Balkinization  

Friday, April 02, 2010

Another Ominous Sign from Kabul

Brian Tamanaha

My post two days ago argued that our mission in Afghanistan is a looming disaster. The Taliban cannot be defeated (at most they'll fade away and return) as long as the government is corrupt and despised by the Afghan people. There is nothing we can do to eliminate corruption in the Afghan government. And our military presence there makes terrorism worse because it inflames Islamic radicalism worldwide.

The New York Times reports today that President Karzai expressed angry defiance in response to Obama's lecture about reducing corruption.

Here's the money line in the report: "As for American, British and other NATO troops now fighting the anti-government Taliban insurgents, Mr. Karzai said 'there is a thin curtain between invasion and cooperation-assistance.'"

That's the thing. We always see ourselves as the good guys--bringing the rule of law, democracy, human rights, and all that stuff--without recognizing that those on the receiving end might see us as self-interested, heavy-handed invaders. And it is precisely because our troops are widely seen by Muslims as invaders that terrorists are lining up to attack us.

Sunday update: The bad news flows daily, apparently with Karzai now issuing hints about turning to the Taliban if we keep up the pressure on him. That's our guy.
“There is no point in having troops in a mission that cannot be accomplished,” said Peter W. Galbraith, the former deputy special representative to the United Nations in Afghanistan. “The mission might be important, but if it can’t be achieved, there is no point in sending these troops in to battle. Part of the problem is that counterinsurgency requires a credible local partner.”
Right.

Meanwhile, more US troops and Afghan civilians are dying, and the terrorists keep coming.


[Type the rest of your post here.]

Comments:

"Meanwhile, more US troops and Afghan civilians are dying."

Well, their rising from the dead is hardly an option.
 

Another NYT article provides some CYA from him as well:

Mr. Karzai, the officials said, told Mrs. Clinton that he had not meant to criticize the United States but rather Western news coverage of Afghanistan. In a speech on Thursday, Mr. Karzai accused the news media of spreading reports about his fraudulent election as president “to pressure me.”

The other remarks were probably CYA: Local Edition.
 

To be fair, you can break a lot more in eight years than you can fix in one. Imagine if the resources poured into the sand of Iraq had been invested instead into Afghanistan.

That said, we've turned nothing around so far in this administration. What a mess.
 

jpk,

There is no question that neglect of the Afghanistan by Bush--after his launched the unnecessary debacle in Iraqi--made things much worse for Obama.

Having said that, the Obama Administration, after much deliberation, doubled down by ordering a substantial increase in troops. Now it's Obama's war, alas.

At this point blame is irrelevant. The bottom line is that it cannot be "won" and the sooner we recognize it the better.

Brian
 

"There is no question that neglect of the Afghanistan by Bush--after his launched the unnecessary debacle in Iraqi--made things much worse for Obama."

You might recall that we had a cease-fire going in Iraq, with a no-fly zone enforced by a continual military presence. With the understanding that if we ever left him alone, Saddam would reconstitute his military, and resume being a threat to the whole area.

I suppose it was unnecessary to finish the job, we could have just maintained a continual military presence in Iraq in perpetuity.
 

This comment has been removed by the author.
 

I suppose it was unnecessary to finish the job

Completely unnecessary.

we could have just maintained a continual military presence in Iraq in perpetuity.
# posted by Brett : 9:47 PM


What the fuck do you think we're doing now? Only this has been a lot more expensive than what we were doing prior to the disaster.
 

I think that what we're doing now is attempting to replace a perpetual problem with a permanent solution. So that, when we're done, we can leave. You might think it can't work, because I suppose the Arabs are genetically incapable of reform, but it's not an irrational thing to attempt.
 

Brett, it is not appropriate to accuse opponents of the U.S. invasion of Iraq of being motivated by racism. And are you aware of your arrogance in asserting that the U.S. should attempt to get the Iraqis to "reform"? Who are we to tell them to reform? Is there nothing that needs reforming in the U.S.?
 

I think that what we're doing now is attempting to replace a perpetual problem with a permanent solution.

And it's been an complete failure. All we did was replace a perpetual problem with a much more expensive perpetual problem.

So that, when we're done, we can leave. You might think it can't work, because I suppose the Arabs are genetically incapable of reform, but it's not an irrational thing to attempt.
# posted by Brett : 10:51 PM


I don't care if it works. It has already been far more expensive than any possible gain.

And your blatant racism is duly noted. I never said anything about Arabs not being capable of reform.
 

Brett, how do you think you would react if an Arab army showed up at your door and told you to reform?
 

I suppose I'd say something to the effect that they should deal with the beam in their own eye, before addressing the mote in mine.

Over their cooling bodies, of course. One must understand when it's time for talk, and when it's time for action.

Bartbuster, the thing about actually HAVING a moral system, as opposed to merely discussing one, is that it is inherent that, while acknowledging that other people might have different ones, you still judge their actions by your own. If you can't bring yourself to do that, you don't really have a moral system, you've just got one you like to talk about. That's the problem with moral relativism.

As it is, we don't have to worry about your hypothetical, Arab culture is severely dysfunctional, only the fact that we pump trillions of dollars of our own wealth into their societies allows them to sustain something that looks like a modern society. As soon as the oil runs out, we'll stop supporting them, and they'll collapse back into barbarism. It's not like they've done much to leverage that wealth into a sustainable economy which will endure longer than the oil.

If the Arab world can't conquer little Israel, (And the support we give Israel is dwarfed by the petro-dollars flowing to it's foes.) what hope would an Arab army have of reaching my front door?
 

Michael O'Hanlon, co-author of an Op-Ed in today's (4/3/10) WaPo titled "Publicly criticizing the Afghan president hurts the U.S." continues his military-industrial complex views on this war. Is the tail to wag the dog? Isn't this just another variation of "The Mouse That Roared" theme? History provides many lesson; alas, they're ignored. I recall a closing line from (I think) a Three Stooges short: "OIL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL."
 

Bartbuster, the thing about actually HAVING a moral system, as opposed to merely discussing one, is that it is inherent that, while acknowledging that other people might have different ones, you still judge their actions by your own. If you can't bring yourself to do that, you don't really have a moral system, you've just got one you like to talk about. That's the problem with moral relativism.

Brett, you are absolutely right: morality, by definition, is universal. If two moral rules contradict each other, then at least one of them is wrong.

It does not follow from that, however, either that (1) it is moral to impose your moral system on others, whose moral system you deem incorrect, or (2) the U.S. invasion of Iraq had anything to do with morality.
 

Over their cooling bodies, of course.

Brett, your firearm collection is enabling a dangerous tendency to live in fantasyland.

Also, unprovoked aggression is not a nice precedent to set. And it's against the law.
 

Mattski's comment reminds me to remind visitors to this Blog to check out today's WaPo (4/3/10) editorial in support of the recent decision by a DC federal judge upholding a post-Heller DC gun limitations ordinance that had been challenged by (drum roll, please) Mr. Heller. I'm sure SCOTUS will take note in addressing McDonald. The editorial points to different circumstances for a rural community that for DC. In considering McDonald, appropriate background music might be Jimmy Rushing's rendition of "Going to Chicago."

Brett of course has his own ordnance for playing Second Amendment Roulette.
 

"It does not follow from that, however, either that (1) it is moral to impose your moral system on others, whose moral system you deem incorrect,"

What I said was that, if you really hold to a moral system, you will be judging other people's actions according to YOUR moral system, not theirs. What that judgment implies depended on the content of your moral system, of course.

"or (2) the U.S. invasion of Iraq had anything to do with morality."

Then why all the morally based complaints about it?
 

Yes, Shaq, I'm sure the Supreme court will take note of the claim that civil liberties are different in cities than in rural areas. Maybe to dismiss it in passing, but they'll take note of it.

Can you give me an exerpt of that? I'm not interested in spilling my life story to the Washington Post to read a single editorial. What's their reasoning?
 

if you really hold to a moral system, you will be judging other people's actions according to YOUR moral system, not theirs.

Go ahead and judge all you want. Just don't impose your judgment on others. Again, it doesn't follow that, because you judge someone else to be immoral, it is moral to invade his country.

It might even be immoral to invade his country; that what all the morally based complaints are about. When I said that the invasion had nothing to do with morality, I was referring to the motivation of the war criminals who ran our nation for eight years. We may never know what motivated them to invade Iraq, but plausible suggestions have been (1) to attain U.S. hegemony in the Middle East, (2) oil, (3) to show up Daddy for not overthrowing Saddam when he had the opportunity. None of these motivations is moral.
 

Brett, if you have Safari, you can access the WaPo without:

" ... spilling my life story to the Washington Post to read a single editorial."
 

This site gives casualty figures for operations in Afghanistan. Up to now the USA with a population of 309m has suffered 1,033 fatalities, the UK with 62m has suffered 279 and Canada with 34m has suffered 141. Thus, the burden of operations in Afghanistan is being shared by US allies because we also have an interest in the outcome.

Those of us who are lawyers or who have military experience ought to know that wars only take place between states and neither the USA nor its coalition partners are at war with Afghanistan - a country with which we all have diplomatic relations. Properly characterised, our troops are engaged in "military assistance to the civil power".

In October 2009, on this thread I gave reasons why I had great doubts about the wisdom of staying with Karzai and the collection of former Bush warlord allies and narcotics trade moguls holding ministerial posts in the supposedly legitimate government of Afghanistan.

Yet again, I refer to this op-ed in the Christian Science Monitor and especially to this passage:-

A feudal society in which women are still largely treated as property and literacy hovers below 10 percent in rural areas does not magically shortcut 400 years of political development and morph into a democracy in a decade. The current government of Afghanistan's claim to legitimacy is based entirely on a legal source – winning an election. Yet this has no historical basis for legitimising Afghan rule. The winner of today's election will largely be seen as illegitimate because he is elected.

The tragic mistake, which we warned against, was in eliminating the Afghan monarchy from a ceremonial role in the new Afghan Constitution. Nearly two thirds of the delegates to the loya jirga in 2002 signed a petition to make the aging King Zaher Shah the interim head of state, and only massive US interference behind the scenes in the form of bribes, secret deals, and arm twisting got the US-backed candidate for the job, Hamid Karzai, installed instead.

The same US and UN policymakers then rode shotgun over a constitutional process that eliminated the monarchy entirely. This was the Afghan equivalent of the 1964 Diem Coup in Vietnam: afterward, there was no possibility of creating a stable secular government. While an Afghan king could have conferred legitimacy on an elected leader in Afghanistan, without one, an elected president is on a one-legged stool."


The two authors of that piece knew what they were talking about. There is soon to be another "loya jirga" in Afghanistan and it is, perhaps, high time for the Obama administration and its allies to bite the bullet and consign Karzai to the dustbin of history (or, perhaps, a fellowship at the the American Enterprise Institute vice David Frum).

We owe it to our young men and women in harm's way, as well as to the long suffering people of Afghanistan, to ensure that the civil power we are there to assist is one worthy of support.
 

"Go ahead and judge all you want. Just don't impose your judgment on others. Again, it doesn't follow that, because you judge someone else to be immoral, it is moral to invade his country."

Wouldn't that depend rather critically on the actual content of your moral theory? It might, after all, tell you precisely that.
 

tomdispatch.com has some recent essays on the general topic of this and related posts by Brian, including:

Michael T. Klare's "China's Global Shopping Spree. Is the World's Future Resource Map Titling East?"

that addresses not only oil but other valuable resources in limited supply. America's role in the Greater Middle East focuses to great extent on oil. China is taking advantage of the world's economic crises by looking to its future by means of contractual arrangements, not by military means. Of course, China might be required to use military means in the future to protect its contracts.

I think I noted in a comment on an earlier post of Brian's Alfred W. McCoy's "Can Anyone Pacify the World's Number One Narco State? The Opium Wars in Afghanistan" also available at tomdispatch.com.

What kind of a mix can be expected from oil and drugs?
 

Wecome back to Mourad who says:

" ... and it is, perhaps, high time for the Obama administration and its allies to bite the bullet and consign Karzai to the dustbin of history (or, perhaps, a fellowship at the the American Enterprise Institute vice David Frum)."

and with whom I agree on his proposed consignment, as I cannot trust a man who wears a cape (not even Superman). If Peter Sellers were alive, he could play Karzai in a sequel to "The Mouse That Roared" titled "An Afghan May Not Be Comforting."
 

it doesn't follow that, because you judge someone else to be immoral, it is moral to invade his country.

Wouldn't that depend rather critically on the actual content of your moral theory? It might, after all, tell you precisely that.


Yes, of course. And it is possible that, in some circumstances, it might be moral to invade another nation. But you have to make the case on the basis of something stronger than, "I think that my moral system is better than theirs," assuming, hypothetically, that that was Bush's motivation.
 

Brett wrote:-

"If the Arab world can't conquer little Israel, (And the support we give Israel is dwarfed by the petro-dollars flowing to it's foes.) what hope would an Arab army have of reaching my front door?"

Little Israel" is certainly not poor little Israel".
Mitchell Bard's article on the Jewish Virtual Library U.S. Aid To Israel (updated to 2010) gives some idea of the official figures. The
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs
thinks the global total of US direct aid to Israel up to 2008 was just under US$114 billions.

There are of course many in the USA who consider that largesse to have been well-spent, but others think the cumulative effect has been the fulfillment of the warning in George Washington's Farewell Address to the Nation:-

So likewise, a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest, in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter, without adequate inducement or justification...."

As The Jewish Voice for Peace points out, the exorbitant US funding is harmful to the Palestinians, to the USA and to Israel:-

"In addition to the devastation it visits on Palestinians, the occupation threatens the democratic values Israel seeks to uphold. Massive military aid promotes militarism, which has led to a reliance on military, rather than diplomatic means to work for a solution to this ongoing conflict. More and more Israelis question the moral decay that accompanies the criminal actions of the military and the dehumanization of the Palestinian people. A peace rally at the height of Israel's reoccupation of the main towns of the West Bank in April 2002 drew 15,000 protesters in Tel Aviv. Currently nearly 1,200 Israeli army reservists refuse to serve in the Occupied Territories because the occupation corrupts Israeli society and endangers, rather than enhances, the security of Israelis."

I am aware that the Israel-Palestine issue is the third rail of both US politics and US blogs - but this BBC article Fear and Foreboding in the Middle East makes for uncomfortable reading for reasonable people of all persuasions.

A conflagration at this juncture could easily spill over into, say, Israel-Iran-Saudi Arabia and lead to the closure of the Straits of Hormuz - and Brett might not be pleased to learn what that would do to the price of crude in a recession.
 

The New York Times reports today that President Karzai expressed angry defiance in response to Obama's lecture about reducing corruption.

Here's the money line in the report: "As for American, British and other NATO troops now fighting the anti-government Taliban insurgents, Mr. Karzai said 'there is a thin curtain between invasion and cooperation-assistance.'"


It must be infuriating for foreign leaders to be lectured about corruption from an American President who operates a Trillion dollar slush fund (TARP and the Porkulus) he has used to pay off political supporters and then rams through Obamacare in secret using every sleazy payoff and logrolling technique under the sun against the very vocal objections of his constituents.

When Obama told Kharzai that his corruption was causing an insurrection among his people, Kharzai would have been forgiven for retorting: "Mr. President, I do not have hundreds of thousands of my countrymen protesting my policies in the streets. Have you seen your poll numbers recently?"
 

I suppose I'd say something to the effect that they should deal with the beam in their own eye, before addressing the mote in mine.


And you don't think they're doing the same thing over there?


Over their cooling bodies, of course. One must understand when it's time for talk, and when it's time for action.

Of course. So, if you were in their place, there is no chance that Iraq Disaster would ever succeed?

Bartbuster, the thing about actually HAVING a moral system, as opposed to merely discussing one, is that it is inherent that, while acknowledging that other people might have different ones, you still judge their actions by your own. If you can't bring yourself to do that, you don't really have a moral system, you've just got one you like to talk about. That's the problem with moral relativism.

The only moral system you appear to HAVE is "might makes right".

As it is, we don't have to worry about your hypothetical, Arab culture is severely dysfunctional, only the fact that we pump trillions of dollars of our own wealth into their societies allows them to sustain something that looks like a modern society. As soon as the oil runs out, we'll stop supporting them, and they'll collapse back into barbarism. It's not like they've done much to leverage that wealth into a sustainable economy which will endure longer than the oil.

Your racism is duly noted.
 

When Obama told Kharzai that his corruption was causing an insurrection among his people, Kharzai would have been forgiven for retorting: "Mr. President, I do not have hundreds of thousands of my countrymen protesting my policies in the streets. Have you seen your poll numbers recently?"

You are not seriously comparing the US politics to the situation in Afghanistan, are you?

Personally, I'd find it an odd situation if there WEREN'T thousands of protesters in the streets of America. And numbers of protesters mean nothing--as those of us who protested the Iraq War found out.

For example, compare Saturday March 20 to Sunday March 21 in Washington DC. More protesters came out to push for immigration reform on Sunday than attended the Tea Party event on Saturday.

So should the Obama in your fictional conversation respond: "Okay, you work on fixing corruption, and I'll work on giving 12 million people full citizenship"? Would that ameliorate the "terrible" poll situation he's in where more people still approve of his job performance than disapprove?
 

"Your racism is duly noted."

I criticize their culture, and that makes me a "racist"? What, do you think culture is genetically determined, or something?

Find another epithet, you people have worn that one completely out, nobody even blinks anymore when you use it.
 

Brian continues to avoid saying just what he thinks Obama should do, and what the most likely results would be. It's like complaining bitterly about the ills of democracy. Yes, of course it's terrible. What's the better course you want to pursue, and would it really be better? Let's examine both sides, not only one.

Mourad has a suggestion, to dump Karzai through a loya jirga. I'm not sure that's practical, or how the loya jirga relates to the Afghan constitution, but it's something a bit more concrete than mere complaints, at least.
 

I criticize their culture

# posted by Brett : 1:40 PM


Brett, adding the word "culture" when you make racist comments about Arabs doesn't make the comments any less racist.

In any case, have you finally realized that if you would fight when a foreign army shows up here, it seems likely that the Iraqis and Afghans are going to keep fighting while our army is over there?
 

Bartbuster, adding the word "racist" when I make disparaging remarks about Arab culture doesn't make my remarks any more racist.

Give it over, nobody cares when liberals call somebody a "racist" anymore. You've worn the word completely out.
 

rac·ism (rszm) n.
1. The belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others.
2. Discrimination or prejudice based on race.


Brett said

Arab culture is severely dysfunctional, only the fact that we pump trillions of dollars of our own wealth into their societies allows them to sustain something that looks like a modern society. As soon as the oil runs out, we'll stop supporting them, and they'll collapse back into barbarism.
 

Brett, what exactly is "Arab culture", other than a generalization based n race?
 

This comment has been removed by the author.
 

"Brett, what exactly is "Arab culture", other than a generalization based n race?"

Well, duh, it's a generalization based on culture. They're not the same thing.
 

Well, duh, it's a generalization based on culture. They're not the same thing.
# posted by Brett : 5:06 PM


OK, it's based on culture. You're not a racist. You're a bigot.

(trust me, everyone who read this knows you're a racist)
 

Would you two cut it out and stick to the subject of Brian's posting, rather than anyone's personal foibles?
 

The dilemma that is Afghanistan is well reflected in Doyle McManus' LATimes OpEd today (4/4/10) titled/subtitled:

"The Kandahar gambit. Afghanistan's future, and U.S. hopes for success, probably hinge on a coming offensive in the Taliban stronghold."

While McManus does not describe this as a dilemma, it doesn't take much reading between the lines and having a little knowledge of Afghanistan's history, of our ongoing ventures in Irag that continue to be problematic and of our past adventures in Vietnam (not to mention the Philippines) to understand the time consuming difficulties with nation building. Eventually the U.S. (and NATO) will leave; the questions are when and what will we leave behind? Perhaps the U.S. should declare victory and leave, as once was suggested about our Vietnam dilemma. But Pres. Obama made this difficult with his recent visit to Afghanistan with his statement that the U.S. does not quit. Nixon had a secret plan for getting out of Vietnam that helped him get elected in 1968. While we know what actually happened in Vietnam with the advice of Kissinger, we never did know his secret plan, if it existed. But Nixon did get his second term - at least in part. And he didn't ruin the country - but he came awfully close. And Vietnam did not collapse with the U.S.'s withdrawal. Perhaps we should empirically review how empires decline.
 

Sanpete:-

A "loya jirga" is the Afghan equivalent of the "Great Council" of England and other similar institutions in feudal, tribal or monarchical societies. It is an assembly of the tribal elders, the great landowners and the major religious leaders. In Afghanistan the institution was formalised by the then Amir of Kabul, Abd al-Rahman Khan (1880-1901).

When the 1923 constitution was proclaimed by King Amanullah ( see translated text), it was ratified (and, indeed, amended) by two meetings of the "great and the good" of the day in loya jirga assembled.

The transitional government of 2002-04, and the constitution of 2004 were legitimised by loya jirga meetings and thus these councils do have institutional validity.

If one looks at the history of Afghanistan from Alexander the Great to the present day (a potted version is available on the Afghanland History Page one will see that there was a monarchy from Ahmad Shah Durrani in 1747 to Mohammed Zahir Shah in 1973 and there were substantial periods of progress in modern times albeit often sabotaged by great power (British and Russian) interference.

The last king, Mohammed Zahir Shah was much loved and his dynasty could probably have been restored. - a majority of the 2002 loya jirga wanted him as monarch - see the account of his 2002 return to Afghanistan in 2002 and death in 2007 on Wikipedia

The Afghans are familiar with constitutional monarchy and it is probably still the best bet for ultimate stability.

Reverting (as Henry counsels) to the subject matter of Professor Tamanaha's post, it is entirely unsurprising that the population of Afghanistan resents a foreign military presence.

When the Romans decided to impose their hegemony on Britain in 43 AD, they were not welcomed with open arms and the Anglo-Saxons did not think much of the Norman Conquest in 1066 AD. When one visits the war graves at the Bayeux there is a Memorial to the 1,800 British and Dominion soldiers who fell in the 1944 Battle of Normandy which bears a wry inscription:

"NOS A GULIELMO VICTI VICTORIS PATRIAM LIBERAVIMUS" [We, those conquered by William, have liberated the land of our Conqueror].

The Afghans have an even longer history of invasions than we British do - their first major invasion was that of Alexander the Great (and to this day mothers tell naughty children that if they don't behave "Sikander's soldiers will come and take you away".

The degree of resentment is, of course a function of how a foreign occupier behaves. General McChrystal is well aware of the problem: see this report on TPM: Gen. McChrystal: We've Shot 'An Amazing Number Of People' Who Were Not Threats

If, and only if, the present operations permit good governance, order and security to be re-established and day to day life to improve will the resentment diminish ad that depends both on foreign civilian support and a competent and non-corrupt local administration. That's a tall order - which is not to say that it should not be the objective.
 

Shag, what do you think the risks and most likely outcomes would be in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and with Al Qaeda, if we declared victory and left anytime soon? Unlike with Vietnam, we've had experience with Taliban rule in Afghanistan, and it was bad for them and us.
 

Mourad, I gather action through a loya jirga would be outside the bounds of the current constitution. That doesn't mean it wouldn't have cultural validity, but it would require setting aside the constitution and, if there would be a monarchy, writing a new one, no small thing. The US was in a stronger position to direct the process the last time. Is there reason to believe that agreement could be reached now, and that there is currently a more suitable candidate than Karzai to rule?

I think we're going to be stuck with Karzai, for better and worse, maybe mostly worse. While his corruption will offend Afghanis, it appears they care even more at the moment about security and other basic needs, something Karzai doesn't have to deliver personally. He has no particular talent for governing, it seems, but we'll probably have to try to work with him, and around him, anyway. Until the next election.
 

Sanpete:-

May I take it that you're an American? I ask because it seems you manifest that quaint US form of ancestor-worship: undue reverence for a written constitution.

Average life expectancy in Afghanistan is just 44 years. The literacy rate is just 28%. 78% of the population is engaged in subsistence agriculture. How many Afghans do you think either know or care about the preset Afghan constitution?

In the Ottoman Empire the base unit was the "Mahalle", a village or a neighbourhood. This is the intersection between the private family sphere and the public sphere with its essential components being - (i) the Muhtar (village headman) and his Mutarlik (office), (ii) the local mosque and (iii) the local coffee shop. This is where the life cycle rituals play out: and where the religious ceremonies, conflict resolutions and dealings with resources and solidarity take place. So too, in Afghanistan.

For the average Afghan, what matters are who runs his village and who are the elders of his tribe or clan. For him, the decisions of a loya jirga will trump a constitution - not vice versa - but his main concern will still be to get along with his headman and his elders who effectively control his very survival.

In August 2009, Al Jazeera reported:-

"In 2001, Zahir Shah proposed an emergency Loya Jirga, or national assembly, which was used as a framework for the Bonn Agreement that paved the way for the establishment of a post-Taliban government. He endorsed the candidacy of the former mujahideen Hamid Karzai as president, and was then given the honorific title "father of the nation", before being forsaken by the US government and left to live out the rest of his years in the heavily fortified and isolated Arg Presidential Palace.

"Simply put, whatever criticism there is on the details of the Bonn Agreement, without His Majesty Zahir Shah, the accord would not have happened," says Helena Malikyar, an expert on the history of state building in Afghanistan. "The UN and the Americans saw the Northern Alliance as their main interlocutor, but needed the legitimacy and the broad national acceptance that only Zahir Shah's name could bring to the new regime," Malikyar, who also worked on Zahir Shah's emergency Loya Jirga initiative in 2001, says.

She points out that when the emergency Loya Jirga was eventually convened in Kabul in June 2002, it was said that approximately 90 per cent of the nation's delegates were going to vote for the restoration of monarchy under Zahir Shah. Many believe that the former king then announced his lack of interest in holding executive power and proposed Karzai as his choice for the job as a result of considerable international pressure. "The king, thus, became the king maker," notes Malikyar.
...
But Nadir Naim, a grandson of Zahir Shah, denies that tribal considerations have influenced the family to favour one candidate over another."There has existed a strong principal and indoctrination from our elders to look at all Afghans as equals and not to favour one tribe over another," says Naim, who returned to Afghanistan in 2002 after 25 years of exile in the UK to serve as Zahir Shah's private secretary. "I think we - especially members of my family - need to look at who would be a better leader for the next five years in Afghanistan."


For many of the elites in Afghanistan, the experiment with presidential government has failed. A return to a parliamentary system would accord better with the Afghan past - and a parliamentary system can accommodate a constitutional monarchy which also fits into Afghan history.
 

Mourad, the issue isn't reverence for a written constitution, it's the difficulty of reaching agreement about a better replacement for one. The average Afghani may not know of or care about it, but those running the country, receiving foreign aid, commanding the military, and so on will have to be selected and governed by some legal structure beyond village leaders, mosques and coffee shops. A parliamentary system might be fine, if it can be effective, but there has to be agreement reached about replacing Karzai, and about what and who to replace him with. Is there a good ground for that agreement? Is there a monarch in waiting who is suitable? Karzai and his supporters might quite reasonably object, so there would have to be an unusually high degree of accord among everyone else, and there would still be a risk of schism.

Yes, I'm a USian.
 

Sanpete:-

A nation can operate perfectly effectively without any written constitution at all. The UK is a case in point. In any country which has a monarchical tradition, a change of the head of state and therefore of the executive is remarkably easy to put into effect if there is the political will to do so. Think of the restoration of Charles II or the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

Afghanistan has such a tradition and a culture which is willing to look on a monarch as "Baba-el-Milli" [father of the nation]. Were a Loya Jirga to offer the monarchy (or indeed the presidency) to a person willing to accept that burden and he were to accept, then there is, ipso facto, an interim constitutional settlement. The 1923 Constitution could be resumed with or without amendments, and the existing parliament could continue.

All that is necessary is to have the whole confirmed by a Loya Jirga and preferably by a plebiscite at the same time as the presently scheduled elections next September.

In other words, if Karzai has to go, the necessary drafting to give effect to the change is child's play for any competent legislative draftsman.

The real problem is that the elites who are in the parliament and who might provide a suitable replacement head of state, whether as monarch or president, might want to go faster with reforms than the tribal elders and clergy wish. That is what happened to King Amanullah in the 1920's. See this Article on King Amanullah's Reforms.

One person who might be a possible choice for head of state is Prince Abdul Ali Seraj (a grandson of King Habibullah and nephew of King Amamullah) who was one of the candidates for the presidency in 2009. See Afghanistan’s Tribal choice for President, Prince Abdul Ali Seraj There are also possible names among the family of his late Majesty King Mohammed Zahir Shah.

My whole point is that Afghanistan might work better with a head of state who stays above party politics (who reigns but does not rule). Prime ministers are easier to boot out than heads of state and there is considerable support in Afghanistan for a parliamentary rather than a presidential system.
 

Sanpete, what do you think the risks and most likely outcomes would be in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and with Al Qaeda, if we continue on the present course and don't leave anytime soon? While unlike with Vietnam, we've had experience with Taliban rule in Afghanistan, and it was bad for them and us, how will the present course make it better for them and us?

I've turned around the questions you asked of me to which I don't have answers. Perhaps there are no rational answers. But what are the answers to the current course that I pose? How long might the current course take? How much will it cost in fisc and lives of all involved? Is there light at the end of the tunnel, assuming there is a tunnel rather than a deep, deeper hole? Perhaps the Afghan poppy crops will serve to decorate multiple Flanders Fields with the current course in lieu of conversion to drugs. For every action taken by the US/NATO forces, there is a reaction by the Taliban and now Karzai, requiring revised US/NATO action, and further reaction ad nauseam. If Sen. Morse's advice had been heeded, how many lives might have been saved in Vietnam?
 

I had not noted Brian's "Sunday update" when I posted my recent comment. After reading the link, a fortiori my comment.
 

Shag,

It's not so much the "Sunday update" story to which Professor Tamanaha referred which is disturbing, but this one: -

NYT - U.S. Admits Role in killing of Afghan Women
Huffington Post - U.S. and Allied Forces: We Killed Those Pregnant Afghan Women After All

Innocent people do get killed in the kind of operations being conducted in Afghanistan. Even the most experienced troops will make errors of judgment (or worse) which lead to fatalities - in which case there is only one thing to do: admit the mistake, apologise profusely and publicly, pay compensation - and then get on with the job. If detected, a cover-up is like manna from heaven for the terrorists and for one's political opponents.

But I do agree with what Peter Galbraith is reported to have said in the NWT report to which Professor Tamanaha refers: Counter-insurgency requires a credible partner".

Karzai is not that partner and I repeat that this is hardly surprising given who selected him: see this NYT piece: Zalmay Khalilzad . Karzai was a nobody when Khalilzad plucked him from obscurity for his own purposes

But what the former Bush Administration "viceroy" gave, can be taken away. One should ever heed those who cry TINA (There is No Alternative) about a particular office-holder. There always is.
 

Mourad, thanks for the info. As I said before, the issue isn't that they need a written constitution. They need something they can agree on.

I gather Ali Seraj withdrew from the 2009 election and supported Karzai, which would put him in a difficult position were he to stand in support of getting rid of him so soon afterwards. I assume he withdrew in part because he knew he was unlikely to win, which raises questions about the degree of popular support for him. You say there is support for a constitutional monarchy in Afghanistan. Is there some substantial movement there to make such a change by means of a loya jirga? I don't have any objection to your idea that Afghanistan might work better with a constitutional monarch and parliament. It's getting there from here that is the problem.

Even if there were enough agreement to bring it about, changing the form of government to get rid of a recently elected head of state, which is to override the recent election and a system agreed on just a few years ago, raises issues of instability and abuse and is bound to be resisted by those currently in power, quite possibly (and reasonably) by force. The problems Karzai represents are serious, but your proposed solution may be even more problematic.

That's not intended to conclude it's definitely unworkable, but the difficulties appear severe.
 

Shag, the risks of the current course have been outlined by Brian and others. What hasn't been outlined by them are any risks of doing anything else. Suppose we withdrew our military from the region, as Brian seems to favor. An obvious risk and most likely outcome is that there will be a bloody civil war resulting in the return of the Taliban to power, with all the problems that produced before for Afghanistan and us, plus some new ones pointed out by mls in the other thread. The risk of further instability in Pakistan would also increase, a matter made more serious by their possession of nuclear and other dangerous weapons. My point is that the risks of all the alternatives in question need to be considered, not only those of one. That's the rational way to make decisions.

The most likely outcomes of the current course are partial success or abject failure. Failure would bring the same problems mentioned in connection with withdrawal. But it's still reasonably possible that Obama's plan will work as intended to a degree sufficient to lead eventually to a stable Afghanistan without a haven for Al Qaeda. I and others have given reasons in the other thread to think the advantages of that would outweigh the disadvantages caused by the means of achieving it. Given the likely outcomes of the alternatives, Obama seems to have chosen the least bad of the available options.
 

All of the alternatives may suck, whether equally or unequally. Which is the least bad may be in the eye of the beholder. Consider what military "victory" has looked like post-WW II. I have no confidence in the "expertise" expressed in this or the preceding related post that:

" ... it's still reasonably possible that Obama's plan will work as intended to a degree sufficient to lead eventually to a stable Afghanistan without a haven for Al Qaeda."

The situation on the ground will continue to change such that the plan will require revision and then further revision after reactions, ad nauseam. And events may occur outside of the Greater Middle East that may require a change in course. Without a draft, the status quo is the easier political course. Any volunteers who believe in the plan out there?
 

Excellent comments, Mourad. First, in evaluating a pullout, it does not follow that AQ would find a safehaven. AQ was not operating out of ungoverned zones a la Yemen during 9/11. If a pullout results in Taliban control of Afghanistan, AND the Taliban would be willing to return to the status quo ante re AQ, only then does it follow that a withdrawal poses major security risk to the U.S. Who has demonstrated that both of the conditions follow?
Second, the problem of governance is not one of ideological or sectarian strife, such as Northern Ireland. Discussion of presidential vs parliamentary models doesn't get to the heart of the issues, which, as I see them, lie in two related arenas. First, as you mentioned, there is a conflict between the urban elites and the tribal elements that echoes the conflict between King John and the nobility. The tribal forms don't simply represent customary Afghan politics, they represent a barrier to the centralization of power that was a goal of the 20th century monarchy and elites. This is germane, because acceding to the 'Afghan forms,' while the path of least resistance, acknowledges that changing the balance of power between Kabul and the hinterlands is beyond the capabilities or scope of the mission. Jettisoning Karzai in a loya jirga-based rewickering is a valid option, and one that gets immediate buy-in from the warlords and tribal leaders, but yields a low probability of effective central power. On the other hand, committing the U.S. to effective central government would entail an imposition of an alien mindset, which is achievable but very expensive. I see no 'middle-ground' option that allows us to install an effective Afghan central government without imposing basic changes; while you are spot on about the history of the monarchy, a point you haven't emphasized is that neither the monarchy nor the elites managed to achieve effective long-term central authority.
The second related arena refers to the nature of the constituencies in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is split by deep ethnic and linguistic divides, and there are no politicians that I can think of with broad appeal across those lines. The bases of the power players lie in tribal roots, except for Karzai, whose constituency is in effect the U.S. and who brought no independent power base to the table. (Hence Sanpete's comment on Karzai's response to his removal from power was a bit puzzling, as Karzai has no real native power base.) In the past, the only long-term method of dealing with the ethnicity issue has been the institution of the monarchy, as you alluded to previously. The monarchy, though, operated in an environment of sufficiently devolved power that this amounted to acceding to an extremely federated sort of state. (In terms of his suitability as a potential monarch, Abdul Ali Seraj's performance in previous polls and his support or lack thereof of Karzai is irrelevant.)
Your idea of installing a monarch is interesting, and would seem to help with the ethnicity issues, but how would you overcome tribal resistance to Kabul's authority?
 

I highly recommend reading registan.net if you're interested in Afghanistan. Best blog on Afghanistan out there, if you ask me (and no, I'm not associated with it in any way beyond being a reader).

Mourad, check out what Josh Faust has to say about a "loya jirga" as the answer to all our problems.
 

Shag, do you believe it has been established that Afghanistan cannot be stabilized enough to keep the Taliban from taking over and offering a haven to Al Qaeda? That would be a strong claim, and so it should rest on strong, fairly conclusive evidence. If we don't have such evidence, then the alternative remains a reasonable possibility.

There are a lot of volunteers who believe in Obama's plan, of course.
 

Hiernonymous

"Who has demonstrated that both of the conditions follow?"

The important point isn't that it's been demonstrated they'll follow but that they're substantial risks. A Taliban victory is likely for more or less the same reasons it happened before. Their inviting Al Qaeda back isn't a foregone conclusion, but it's a substantial risk, for he same reasons as before.

Of course Karzai has some power base beyond US support. He has his own men in some positions of importance, and he received the most votes in the last election for a reason (or collection of reasons). The ethnic power bases are fragmented, and many of them would prefer to support Karzai than make their ethnic competitors stronger.

"In terms of his suitability as a potential monarch, Abdul Ali Seraj's performance in previous polls and his support or lack thereof of Karzai is irrelevant."

What previous polls has Ali Seraj participated in? I already explained the relevance of his support for Karzai. You may mean you don't think it would be a substantial barrier to his selection, which may be true if fickleness isn't an issue in a king.
 

Perhaps Sanpete is ready to volunteer and put his a__ on the line in Afghanistan, but I'm not (even if I were much younger than my 79 years).

Sanpete asks:

"Shag, do you believe it has been established that Afghanistan cannot be stabilized enough to keep the Taliban from taking over and offering a haven to Al Qaeda?" following up with this:

"That would be a strong claim, and so it should rest on strong, fairly conclusive evidence. If we don't have such evidence, then the alternative remains a reasonable possibility."

I'm not in a position to establish such stabilization. But it would also be a strong claim that Afghanistan can be stabilized enough to keep the Taliban from taking over and offering a haven to al Queda, which seems to be Sanpete's position. And so it should rest on strong, fairly conclusive evidence. If Sanpete doesn't have such evidence, then my alternative remains a reasonable possibility.

Do you want to continue to play this game of mirror image? Or just disagree? I trust it won't interfere with your volunteering.
 

The important point isn't that it's been demonstrated they'll follow but that they're substantial risks. A Taliban victory is likely for more or less the same reasons it happened before. Their inviting Al Qaeda back isn't a foregone conclusion, but it's a substantial risk, for he same reasons as before.

Falling back on an old Santayana tune is not the same as a "comprehensive analysis of actual facts."
 

Shag, it's not a mirror image. I claim there is a reasonable possibility that Afghanistan can be stabilized, not that we can definitely accomplish it. It's a relatively weak claim, based on broad precedents and lack of strong evidence against it.

You may be confusing rational argument with physical courage!

PMS_CC

"Falling back on an old Santayana tune is not the same as a "comprehensive analysis of actual facts.""

That's true, as we can learn from history.
 

That's true, as we can learn from history.

Nifty. Then I suggest you pay close attention to Mourad's posts, as his account of the historical facts seems a great deal more detailed than yours does.
 

And yours, so let's be sure to both pay attention so as not to miss a detail.
 

Mourad, many thanks. It is good to hear from someone who how can inform us how certain realities shape what is possible. And what is not. Thank you.
 

Sanpete said: "Of course Karzai has some power base beyond US support. He has his own men in some positions of importance, and he received the most votes in the last election for a reason (or collection of reasons)."

Who did you have in mind? What reason or collection of reasons did you have in mind? Which of either (the men you have in mind, or the reasons for receiving votes) would still exist in the absence of foreign support?

"The ethnic power bases are fragmented, and many of them would prefer to support Karzai than make their ethnic competitors stronger."

Which are fragmented, and in what sense? Which ethnic competitors that frighten them would become stronger if Karzai were gone?


"Their inviting Al Qaeda back isn't a foregone conclusion, but it's a substantial risk, for he same reasons as before."

For what reasons were they invited in before?

"You may mean you don't think it would be a substantial barrier to his selection, which may be true if fickleness isn't an issue in a king."

Fickleness is a trait considered in the selection of romantic partners, not kings. The factors you mentioned might be relevant to considering him as a candidate for president or prime minister, but have nothing to do with his suitability to be a monarch. I doubt that Prince Charles would ever win an elected seat in Great Britain, but that would be irrelevant to his legitimacy as king. For a more instructive historical example, you might consider the Anglo-Dutch Wars, the involvement of the British in the office of Stadtholder, and the eventual fate of the target of much of their interference, William of Orange.
 

Hiernonymous, the reasons I have in mind are the ones I mentioned, that Karzai has established a base among the powerful, and the ethnic factions are fragmented with some preferring to support him rather than strengthening their own more immediate rivals. Which people and groups those are doesn't matter here. It's enough to know, for example, that Karzai was supported in the election last year by many national and local government officials from various ethnic factions because of their reliance on him for their own power, and that the opposition couldn't unite in support of one candidate to oppose him in large part because of their own divisions, largely along ethnic lines. Such factors would also apply at a loya jirga.

Karzai's power as just described depends on foreign support for the government, not for him personally over any legitimate rivals who would challenge him in an election or loya jirga. As long as the institution of the government retains foreign support, he will retain the power base that goes with it. For foreign governments to back a move to replace Karzai in the manner Mourad wants would amount to renouncing the legal basis for the government, including the election. Because of that cost, there would have to be a securely established and legitimate Afghan movement that could be counted on to succeed in replacing Karzai with someone or something better before it would be wise for the foreign governments to back such an idea.

"For what reasons were they invited in before?"

I expect you know, assuming you've been honest about your knowledge of the subject. If you have some objection to what I said, or can't follow the widely held view I share, please express your concern more directly.

Choosing a monarch because of some suitability for the office, which is what Mourad has in mind, does presumably include considerations of character.
 

Sanpete claims:

" ... there is a reasonable possibility that Afghanistan can be stabilized, not that we can definitely accomplish it. It's a relatively weak claim, based on broad precedents and lack of strong evidence against it."

There is no consistency in his claim. Where is the strong evidence for his claim? Consider the deliberations over months by Pres. Obama in deciding upon his course of action in Afghanistan. His decision was not a slam dunk and contained reservations for results on the ground failing which withdrawal would be considered. Perhaps Obama's decision was based on a preponderance of the evidence he considered. But surely there was reasonable doubt as to success. There is no strong evidence to support the current course of action. Sanpete tries to shift the burden of proof by continuing to insist that those who object to the current course present "strong evidence" - whatever that is - that the present course will not succeed. This was the military's approach during Vietnam. But the evidence keeps piling up that the present course of action may not work. Sanpete says there is a "reasonable possibility" of success as he defines it (stabilization) but then hedges with "not that we can definitely accomplish it." He even concedes his is a "weak claim" but insists that naysayers provide "strong evidence" against it." I call this blowing hot and cold at the same time, not rational argument on his part. The case is not closed on the evidence, as events on the ground continue to provide more and more problems with the present course of action. Granted, I don't have a solution to this mess and admittedly am not an expert on this subject. But as the late Sen. Gene McCarthy said years back, you don't have to be a shoemaker to know the shoe hurts. And the hurt goes on.
 

Thank you, jpk, for your kind words. As Hieronymous rightly points out, there are many factors which make Afghanistan an inherently unstable country and which militate against any central government achieving effective control. Tribal issues in particular have always made for weakness in the conduct of affairs.

One of the nefarious consequences of our (British) involvement in Afghanistan was the Durand Line Agreement of 1893 which created a border across the tribal lands of the Pashtuns dividing them between Afghanistan and what was then British India.

Pakistan now claims and administers (after a fashion) the North West Frontier provinces and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, but the Afghan-Pak border is still disputed and has given rise to the Pashtunistan Issue - still a problem today.

See also - see my many posts in October 2009 on this previous thread. I concluded that the Reagan proxy war with the Soviet Union provides a good example of the law of unintended consequences in that some survivors of the volunteer Mujahiddin (recruited throughout the Muslim world), by then fully indoctrinated and battle-hardened salafist terrorists, remained in Afghanistan to plot against the corrupt Arab régimes they disliked and against the USA as principal backer of such régimes, while others returned to their home countries to seek to bring about salafist régimes by use of terrorist tactics (Algeria being a good case in point).

I think it was appalling that Afghanistan was left to fester in favour of the wholly misbegotten Bush/Blair Enterprise of Iraq™- making the Afghanistan task that much harder today.

In October 2009, I said that I liked what I had seen of the McChrystal plans, but I also said:

"For me the concern is that without greatly increased numbers and the increased legitimacy which could come from wider participation, including contingents of muslims and a police presence, without a real training program, without [probably] a change of government, the mission will simply muddle on relying overmuch on artillery and air power which is what is most resented."

Essentially for those same reasons, I think success is still very far from guaranteed. But I repeat what I said last October: "And for the record, the reason we need to restore law and order and build a civil society is because we (principally the USA) played a very large part in creating the mess in the first place. It is a moral obligation - reparations if you will - for the misconduct going back to the Reagan presidency."

I think this is known in the USA as "The Pottery Barn" principle.
 

Perhaps there is a statute of limitations on the enforcement of the Pottery Barn principle. But prior to creation of the mess in Afghanistan, there were many other messes created (domestically and internationally) that have not been satisfactorily fixed. And there have been post-Reagan messes created as well. Which of the moral obligations involved should have priority?
 

I thought it in 1991 and I think it today ... if only we didn't make such messes that we "had to clean up." But, over time, I guess someone has to get a bit philosophical.

A bit related, perhaps this is something that warrants coverage.

It has been discussed a bit in comments and is a major debate. NPR, Democracy Now and others also have discussed the matter. And, it is a major tool used in in the area.
 

Shag, I don't claim strong evidence for the claim you're concerned about. You are quite right that there is (very) reasonable doubt that Obama's plan will work.

I haven't insisted that anyone provide strong evidence. I've simply pointed out that in its absence the possibility of the alternative remains.

I don't think the reasons to be in Vietnam were ever as strong as those to be in Afghanistan, so different standards as to what risks were called for applied there. Obama's plan is high-risk, but the alternatives appear to present even higher risks.
 

Sanpete said: "that Karzai has established a base among the powerful, and the ethnic factions are fragmented with some preferring to support him rather than strengthening their own more immediate rivals. Which people and groups those are doesn't matter here."
Of course it matters; you've asserted a 'power base among the powerful,' and I am trying to establish what and who you mean by that. My impression of Karzai's 'base of support' is that it is largely an ephemeral function of his ability to distribute American funds, and has been since the get-go. If the source of that funding dries up, so does his ability to buy temporary cooperation - and what and who does he fall back on as his power base? His vice presidents? Fahim Khan could be back in front of a Tajik militia in a heartbeat; Khalili, too, could once again take up open command of his Hezara militias. Both represent threats to, not support for, Karzai in a power struggle. His ministers? Wardak appears to be very committed to the ANA, but there's no indication of deep personal loyalties to Karzai, and no need for them - Wardak's power base and credibility go back to his credentials as a prominent Pashtu Mujahid. Ismail Khan? He's already been in armed combat against Karzai, and his Tajik power base is very much intact. Ah - Ahmed Wali Karzai - the cash flow from his drug operations provide him some independence of action. All have strong power bases that are not dependent on their government positions - in fact, many of them were put into their government positions to give them something to do other than mobilizing and using those power bases - and only Wardak of that crowd appears, based on his public comments, to put his new position over his previous ties. Which of these would support Karzai out of fear of others?

I don't understand how you can assert that 'which people and groups those are doesn't matter here. If they exist, naming some of them is not an unreasonable request. Nor have I read anything that indicates that traditional ethnic associations are breaking down in Afghanistan. In the latest elections, an ethnic Pashtu stood for president in a country that is majority Pashtu, used the massive funds made available to him by the West to engage in what is widely seen in his country as an absurdly corrupt and fraudulent election, still had to stand a runoff against Abdullah, and was saved from that by Abdullah's refusal to participate, as his demands for transparency were not being met. Using this election as a basis for drawing conclusions about Karzai's broad basis of cross-ethnic support is suspect at best, and something that requires a bit more in the way of specifics on your part.

"As long as the institution of the government retains foreign support, he will retain the power base that goes with it."
The context of the conversation was the removal of Karzai from power and changing the form of the government. His 'power base,' as you seem to be tacitly acknowledging here, is the West.
 

Sanpete said:
"I expect you know, assuming you've been honest about your knowledge of the subject. If you have some objection to what I said, or can't follow the widely held view I share, please express your concern more directly."

My concern is that you've made an argument that AQ would be invited in for the same reasons they were before. I've asked you what those reasons are. I know why I think they were invited in, but I don't know why YOU think they were. Until you elaborate on that, it's difficult to evaluate the extent to which those reasons, and the conditions in which those reasons might prevail, would still exist. As for how widely held your view is, thus far it has been expressed in such generalities that I'm not sure who else shares it. At any rate, you noted to Shag "You may be confusing rational argument with physical courage!" Whatever your command of the situation in Afghanistan, it's clear that you've studied logic and philosophy; you should know better than to deflect a request for an elaboration of your argument with an appeal to popularity. So, I'll ask again - why was AQ invited in the first time? This will help us do a better job of evaluating the risk of it happening again.
 

Hiernonymous, Karzai's power base derives in large part from distributing funds, as you say, and from appointing people to positions of power whom he can unappoint. As I said, such support for Karzai does depend on foreign support for the Afghan government, but not on their support for Karzai personally.

I haven't said that anyone is acting out of "fear," unless you're using the word very broadly. People can have various reasons for not wanting to strengthen their rivals, including fear, but more often it's personal (or tribal) ambition, jealousy, greed and such. The enemy of one's rival is one's friend. I have no reason to think any of the people you mention have supported Karzai so as to avoid strengthening rivals, and I don't know if I've even heard about particular examples, but it has been reported that Karzai did benefit from and even work to create such dynamics among the fractured groups who might have opposed him. That's an entirely natural thing where the opposition is divided, and it surprises me that you doubt it has occurred in Afghanistan.

In any case, it doesn't matter so much if the reports I've heard are correct on this point of why some factions supported Karzai rather than their more immediate rivals whom they might have banded with instead to oppose him. The fact is that they did, and whatever reasons they had would most likely still apply in a loya jirga unless there is some fundamental change in the situation. In particular, as long as Karzai remains in office and the government continues to receive foreign support, it's likely the same reasons will apply.

"Nor have I read anything that indicates that traditional ethnic associations are breaking down in Afghanistan."

Nor I.

I disagree that the election results can't be relied on to show why Karzai wouldn't be so easy to unseat in a loya jirga. If anything, it would be more likely that Karzai would prevail in a loya jirga than in an election, where the legitimacy of unseating him is more evident.

"The context of the conversation was the removal of Karzai from power and changing the form of the government."

Yes, and my point was that as long as Karzai is in power he and his supporters will work against that.

"Until you elaborate on [why the Taliban hosted Al Qaeda], it's difficult to evaluate the extent to which those reasons, and the conditions in which those reasons might prevail, would still exist."

Only if you have some reason to imagine my reasons are different from your own. I have no idea what you find suspect in my position, and I have no inclination to bother elaborating an argument for a position I suspect you hold yourself. If you don't think there is a substantial risk that the Taliban would, if returned to power, once again provide a haven for Al Qaeda, for much the same reasons as before, say so and give some indication of why, and I'll do my best to respond.
 

"Perhaps Obama's decision was based on a preponderance of the evidence he considered. But surely there was reasonable doubt as to success. There is no strong evidence to support the current course of action."

Obama took what he thought was the best political option for his own gain. If he withdrew (as he promised) he might look weak and lose the independents and liberal leaning repubs (especially if chaos ensued when the last boots were off the ground). If he increases troops at or above the level asked for he will assume all risk for the outcome because he will be fully committed. However, if he gives the generals slightly less than they ask for, he can wade in the middle taking a little, but not too much blame to hurt his re-election chances.

Anyone out there really expect change? This guy is Chicago politician through and through. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
 

Listen to Michael Shuerer on the subject. He led the first team in Afghanistan to hunt down Bin Laden (pre and post 9-11). It will blow your mind, how many times our government had the chance to just take thus guy out, but passed or delayed on it in order not to look bad politically(both Bushes and Clinton).
 

The problem is instead of just kicking ass and and telling the Taliban that if they harbor AQ in the future, they are next, we spent weeks and months building coalitions and then nation building. War is brutal and harsh and awful and therefore should be used only in the most extreme cases. Then, if you do use it, you achieve your goal (killing Bin Laden and crippling AQ's ability to function) quickly, deadly, and without delay. Instead 9-11 was used as an excuse to gain a foothold in the region to further our interests.

Now the only thing that scares our politicians more than losing there, is looking like we sacrificed those troops and money for nothing. So we "double down" and put more men and women in harms way and expose and train them in the brutal ways of war.
 

Tim, you have this weird idea that your opinions are informed. Instead of spamming up the thread with your homespun wisdom why don't you do some reading?

David Kilcullen

Ahmed Rashid via Tom Ricks
 

Sanpete said: "Only if you have some reason to imagine my reasons are different from your own. I have no idea what you find suspect in my position, and I have no inclination to bother elaborating an argument for a position I suspect you hold yourself. If you don't think there is a substantial risk that the Taliban would, if returned to power, once again provide a haven for Al Qaeda, for much the same reasons as before, say so and give some indication of why, and I'll do my best to respond."

When asked why you thought that AQ would be invited into Afghanistan again, you said "the same reasons as before." Asking what those reasons are is a perfectly reasonable request. At this point, your thought process could be as vague as "well, Taliban=AQ before, so if Taliban again, therefore AQ again," or it could be a specific conception of the manner in which AQ came to be invited in the first place, and a sound thought process for believing that those conditions would obtain again. While it might be entertaining for me to assume responsibility for both making your argument and answering it, for you to then critique, I'm even less inclined to 'bother elaborating' your own arguments than you are. What _I_ believe and know is, for the moment, immaterial; you've advanced the sketch of an argument, and before proceeding to agreement or disagreement, we need to put out in the open exactly what that argument is. If you're not comfortable with that, I won't press you on it any further.
 

Well, you quoted my answer. Now all you need to do is read it.
 

Sanpete said: "Well, you quoted my answer. Now all you need to do is read it."

If it's all you have to offer, that's all you have to offer. No problem.
 

Juan Cole of Informed Consent at:

http://www.juancole.com/

has an interesting post today (4/7/10) titled:

"Karzai called Erratic, even Druggie; In fact, he is posing as liberator in shadow of empire"

The "Druggie" part seems to be weak (according to Cole) but the remainder is evidence of ominous signs from Kabul. I wonder if McChrystal's Ball has a Plan B, or is he further down the alphabet already.
 

Tom Englelhardt at tomdispatch.com has this 4/6/10 post:

"Believe It or Not (2010) Imperial Edition U.S. War-Fighting Numbers to Knock Your Socks Off"

morphing Ripley to demonstrate the Afghanistan military-industrial complex complexity.
 

"Tim, you have this weird idea that your opinions are informed. Instead of spamming up the thread with your homespun wisdom why don't you do some reading?"

Wow, Matt such a bold statement from someone who obviously didn't read his own material. It agrees with most of what I said.

example, if Obama was committed to winning then why would your author make this statement

"Rashid said the biggest mistake the administration has made, on a foreign policy level, was to set a timetable for withdrawal. Right now the draw down of American forces is set to start in July, 2011. That leaves very little time to build up the Afghan economy and promote good governance. Worse, Rashid argued, it will promote panic in the Afghan government, encourage a wait-it-out mentality among the Taliban, and prompt neighboring countries to send in the proxies and begin sorting out potential lines of influence in a post-war Afghanistan."

That doesn't sound like a policy committed to winning. It sounds like middle ground. Instead of removing the troops right away (looking weak) you send some and then remove them (with a pre-set date for political reasons) before securing the situation.

POLITICS, POLITICS, POLITICS.

We should never have begun nation building because it takes such a huge commitment that Americans do not want or need to make. Hence, your author comes to the conclusion that I mentioned in my own thread...wait for it...a deal with the Taliban!

Maybe you should read "Marching Towards Hell" from a guy on the ground in Afghanistan before and after 9/11 and without a partisan opinion.
 

It is not our place to police and change the entire world. If we try, we will encourage more hatred and vitriol towards us than we can handle AND go bankrupt along the way. AQ was our enemy. We should have focused our wrath on them and made sure they were unable to reproduce 9/11. There were many ways to do this without nation-building and "democratizing" an entire region.

Bush regime had political reasons for nation-building just as Obama has political reasons for making his own moves. Looking at it any other way is naive at best. It doesn't mean that they are evil, just that their motives and intentions go far beyond just the "best interests" of US citizenry and afghan peoples.

Political ambitions, economic incentives, favor pedaling and outside influence, foreign policy goals, belief in "American Exceptionalism", etc etc. these are just as important to the current administration as they were to the last.
 

In my 6:42 AM comment I made reference to a possible Plan B. I just finished reading Bing West's OpEd in today's NYTimes (4/7/10) titled "How to Save Afghanistan From Karzai" that sounds like a Plan B, but a scary one. West is described as "an assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration [who] has reported on the Afghan war since 2001." West's attempt to compare Afghanistan with the Philippines and South Korea seems weak. He describes his proposal as a risk of "the emergence of the Pakistan model in Afghanistan - an army that has a country rather than a country that has an army." That's scary.
 

Shag: I read the op-ed too. Bing West is a former US Marine turned RAND analyst, author and CNN pundit - and a former Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs in the Reagan Administration where he was Chairman of the US-El Salvador Security Commission.

Every schoolboy should know that El Salvador was one of the more egregious examples of the Reagan Administration's support for human rights abusing murderous regimes - and of lying about it. Readers may cast a glance at Lost History, Lies and Bodywashing. The Rand Corporation, hardly a bastion of the left, produced a 1991 Report for the Defense Department American Counterinsurgency Doctrine and El Salvador.

It acknowledges the "callous disregard" of Reagan Administration officials for the barbarism of the regime it was supporting. Note also this conclusion at page 80:-

"If American still finds it in its interest to counter an insurgency in a foreign land, but if it also wishes to avoid the moral stain of galloping after security on the backs of indigenous monsters, an only somewhat less repugnant alternative presents itself. If American security and other interests demand the democratization of El Salvador, for instance, and if the Salvadorans are not up to the task themselves, the United States could use its overwhelming military strength to occupy that country for so long as it takes to build democratic institutions. In this way, America could control the political, administrative and military machinery and thus replace diplomatic exhortation with real authority. Of course, the FMLN's and the far right's assertions to the contrary, America is not a colonialist power. If, however, our highly ambitions goals remain constant, as does the frustration which surrounds them, imperialism, or a less extreme version of it, might be the only way to achieve those goals."

Let us not forget that the Reagan Administration's policy makers were also the wonderful people who brought you the proxy war with the Soviet Union in Afghanistan - using the "mujahiddin" recruited throughout the Arab world.

Older readers may recall the 1985 Reagan Oval Office meeting with Taliban and Al Quaeda notables whom he later introduced to the press on the White house lawn saying:

“These gentlemen are the moral equivalents of America’s founding fathers.”

Perhaps Mr West was beavering away within the Reagan DoD, seeking to oppose the proxy war, I know not, but it is true that the Reagan Administration strategy in Afghanistan involved massive support for a military dictator in Pakistan who was himself a salfist. That policy which did much to reinforce the salafist terrorist threat in Pakistan - so perhaps we should heed the concession in the last part of Mr West's op-ed to which you refer:-

"Admittedly, this risks the emergence of the Pakistan model in Afghanistan — an army that has a country rather than a country that has an army."

This is an op-ed from a person who was at the heart of some of the most egregious failures in the history of post-war US foreign policy - so yes, it's scary that the NYT and CNN give him column inches and air time to advocate more of the same.
 

Mourad, thanks for the background on West and the Reagan administration.

The evidence continues to come in on Afghanistan with the riots in Kyrgystan, where America has an air base key to the Afghanistan war. Central Asia's former Soviet Republics have been of great concern for many years. The area, considered part of the Greater Middle East, has significant energy resources that China covets; and Russia continues with its pipeline controls with respect to such energy. Perhaps there is thus a glimmer of good news in this IF (and it's a big IF) both China and Russia will join in a truly international effort (not just America and NATO) to bring about order - and JUSTICE - for the peoples in Afghanistan and the other 'Stans that had long suffered from colonialism and now from neo- or economic- colonialism. Both China and Russia have stakes in bringing about such order. If something isn't done, and soon, perhaps the fall of Krygystan may prove the reverse domino theory that was feared with Vietnam. But it's just a glimmer of hope. The fear is that this may serve as a spark.
 

Today's (4/8/10) WaPo has a Tom Toles political cartoon on Karzai's recent threat to join the Taliban as well as an OpEd by Peter Galbraith titled "Why Hamid Karzai makes a bad partner for the U.S." (While Galbraith may have some taints because of Kurdistan investments, his role in Afghanistan is not.)
 

There are two propositions in Tim's posts above which I think many Americans share:-

(1) "We should never have begun nation building because it takes such a huge commitment that Americans do not want or need to make."; and

(2) "It is not our place to police and change the entire world. If we try, we will encourage more hatred and vitriol towards us than we can handle AND go bankrupt along the way."

Others may reasonably hold the view that these two sentiments are the lineal descendants of the isolationist sentiments that kept the USA out of the 1914-18 war until 1917 and out of the 1939-45 war until Pearl Harbor: the view that the USA was so secure between its "two shining seas", that it did not matter to the USA what former corporal Adolf Schickelgruber did to the peoples of Europe and indeed that his National Socialism could be a bulwark against Bolshevik Communism - or, as Prescott Bush felt, that the Nazi régime should not be an obstacle to US persons doing business with Nazi supporting German corporations such as Thyssen and the Silesian Steel Company.

But certainly, many of those who survived World War II did want to see US engagement with institutions promoting international peace and security - such as the United Nations. This remained the orthodox US view certainly until the end of the Eisenhower presidency. The steps Eisenhower took to slap down the Franco-British-Israeli adventure over Suez were highly commendable - and effective. Kennedy too, advocated engagement - his support for the Algerian cause made him a hero in that country.

So what went wrong? Anti-UN sentiment has certainly been rising in the USA since the 1960's - so far as I can see fuelled above all by the neoconservative foundations and their front organisations, such as the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute and others of that ilk - such as the Project for the New American Century, the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, etc - (the "Billionaires for Bush" mob) which were actually supportive of unilateral US military adventures.

The quotation from the 1991 Rand Corporation report in my previous post is relevant - those who have imperial ambitions have to have an imperial pocket and an imperial timescale. The ill-starred Enterprise of Iraq™ showed that even when dressed up with the fig leaf of a so-called "coalition of the willing", the USA does not have the will (or the means) to put a sufficiency of "boots on the ground" on its own and one of my fears about the "surge" in Afghanistan is indeed that domestic politics have forced the Administration to put a time limit on the duration of the US contribution to the operation (which can only be of aid and comfort to the enemy).

In the sense that the USA should not engage in unilateral reconstruction operations, I therefore agree with Tim's sentiments. Either one gets a multilateral operation going with a shared budget, shared expense, and shared expertise, or one should not start.

But the Obama Administration had to pick up the pieces from its predecessor and I remain of the view that it has to finish what others started.

And by the way, I would have thought that the tragedy of 9-11 would have dispelled once and for all the myth that the USA need not concern itself with the stability and good governance of other countries in the world.
 

Mourad presents the dilemma:

"In the sense that the USA should not engage in unilateral reconstruction operations, I therefore agree with Tim's sentiments. Either one gets a multilateral operation going with a shared budget, shared expense, and shared expertise, or one should not start.

But the Obama Administration had to pick up the pieces from its predecessor and I remain of the view that it has to finish what others started."

There is a saying that if you save a man's life you assume responsibility for that life. The second part of the dilemma suggests that a mistake regarding the first part imposes an obligation to finish what Obama's predecessor started. But what does "finish" entail? In an earlier comment, I mentioned other mistakes that have not been remedied, and priorities. I don't have answers, but it seems as if you're damned if you do, damned if you don't. Consider Jack Balkin's posts on Virginia celebrating the Confederacy this month of April. Will finishing the job make things worse not only for us but for them as well?
 

Shag and Mourad,

Good to see serious and learned discussion on such important topics. Seems harder and harder to find that these days.

You both make great cases for a closer adherence to a "non-interventionist" foreign policy. Most people would call the avoidance of military intervention an "isolationist" policy, but this is incorrect in that "isolationism" means not only military, but the avoidance of Diplomatic and financial relationships as well. I don't advocate for an isolationist policy, but merely a "non-interventionist" one. A country can be very influential using diplomacy and economics. Military actions are always more complicated, expensive (in both money and lives) and cause more blowback than can accurately be predicted.

One of the fallacies of the previous century is that we were an isolationist nation. In reality, we were a non-interventionist nation. Although trade was not as "free: as it is today we were not an all out protectionist nation. We also maintained diplomatic relations with a wide array of nations globally.

Another fallacy is that our "non-interventionist policy (up to the entrance into WWI and then again in WW2) led to many negative consequences ie the Nazi's taking most of Europe, Japanese taking significant portions of East Asia and us being unprepared for Pearl Harbor. In fact, as Mourad points out the consequences of interference in Afghanistan and South America, our intervening at all in the First World War brought about many negative outcomes that led to and continued long after the 2nd world war.

First, there is a lot of evidence that had we not intervened on the side of the Allies when we did in WWI, that both sides were so exhausted and in perpetual stalemate that some sort of peace treaty would have had to be negotiated. this would have avoided the Treaty of Versailles being forced upon Germany. It is no secret that the harsh conditions instilled by the Versailles treaty caused the collapse of a democratic Germany and fueled the chaos that led to the rise of National socialism. Most historians (and I agree)feel strongly that Hitler was only able to take power because of a perfect storm of chaos and desperation that was a direct result of these conditions. Had we not intervened, there was no possible way for England and France to have dealt Germany the kind of defeat that our entrance into the war allowed. There is also a great deal of evidence that Stalin would not have been able to last as long as he did were it not for Russia's own desperate situation caused by Operation Barbarossa and the invasion of USSR. Given, there is no way to prove this one way or another, but when you begin to really look at what military involvement means, not just in short term consequences, but in distorting the balance of regional powers, it is clear that we are not omnipotent enough to truly know what the affect of our interference will be.
This would therefore advocate what many of our founders warned about - the consequences of "foreign entanglements".

A good example, I think for this, is the Cuban Missle Crisis and the "quarantine". Kennedy, for all his faults and getting us into Vietnam, handled Cuba nearly perfectly. Plus, unlike Vietnam and Afghanistan, Cuba and its missles were a direct threat to American soil and its citizens, not just to our "interests" which seem to stretch infinitely in all directions and in all things.
 

Tim, oh Tim, Dear Boy,

Is there a college or university which is responsible for the thinking in your latest post? Do you have the course papers and receipts for the fees? I ask because it may be that you have a good cause of action. On the other hand, perhaps not. You'll need someone qualified in your jurisdiction to advise you.
 

Tim,
While I understand your thought process, too much of it follows logically from an imperfect understanding of the military situation in 1918.
There's no doubt that America's involvement hastened the end of the war, but Germany faced certain defeat, with or without the involvement of American troops. You don't seem to appreciate the effect that the Allied blockade had on Germany - it was starving to death. The last-gasp Spring Offensive was unable to crack the Allied lines, and could not have done so even without any American troops involved. Neither freeing the troops from the Eastern Front, not the capture of the breadbasket regions of the Russian Empire, resulted in the military or agricultural windfalls that the Germans had hoped for.
It's hard to see how a UK-French victory, delayed by half a year and fought at even greater expense in French and British blood, would have led the Allies to negotiate a more tolerant peace treaty.
If anything, the Americans were not assertive enough in their 'intervention.' Had we been more forceful in standing up for the 14 Points, instead of allowing ineffectual groups such as the King-Crane Commission to make weak recommendations and then roll over, we might inserted a bit more justice and a bit less ambition in the treaties. Then again, we might have just antagonized the only major players left standing.
At any rate, you seem to be buying into an odd variation of the old Stab in the Back myth. Germany's military was already exhausted before the Spring Offensive, and Germany's economy was utterly crippled. Von Seeckt acknowledged as much during the negotiations, noting that the Allies had made a terrible mistake in not dictating the terms of peace in Berlin.
If you take that into consideration, you might reconsider where your otherwise reasonable line of thought takes you.
 

So, the Allies would have pushed into Germany and collected an unconditonal surrender? You are nuts. Any advances made by the Allies would have haulted at the German border. If they were at a virtual standstill on the western front, imagine how the Germans would have fought while defending their very homes. This is the very heart of the matter. The Allies didn't possess the determination needed to carry on and fight to the bitter end just to gain an unconditional surrender. Saying the Germans were on the verge of winning and saying that they were in a much stronger place to negotiate a much more fair peace accord are very different.

And the "stab in the back myth" does not gel with your use. It was perpetuated well after the American intervention had helped to exhaust their resources and troops. You guys are looking at Germany post-US involvement. It would not have played out that way had the Allies not had the fresh insurgence of troops and resources from the US as well as the new determination (brought by Pershing) to avoid and breakthrough the trench warfare paradigm.

And I studied under Dr. John Williams who, if you look at the academic papers aimed at that time period, is well known.
 

Tim - Dr John Williams of ...???
Please elucidate.
 

Mourad: He appears to be of Bradley University.

Tim: Thanks for the pyschological assessment, but I don't think I said anything about the Allies pushing into Germany and collecting an unconditional surrender. I said that they would have defeated Germany without American military assistance, but it would have taken longer. I'm not sure why you think that would entail either unconditional surrender or a march on Berlin. The Germans collapsed when resistance became obviously futile, and I don't think I suggested anything that would have changed that. My question to you was why you would think that a German defeat extracted without American assistance would be on more lenient terms than occurred historically?
You really don't seem to appreciate the complete state of collapse that both the German economy and German morale were in by 1918, or you appear to overestimate the role of America's entyr in that collapse. The mutinies and revolts don't suggest a people ready to stand and die. And, yes, the mutinies and revolts would have come with or without the Americans - the German Army was no longer capable of anything better than delay, and the German Navy could not contest the blockade. I'm not sure under what scenario you think that the futility of further resistance would not eventually become as apparent to the German populace as it did, in fact, become.

I don't think I've read anything by Dr. Williams; if you're referring to the fellow from Bradley, I completed my postgrad work before he began publishing. It would be interesting to see if he would agree with his former student's assessment and why.
 

Hieronymous and Tim:-

Thanks for the information about young Dr Williams and Bradley. I'm sure Bradley and, indeed Dr Williams, "play very well in Peroria".

But whether or not he is Tim's mentor, I take the view that the chacterisation of US pre WW2 sentiment as "non-interventionist" rather than "isolationist" is mere logomachy.

It remains the case that the USA did not join WW1 until 1917, that the USA only joined WW2 on 11th December 1941, and that the right wing in the USA has by now destroyed the post WW2 US political (if not popular) consensus on the utility of the United Nations as an instrument for dealing with threats to international peace and security.

I am not saying that the UN is a perfect organisation - far from it - but the consequence of bypassing the UN for the ill-starred Bush/Blair Enterprise of Iraq™ was that the efficient enforcement of peace and security post invasion became impossible for want of "boots on the ground". It was also a financial disaster for both our countries.

And as is becoming evident on voter doorsteps during the current UK election campaign, the fallout from "Poodle" Blair's decision to participate may make it impossible for any future UK government to participate in any similar US operation which is unsanctioned by the UN or a regional security organisation.

In an effort to provide a fig leaf for the Enterprise of Iraq™ the Bush Administration scoured the micro-states of the world for its absurd "coalition of the willing". 49 participating states were announced by the State Department: "Afghanistan, Albania, Angola, Australia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Colombia, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, Latvia, Lithuania, Republic of Macedonia, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Mongolia, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Palau, Panama, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Rwanda, Singapore, Slovakia, South Korea, Spain, Tonga, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, and Uzbekistan". But a number of these states did not even have armies and in the event 98% of the military forces came from just two nations, the USA and the UK.

Had the UN been directly involved, far more resources would have been available post invasion. For example the Indian Army is large, disciplined, and has a long history of participation in UN operations - going back to the Korean war when India provided 6.60 Para Field Ambulance and also the Indian Custody Force which managed 22,000 prisoners of war until their repatriation. Indian Army units have served under UN auspices in the Congo, UNEF-Gaza, UNTAC in Cambodia, UNOSOM in Somalia and UNTAG in Namibia. It is one of the few nations in the world which has a specifc HQ setup for the training of peacekeepers for UN missions. In 2007, Pakistan and Bangladesh were contributing 10,000 and 9,000 men to various UN peacekeeping efforts. Developing countries who have the manpower find that the UN reimbursement for peacekeeping operations (something over $1,000 per man per day) is a useful contribution to their defence budgets.

And in case there is laughter in the wings, it might be as well to remember that the armies of British India provided most of the troops to administer the state of Iraq and that the Indian Rupee was actually the currency of Iraq until 1932.

Perhaps we can agree that the Enterprise of Iraq™ was a serious "own goal" by the Bush Administration which has vastly complicated the Obama Administration's task in relation to Afghanistan, and informed by that, get back to the principal topic of the thread.
 

I do not watch Bill Moyers' Journal Friday night. Rather, I watch a rerun Sunday morning while ensconced with the Sunday papers and the Sunday political shows on my 79 year old derriere. I just learned that Prof. Andrew Bacevich was Moyers' guest last night. So I am especially looking forward to the rerun tomorrow. In my semi-retirement I audited two of Prof. B's graduate level international relations courses at BU in the early Bush/Cheney years. These courses were great experiences, especially with what was unfolding in international relations at the time. I have been following Prof. B since, with his books, articles and TV appearances. I have described him to students and others as an honest man. Now, there are a lot of honest men out there that I have known. But Prof. B was, is, special. So I look forward to this Sunday morning as he addresses military issues in Afghanistan and the Greater Middle East. (It was through one of his courses that I learned of the Greater Middle east extending from western Africa eastward to and through the traditional Middle East into Central Asia.) I highly recommend his book on the American empire. He is not an isolationist, but a realist. His Ideas + American Foreign Policy course was an eye-opener for me, with great readings on the development of American foreign policy going back to the beginnings of the Republic, permitting me to better understand what has happened during my own lifetime.
 

Eric Alterman's 4/2/10 interview at:

http://www.brennancenter.org/blog/archives/16493/

of Garry Wills about his new book "Bomb Power: The Modern Presidency and the National Security State" raises concerns with executory powers of the presidency, including with Pres. Obama.
 

The LATimes' Doyle McManus OpEd today (4/11/10) "Compromising with the Taliban" suggests how America's involvement in Afghanistan might end. If this is success, consider what failure might be. A recent NYTimes article describes a shift from tough to more gentle love on the part of America for Karzai. The Afghan "surge" calls for 30,000 more U.S. troops on the ground, perhaps to put America in a position to negotiate. What role will the Nov. 2010 elections play in the negotiations? Is there a Plan B?
 

Shag: After reading your post and its encomium for Professor Bacevich, I read the transcript of the Bill Moyers interview of the good Professor. I was unimpressed because the interview format was so superficial - no thanks to the show's format. However, there were two golden nuggets - one was the observation about the US Officer Corps:

"....after Vietnam, this humiliation that we had experienced, the collective purpose of the officer corps, in a sense, was to demonstrate that war worked. To demonstrate that war could be purposeful. That out of that collision, on the battlefield, would come decision, would come victory. And that soldiers could claim purposefulness for their profession by saying to both the political leadership and to the American people, "This is what we can do. We can, in certain situations, solve very difficult problems by giving you military victory."

Staff Colleges world-wide always train for the last war rather than the next one. They were slow to realise that post WW2 and the use of nuclear weapons on Japan, the reality of armed conflict changed for ever in that no great power nation can ever again risk unrestricted warfare on a global scale because there can be no victory, only Mutually Assured Destruction.

Therefore, when armed conflicts take place either between between lesser nations or between a great power and a lesser nation the military operations of a great power are restricted within the limits of at least a tacit understanding with the other nuclear powers that the conflict will not be escalated beyond a certain maximum.

Professor Bachevich admitted that ...the war in Afghanistan is not a war as the American military traditionally conceives of war.". Indeed, had he not been talking for a mass audience, he would have have been better off saying that it is not a war at all. He observed, correctly, that the real purpose of the intervention in Afghanistan is: "... to put it crudely, drag this country into the modern world" and he asks why one should put a general in charge rather than a successful mayor of a big city or a legion of social reformers? I strongly suspect that Bacevich well knows the answer: the military is required to act in aid of the civil power to create the conditions in which the administrators can get to work and that this is a skill that the US military is only belatedly learning.

My second nugget was Professor Bacevich's debunking of the Bush Global War on Terrorism™ in the very terms I have long employed on this blog:-

"Osama bin Laden is not Adolf Hitler. Al-Qaeda is not Nazi Germany. Al-Qaeda poses a threat. It does not pose an existential threat. We should view Al-Qaeda as the equivalent of an international criminal conspiracy. Sort of a mafia that in some way or another draws its energy or legitimacy from a distorted understanding of a particular religious tradition.

And as with any other international criminal conspiracy, the proper response is a police effort. I mean, a ruthless, sustained, international police effort to identify the thugs, root out the networks and destroy it. Something that would take a long period of time and would no more succeed fully in eliminating the threat than the NYPD is able to fully eliminate criminality in
New York City."


Oh how right! But he might have added that a police effort has to be followed by a criminal justice effort - and that means playing by the rules of the criminal justice system and not flouting them.
 

I watched the Bill Moyers Journal rerun this morning. Perhaps, Mourad, if you had seen it, Bacevich's body language may have filled in some blanks for you. His interview was just short of a half-hour. Moyers made reference to the full interview being available at PBS.com. I haven't checked it out as yet.
 

Fareed Zakaria's WaPo OpEd (4/12/10) "Learning to work with our man in Afghanistan" reminds me of my late high school/college buddy's saying attributed to his grandfather: "HALITOSIS IS BETTER THAN NO BREATH AT ALL." But what if we have to give Karzai mouth-to-mouth? And similar halitosis got the better of America in Vietnam.

And I don't think we can expect a movie from this like "Our Man in Havana." What you mean "our," Fareed?
 

This NYT report Civilians Killed as U.S. Troops Fire on Afghan Bus illustrates one of the problems facing the US military effort in Afghanistan.

In counter-insurgency operations, a primary aim is to detach the insurgents from the ordinary civil population. This involves a element of operating "with one hand tied behind one's back". An operation to engage insurgents is a failure if innocent civilians are caught in the cross-fire. The benefits of operations to improve the quality of life of the local populations, such as bridge reconstructions, rehabilitation of schools and primary medical care can be wiped out by a single badly executed search of a private home.

US doctrine on Peace Enforcement and Peace Keeping ooperations is set out in the 1994 Field Manual 100-23 - Peace Operations. Perhaps it is due for an update.

Where I think US doctrine may differ from current UK doctrine as applied, is that US commanders seem more prone than UK commanders would be to allow their units to react violently to perceived threats to their personal safety. There have been numerous examples of this in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

In part this may be a consequence of relative inexperience. Post WW2 the US has contributed only 1% of the personnel deployed in UN peacekeeping operations as opposed to the 4.5% contributed by EU nations.

Perhaps also US commanders have not yet had the same experience of the fallout from operations which go badly wrong - of which a good example would be the events of "Bloody Sunday", 30 January 1972, when in the course of operations in Northern Ireland and during a disturbance in Londonderry following a civil rights march, shots were fired by the British Army. Thirteen people were killed and another 13 were wounded, one of whom subsequently died. The army's mistakes on that day had devastating consequences. [Note: The final report of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry will be presented to Parliament after the General Election.]

Part of the problem may be the tendency of US officialdom to euphemism. An example is the quotation in the NYT article from General McChrystal:-

"However, to my knowledge, in the nine-plus months I’ve been here, not a single case where we have engaged in "an escalation of force incident and hurt someone" has it turned out that the vehicle had a suicide bomb or weapons in it and, in many cases, had families in it". For the italicised words read:

"shooting at civilian vehicles and killing or wounding the occupants"

and I can think of few better ways to alienate the population and impel survivors or relatives to join the insurgents we are seeking to remove from the scene.

In other words, the safety of one's own troops is not always the paramount consideration in counter-insurgency and I think that is a concept which both US commanders and their political masters have difficulty in accepting.
 

Mourad, while I agree with this:

"In other words, the safety of one's own troops is not always the paramount consideration in counter-insurgency ... "

Americans will not accept significant casualties to its troops after Vietnam. Else the all volunteer military will be at risk and might result in the need of a draft that most likely would not pass political muster. Perhaps the McChrystal mission is impossible.

While McChrystal cannot identify "a single case" during his 9 months, what about the next case viewed from the perspective of the troops who consider themselves at risk? (I'm not thinking of the "law of averages" but of self-preservation.)
 

Shag:-

The USA is not alone in having an all-volunteer army - we do too.

The point about incidents at VCP's and the like is to have everyone understand that an unnecessary use of lethal force may mean that your comrades later suffer greater lethal force at the hands of the insurgents thereby created.

A properly trained soldier accepts the need to have that factor in mind and conducts himself accordingly.

There will still be errors of judgment nonetheless.
 

America's all voluntary military came about as a result of Vietnam. Since then, I repeat, Americans will not accept significant casualties to its troops. Great Britain's military history with its empire differs from America's (assuming a form of American "empire") shorter history. Perhaps America's soldiers are not properly trained for counterinsurgency. But public support in America for its wars will wane if its casualties get too heavy. We prefer technology, e.g. drones, to keep our casualties down. Perhaps America could learn lessons from Great Britain's empire days.

I think of the "novel" "The Ugly American" whose title became symbolic not of the American in Vietnam who happened to be ugly who was trying hard to help the Vietnamese. Rather,the view of Afghans of "The Ugly American" is one who kills their innocent civilians with superior technology. No matter how well our troops are trained in counterinsurgency, the enemy will react perhaps in unanticipated ways, requiring revision of the counterinsurgency, followed by enemy revisions, and on and on. To repeat, McChrystal's mission may be impossible.
 

Tom Friedman in today's (4/14/10) NYTimes indirectly challenges Fareed Zakaria's recent take on Karzai. Is this a form of "pun-dit-zing"?
 

Mourad, do you agree with John Burns' "Memo from London" in today's (4/14/10) NYTimes titled: "Afghanistan is Key in British Elections"? Apparently Brits are concerned more with the loss of their troops than with the costs of this war.
 

I do not wish to prolong this thread but wish to point to Eugene Robinson's WaPo column today (4/16/10) titled: "Leaving one Afghan valley: What gained at what cost?" Here's the third paragraph from the end:

"I asked Junger [author, documentary maker] about the reaction of the U.S. soldiers he had met in the Korengal to the decision to pull out. 'For the guys I was with, it's a pretty painful thing,' he said. But he added that there was another way to look at it -- that war is inherently a process of trial and error, that commanders always make mistakes, and that it is a good thing if America's military brass can recognize that they have taken the wrong path and make the necessary adjustment."

Will our military continue to recognize wrong paths?
 

TomDispatch.com features Alfred W. McCoy's 4/15/10 post "America and the Dictators" that draws parallels between Karzai and Diem. Here's the closing paragraph:

"With few choices between diplomatic niceties and a destabilizing coup, Washington invariably ends up defaulting to an inflexible foreign policy at the edge of paralysis that often ends with the collapse of our authoritarian allies, whether Diem in Saigon, the Shah in Tehran, or on some dismal day yet to come, Hamid Karzai in Kabul. To avoid this impending debacle, our only realistic option in Afghanistan today may well be the one we wish we had taken in Saigon back in August 1963 -- a staged withdrawal of U.S. forces."

[Note: McCoy makes no mention of Chalabi and his Iraq war role.]
 

Once again I feel compelled to return to this thread, this time to point of Doyle McManus's column in today's (4/18/10) LATimes titled "Key to success lies with Afghan officials coming through" that does not paint a pretty picture. Here's an excerpt:

"The [Afghan] government's inefficiency and corruption have bred cynicism among many Westerners who have come to Afghanistan to help. 'The war has brought so much money into this country, you sometimes wonder whether it's turned into a business proposition for Afghan politicians -- whether they want the war to end at all,' said the manager of a U.S. nonprofit that provides medical care for victims of the war."

McManus discusses government in a box, poppies, etc.
 

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