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Open thread on Afghanistan

What are your thoughts and feelings on the U.S. role, military and otherwise, especially going forward, Afghanistan?

Where are you on the spectrum from immediate and full withdrawal to stay as long as it takes and do whatever is necessary?

Is there a definition of success that achievable at a cost that is worth it to the United States?

How do you feel about the Vietnam analogy?

Comments (21)

  1. Submitted by John Olson on 09/22/2009 - 01:36 pm.

    This is a part of the world where conflict has been the norm for a long, long time.

    Once the last of the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan leaves (if they ever do), there is no reason to believe that the various parties will ever agree to live together peacefully. The only thing it seems the various factions hate more than the other factions are outsiders trying to come in and impose their version of law and order.

    If the old Soviet Union could not succeed in their objectives with their neighbor in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, what makes anyone think that the U.S. can do it now?

  2. Submitted by dan buechler on 09/22/2009 - 01:37 pm.

    Sorry to not really state my opinions but don’t forget Pakistan. Also 93% of the opium (and it attendant problems and profits and problems again) in the world comes from this region. 2 million refugees were able to resume living in the swat valley. Don’t forget Europe. I guess the only thing I can say with some certainty this is a situation requiring decades and in what form I certainly do not know.

  3. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 09/22/2009 - 01:52 pm.

    Those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it. Read the history of foreign troops in Afghanistan.

    Given our connection to a monumentally corrupt Afghan government, we are certain to be disliked (hated) by most Afghans who do not stand to gain by our presence.
    This is the part of the analogy to Vietnam that holds up best — there we also lacked popular support due to our alliance with a corrupt and ineffectual government.

    In other words we cannot win (whatever winning means). The best we could hope to do is maintain enough of a military presence (read ‘occupation’) to neutralize Al Qaeda (though to do that we would also have to occupy half of Pakistan).

    I’d stop short of saying that we should withdraw immediately and completely, but I’d say our role should be limited to an advisory one for Afghan forces IF we can find competent leadership for them, and special forces to hunt down Al Qaeda cells.
    The Taliban are mostly an indigenous group; not a threat to us except as they support Al Qaeda. We ought to try to drive a wedge between those two groups; the Taliban are the de facto government of Afghanistan right now, and are becoming the de facto government of a significant part of Pakistan as well. We’d be better off co-opting them than fighting them on their turf, which is a losing battle.

    If we find that we cannot do these things, then we should cut our losses and get out.

  4. Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 09/22/2009 - 03:00 pm.

    I’m not sure how we define victory in Afghanistan. A stable government (even if it is corrupt and non-democratic?)? The Taliban completely destroyed (and replaced by what fresh horror?)?

    Is just “getting out” a victory? I don’t know. I really don’t. It’s a real mess.

  5. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 09/22/2009 - 03:04 pm.

    We can’t completely destroy the Taliban — at the most they’d melt back into the population until we reduced the 200,000 troops we’d need to drive them underground.
    Nothing to gain!

  6. Submitted by Lance Groth on 09/22/2009 - 03:15 pm.

    It’s looking like the wrong war at the wrong time. The right time for Afghanistan was soon after 9/11, with the goal of killing or capturing the entire al-Qaida leadership, including bin-Laden. We had them on the ropes too, but Bush dropped the ball, took his attention off Afghanistan (remember Bush’s comment to the effect that he “didn’t think all that much about bin-Laden” after bin-Laden escaped from Tora Bora), and invaded Iraq instead.

    We should have stayed focused in Afghanistan until the job was done, and only then considered other “adventures”, and only if necessary (which Iraq was not).

    Now we’re mired in a tough situation, with more troops needed if we’re to really secure Afghanistan (if this is even possible), but with a public that is weary of it all and that just wants to get out. Who are we even fighting? Are there any actual al-Qaida fighting us there any more, or is it just the Taliban? Do we have any clue where bin-Laden is? How do we stabilize a place that has defied every attempt to do so, internal and external, throughout its history?

    Unfortunately, it seems we can’t just pull out. There is Pakistan to consider. Hardly a stable country itself, if nuclear armed Pakistan fell to the radicals things could get very bad very quickly. Iran on one side, India on the other, the “Stans” to the north and China just over the mountains – and terrorists and radicals seemingly operating at will. Yipes.

    It’s an ugly situation that is sapping America’s strength and fortune, with no clear end (or even strategy?) in sight. Yet the alternative might be worse. What a mess. The VietNam analogy is not too far off the mark, at least in terms of being mired in an essentially unwinnable war. Despite all this, it seems we’re stuck there for years at least. I wonder, though, how much of this we can afford. Imperial overstretch has doomed many an empire.

  7. Submitted by Bill Kellett on 09/22/2009 - 03:46 pm.

    Unintended consequences. If we stay and bleed or if we fold our tent and watch the dominos fall; either option leaves scarey potential problems for ours and their futures.
    We are not the Russians. Or the British or whoever else was qugmired in Afghanistan. Our problems may match theirs or be completely new and unique. One thing certain is there will be problems whatever our course. Choose your poison.
    One thought that comes to my mind is who died and made us god? These problems belong to the world.
    I have always thought that we should have sent the FBI after the criminals that perpetrated 911. If they need help, let the military assist. The job belonged to the Justice Department and not the Pentagon. You cannot make war with individuals or cancer or any of the other wars we are presently pursuing. Wars are for countries. Criminals should go to court and jail.

  8. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 09/22/2009 - 08:05 pm.

    You are not going to solve 2000 years of problems in the 2 to 4 years of the first tour of the Obama administration. We didn’t do the job in the 8 years of the Bush administration. We’ve wasted eight years up to this point. We don’t even have the army to do it. This is a very rugged place. The people are spread far and wide with very few roads in between.

    If you want to do what it takes, it will be a twenty year and a very expensive commitment. And we don’t even have an army to do it. We have about 500,000 troops total. When they talk about building up they talk about 10,000 more this year and 10,000 more that year and this is not enough to do the job. We don’t have enough money left in our treasury to do the job.

    Its time to fish or cut bait. We owe them as much aid as we can afford. We owe them training to build a bigger more effective army so they can do these things themselves.

    We’ve wasted 8 years, lots of money and a lot of lives. And now we say “but now we are going to get serious”. Well now we can’t get serious. We don’t have the wherewithal, we don’t have the facilities, we don’t have the manpower and we don’t have the money. We have a lot of problem here at home that have to be dealt with. I’m sorry, I don’t think we can afford this, whatever the consequences.

    I hope the president thinks long and hard I hope he studies this up and down. I hope he takes some advice outside of the usual suspects in Washington D.C. and across the river at the Pentagon. This is not working it is not going to work and we can’t afford it. How much clearer can it be? You don’t need to be getting the country bogged down in another sand dune, another swamp. We cannot police the world. We thought we could and every time we thought that it has not worked. We don’t have to do this. There are always reasons not to draw the sword.
    Not to go to war Its just that they are seldom looked at in a timely fashion.

  9. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 09/22/2009 - 10:33 pm.

    In early 2007 Iraq looked like a lost cause to quite a few people. Not so much anymore today. Fortune changes in war and long term predictions are never very reliable.
    I think we have to stay in some form or another. Even if we just look for ways to keep it a low level conflict, we have to do so. The problems with Al Qaeda and Pakistan won’t go away just because US troops are withdrawn.
    And frankly, this is the time for Obama and congressional Dems to show their stuff. They spent eight years criticizing the Bush doctrine without offering a real alternative. Big time terrorism is still an issue. What long term strategy is best for dealing with it? (And if your answer is simply to blame Bush then you need to grow up and think harder.)
    The Afghanistan problem is just a piece of a larger one. How do we stop escalating acts of terrorism? The Bush answer was to knock out nation-states that offer support. There have been obvious flaws in that approach, both in execution and long term effects. What is the alternative? We tried law enforcement and pinprick attacks back in the 90’s. It clearly didn’t make things better. Is there another answer?

  10. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 09/23/2009 - 06:55 am.

    The “original” goal was to remove Al Qaeda from Afghanistan, and we have reached that goal. There is not one member of the military that will say, at least convincingly that Al Qaeda is still in Afghanistan. As Peder points out, Al Qaeda operates out of the western frontier of Pakistan.

    The best we can hope for is that the inhabitants of Afghanistan will like their government more than they will like the Taliban. And with all due respect. I believe that we will ultimately negotiate a settlement with the Taliban.

    Look, there is a massively corrupt government operating Afghanistan as it is. President Karzai’s brother is a drug lord. It doesn’t get any clearer than that…

  11. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 09/23/2009 - 07:08 am.

    Richard you might be right. Maybe we set a short timeline, declare victory and get out of there. Of course then we need to be prepared to go back in and bomb out the possible replacement if the gov’t falls.
    The sad thing, there really are no easy answers. Possibly no good answers either.

  12. Submitted by ray j wallin on 09/23/2009 - 09:27 am.

    Afghanistan is really not a country. It is more a place where other countries come together. Has there ever been one truly stable leadership that had rule over all corners of Afghanistan? It is a land best set up for tribal lords. To take that and turn it into a stable government would be quite a feat.

    Our resources are being spread very thin. We can keep eyes and ears on Afghanistan without having such a large human presence there. We will have more and more drones in the sky every year and as big-brotherish as that sounds, it may be the best option.

    The whole Middle East is changing and will continue to change. With Western influences becoming more acceptable, the economic dependence between them and us is bound to increase. And economic dependence is the largest deterrent of violence – on both ends. Of course, rebuilding from the inside takes a lot more time than conquering from the outside, so conquering looks better on paper.

    Sometimes the person who is hurt in a crime is the last person you should ask for direction. The US was the one hurt on 9/11 and I think that has clouded the objective of our missions. We should listen to other world leaders and accept their help. But if even the smallest wrong comes to the US from sources inside Afghanistan, the president at the time will drop in the polls overnight. And that may be the fear driving the whole mission.

  13. Submitted by John E Iacono on 09/23/2009 - 03:13 pm.

    I start with a few “givens:”

    >Afghanistan is an impoverished territory with a long history of tribal governments which have successfully resisted all efforts to date to forge a meaningful national government. “Bachshish” (in our eyes, “corruption”) is endemic in the culture.

    >The population is mostly muslim, and generally supports the “back to the seventh century” thinking of such populations: radical social change, if forced from without, will be embraced with reluctance and quickly revert once outside pressure abates.

    >”Shariah”, a violent code that has been used to subjugate such peoples for centuries, maintains a certain order at the expense of personal freedom, rights, and dignity for large portions of the population governed by it.

    >Every few hundred years it seems that muslims get caught up in “jihad” fever, and go on a rampage. The only thing that stops them is military defeat — a reality they understand.

    >Like people everywhere, Afghanis “do what they have to do” to survive economically. At the moment, they have to raise poppies, a profitable crop that flourishes in their mountainous, arid land. This plays into the hands of the jihadists, who tax this principal illegal income to fund their efforts at world devolution.

    >Religious fervor, through all the centuries, has proven the source of the most vicious, violent, and outrageous behavior whenever and wherever manifested, and the most difficult to uproot.

    My view, then, is colored by these facts.

    I do not believe that we will “convert” the Afghan people to our world views by either military or political efforts, so long as they remain a muslim nation.

    I do not believe that we can force a meaningful lasting national government upon them by any means whatsoever. The tribal leaders will endure.

    So long as effective guerrilla warfare continues to work in their favor, our continued presence in their territory serves only to provide them with targets, and if we retaliate to increase hatred for our presence. We should therefore remove the “targets” that we provide, and as quickly as possible.

    But we should NOT cease our war against the jihadists. Military defeat is the only thing that will put an end to the periodic movement in muslim countries.

    Two approaches to this are available:

    >The approach used by the Romans,
    who surrounded Carthage, and later Jerusalem, starved the people in their cities, burned those cities, plowed under the remains, and cast salt on the resulting earth to create a wasteland for centures.

    We used this approach with the South in Sherman’s March to the Sea, and again with the Germans and the Japanese in world war II. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, it would take the form of razing every city where the AlQaida have a home or collect taxes. As in previous times we have used it, many innocent poeple suffer and die. But AlQaida will not long enjoy support from populations facing extermination. And they will die with the rest.

    >If we do not have the stomach to do this again, the alternative is to use the approach used by Mossad: infiltration, execution, terror meeting terror without flinching. Aerial precision attacks. All done in secrecy and with denials. But those who lead in the AlQaida world will live in fear, understanding that at any moment they may be next. This approach takes longer, but can be equally effective.

    In either of these approaches, we would say, in effect, to the Afghanis: If you like your corrupt tribal system to the point where you will not reject it, you can have it. Keep in killing each other until you are tired of it. Repress each other with cruel and oppresive laws. We are out of the “fix it” game. BUT, be aware that if we see any jihadist talk or movement in your midst, we will exterminate the perpetrators, our only pervading interest: we can play total or guerrilla war, too.

  14. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 09/23/2009 - 03:13 pm.

    Remember, we helped the Afghans drive the Russians out a few decades ago; it doesn’t seem to have gained us a lot of love or trust there.

    And Peder, I’m not sure that we can count Iraq as a success yet. It’s government looks good only in comparison to Karzai, and whatever happened to the idea that Iraq was going to export enough oil to pay for our costs?

    Right now, we’ve got at best a semicompetent collection of mercenaries (the Iraqi army and police) operating on our dime and with our support. It’s not clear whether they have real popular support.

    It’s also not clear that the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds have decided to live with each other, or are simply waiting for us to leave so that they can settle old scores.

    About the only clear justification for the whole thing is that we’ve got a major military base in the Mideast (for better or worse).

  15. Submitted by Dan Landherr on 09/23/2009 - 04:10 pm.

    Is the campaign in Afghanistan (and Iraq) simply a “check” on the more dangerous Iran and the volatile Pakistan?

  16. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 09/23/2009 - 05:16 pm.

    Paul, I’m not putting Iraq in the success category but it sure looks a lot better than it did two and a half years ago, doesn’t it?

  17. Submitted by Howard Miller on 09/23/2009 - 06:31 pm.

    John E …. i don’t think we can kill our way to victory over …. well whom? The muslim extremists? The Russians killed lots of Afghani’s and couldn’t control the country. We killed lots of Vietnamese, and couldn’t control the country.

    If we killed everyone in Afghanistan, there’s still more than a billion Muslims who would take a decidedly dim view of our genocidal ways …. you want to have a global hot war between the US and every significant Muslim population center? Your prescription is more likely to lead to that.

    Troop surges in Iraq and Afghanistan can not be expected to have comparable effects. They’re different places with different cultures, economies and infrastructures.

  18. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 09/23/2009 - 06:42 pm.

    Peder — How much have we spent in the past two and a half years to get there?
    It’s not free.

  19. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 09/24/2009 - 12:08 pm.

    I understand that Al Quada is essentially gone from Afghanistan. Is that why we now must stay until we “get” all the Taliban dead or in prison?
    Will Afghanistan then be a democracy because of our presence, or will we have merely alienated and radicalized a few thousand more Taliban fighters and “must” stay until they, too, are dead or in prison?

    We must consider said, as others have said, there may be no military solution to Afghanistan’s problems.

    We might even consider the admonition from Libya’s Khadaffi that we have no business sending our military to every country that is having a civil war (even less than rational types are right part of the time).

    We absolutely must consider non-military means of helping Afghanistan develop a food-growing ag sector (instead of just poppies) and a just economy with universal education and social services that would make rule by the Taliban unnecessary for poverty-stricken Afghanis.

  20. Submitted by John E Iacono on 09/24/2009 - 12:14 pm.


    Scorched earth policies do not bow to world opinion. The views of the South or of England or the world were not consulted by Sherman.

    We can, by either approach suggested, reduce AlQaida to ineffectual advocacy, stripped of allies who choose not to die for them. One would not care about the opinions of a billion muslims, so long as they decided that jihad was not a good idea, as they did after defeats in previous centuries.

    Your approach, I fear, would have left Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo in place, as Chamberlin ignominiously did with Hitler in 1938.

  21. Submitted by Beryl John-Knudson on 09/24/2009 - 03:48 pm.

    The domino effect of killing a person, a group, a nation, escalates downwards as one justifies killing a child and another child; ambush a wedding party…all called ‘collateral damage’ in the time of war – you become an enemy to every man, woman and child beyond, in and outside of the borders you attacked for whatever reasons, for everybody fears you now and the ‘enemy’ becomes a collective term, those lands ever growing…then why not wave a flag over all those ‘digressions’ such as killing and it’s all okay, hey…so we become the terrorists we fear and we don’t even recognize ourselves anymore…so be it…maybe we are beyond saving ourselves, from ourselves at this point…but the last act of an agressor nation is when they run out steam; run out of military funds or nations to control or someone new to fear or someone new to hate…then they will surely turn on themselves; all wars will be contained within our borders…fighting, killing one’s neighbor, family friend, gramma, the family pet…who knows when killing has become ritual, an addiction and all that satisfies is more killing…all that need to control is out of control…is that to be the last hurrah? (there are no ‘periods’ here, just ellipses in the name of war)…

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