Balkinization  

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Disastrous Unreality About Afghanistan and Terrorism

Brian Tamanaha

President Obama's weekend visit to Afghanistan exposed how barren our policy there is. Obama once again justified our ramped up military presence in Afghanistan--with a sharp increase in military and civilian deaths and injuries--as essential to our anti-terrorism strategy, explaining that if the Taliban take over it will provide a safe haven for Al Qaeda. The defeat of the Taliban, in turn, depends upon the progress made by the Afghan government in fighting corruption and developing the rule of law. As a New York Times op-ed put it:
American officials have repeatedly warned Mr. Karzai that unless he truly commits to eradicating corruption (including among his own family members), improving governance and institutionalizing the rule of law, there is no chance of defeating the Taliban. Mr. Karzai has repeatedly shrugged off those warnings.

We hope that hearing it directly from the American president will finally make the difference. There is certainly no more time to waste.
This hope is delusional, as the remainder of the editorial makes clear (Karzai's most important political allies, as well as members of his family, are among the corrupt). No amount of jawboning is going to cure the systemic corruption that plagues the Afghan government. Building the rule of law, moreover, takes decades even under favorable circumstances.

But the greater error in this policy is that our military presence in Afghanistan is making the terrorism problem worse (see this essay), not better, because it inflames Islamic radicalism worldwide--including homegrown terrorism. (Meanwhile, Al Qaeda has other places to seek refuge and locate training camps.)

The Obama Administration is enjoying the afterglow of its historic health care reform. But the Afghan war is a disaster in the making.


Comments:

I'm not sure what's best for this war, but a couple points need to be added.

The issue of the Taliban and Al Qaeda isn't limited to Afghanistan. Pakistan is also in danger from the same forces. It would be quite a mess for Pakistan to be further destabilized.

It's true that our presence in Afghanistan inflames passions against us and builds up radicals, but it's unlikely that this effect overcomes the losses to Al Qaeda in this war.

What should be done instead of what Obama is doing?
 

Sanpete,

Think it through. Who is more dangerous, an AQ fighter in Afghanistan, hiding from whatever allies we may be able to keep, or -- some person without any history of radicalism, perhaps with a US visa, who becomes radicalized and devoted to AQ?
 

It is useful to underline that "our military presence" is in practice not simply a result of "what Obama is doing," but a national policy that arises from combined congressional and executive policy making with a dash of judicial oversight in limited areas.
 

C2H50H, the ones who carried out the September 11th attacks were trained in Afghanistan. I'd say they're all dangerous, but we don't have evidence of increased danger from those who haven't been trained in Afghanistan.
 

Sanpete,

The 9/11 perps may have been trained in Afghanistan, but they didn't come from Afghanistan -- and they were, mostly, in this country legally.

I trust that the Obama administration will encourage the intel folks to flag people who spent a lot of time in Afghanistan or the Tribal areas of Pakistan (or Yemen, or Somalia, or the ever-increasing number of places where, thanks to Gitmo, Iraq, and Afghanistan, AQ sympathies are finding a welcome.)

Again: think it through.
 

C2H50H, thanks for repeating the great advice to think. I'm sure US intelligence agencies make every effort to keep track of who has gone to Afghanistan (or Pakistan), and that some of those who have gone there for nefarious reasons make every effort to keep it secret. It doesn't follow that those who haven't gone there for training are more dangerous. This isn't an issue that can settled just by thinking. Actual facts have to be consulted.
 

Sanpete,

Yeah, the "current threat" the anti-terrorism folks are all sweating about is somebody who's spent weeks or months in Afghanistan recently, and looks like the natives there. With a long history of AQ sympathies -- not someone converted recently by the spectacle of western occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, or Gitmo, with a visa, like, say, the underwear bomber.
 

C2H50H, the ones who carried out the September 11th attacks were trained in Afghanistan. I'd say they're all dangerous, but we don't have evidence of increased danger from those who haven't been trained in Afghanistan.
# posted by Sanpete : 7:00 PM


Actually, the most dangerous 9/11 attackers (the pilots) trained in the US.
 

This comment has been removed by the author.
 

Brian:

But the greater error in this policy is that our military presence in Afghanistan is making the terrorism problem worse (see this essay), not better, because it inflames Islamic radicalism worldwide--including homegrown terrorism. (Meanwhile, Al Qaeda has other places to seek refuge and locate training camps.)

Do you have any particular evidence to support your proposition that our war against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan creates more anti-American terrorism than it prevents by denying the enemy a sanctuary?

The war is going very badly for the enemy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We have penetrated their militias and kill off their senior leadership almost at will with predator attacks, they have just lost their poppy growing areas, we are now intercepting their Iranian arms flow and the Pakistanis have routed the enemy out of many of their tribal regions. The next sweep should take place around Khandahar, denying the enemy any significant population center in Afghanistan as sanctuary.

In response, America has suffered a single mass murder at Ft Hood by a muslim officer who the Army negligently failed to discharge when they had evidence of his radicalization some years ago.

After their defeat in Iraq, most of al Qaeda's surviving fighters fled to Yemen because Pakistan is no longer safe, where they reunited with a few dozen prisoners we negligently released from Gitmo to Saudi and Yemen. However, our SF and the local Yemenis are now hunting them there as well. A predator strike almost took out al Qaeda's command structure in Yemen a few weeks ago.

Where is this resurgent Islamic terrorist network inspired by Afghanistan? Hell, where are all the so called franchise terrorists?

NPR was wondering today why al Qaeda had not successfully attacked the United States since 9/11 when the Chechens are attacking Russia, a more closed society. The answer is twofold:

1) We are denying the enemy sanctuary to recruit, train, arm and plan as we failed to do prior to 9/11. Even if they had the recruits, there is no place safe to organize another organized attack.

2) The vast majority of Muslims were appalled by al Qaeda's mass butchery of other Muslims in Iraq and stopped joining in large numbers. There simply is no evidence of mass recruiting anywhere in the Muslim world for attacks against the United States.

So long as President Obama maintains his resolve and ignores the calls to pull out and surrender Afghanistan to the enemy, NATO should have victory similar to that achieved by the Iraq Surge by the time he is running for reelection in 2012. Given what an absolute hash his domestic policies have been, Obama could use the good news in a couple years.
 

Baghdad, that's awesome news about "victory" in Iraq. We'll probably find that WMD any day now...

By the way, the Iraq Disaster's poll numbers are even worse than Obama's.
 

Even if they had the recruits, there is no place safe to organize another organized attack.


Why can't they organize it in Chechnya?
 

Afghanistan is yet another variation on "The Mouse That Roared" theme. Its poppies do not grace Flanders Fields but provide blow world-wide that destroys lives.
 

bb:

Why can't they organize it in Chechnya?

The Russians occupy Chechnya and Gulf Arabs would stick out like a sore thumb.

The Chechens are not part of al Qaeda and are instead seeking independence from Russia. Why would they pick a fight with the US in addition to Russia by harboring al Qaeda?
 

With its usual "but what if things go wrong later" handwringing, Time does a have decent job of documenting the successes of the initial stages of the Afghan Surge.

NPR was reporting yesterday about the plunge in IED and suicide bomb attacks.
 

The Russians occupy Chechnya and Gulf Arabs would stick out like a sore thumb.

The Chechens are not part of al Qaeda and are instead seeking independence from Russia. Why would they pick a fight with the US in addition to Russia by harboring al Qaeda?
# posted by Bart DePalma : 9:37 AM


I hate to break it to you, but the secular Chechen rebellion has morphed into a radical Islamic rebellion. If the Russians can't stop the Chechens from training, how are they going to stop the Chechens from training Al Qaeda? And who says that the Al Qaeda that go to train there have to be Gulf Arabs? The underwear bomber wasn't a Gulf Arab.
 

It doesn't follow that those who haven't gone there for training are more dangerous.

Actually, it does. If you're looking east and the enemy is coming from the west, that can have very dangerous results indeed. That's a fairly logical conclusion. What you're saying is that the enemy without is greater than the enemy within--I think McVeigh and the 9/11 pilots are good examples of how that might not necessarily be so. ((Plug: McVeigh and the 9/11 Pilots will be appearing in Biloxi on the 16th of April, 9:00PM at the Imperial Palace with special guest REO Speedwagon))

If continuing the war leads to making more enemies (and thereby increasing the opportunity for enemies within our borders), it may not achieve the great victory we would hope it would.

On the other hand, I believe that the current administration's efforts in Afghanistan are qualitatively different than the preceding administration's. One aspect that I particularly like is that major battles against strongholds are announced beforehand, giving us the chance to see who flees and who stays, but also giving the world a great deal more insight into our operations there.

I also think that, unlike the nonsense diversion in Iraq, the multilateral pursuit of the Taliban is justified and should be carried out until the Taliban capitulates. The consequences for doing so are real: there will be blowback and there will be an increase in homegrown terrorism.

Personally, I think that it is worth doing despite the potential costs. I'm not going to lie to myself and say that it's making the world a safer place, though.
 

"Actually, it does."

No, actually it doesn't. You and some others continue to consider one possible, abstract factor out of many as though it's the only one that matters, or as though all other factors can be treated as equal, which we have zero reason to think is the case. Training, contact with other members, and other factors matter too. Before Afghanistan was invaded Al Qaeda was able to give extensive training and indoctrination that it is probably no longer possible for them to accomplish in the same manner and degree. They could also coordinate plans much more easily.

"What you're saying is that the enemy without is greater than the enemy within"

No, I've said nothing of the sort.
 

Personally, I think that [pursuing the Taliban] is worth doing despite the potential costs. I'm not going to lie to myself and say that it's making the world a safer place, though.

Don't you mean to say that you believe it will make the world a safer place, but that it is not without its risks? (Why is it worth doing?)

Fwiw, I think we should be pursuing the Taliban also.
 

No, I've said nothing of the sort.

All right, I'll be charitable and agree that you didn't say anything of the sort. Rather, I'll try to show how I came to that conclusion:

Brian: [Continued war in Afghanistan] inflames Islamic radicalism worldwide--including homegrown terrorism.


Sanpete: I'd say they're all dangerous, but we don't have evidence of increased danger from those who haven't been trained in Afghanistan.

Comparing the number of domestic plots that have surfaced since the invasion of Afghanistan with those that occurred prior to the invasion of Afghanistan should give you that evidence.

If your argument is that danger is reliant upon effectiveness: people who trained in Afghanistan are more effective than those who are trained elsewhere, then we return to the position that the enemy without (Afghan-trained) is greater than the enemy within (radicalism worldwide).

Before Afghanistan was invaded Al Qaeda was able to give extensive training and indoctrination that it is probably no longer possible for them to accomplish in the same manner and degree. They could also coordinate plans much more easily.

Right. So has the danger from al-Qaeda dropped or not? If so, how can you say that "we don't have evidence of increased danger from those who haven't been trained in Afghanistan."

In short: what do you consider "danger" to be?
 

PMS_CC, you're being charitable to yourself, not me. If you don't read into what I say what isn't there (or read my direct reply to one post as a reply to an entirely different one), you should be able to follow it well enough.

What domestic plots are attributable to our involvement in Afghanistan, how does that number compare to the number of domestic plots in the decade before we invaded Afghanistan, and how dangerous have those plots been? Not that I said anything limited to domestic plots.

"So has the danger from al-Qaeda dropped or not? If so, how can you say that "we don't have evidence of increased danger from those who haven't been trained in Afghanistan.""

It's really quite easy. Try it yourself. I can't see the conflict you appear to see.

My point remains that we can't conclude from armchair logic, or anything less than a comprehensive analysis of actual facts, that the threat has increased because of our invasion of Afghanistan. On its face that doesn't appear to be the case.
 

My point remains that we can't conclude from armchair logic, or anything less than a comprehensive analysis of actual facts, that the threat has increased because of our invasion of Afghanistan.

We don't have to do the comprehensive analysis of actual facts, because the agencies behind the sources that Brian uses in his paper has already done that work. They say the number of groups has increased and that if the trend continues, the diversity of threats will increase the number of attacks.

That diversity--and the freedom of travel that we enjoy in our own country--mean, as C2H50H hinted earlier, that such attacks are more difficult to stop than those hatched by people cowering in caves surrounded by our military.

That may be armchair logic, but it's still solid. Until you produce evidence that counters that provided by the State Department and the NIE, you're just blowing hot air.
 

Putting aside your still inscrutable reasoning, which of the new groups you refer to are due to our presence in Afghanistan? What findings of the NIE and the State Department do you imagine I've come into conflict with?

I think invading Iraq and mistreating prisoners have been huge mistakes, but it's not so plain invading Afghanistan was a mistake, nor that any other policy than what Obama is pursuing there would be better. Brian doesn't say what we should do there except in the vaguest way. Just leave? What would happen then? Where's the analysis of his alternative?
 

PMS,

You make good points. My main doubt is whether it is possible to "defeat" the Taliban with any finality. The Taliban are not a discrete religious group within Afghanistan but are made up of shifting alliances linked to the Pashtun, crossing over Afghanistan and Pakistan. They may go quiet under pressure from our military, but they will not go away. On this subject it pays to listen to Russian generals, who, based upon their experience, have no doubt that we cannot ultimately succeed.
Better to learn that now than later, and base our strategy there on this understanding.

Bart,

Our intelligence services has issued multiple reports finding that the main source of the spread of Islamic radicalism is the presence of our military in Islamic countries. If you take a bit of time to read my linked paper (it's brief), you will find the references.

A recent study on the growth of homegrown terrorism came to the same conclusion. It is here: http://csis.org/event/growing-terrorist-threat-assessing-homegrown-extremism-united-states

Brian
 

As I understand it, there's no objective of the US defeating the Taliban with finality. The current plan is to defeat some, make deals with some, possibly leave some to control some areas, and strengthen the Afghan military and civil forces enough to keep them from taking over the country again or offering a safe haven for Al Qaeda.

It doesn't follow from the supposition that the main source of the spread of Islamic radicalism is the presence of our military (among other presences) in Islamic countries that leaving Afghanistan now would lessen the overall threat rather than increase it, especially when the threat to Pakistan is factored in. Al Qaeda was already attacking us and spreading radicalism before we entered Iraq and Afghanistan. Their base in Afghanistan appears to have been most useful to them in attacking us effectively.

It's not at all clear what you want Obama to do in Afghanistan and how it would be practical.
 

Brian:

NIEs are political documents. Cf. the Bush NIE claiming Iran stopped developing nuclear weapons earlier in the decade with the current Obama CIA evaluation that Iran is continuing to develop capabilities that can be used to make nuclear weapons. The former was meant to check military action against Iran, while the latter is meant to support sanctions. In reality the Iranians have never stopped developing their nuclear weapons capability.

Your intelligence documents offer speculation and opinion rather than actual hard intelligence of new terrorist groups or the growth of current terrorist groups attacking United States interests because our our military operations in Afghanistan or Pakistan.
 

The combination of ignorance and arrogance is tough to penetrate. When Sanpete, apparently blissfully ignorant of the origins of AQ's grievances with US troops being stationed in Saudi Arabia, gives us "Al Qaeda was already attacking us and spreading radicalism before we entered Iraq and Afghanistan." -- it's just astonishing that he feels capable of commenting.

And then there's arrogance, as in Bart's claiming that he knows better than the CIA about Iran's intentions. Sure. Right. Completely believable.
 

Or better yet Sanpete and Bart should listen to former extremists themselves: http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2009/11/16/terrorism
 

"Building the rule of law, moreover, takes decades even under favorable circumstances."

Agreed. Those "favorable circumstances" don't even exist in this country when it comes to torture, warrantless wiretapping, and preventative aggressive wars of 'safety assurances' to combat non-existent or low probability/non-existential threats.

Not to mention the 'freedom and liberty wars' designed to liberate the benighted worldwide wogs so they can 'buy Chinese' if they don't get collateral damagized in the process.

What's a tragedy is that Americans are more worried about corruption and lack of rule of law and unjust economic systems halfway around the globe when clearly corruption is rampant in this country, the rule of law only applies to those relatively low on the food chain, and our economy is so inequitable and unsustainable that 1 out of 6 are out of work and another 1 out of 6 underemployed barely making enough to keep a roof over their head.

Somebody somewhere in the world needs to be saved though. I guess saving ourselves is pretty low on our to do list. Oh well. Maybe somebody will come and save us, because it sure as hell won't be our government or any civic sense of shared responsibility or obligation to one another as fellow citizens. Cause that's some socialistic shit that only foreigners engage in.
 

Ethanol, nothing I've said implies what you infer, yet you feel capable of commenting about it. Is that ignorance, arrogance, or some combination? As you might have figured out if you paid better attention, I hold that Al Qaeda is opposed to a range of kinds of US presence in what it regards as Muslim land, not only military. They have cited our military presence in Saudi Arabia and many other factors as reasons for fighting us. However, the particular topic here is Afghanistan, and in his paper Brian also focuses a good deal on Iraq, as the factors that are having the greatest effects worldwide. Try to keep up.

Runner, I have already agreed that the factors Greenwald cites create enemies for us. Obama knows about such things too, believe it or not.
 

Bart,

You ask me for evidence for my assertion that our presence in Afghanistan (and Iraq) inflames Islamic radicalism.

In answer, I cite multiple findings by intelligence agencies and specialists. You then dismiss these intelligence findings as political and filled with speculation.

Frankly, you do not appear to be genuinely interested in the evidence. Obviously you are determined to hold to your position, which you confidently maintain (against contrary intelligence findings) without citing any support at all.

I usually make an effort to respond to your inquiries, but reasoned dialogue this is not, and only a fool would continue.

Brian
 

lazzlesoIn reality the Iranians have never stopped developing their nuclear weapons capability.
........It would seem that ole Bart has contact with a spy in Iran.

It is obvious that a citizen of Yemen would have the greatest affection for Obama.
I am sure that he feels sympathy when a drone fires a missile at a mud hut and
"almost kills a top al Queda leader" but kills all his kids instead. You can bet he
understands that Obama is just trying to make the world a better place. Surely
he will make a donation to Obama's campaign fund and tell al Queda fundraisers
to go to hell. Farris W
 

I have a healthy degree of skepticism about our campaign in Afghanistan, but the argument that we should withdraw because our presence “inflames terrorism” strikes me as extremely weak. The same evidence that Professor Tamanaha cites to support this point could be used to demonstrate that virtually anything that we do is “inflaming terrorism.” Just read Bin Laden’s 2002 letter to America, which is one of the source documents he relies on. The list of grievances and demands is extremely long, and our presence in Afghanistan appears to be very low on the list.

Common sense would suggest that our image in the Muslim world would be less negative if we were not engaged in military operations in Muslim countries and against Muslim enemies. There is a long distance between this observation, however, and the conclusion that our strategy in Afghanistan or Iraq (which, after all, aim toward draw down and ultimate departure of US forces) is counterproductive or futile. As far as I can tell, none of the authorities relied by Tamanaha endorse the latter.

Put another way, suppose we were to withdraw all of our forces from Afghanistan (and Iraq) tomorrow. One effect of this might be to lessen the general hostility felt toward the US in the Muslim world and thus diminish the pool of potential terrorists. But there would be lots of other effects, even on a psychological level. A lot of Muslims might feel that such an event vindicated the strategy of AQ and other jihadists, and could be receptive to the argument that more terrorism would be the best way to address other Muslim grievances, of which there are plenty. And there would be many other potential effects, such as allowing the Taliban an opportunity to resume control over much or all of Afghanistan, giving AQ a place to train and operate freely, destabilizing Pakistan, etc.

All in all, I tend to support the administration’s Afghanistan strategy, not because I am convinced that it will work but because I don’t see any alternative that is obviously superior.
 

Brian Tamanaha said...

Bart, You ask me for evidence for my assertion that our presence in Afghanistan (and Iraq) inflames Islamic radicalism. In answer, I cite multiple findings by intelligence agencies and specialists. You then dismiss these intelligence findings as political and filled with speculation.

Brian, I am applying basic rules of evidence here, while you appear to be engaging in the logical fallacy of appeal to authority.

Your hypothesis is that our war with al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan has made anti-American terrorism worse that it would be if NATO was not in Afghanistan.

To prove this hypothesis, you require primary or reliable secondary evidence that:

1) The number of al Qaeda terrorists have increased. This requires intelligence assets observing new terrorists or documents identifying the new terrorists.

2) The new terrorists volunteered primarily because our operations in Afghanistan rather than for unrelated grievances. This requires interrogation of captured terrorists or perhaps captured documents discussing the subject.

3) The increased number of al Qaeda terrorists have carried out an increased number of attacks on United States interests. This is easy to determine since it is covered in the news media.

I have reviewed your linked paper and the only such primary or reliable secondary evidence you offer is:

N1. News reports of the Ft Hood and Little Rock murders totaling 14 dead. The perps do not appear to be primarily motivated by our operations in Afghanistan.

N60 & 61. News reports on the failed Christmas Bomber, who also does not appear to be primarily motivated by our operations in Afghanistan.

N82. News reports that five Arab Americans went to Pakistan for al Qaeda training to join the jihad against the Americans in Afghanistan. This is the first relevant evidence of your proposition. However, five Arab Americans is hardly a surge in recruiting.

That is the sum total of your primary or reliable secondary evidence which I can discern. If you have some additional evidence, I would be glad to read it.
 

While our intrepid former backpacker tellsl:

"Brian, I am applying basic rules of evidence here, ..."

he fails to inform us of such basic rules he applies.

Then he closes with this:

"If you have some additional evidence, I would be glad to read it."

I doubt that Brian is a glutton (or to use Brian's own word a "fool") for punishment from such an obvious non-expert as our yodeler, who perhaps perceives himself as the "decider" George W. Bush whom he was in thrall to for 8 years.

With regard to mls' support of the Afghanistan policy:

"because I don’t see any alternative that is obviously superior."

perhaps he does not recall Vietnam. And keep in mind that the Soviets eventually got out of Afghanistan, in effect leaving it for America to become entrenched there. (Admittedly, Russia has drug problems because of Afghanistan. But America has its own drug problems.) So what if there is no happy ending either way. Staying with the policy only digs a deeper hole to address down the road. We went that way with Vietnam until ....
 

Shag:

Try relevance, personal knowledge and hearsay as opposed to speculation.
 

Try relevance, personal knowledge and hearsay as opposed to speculation.
# posted by Bart DePalma : 1:53 PM


Baghdad, are you claiming to have personal knowledge?
 

Sanpete said: "It's true that our presence in Afghanistan inflames passions against us and builds up radicals, but it's unlikely that this effect overcomes the losses to Al Qaeda in this war."

What is the factual basis for this comment? What is the extent of the radicalizing effect in the region? What losses is AQ suffering, and what operational impact does that have on its short/long-term capabilities?
 

Hiernonymous, the radicalizing effect isn't limited to the region of Afghanistan but is coextensive with those worldwide who are susceptible to being radicalized by such things, mainly a small percentage of Muslims. Brian's paper (link in his post) gives some idea that it's a significant problem, but it would be hard to say very precisely how much.

Al Qaeda has suffered the loss of a largely unmolested home base where they could gather large numbers of people for training and indoctrination. They have suffered heavy losses in personnel, from grunts to leaders. Pretty much everything that requires interaction between people is harder or impossible for them now.

As for how those losses weigh against the gains to Al Qaeda and other radicalized enemies, it's hard to say with great confidence. I judge mainly on the basis of what seems to me the importance of the factors I mentioned above in carrying out successful attacks, and a reduction in successes from what they had before. A common analytical point has been that Al Qaeda doesn't really need large numbers or members or affiliates for success, that good training and planning is more crucial. Of course, the far greater vigilance also factors in, so it's hard to sort out the results.

As for the long term, if my general view is correct, it will be most advantageous to prevent Al Qaeda from recovering the haven they had in Afghanistan. That may not require total victory over the Taliban, but it will probably require keeping pressure on them enough that they won't want to invite Al Qaeda back, or be able to provide them with similar safety. Similar considerations apply in Pakistan, Sudan, etc.
 

It's not clear which of two distinct phenomena you're referring to - perhaps both, but they need to be addressed separately. One is a broader radicalization among Muslims in general that might affect AQ recruiting and cooperation; the other is local nationalist blowback, sparking a less AQ or even Islam-specific radicalization and playing into Taliban-style resistance. It's not clear from your response how one keeps the Taliban or similar organizations in check without 'total victory,' which isn't necessarily even definable, or infinitely prolonging a struggle that benefits AQ without demanding its participation.

I was also wondering if you could be more specific about the losses to AQ and their impact on operations. Do you have a good sense of what those losses are, what they've done to recover or adapt, and how essential a Central Asian safehaven would be to future operations? I don't think anyone would dispute that the initial Afghan operations disrupted AQ, but those heavy losses were suffered nearly a decade ago. The current question really is how is the burgeoning resistance in Afghanistan offset by continuing successes against AQ? Are you familiar enough with AQ, Taliban, and coalition operations to provide concrete support to the contention that "it's unlikely thatt this effect overcomes the losses to Al Qaeda in this war," or are you, as it seems from your response, simply expressing your personal sense of things? Nothing wrong with that, but nothing you've written thus far contains a solid causal link between ongoing military operations in Afghanistan with perceived AQ weakness.
A vague sense that the trade-off is worth it stands a roughly 50-50 chance of being right, but having some more solid reasons for the opinion would lend it some weight.
 

Hiernonymous, Brian was referring specifically to worldwide radicalization, so that's what I was responding to. I agree that our presence also inflames nationalist sentiment, which works in favor of the Taliban in some areas, though much of Afghanistan is no happier at the prospect of the return of the Taliban than the presence of the US, much less so in much of the country, since we claim to have no designs to stay forever or run their lives. As I understand it, the current objective is to deal with the Taliban by defeating it militarily in some places, making deals with elements of it in other places, and building up the Afghan military and local forces to the point that they can keep the Taliban from taking over more of the country than can be contained. That leaves the possibility that fighting between Afghan forces and the Taliban may continue after we leave, if elements of the Taliban elect to continue to try to take more territory than may be agreed to.

I don't know how you reached the figure of a 50-50 chance of being right, but it's certainly true that my views are impressionistic, based on the reports and analysis I read of the war and the current state of Al Qaeda. I don't keep track of the specifics; I read the people who do. Obama appears to be well within the mainstream of thought among those who do keep close track. Part of the problem he faces is that however bad the prospects may seem, the alternatives look worse. You'll notice that Brian doesn't present any analysis of his alternative, not even on the broad level I'm working on.

As I understand it, currently Al Qaeda cannot meet openly anywhere in Afghanistan or Pakistan, for fear of being blown up. Their activities appear to be greatly restricted. A haven in central Asia isn't essential for them, but a haven somewhere would be of great benefit to them for the same reasons it was before. It's current policy to prevent Al Qaeda from gaining anywhere a haven where they can operate as they did before. It does seem that it would greatly increase the danger to allow them to do so.

One other point. It may be recalled that around 2006 many of those calling for withdrawal from Afghanistan now were making similar calls to withdraw from Iraq, for similar reasons. It seemed apparent to me at the time, even though I strongly disagreed with the invasion, that it would be a horrible mistake to withdraw then, that the risks of far greater slaughter were too great. The analysis of those who called for withdrawal proved to be wrong in terms of their short-term predictions of collapse and all-out civil war, and I think we can all be grateful for that. It appears to me, though, that most of those people learned nothing from their mistake, that their analysis still glues facts into a preconceived ideological conclusion rather than allowing facts to dictate. It's much the same kind of thinking that got us into Iraq.
 

And Sanpete invents another strawman to flail at: "those who called for withdrawal proved to be wrong in terms of their short-term predictions of collapse and all-out civil war"

Actually, what most of those who called for withdrawal were saying was that our presence was merely delaying the inevitable civil strife that will ensue once we leave.

Which remains highly probable, both in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And meanwhile, the drain in lives and resources continues.
 

C2H50H said...

Actually, what most of those who called for withdrawal were saying was that our presence was merely delaying the inevitable civil strife that will ensue once we leave. Which remains highly probable, both in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Once a common wisdom takes root on the left, no amount of contrary reality can seem to shake it.

The Army and Marines withdrew to their bases and started coming home last year. Yet, Iraq shows no sign of civil war and a Shia/Sunni alliance party just won a plurality in the national elections there.

The Afghanistan War is not a civil war as that term is normally understood. The Pushtun are not at war with the other ethnic groups. Rather, the Taliban are attempting a revolution to overthrow the elected government and impose a theocracy. The Pushtun Taliban have no trouble attacking other Pushtun who oppose them.

There is no reason classic counter insurgency doctrine cannot work in Afghanistan as it did in Iraq.
 

Bart,

That's as perfect an example of a half-truth as could be constructed. Just who do you think it would fool?

Wake me up when the American military isn't backing up the Iraqi forces with air power and with bases all over Iraq. With your vast "personal knowledge" of all things military you could surely tell us how many tens of thousands of US troops are stationed in Iraq.
 

Ethanol, sounds like you were one of those calling for withdrawal in 2006, though you don't quite own up to it. Actually, the most common argument from those calling for withdrawal included the claim that our presence was making things worse, not merely that we were delaying the inevitable. Not everyone of that view argued explicitly that our continued presence would help bring on the collapse, but it did appear to be implied by their premise.

As you ought to be able to see, things got better, not worse. You might still believe that it's likely there will be all-out civil war when we leave, that there will be the same slaughter that very probably would have occurred had we left, and you may be so sure about it that you still think it would have been a good idea to leave when a result of mass slaughter was a near certainty. That would be an extraordinary example of ideology over facts. It would have been highly foolish, irresponsible and immoral to leave when we knew it would probably lead to mass slaughter because we were worried there might be a slaughter anyway later. A reasonable chance to prevent the slaughter was worth our taking the risk, and there was and is a reasonable chance it won't occur. Thank you for illustrating my point about not learning from the mistake.
 

Sanpete,

Actually, in 2004 I was arguing that the correct strategy in Iraq was to have an election, then withdraw to remote bases and simply support the elected government.

It is Bart-level delusional to imagine that the occupation of Iraq has actually made things better. We've armed, at US taxpayer expense, all the parties, and, when we finally withdraw, there will be another bill to pay.

Better than what? We had a contained dictator who was 70 years old. Now we have an open wound and a call to jihad, and lots and lots of young fire-breathing antagonists. It may appear to be healing, but that's only on the surface. The underlying antagonisms, ethnic conflict, and jockeying for position are going full bore, just not, for the most part, with active warfare.

Next time you get a puncture wound, just tape it shut and ignore the swelling and the radiating red streaks -- that will give you an idea as to what's going on.
 

Ethanol, the question isn't what you were arguing for in 2004, but in 2006, when it was even more evident that your 2004 suggestion wasn't practical. The result of withdrawing to bases would have been unrestrained slaughter before we even made it through the gates. We were the only effective security force.

You once again fail to read what you respond to. I haven't argued that our invasion made things better. I said explicitly that I believe the invasion was a huge mistake. I've argued, quite plainly, that not withdrawing in 2006 has made things better than they were in 2006.

You don't respond to what I actually said, which remains a valid criticism of your view. It would have been highly foolish, irresponsible and immoral to withdraw when we knew it would probably lead to mass slaughter because we were worried there might be a slaughter anyway later. A reasonable chance to prevent the slaughter was worth our taking the risk, and there was and is a reasonable chance it won't occur. You continue to believe what your ideology dictates, not what the facts determine.
 

Sanpete,

I don't respond to much of what you write because it appears to be so divorced from reality that to argue is pointless. How does one argue that the sky is blue to a blind man who denies that there is a sense of sight?

I get that you think you are saying something, but you begin with insane assumptions such as that Iraq has already been "won".

In 2006 the Iraqi military and civilian bureacracy had been disbanded. After that it was too late to try the solution until they had been recreated, at enormous expense and loss of life.

Ah, why bother. Carry on.
 

C2H50H said...

Wake me up when the American military isn't backing up the Iraqi forces with air power and with bases all over Iraq.

The US has not used airpower to back up the Iraqis since the opening stages of the Surge nearly two years ago.

Of course, given that we won the war nearly two years ago, there is nothing for the US to back up the Iraqis against.

With your vast "personal knowledge" of all things military you could surely tell us how many tens of thousands of US troops are stationed in Iraq.

According to an NPR story about the drawdown a wekk or so ago, US forces are down well below 100,000 now and are supposed to be about 50,000 by summer, nearly all of whom are support personnel. If you listened to the news, you too could be a military expert privy to these numbers. The big decision facing US commanders was what to do with all the cement barriers around the drawn down bases, not how to prop up the Iraqi government in the midst of a civil war.

I know this is hard to accept because it does not fit into your Vietnam template, but we won the Iraq War some time ago and are leaving the Iraqis with a vibrant democracy.
 

Sanpete said "I don't keep track of the specifics; I read the people who do."

That tells me what I wanted to know. Thanks.
 

A vibrant democracy in action:

Baghdad, Iraq (CNN) -- Gunmen wearing military uniforms stormed houses and killed 25 people in a Sunni village near Baghdad, officials said Saturday. Five of the dead were women. Most of the victims were shot in the head, and all were found handcuffed, police officials in Baghdad said. The attack involving at least 20 gunmen took place late Friday in a village in Arab Jabour, a predominantly Sunni region about 15 miles southeast of the capital, authorities said. The area was once a hotbed of insurgents until the birth of Awakening Councils or the Sons of Iraq, which set about to reduce violence and provide security for residents. Most of the victims in Friday's attacks were local Sons of Iraq members. Authorities said the mass shooting appears to be the work of al Qaeda in Iraq but stressed the investigation is ongoing. Iraqi security forces initially arrested 25 suspects but released several due to insufficient evidence, police said. Purchasing a military uniform is quite easy in Iraq. In Baghdad, several shops sell police and army uniforms for less than $15.
 

Ethanol

"you begin with insane assumptions such as that Iraq has already been "won""

Where do you get his stuff? I do no such thing, and clearly imply otherwise. You have severe trouble following even the simplest point that you disagree with, as you've shown repeatedly. Yet you keep confidently chiming in with criticisms based on your careless confusions. Maybe you should see if you can follow an argument before you attack it.

"In 2006 the Iraqi military and civilian bureacracy had been disbanded. After that it was too late to try the solution until they had been recreated, at enormous expense and loss of life."

Which in no way counters what I've said about those who were calling for us to withdraw in 2006. It was a terrible idea driven by ideology, not facts.
 

Hiernonymous, I don't doubt that it does tell you all you really wanted to know, pretense notwithstanding.

Brian's conclusions don't follow from the specifics he cites for the reasons I and others have given. That doesn't depend on us proving our points, even though some broad grounds to think them reasonable have been given. Brian would have to rule out the alternative interpretations of the facts we've raised for his arguments to be sound. As mls pointed out, the sources for most of his facts don't share his conclusions. As I pointed out, Obama, not Brian, is supported by the bulk of those who follow these things closely. If all that matters to you is whether I can give specifics, you've completely missed the point. Which may have been the point.
 

This comment has been removed by the author.
 

Sanpete: No insult intended. It really did tell me all I was looking for.
I already am well-enough grounded on this topic to have an opinion of Brian's comments. Your judgment was expressed too briefly to know its basis without asking further. I don't think I missed your 'point.' As it happens, I agree with the position you support, but I wanted to know WHY you support it, and whether your depth of knowledge would reward further conversation. All the best.
 

Hiernonymous, I don't entirely follow your view of what you've said. No matter, if you are seeking more depth of detail, why not post some yourself and see what kind of response you get? It might at least be enlightening for the rest of us.
 

Sanpete,

For what it's worth, if I misread your comments, sorry.

Consider your flat assertion (without evidence) that "The result of withdrawing to bases would have been unrestrained slaughter" in 2004.

You have no evidence, nor can you have any evidence for that, other than your ideological beliefs.

Yet you accuse others of ideological blindness.

But I see your game now -- make flat assertions without evidence, ignore requests for citations to your sources, and ask rhetorical and meaningless questions (why, after all, do you expect someone pointing out that Afghanistan is headed for disaster to propose a plan for avoiding said disaster, otherwise?).

I'm only going to bother commenting in reply to you in the case that you say something falsifiable. Since you say so little of substance, that's not likely.
 

Ethanol, the comment you quote from me about unrestrained slaughter is in reference to 2006, as I said, when it was very plain what the most likely outcome of withdrawal would be. At that time it was feared by most analysts that even with the security we were providing Iraq was on the edge of full scale civil war. Sectarian violence was extreme, and large militias were being held back (some) because of threats by the US to their leaders and guarantees that we would provide some security. That view has nothing to do with my ideology. By inclination, I would have preferred withdrawal in 2006, but the facts didn't support my inclination.

The rest of your post is more stuff you've made up. For example, I've pointed out that Brian hasn't shown or even suggested how some alternative course would be better than Obama's policy, and you mysteriously treat this as rhetorical or meaningless. What could be more to the point? What should Obama do?
 

Sanpete,

Apparently, when poking yourself in the face with a sharp stick, and someone comes by and points out that it's an extremely bad idea, because you could put out your eye, you would insist on being given an alternative before taking the warning.

I note also that, when I pointed out that you have never shared the analysts you turn to, your answer is ...

I'll let Mourad instruct you in the other thread now. I'm sure it will be amusing.
 

Ethanol, it's easy to show why not poking yourself in the eye is a better alternative than continuing to do so. You have utterly failed to show that not continuing with Obama's policies is a better alternative, and it's not at all obvious.

My answer to your apparent inability to find the NYT, NPR and other mainstream sources of information and analysis about Afghanistan is to look harder. If there's some particular factual claim I've made you're in doubt about, just say what it is.

You're confused yet again if you think Mourad is arguing we should pack up and leave Afghanistan. If he has good reasons to think replacing Karzai is practical, I'll be happy to consider them.
 

"It's true that our presence in Afghanistan inflames passions against us and builds up radicals, but it's unlikely that this effect overcomes the losses to Al Qaeda in this war."

This assessment is worth reviewing in light of recent developments.
 

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