppose the odds are of any such aid resources actually finding their way into the country and being put to to their intended uses, rather than simply horded by corrupt government officials, or worse, redirected to the very terrorist organizations that would be likely to find safe-haven in Afghanistan again if the US military involvement were to end?

This is such a shitty situation. I don't really see a good way out. The best option may be to cut our losses, hunker down and do our best to fortify the defenses over here in Fortress America, and just accept an increased likelihood of terrorist activity against US interests coming from Afghanistan indefinitely into the future.

This seems to me like arguing that the British should have known that by embarking on the French and Indian war they would cause the American Revolution.

What we knew might happen as a consequence of our actions is irrelevant. Not to put it in Rumsfeldian terms, but we should have known and paid greater heed to what we didn't and couldn't know. In chaotic systems, precise outcomes are impossible to predict. Our world is beyond a doubt a chaotic system, but we still engage in foreign policy as if that fact were obscure to us, as if there are simple, linear cause and effect mechanisms at work that we can precisely manipulate.

Our error in the policies we pursued in Afghanistan--as in Iraq, Vietnam, Chile, Bosnia, and other trouble spots we've stirred up around the world over the last half century or so--is that our policy is arrogant. We're vain enough to believe that we can shape and reshape the balances of regional international political power to suit our whims. It never works out the way we intended, and often leads directly to appalling conditions of human suffering, and yet, we still cling to the arrogant and counter-historical belief that it's possible to shape political realities over the long term in ways that tip them to our advantage without any adverse or uncontainable consequences.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:35 PM on September 21, 2009 [3 favorites]


I think Canadians have become very ready to bring back our soldiers. I think we feel that we've carried more burden than we should have carried, and we've certainly lost a lot of fine young folk without having gained a damn thing in that country. The Taliban is back in full force and it's just an interminable shithouse mess.

There simply must be a better solution. Maybe we to save as many people as possible from that country, with the goal of getting them back to their homeland as soon as we can, but for the time being they can at least be safe and get an education.

It'd be one hell of a lot cheaper than war and way more likely to succeed favourably to our goals in the long run.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:36 PM on September 21, 2009


But the biggest problem in Afghanistan, as always, is tribalism. Many of the U.S.-raised Afghan army troops are minority Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazara who used to collaborate with the Soviets. They are scorned by the majority Pashtun tribes as enemies and foreign stooges. These U.S.-paid troops also know they will face death when the U.S. and its western allies eventually quit Afghanistan.

The Soviets had a much better understanding of Afghanistan than the American military, which one senior British general recently called, "culturally ignorant." Moscow built an Afghan government army of around 240,000 men. Many were loyal Communists. They sometimes fought well, as I experienced in combat against them near Jalalabad. But, in the end, they smelled defeat and crumbled. The Soviet-backed strongman, Mohammad Najibullah, was castrated and slowly hanged from a crane.
(via)
posted by Joe Beese at 1:53 PM on September 21, 2009


This is such a shitty situation. I don't really see a good way out. The best option may be to cut our losses, hunker down and do our best to fortify the defenses over here in Fortress America, and just accept an increased likelihood of terrorist activity against US interests coming from Afghanistan indefinitely into the future.

Yup. Or alternatively, if you want to provide aid to Afghanistan, you could always.... negotiate with terrorists!!!!<>
posted by mek at 2:01 PM on September 21, 2009


Without a better security situation on the ground, what do you suppose the odds are of any such aid resources actually finding their way into the country and being put to to their intended uses

similar quandary faced us in Vietnam. This was largely solved by:

a) The 1965-69 major battles that largely debilitated the VC as an organized militia
b) The Phoenix Program actively hunting vietcong political forces
c) ARVN actively shelling and bombing the crap out of VC areas, making them largely unlivable.
d) Finally winning peasant hearts & minds with the Land to the Tiller reforms of 1971.

Unfortunately we also found that an aid economy is also a dependent economy, one subject to fall into gross corruption at all levels.
posted by Palamedes at 2:01 PM on September 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Diablevert: "We supported the Mujaheddin fighters and other fundamentalist elements within Afghanistan against the Soviets. They went on to become/support the Taliban and al Qaeda. Terminology aside, our realpolitik schemes led to clear, seriously negative long-term consequences."

This seems to me like arguing that the British should have known that by embarking on the French and Indian war they would cause the American Revolution.


Actually, theories of blowback predict it pretty well.

(Note that the Wikipedia article is exceedingly poor.)
posted by Dysk at 2:10 PM on September 21, 2009


Afghanistan history is marred by the invasions of the Persians,Greeks, Kushans, Hepthalites, Arabs, Turks, Mongols, British, Soviets, and lately by the Americans and allies.

Undefeated.
posted by rokusan at 2:24 PM on September 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


No comment on hortense's transcript? Funny that..
posted by vivelame at 2:24 PM on September 21, 2009


(Note that the Wikipedia article is exceedingly poor.)

Well, thanks for offering it up, then. Why not point to Chalmers Johnson's work, instead?
posted by absalom at 2:40 PM on September 21, 2009


absalon, because while the wikipedia article is poor, it links to Johnson's work, along with a few others who have views on blowback. The article is poor, but as a link list or stepping point for further reading, it's pretty decent.
posted by Dysk at 3:02 PM on September 21, 2009



No comment on hortense's transcript? Funny that...


Well, I'll bite. I'm particularly depressed that there is a name for the phemonenon: "the Afghan trap." I am not really aware of any country in which pre-built democracy was successfully installed. Therefore, it appears to me that the anti-terrorism strategy that is likely to be most effective in such places is to use various military and covert tools to damage institutions and people in power who promote, support or even allow terrorist groups in their midst if we end up victimized by those very same terrorists. The Afghan invasion should have been for the limited purpose of destroying whatever Taliban assets we could find, and totally avoiding further involvement.
posted by Hylas at 3:17 PM on September 21, 2009


Afghanistan history is marred by the invasions of the Persians,Greeks, Kushans, Hepthalites, Arabs, Turks, Mongols, British, Soviets, and lately by the Americans and allies.
Undefeated.
This idea that Afghanistan is some magically unconquerable place gets a lot of play. Is it accurate, though?

I'm no historian, so I could easily be wrong about any of this, but:

I think that Alexander the Great conquered it (or at least large regions of what is now Afghanistan), and founded cities. I think that Alexander's successor state in the region ruled it until they went to war with some Indian empire, which then conquered Afghanistan and ruled it for a long time.

I think that multiple things known as "the Persian Empire" conquered it and ruled it for long periods of time.

I think that Arabs conquered it and imposed their religion.

I think that the Mongols conquered it and ruled for, what, hundreds of years?

I think that at least one of the Anglo-Afghan wars is generally considered a victory for England.

Am I incorrect?
posted by Flunkie at 3:20 PM on September 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Undefeated.

*Sigh* rukosan... defeat what, to what end? Sure, they don't have Starbucks, a piazza or a paved square dominated by drab edifices. What haven't they been defeated by?

This article imparts a more believable story (to me) than what CNN and the BBC are asserting/alluding to. I don't believe the Afghani's are an impregnable fortress of indefatigability brushing off invaders on all sides... 'defeat' isn't an end, it's a situation. I think they sparsely occupy a barely arable mountainous land with few natural resources that happens to hold a strategic position in the geo-political machinations whose timeline stretches back beyond the 24 hour news cycle, and the 'current' conflict. Afganistan doesn't seem to me to be a place where you plant a flag and proclaim victory against the locals.

But I'm merely an armchair observer.
posted by vectr at 3:28 PM on September 21, 2009


We supported the Mujaheddin fighters and other fundamentalist elements within Afghanistan against the Soviets.

Even James Bond and Rambo got into the act.
posted by kirkaracha at 3:39 PM on September 21, 2009


Actually, theories of blowback predict it pretty well.

I read the wiki and the article, and I'm still not sure what you're getting at. Could you explain it more?
posted by Diablevert at 4:23 PM on September 21, 2009


I thought the notion of them as "undefeated" was well, er, defeated, in yesterday's Afghanistan post:

"Afghanistan has been like the cartoon character who is run over by a car, struggles to his feet and has scarcely dusted himself off when he is run over again. And again. And again, ad nauseum. Afghans, particularly the Pashtuns, have been called xenophobic, and while they have some xenophobic tendencies, it is this role as the speed bump of history that has ingrained this.

In your research you will find that the Persians, Alexander the Great, Tamerlane, Genghis Khan, Kublai Khan, and more recently the British Empire and the Russians have all swept through Afghanistan. For some, this paints a picture of the indomitable Afghan. I tend to disagree, as the Afghans have indeed been conquered on numerous occasions. However, Afghanistan has never been the prize, more like a necessary bridge from where the conqueror was to where he wished to be. What the Afghans are, however, is survivors. The ominous name "graveyard of empires" is a misnomer. None of the great ancient empires were undone in Afghanistan, but Afghanistan was instead a way to measure the waxing and waning of these empires. They all swept through on their way to expansion, and then had to retract through Afghanistan again on their way back whence they came, leaving their genetic mark on the land. The Afghans, however, have survived. Afghans are not indomitable; they are consummate survivors, amazing in their flexibility and often playing foreigners off of each other and their domestic competitors.

More recently, the British and Russians have found great difficulty in Afghanistan, mostly through their own idiotic mistakes. These experiences in particular are held up as some sort of omen as to the fortunes of the NATO mission in Afghanistan. I caution you not to give much credence to such examples, for there are significant differences. No one through history has gone to Afghanistan for the sake of Afghanistan. What we are doing in Afghanistan is for their sake, but do not become confused; it is not because we are so selfless. It is because by doing the right thing in Afghanistan, we make ourselves safer. Do not buy in to any thoughts of whether or not they deserve our assistance. The question is in itself diversionary. We chose this mission eight years ago because it is our best interests. The Afghans need a lot of help. Theirs is a society that has been developmentally disabled by thirty years of warfare. They have forgotten how to govern even as well as they were ever governed. Forty years ago, Afghanistan was on its way towards modernization. Events since the deposition of the king in 1973 (the king died in August, 2007) have taken Afghanistan back until they are now ten minutes out of the stone age."
posted by whatgorilla at 4:35 PM on September 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


Diablevert, it essentially boils down to the intelligence community (or parts of it) being quite aware (from extensive past experience) that arming insurgent groups abroad to topple governments will come back and bite you in the ass. The violence visited upon the nation that supplies the arms and covert support is refered to as 'blowback'. World (and especially US) leaders can be fully expected to be aware of this almost inevitable consequence.
posted by Dysk at 4:39 PM on September 21, 2009


I was being sarcastic. "Getting invaded" is what Afghanistan is all about.
posted by rokusan at 4:39 PM on September 21, 2009


Ah, well, the notion does get a lot of play non-sarcastically as well--I only know for sure when there is a direct quote from "The Princess Bride" involved. I wonder what "Speedbump of History" is in Pashtun? Perhaps a lighthearted re-branding is just the thing for such a tragic, rubble-pile of a country.
posted by whatgorilla at 4:45 PM on September 21, 2009


Diablevert, it essentially boils down to the intelligence community (or parts of it) being quite aware (from extensive past experience) that arming insurgent groups abroad to topple governments will come back and bite you in the ass. The violence visited upon the nation that supplies the arms and covert support is refered to as 'blowback'. World (and especially US) leaders can be fully expected to be aware of this almost inevitable consequence.

This seems like the GUT of international relations, then. Is there nothing it can't explain? We support the government, and it bites us in the ass. We support the rebels, and it bites us in the ass. We support the military, and it bites us in the ass. We support the guerrillas, and it bites us in the ass. If only we hadn't helped overthrow the government of Guatemala in 1954, there would have been no Cuban missile crisis a decade later and a 500 miles away, because we wouldn't have pissed off a young medical student. And all for the lack of a horseshoe nail.

I'm not trying to say there's no such thing as blowback. If say, the people of a given country discover or suspect that you helped over throw their duly elected government, then they're probably going to to pissed at you. That's pretty predictable, and the idea that the resentment so induced might cause you more problems down the line than your actions solve now is a handy thing to keep in mind. But history's a chancy thing; there's lots of little pushes and pulls in the current that could make the whole thing go down a lot differently than it did. There seems to be a lot of post hoc ergo propter hoc in this blowback theory.
posted by Diablevert at 5:28 PM on September 21, 2009


"This seems to me like arguing that the British should have known that by embarking on the French and Indian war they would cause the American Revolution. The Taliban were not necessarily inevitable; in some respects they were quite improbable."

I'd have to contend with the latter bit of that argument. The tribal elements were overcome, somewhat, by unifying them with religion and so, with the extremists.
The flaw, I think, put simply, was arming the crap out of a society and letting young guys learn how to breaks stuff good, and then not building, say, some schools, maybe a few industries, after the war so they aren't very pissed off, very well armed, very fanatic, one trick ponies.
Billions for defense, not one cent for rebuilding.
Might have been nice if we didn't just skip out. But that's been our M.O. regarding war for a long time. Train a guy, send him off to fight, if he comes home, great, he's on his own - c'ya!
We don't seem to do endings well. We like the "whiz bang!" part of the show. Denouement and epilogue don't seem part of our character.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:33 PM on September 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Diablevert, it might help to read Johnson's book, which deals with many of the criticisms you raise. The major thrust which makes it more than just "look, everything goes wrong!" is that what you're doing is not backing a group, but backing a specific action, while telling the group that you're backing them. Giving the fundamentalist crazies weapons with which to fight the Soviets is very short-sighted - what are you going to do if they win? Continue to support the fundamentalist crazies? Or piss them off royally by denouncing them, their beliefs, way of life, and everything they stand for, and then introducing sanctions against them? What do you think the consequences of that are going to be?

Most academics writing about blowback acknowledge that it would not necessarily be a problem if the group you were backing was one you could continually back, even once they take power. The long and the short of it - don't give guns to people that have an ideological reason to shoot you. If they live to have the opportunity, they probably will.
posted by Dysk at 5:37 PM on September 21, 2009


Diablevert: If say, the people of a given country discover or suspect that you helped over throw their duly elected government, then they're probably going to to pissed at you.

This is not an example of blowback. This is a bog standard "diplomatic incident".
posted by Dysk at 5:39 PM on September 21, 2009


The Afghans are undefeated? They are living in the one of the shittiest, poorest, least free places in the world right now. If the Soviets had managed to not be fucked over by the realpolitik of the US and Pakistan, we would likely still be seeing women in skirts, hippies bringing their tourist dollars, mass social housing complexes, functioning state hospitals, etc., etc.

The "defeat" of the Soviet Union in Central Asia was a victory for the USA, but the Afghan people were collateral damage.
posted by Meatbomb at 6:14 PM on September 21, 2009


Meatbomb: "the Afghan people were collateral damage."

To what extent do they, in the collective, even think of themselves as "the Afghan people" - as opposed to "the group of mutually antagonistic tribes in uneasy alliance against the latest empire crushing the land underfoot"?

You think our own tribal politics are ugly now. Imagine what they'd be like after a couple of decades of what life has been like in Afghanistan.
posted by Joe Beese at 6:54 PM on September 21, 2009


I'd have to contend with the latter bit of that argument. The tribal elements were overcome, somewhat, by unifying them with religion and so, with the extremists. The flaw, I think, put simply, was arming the crap out of a society and letting young guys learn how to breaks stuff good, and then not building, say, some schools, maybe a few industries, after the war so they aren't very pissed off, very well armed, very fanatic, one trick ponies.

Ok. When was after the war, please? I've lazily spackled over the holes in my memory with a quick check of wiki, but it seems to reaffirm the basic facts: The Soviets withdrew in 1989. The allied mujahadeen forces continued fighting the remnants of the Afghan government until 1992. The alliance almost immediately fell apart, and warlords ruled the country, with successive factions fighting over and retaking the capital. The Taliban rose up to combat the war lords and took complete control sometime in the mid-90s. So.....when was the peaceful period when all the fighting was done when humanitarian intervention could have made all the difference? And after the Soviets pulled out, and the alliance broke apart, which particular war lord should we have sponsored?

Giving the fundamentalist crazies weapons with which to fight the Soviets is very short-sighted - what are you going to do if they win? Continue to support the fundamentalist crazies? Or piss them off royally by denouncing them, their beliefs, way of life, and everything they stand for, and then introducing sanctions against them? What do you think the consequences of that are going to be?

The Taliban did not defeat the Soviets; the mujehadeen/warlords did. That's the improbable bit I was referring to: Mullah Omar was the Afghanistan hinterlands equivalent of an Abbot. The first Taliban were seminarians, not generals. The fact that Omar was able to create an incredibly disciplined organization capable of presenting united front and defeating a whole country's worth of hardened guerrilla fighters is, I think, unexpected. In certain respects it seems inevitable --- the people as a whole were certainly sick and tired of the bastards and the chaos they created, anyone who was capable of restoring order would have been very appealing, and fundamentalist religion, in such circumstances, can be a helluva thing for creating amour propre and discipline in the ranks. A case of come the hour, come the man. But if you'd told any observer of the conflict that J. Random Mullah was gonna be the one to finally put a lid on the joint back in 91-92, I think they'd have laughed at you.

Further, I don't think it would have been at all clear to an analyst back in the late 70s/early 80s that militant Islam would be the lodestone of the next great wave of terrorism, an implacably anti-American enemy. Terrorists during the cold war were generally either Communist or anti-communist/fascist. Even when the more pure and ancient conflict is ethnic or religious, the cold war crept in and shaped the combatants: The IRA was Marxist, back in the 70s. The Middle East was a center of terrorist activity, but it was at that time largely secular -- the PLO, Abu Nidal. Hamas was founded in 1987. Hizbollah was founded in the early 80s. We were already giving these guys money during Carter's presidency, as ZB points out above. So to suggest they should have known not to give the fundamentalist money because they were inherently ideologically opposed to the US...organized, militant Islam did not yet exist. It was created, in part, in Afghanistan. (Yeah, yeah, Qutb. But he was barely known outside Egypt then.) And as far as I can see, the denunciations didn't really start rolling in until the Taliban took over...and they did a lot of denoucable stuff, you know? The Taliban were never our allies; I think it's a misreading to say that in critiquing them we were turning on those we'd sponsored.
posted by Diablevert at 7:36 PM on September 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


“. . . the real Afghanistan was lacking one important ingredient. In the words of Cheryl Bernard, a RAND analyst and expert on the Middle East who is married to Zalmay Khalilzad, ‘In Afghanistan, we made a deliberate choice . . . At first, everyone thought, There’s no way to beat the Soviets. So what we have to do is throw the worst crazies against them that we can find, and there was a lot of collateral damage. We knew exactly who these people were, and what their organizations were like and we didn’t care,’ she says. ‘Then we allowed them to get rid of, kill all the moderate leaders. The reason we don’t have moderate leaders in Afghanistan today is because we let the nuts kill them all. They killed the leftists, the moderates, the middle-of-the-roaders. They were just eliminated, during the 1980’s and afterward."
posted by hortense at 8:06 PM on September 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


The IRA was Marxist, back in the 70s

Not really. The IRA split into "official" and "provisional" wings in the late 60's, and the officials' emphasis on the "socialist" part of "32 county socialist republic" rendered them mostly irrelevant from that point on.
posted by kersplunk at 8:13 PM on September 21, 2009


"So.....when was the peaceful period when all the fighting was done when humanitarian intervention could have made all the difference? And after the Soviets pulled out, and the alliance broke apart, which particular war lord should we have sponsored?"

That's a loaded question. For one, there didn't need to be a peaceful period, the U.S. could have gone into Afghanistan after the Soviets pulled out for humanitarian aid without it being billed as an invasion and cleaned up our own mess.

I don’t know that we would have had to support any faction in the infighting, or the Muj. Which we only continued to do because the Soviets were continuing to arm Kabul. So maybe step in more aggressively and just start rebuilding?
At least before the Mujahadeen turned Jalabad into a serious bone of contention and started getting their aid from Pakistan through us, which put us on the short end of the bargaining stick.
At the time Pakistan was working on the bomb and trying to get everyone (plus the U.S.) happy with it. That would have been a nice bargaining chip to have.
I mean, they were pretty much in a civil war before the Soviet invasion and it more or less resumed afterwards. The difference being a lot of our beef and many intelligence assets were fighting against ‘us.’
At some point it became less about strategic goals and more about pride. I would not have continued to push for a military solution to remove Najibula once the Soviets had left. Afghans actually do pretty well in negotiations, so hey, talk. Moscow was bringing up the idea of a coalition and a settlement as early as July-August ’89, so cut a deal.
It would have been better to talk with the Soviets than to give Pakistan and the extremists such a free hand.
Meantime – there were plenty of anti-American rumblings in the Afghan resistance. Cutting Pakistan out (would have been tough yes) would have made them more dependant on us.

By the time those guys were flush, “guys” being, say Abdul Sayyaf and Gulbudin Hekmatyar, were already pumping out as much anti-U.S. media as anti-Soviet.

So looking at that, at that time, while I can’t say we’d have a clear vision of the exact future like a bunch of jets slamming into buildings, I do think it was pretty clear we were backing the wrong horses.
And it’s no secret the State Department and a whole lot of other folks were talking about promoting – with more butter than guns – more centrist factions and maybe not saying we’re going to devour the Kabul regime in order to, yeah, prevent Muslim extremists coming to power.
Reagan blew that off and Bush did the same thing in Iraq as his son and blew off Afghanistan and all those warnings.
Not having the Pakistan ISI up everyone’s ass in the region – yeah, pretty good idea I’d’ve thought. And maybe park some U.N. humanitarian relief troops in the area.
Taking a more active hand than just handing out weapons being Joe quartermaster and letting the Pakistani spooks run the op – yeah, I think would have been a damn good idea no matter which horse we backed.
Maybe that would have stopped Pakistan, which is still the bulk of the problem today, from exporting our brand of guerilla proxy war into India at the time and going and taking over Kashmir with the same Muslim brotherhood.
Y’know, the enemy of my enemy is my friend unless he’s a twitchy crazy fucker who’s been saying he wants to kill me too and can’t be trusted. I don’t think Machiavelli said that, but it’s pretty solid advice.

But don’t underestimate the U.S. religious factions hand in this. It made a swell movie in Charlie Wilson’s War to portray them as having slave girl auctions, but those fuckers – Bill Casey especially – had thought for years that ANY religion against the godless commies was good.
Hell they’d added “under God” to the pledge of allegiance specifically for that reason in the 50s.
Any reason to think that vibe went away just because some kids farted around on Max Yasger’s farm?
They thought it was excellent strategy. Religious networks, the whole deal – plus, no government involvement, because governments fuck things up, right?
The brits supported the Muslim brotherhood against Nasser. The Israelis helped out Hamas against the PLO.
It’s what western and westernized countries seem to do when a middle eastern secular socialist government gets set up – rouse the religious rabble.
I dunno – trick ever worked to anyone’s favor? In the long term I mean.
Even before any of this started there was the PDPA coup, we were looking at the Shah (our guy) being kicked out of Iran, the Soviets were watching their Afghan Marxist party go down.
Might have been nice to support the guys doing social reforms, installing secular education, putting forward women's rights and minimizing the cleric’s influence as a way to have more stability even if it meant supporting a leftist regime.
Nope. We let the Islamic guerillas do that. Until the Soviets got pissed and went in. And then we backed the guys who were against them regardless of any principles involved.
It was a bad move with no goal other than stymieing the Soviets. Might have been nice to have a broader goal.
When Burhanuddin Rabbani and the Northern Alliance was murdering 60,000 civilians and raping women where were we? Oh, right, central America and Iraq. Rashid Dostum was running Mazar e Sharif in ’92, Ismail Kahn was running the City of Heart, Yunis Khalis was in Jalalbad - where were we?
Oh, right, Bosnia. (And still bombing Iraq, although not "at war").
And y’know? So was the Muj. Because by 92 they’d finished with the PDPA and the Pakistanis, who we opened the door for, and again taking a page from our playbook, created the Taliban from religious extremists to quell inter-tribal resistance.

So they shut the place down – we continue to ignore them in Afghanistan (and insist they’re no harm in Bosnia) until Sept.11 happens and then we go after them and who do we support to help us out? The Northern Alliance. Against this whole byzantine morass we'd created earlier. Plus, everyone hates them what with all the rape and murder and everything. Oh and later on the Dasht-i-Leili massacre.

Yeah, I’m going to have to go ahead and confidently adjust my pants and say we could have handled all that better.
Work on principle, you tend to have people coming to you. Warlord or no warlord. As it is we pretty much reaped chaos because, I suspect, we felt we could get away with it. Perhaps it was distance, perhaps unfamiliarity with the culture. But plenty of folks were saying it at the time.
We just didn't listen.
So the "peaceful period for humanitarian intervention" or the "sponsoring a particular war lord" thing doesn't enter into it.
Like saying "Hey man, don't stick you hand into that wood chipper."
"Oh? And what power tool am I supposed to stick my hand in? Or should I shove this chainsaw up my ass?"

Well, y'know, use dangerous tools responsibly in the first place, really, and have an idea what you want to make/cut with them before you pull it out and get it going.
But once you're cutting wood - hell, you might as well build something.
We didn't do that at all. Just packed the place with guns and took a walk.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:26 PM on September 21, 2009 [7 favorites]


Still waiting for someone to explain to me what we are doing in Afghanistan.

So best case, we establish a stable, democratic, anti-Al Qaeda government? And then...? We're to believe that this government will somehow perform infallible police work on every incredibly remote, mountainous inch of Afghanistan, preventing two terrorists from ever gathering together? A stable government (in the cities; I don't think there has ever in history been a real national government of the tribal regions) probably benefits Al Qaeda, if anything. Stability means access to supplies and services, and a ready-made enemy to recruit against.

And even if they could? They'll just cross the border into Pakistan. We take over Pakistan? They'll go to Mongolia, or western China? We're trying to fight a stateless enemy by propping up the government of one state, as if Afghanistan is the only place in the world terrorists could ever gather together. It makes no sense.
posted by drjimmy11 at 12:34 AM on September 22, 2009


The IRA was Marxist, back in the 70s.

Yes. Marxists who went to Church. And not just any Church, but the most organised religion in the world - the Roman Catholic Church.

So to suggest they should have known not to give the fundamentalist money because they were inherently ideologically opposed to the US...organized, militant Islam did not yet exist.

I'm sorry, but aren't many of the inherent values of fundamentalist Islam diametrically opposed to those that generations of US presidents have professed to be American values? Sure, they might not have become militant yet, but giving them weapons is a pretty decent first step to making that so. The particular ideology of those you're arming is unimportant, unless it's one you're willing to back wholesale and long term. If you aren't willing to do that, you run a very real risk of blowback.

And as far as I can see, the denunciations didn't really start rolling in until the Taliban took over...and they did a lot of denoucable stuff, you know?

...and what, the groups being sponsored covertly didn't do anything "denouncable"? Or was their fighting the Soviets seen as excusing any other problematic features they may have had?

The Taliban did not defeat the Soviets; the mujehadeen/warlords did.

Please, explain to me the fundamental difference in ethos and membership of the mujahideen and the Taleban. Groups of holy warriors involved in a jihad fight off the Soviets, and three years later, a fundamentalist Muslim group takes control of the country (insofar as that's a sensible statement to make regarding Afghanistan) and you're trying to imply that there's no connection? The leader, name, and banner may all be different, but it involves (not exclusively, or as a hard-and-fast rule, but nevertheless) the same men, the same rhetoric, and the same weapons.
posted by Dysk at 1:00 AM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Surprised no one has brought up that the pentagon has decided to knee cap Obama on troop levels in Afghanistan, by leaking a confidential memo from to the Washington Post; "McChrystal: More Forces or 'Mission Failure'". Speculation here about it being a potential part of a Petraeus '12 run.

Not sure what to think about it, though it seems to be a major breach of protocol for the military to be so publicly involved in the debate.
posted by afu at 1:24 AM on September 22, 2009


The IRA was Marxist, back in the 70s.

Yes. Marxists who went to Church. And not just any Church, but the most organised religion in the world - the Roman Catholic Church.


There have been plenty of Protestant members of the IRA.
posted by kersplunk at 5:34 AM on September 22, 2009


The fundamental difference in ethos and membership of the mujahideen and the Taleban:
the mujahideen were recruited from the data base of known terrorists kept by MI6/CIA and sent to NW Pakistan as insurgents. The Taliban were seminary students from southern Afghanistan.
posted by hortense at 9:57 AM on September 22, 2009


Not really. The IRA split into "official" and "provisional" wings in the late 60's, and the officials' emphasis on the "socialist" part of "32 county socialist republic" rendered them mostly irrelevant from that point on.

You're right, I was glib and imprecise. INLA did kill a few people, though.

Smedleyman: There's a lot to digest there, and I don't know that I'm capable of address all of in less than, say, 10,000 words, so I'm just going to tackle one point as a substitute

the U.S. could have gone into Afghanistan after the Soviets pulled out for humanitarian aid without it being billed as an invasion and cleaned up our own mess.

I don’t know that we would have had to support any faction in the infighting, or the Muj. Which we only continued to do because the Soviets were continuing to arm Kabul. So maybe step in more aggressively and just start rebuilding?


Step in more aggresively and just start rebuilding? What does that mean? In a country with numerous armed factions staking out territories and fighting each other? And the Soviets continuing to provide arms to one side? I mean, purely for the protection of humnaitarian workers in such a situation, I think you'd have to send in considerable armed forces to accomplish that, in which case it might well have set off alarm bells in a crumbling and paranoid Kremlin. I think you'd need some kind of peace on the ground before you could begin any kind of humanitarian aid effort --- otherwise you build shit and just gets blown up --- and it seems to me that in the circumstances the US was unlikely to be seen as an honest broker if trying to bring the parties to the table, particularly by the Soviet-sponsored side. Plus it's very hard for me to see how the appetite would have been there on the part of the American public: The much smaller scale interventions in Haiti and Somalia were widely unpopular and we ended up leaving each place quite quickly.

If your larger point is, we should never have gotten involved in the first place, then okay, I can see an argument for that. But this idea that there would have been the will, the money or the soldiers to rebuild Afghanistan --- at the very same time that the Soviet Union was falling apart --- that just seems completely unrealistic, given the other circumstances.

The particular ideology of those you're arming is unimportant, unless it's one you're willing to back wholesale and long term. If you aren't willing to do that, you run a very real risk of blowback.

But there are plenty of armed groups we've sponsored who've done horrible things. And only one Al Queada. Sponsoring a group/strongman who does awful shit will definitely make the population hate you. But above you called that merely a 'diplomatic incident' not blowback. You said blowback was almost inevitable, and since you're saying that mere hatred does not constitute blowback, you must be referring to concrete harm, then? But what concrete harm was caused to US ctizens by the Nicaraguanas, El Salvadorians, Guatemalans, Angolans or Congolese? All countries where we gave money and guns to some pretty terrible people, usually with CIA involvement.


...and what, the groups being sponsored covertly didn't do anything "denouncable"? Or was their fighting the Soviets seen as excusing any other problematic features they may have had?

No, the certainly did, but they were our allies. You seemed to me to be suggesting that it was hypocritical to criticise the very people we had armed for committing atrocities; I am arguing that there was a clear distinction between the groups we had allied with an the Taliban, and the latter came in for most of the citicism. But again, all that was mostly after Al Quaeda had become active.

Please, explain to me the fundamental difference in ethos and membership of the mujahideen and the Taleban.

Memebership? Not too much. Leadership, yes. Ethos: Well, here it's a bit stickier. I would argue that Al Queda is universalist and millinarian. The Taliban is not. They hate Americans, sure, but basically they wanted control of Afghanistan. They were willing to sponsor Al Queada for a time, but as I'm sure you recall before 9/11 there was already tension and conflict between them as they were experiencing their own blowback for hosting them.
posted by Diablevert at 10:34 AM on September 22, 2009


the officials' emphasis on the "socialist" part of "32 county socialist republic" rendered them mostly irrelevant from that point on.
So irrelevant that they went on to win seven seats in the Dail and one in Europe in 1989? Good article reviewing a recent book on their history here.
posted by Abiezer at 10:50 AM on September 22, 2009


Step in more aggresively and just start rebuilding? What does that mean? In a country with numerous armed factions staking out territories and fighting each other?

Instead of dropping hundreds of millions for an armed compound in Iraq, perhaps they should have walled Kabul and made it a safe haven for all the not-crazy Afghans.

If we were to provide food, shelter, healthcare, and education to those Afghans who want a decent life, we'd accomplish a lot more in the long run.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:23 AM on September 22, 2009


(Although the Taliban did recruit young Muj fighters. Especially after Bosnia)
posted by Smedleyman at 11:48 AM on September 22, 2009


"Step in more aggresively and just start rebuilding? What does that mean? In a country with numerous armed factions staking out territories and fighting each other? And the Soviets continuing to provide arms to one side?"
If we had stepped in we could have stemmed the flow of arms and we could have provided an open platform for the various armed factions to talk. And again, they do prefer to negotiate.
And it wouldn't have had to be done unilaterally. The world community would have stepped in with us. The U.N. would have been on board. Putting enough muscle in the region to lock everything down and give the Afghanis the opportunity for self-determination after the Soviet invasion would have been a very smart, very visibly moral intervention.

Either way, we should have crapped or got off the pot. We continued to engage in this covert proxy war - like no one knew we were there? - instead of active and productive involvement.
A multinational peacekeeping force would have been a pretty heavy thing, yeah. And the Soviets would have been nervous. Which, again, is why you open a dialogue with them.
They had been talking coalition - treaties could have been signed, deals could have been cut.
In '89 the CCCP let go of their stranglehold and you had states in the union running competitive elections. Gorbachev had been reforming (perestroika and glasnost) as early as '87.
They would have talked. We already had made headway in scrapping a bunch of old nukes so the lines were open.
On top of that they were on the ropes. You had nationalist riots in Georgia, ethnic warfare in Azerbaijan - Gorbachev was trying to hold on to the Baltic states, they were looking to go to a market economy - even without the benefit of hindsight about the coming collapse - in terms of geopolitics we could have had them by the balls and cut deals to ease their internal economic pressures, maybe support the New Union Treaty (which Gorby rightly points out wasn't something we were interested in - but we should have been, he was going for a social democracy) and make security guarantees anywhere else.

And, critically, that would have avoided the hardliners coming in and trying to end the world (gotta hand it to the spets and the vymps, they saw that if they took the White House those nuts could have launched (Dmitri Yazov was on board and had some PAL codes, and they also had their version of the football - a little black satchel - they took from Gorby) so the hardliners could have sent authorization to the silos to turn on their combat command communications from the White House - the PALs, permissive action links et.al were used to make sure that the nukes couldn't be armed without authorization from central command but you needed to send communication authorization first (which you'd do from central command authority), then you'd send the codes, as opposed to the U.S. system where there's constant contact. But anyway, some of the field commanders exercised their logistic control during the coup - e.g. General Y.P. Maksimov was in command of the strategic rockets and ordered his SS-25 mobile missiles back to base to show the U.S. (through the satellites) that they weren't looking to launch the arsenal. Pretty good move. But still - no hyperbole when I say the world could have ended there.)

Point being - there was plenty of rationalism floating around. Lots of rational actors. We decided not to back any.
Goes without saying you need security to cover the humanitarian effort. I prefer boots. Back then we were really really into air power. Again - stupid.

And no, there wasn't the will to go rebuild Afghanistan. There should have been.
I don't know, what is it worth to you to not end the world?
Far as I'm concerned, given the tensions between Pakistan and...well, everyone, and their nuclear capability and the shoddy means they have of guarding it, this too is brinksmanship.

I was in the military in August, 1991. Lots of things went on that the general public never knew about. In part to avoid panic. But it's been my experience that, contrary to the thesis in "Men in Black" - that people for the most part want to help in a crisis. It tends to bring out the best in people - given leadership is clear, rational (or rational seeming) and stable of course.

I'll cede that working in Afghanistan was politically unrealistic. But too - if I'm in the German army and Hitler is going on about using the trains to kill Jews, I'm going to point out that the ideology is in conflict with the practical realities of warfighting.

So too was the U.S.' political ideology at that time. Jesus, that was stupid strategically. I have no idea how we survived it (well, some of us did our part to help, but it was like being trapped in a dark room with an amphetamine psychotic monkey with a gun).

"But what concrete harm was caused to US ctizens by the Nicaraguanas, El Salvadorians, Guatemalans, Angolans or Congolese?"

Seriously? El Salvador?
Nicaragua - under Daniel Ortega has formed ties with Iran. I hear Iran's going to have an embassy in Managua. Pretty sure all that's because they don't like us. The whole anti-Americanism thing.
And back in '08 in March I think they were covering for some FARC terrorists, although the actual people involved might have just been refugees, Ortega refers to FARC as "brothers" - and Nicaragua does have Russian SA-7 missiles and MANPADS which would be just swell for shooting down commercial aircraft. Bolanos asked Bush for $80 million to destroy them. We weren't able to get that taken care of before Ortega took over - so yeah, I'd say U.S. civilian security is in greater danger, because Ortega is a throwback to that opposition to us.

Guatemala is a major alien smuggling route from Central and South America, which makes it a potential transit point for terrorists seeking to gain access to the United States. Overall they're not a big problem, they tend to cooperate with us, but their central government never really recovered from the '54 coup and economic domination - so their ability to stop transnational crime, drug trafficking, kidnapping, extortion, etc. etc. - derives from that to some degree.

In fact most of the existence of those large criminal and terrorist outfits in South America stems from that poverty and social disorder, much of it wrought by multinational (and/or U.S.) companies.
And drugs, all those other activities - same sort of thing small potatoes countries like England ran against giants like China back in the day, selling them opium, taking over tea production, etc.

Angola, same deal. Porous borders, corruption, lots of money laundering and counterfeiting which degrades our currency and aids the black market and financing for terrorism.

Congo...well, we're still killing the fuck out of those people by buying cell phones, lap tops, etc. etc.
And of course, we shoveled loads of weapons at them. And there's UN (and so U.S.) troops in harms way out there. 10th Mountain was training an Ethiopian army division in counter-terrorism tactics in '03 as part of the whole golden spear thing. So we are "there" in terms of concrete harm.
That aside - genocide anywhere is a danger to everyone everywhere. On top of that thousands of people dying of disease is a pretty serious threat too.

Look, I'm no dove, but I prefer a logical trade off if we're going to mess with things.
One of the reasons I initially supported the Iraq was, apart from the WMDs (and thinking that they had to be there because if the administration was lying about something like that they'd be prosecuted) was the games Hussein looked like he was going to be playing with oil prices and so - our economy.
That's a threat. Now, if one recognizes dependence on foreign oil is a threat to national autonomy and economic stability, one might justify going to war for it. But on the other hand, the legitimacy of such a position completely collapses if no one's looking to get off foreign oil and look for alternative energy sources and such.
And it quickly becomes clear that it's just for money (as per my patron Saint's word on war being a racket).
Which means, I'm not going to go for it.
In the case of Congo - a lot of the problem is with the surrounding region.
You have military arrangements with the U.S. - Entebbe being an FOB for Air Force ops in Central Africa and Barrick Gold and Heritage Oil (ok, well, they're Canadian - still, 'western') - exploiting mining in the region during the "war of aggression" and Mulroney (ex-canuck pres) and Bush (sr) being principals of Barrick.
Heritage tapped the Semliki oil reserves from the Ugandan side and ran a pipeline to Mombasa. They're doing other stuff with the (Chinese) Zhongyuan Petroleum Exploration Bureau

So - in 96 the canucks find gold, get a deal to mine in Bukavu. Bukavu was a major Rwandan refugee camp. Can't have a bunch of starving women and children around - so Uganda conveniently invades. They're mining in Haut Zaire (gold) and for copper & cobalt in Shaba (near the border with Zambia).
The strife isn't really about governments, but about militarized power blocks and multinational corporate alignments which are transnational.

Point being - the weapon sales are fueling the genocide, which is being fed by the religious and extremist elements who are willing to look the other way at the resources being taken so the real struggle over resources can go on.

Tons there. But if those multinational corporations can run shenanigans out there, they can do it domestically (and pretty much have been). And that's isn't good. It's toxic.

High concentration of wealth and power in a small group or small point or single interest has always fostered instability from the Romans to the Mayans to any failed state one cares to name.
That's a pretty broad answer. But one has to consider the trade offs. One of the reasons I'm conservative is because I like moving like molasses in the winter when it comes to stuff like this. Change is ok, but it's better if it's slow and sure with as few unintended consequences as possible.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:17 PM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


And it wouldn't have had to be done unilaterally. The world community would have stepped in with us.

A good part of the world community did step in with you. Then you fucked on off to the Iraq distraction and debacle, leaving us all holding the bag. Now things are deteriorated to the point that your attention to the task comes too little too late.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:56 PM on September 22, 2009


And it wouldn't have had to be done unilaterally. The world community would have stepped in with us.

A good part of the world community did step in with you. Then you fucked on off to the Iraq distraction and debacle, leaving us all holding the bag. Now things are deteriorated to the point that your attention to the task comes too little too late.


Gentlemen and/or women: You are talking past each other. Smedlyman and I were arguing about the nature and effects of US involvement in the region prior to 9/11, back in the late 70s to and 80s when we were funnelling money and guns to the anti-Soviet forces there. As far as what's been going on lately, five fresh fish, me, you, and Al Gore all agree that having decided to depose the Taliban following 9/11, a distracted Bush Administration ignored and bollixed up the Afghanistan operation, contributing mightily to the Tar Baby sit rep we're dealing with today.

As to whether we should have gotten heavily involved earlier, in the aftermath of the Soviet-Afghan war.....I should read more and write less. According to Wiki, the Soviet withdrawl was conditioned on the US ceasing its involvement as well, with the Afghans and the Pakistanis left to resolve their differences between them. Given that that was the consensus position, and that the US and the Soviets both have permanent seats on the Security Council which oversees all peacekeeping missions, I think that any kind of massive, US-led humanitairan aid project was never in the cards at that time.
posted by Diablevert at 8:25 PM on September 22, 2009


You are talking past each other.

My bad.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:35 PM on September 22, 2009


kersplunk, that's still Marxists who go to church. I trust you see the inherent contradiction.

Diablevert, I'm about to leave for a flight, so haven't time to do a full reply, but the thing I refered to as not being blowback, but a standard diplomatic incident is because in that situation, the group you have sponsored are defeated. Those that defeated them then find out that you tried to sponsor a coup in their country, and attack you. That's not blowback, as it is not your "weapon" that hurts you, but another group. It is only blowback if the violence against you is perpetrated by those you sponsored (whether they fragment and join other groups or stay united in the same).

But what concrete harm was caused to US ctizens by the Nicaraguanas, El Salvadorians, Guatemalans, Angolans or Congolese? All countries where we gave money and guns to some pretty terrible people, usually with CIA involvement.

Well, there's economic losses, and the deaths of many US allies.
posted by Dysk at 11:59 PM on September 22, 2009


"According to Wiki, the Soviet withdrawl was conditioned on the US ceasing its involvement as well, with the Afghans and the Pakistanis left to resolve their differences between them."

Wiki is somewhat accurate but not fully detailed. Also we're debating 'shoulds'. And, as we all know, involvement on either side didn't cease.
At the very least we should have pressured Pakistan to not kick the hell out of the place in order to screw with India.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:34 PM on September 23, 2009


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