We've Been Warned

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on October 2, 2010


This ought to come as no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention, but there is no way that we are ready to hand off responsibilities to the Afghan government, and the Afghan security forces in less than a year’s time, the Obama Administration’s desires to the contrary notwithstanding. Anthony Cordesman’s piece on this issue practically screams out–apologies to Glenn Reynolds–”slower, please!”. Unfortunately, there is no indication that the Administration is listening. To be sure, the Administration tells us that we will not complete a withdrawal by July of next year, only start one, and it periodically mumbles something about how conditions on the ground will help determine things. But one is not entirely sure that the Administration won’t just try to skedaddle out of Afghanistan as fast as is humanly possible; if only to better President Obama’s chances of securing his base in advance of his re-election effort in 2012.

Let there be no doubt; preventing the Taliban from re-taking power and perhaps allowing al Qaeda to once again use Afghanistan as a base of operations is in the national security interests of the United States. We are now putting ourselves in a position where those national security interests may not be met. If that happens, we will have a lot to vote on come 2012, including the question of why the Obama Administration allowed us to lose Afghanistan.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/G5UUF6SFVDPQQQF4AEF3KR4PKM Simon

    “Faster please” is Michael Ledeen.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/G5UUF6SFVDPQQQF4AEF3KR4PKM Simon

    “Faster please” is Michael Ledeen.

  • jarober

    You know, before asserting that we need to fight a forever war (with apologies to Joe Haldeman) in Afghanistan, you need to explain what you see as possible victory there. When you do that, perhaps you could explain which other great powers have achieved great things in the Hindu Kush over the last few millenia.

    I won't wait for the answer to that last bit; it's a short list with no entries on it. A better policy would be one where we just leave with a nasty warning – to wit, any attacks originating from there will be met with an utterly disproportionate response.

    The only thing that makes any sense in that region is nasty punitive raids.

  • AST

    Obama is so overwhelmed that all he can think about is his next vacation. Why expect him to act like a real President? His experts have turned out to be duds and he has no idea what to do next except to try to blame Republicans. And next year he'll have even fewer options.

    Why should anybody on earth want to associate with the U.S. after Vietnam except for foreign aid? We're certainly not an ally anybody can rely on. In 4 years at most, we could elect another Democrat and then pfft goes your military support.

    Yet another reason why the Tea Parties need to remain active from now on, but not as a part of either major party. They should be the watchdog on the politicians we send to Washington, because ethics and principles in that city corrode faster than a penny in nitric acid. (See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NFCqQjEWHtQ )

  • StevenDB

    It's not just Afghanistan. Obama has a good chance of losing Iraq through premature withdrawal, as well.

  • Pejman_Yousefzadeh

    I don't recall ever having advocated a “forever war.” As for the whole “graveyard of empires” myth that you bring up, see this. And here you thought that you wouldn't get an answer.

  • Pejman_Yousefzadeh

    Also Glenn Reynolds.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=687516128 Justin Pangilinan

    At least the Iraqis are proving to be more competent in handing their own security, somewhat, than the Afghanis.

  • http://www.thegantry.net/blog Casey

    Mr. Yousefzadeh has addressed your comments, but I'd like to point out that establishing a national government effective enough to prevent the creation of another terrorist safe haven is not that difficult. We just have to stop obsessing about the creation of the next New Hampshire in Afghanistan.

    As for nasty punitive raids, you first have to determine who did what, in order to execute the appropriate punishment. As a reminder, I'd like to point it a favorite local tactic in reaction to that sort of policy is do something terrible or provocative, but in a way which gives the appearance that one's enemy was guilty of the act.

    Even today in Afghanistan it's a popular tactic to accuse a neighboring tribe of harboring Taliban or AQ operatives just so the allies will attack them for you.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_TUMNB3LYUQTD36WUUAD2BF7QIM Michael

    “This” is enlightening, but the fact is that all those former conquerors – from Darius to the Russians – are no longer there. The lesson of history seems to be that we'll be the next to blow through like a monsoon.

    The security interests – al-Qaeda – are certainly real, but it's a real long shot to figure we can clean out that nest.

    The question remains, “what next?” Maybe, pull out and try to contain, but their neighbors aren't exactly friendly either.

  • Pejman_Yousefzadeh

    Darius is indeed no longer there. He is dead. Afghanistan had little to do with that. As for the Soviets, they are not there because we helped push them out. This also has little to do with Afghanistan being some kind of Bermuda Triangle of empires.

    As for your remaining points, they are certainly interesting ones, but they do nothing to diminish the need to ensure that Afghanistan can rid itself of Taliban/al Qaeda control, both for Afghanistan's sake, and to further the national security interests of the United States.

  • http://stonelight.wordpress.com/ Jones

    If Obama loses Afghanistan, he still won't really have lost Afghanistan. Because, you see, it will suddenly revert to being George Bush's war, and Obama INHERITED it, you see, along with that car in the ditch over there, and what's a President to do? Presidentin' is hard, guys. Let the man finish his waffle.

  • jarober

    You are implicitly advocating a forever war, because you know as well as I do that:

    – no US administration will set up a stable, but non democratic government, which might be achievable – but I have my doubts even about that goal

    – Neither the tactics of the Bush admin or the Obama admin are going to work

    – You make no proposal, and instead simply advocate that we “keep at it”.

    Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results. That's what you advocate.

  • Pejman_Yousefzadeh

    “Keep at it”? We just started a surge, which qualifies as the “new proposal” that you seem to be looking for. I am an advocate of that, and not the status quo ante. I am sure that it benefits you to try to put words in my mouth in an attempt to “win” a debate with me, but it is not particularly honest.

  • jarober

    What is now called a surge used to be called “reinforcements”. Typically, you call for reinforcements to either press an advantage (not something we are seeing there now), or to shore up a destabilizing position.

    Since Obama has not committed to keeping troop levels up – and in fact, has committed to withdrawing – we pretty much have the worst of all possible worlds, where more men and money are being tossed into the maw of an operation that the political leadership has already given up on.

    At this point, I really see no upside to being there at all. Pray tell – what would you call victory conditions in Afghanistan? How do you propose to achieve said conditions? Do you really think that an additional 30k troops chasing a ragtag force of guerrillas around the mountains will achieve anything like victory? Especially when they have – like the VC back in the 60's – a safe haven to withdraw into (North Vietnam then, Pakistan now)?

    The tribes we are fighting will, if pressed hard enough, melt into Pakistan until we leave – which we will do eventually. At that point, they'll come back, and the status quo ante will be restored. I just don't see what you think we can accomplish here.

  • Pejman_Yousefzadeh

    1. Reinforcements don't always come with a change in strategy. The surge comes with an increased focus on counterinsurgency.

    2. I certainly agree that the Obama Administration's seeming commitment to a preemptive withdrawal would put the effort in Afghanistan in danger. You seem to think that we ought to make the withdrawal even more preemptive. I think that we have too many national security interests at stake–including ensuring that the people who ran Afghanistan when 9/11 happened don't get a chance to run it again–to withdraw faster, which is why I would prefer that the Obama Administration rethink its commitment to a preemptive withdrawal.

    3. You are entitled to your opinions about upsides. I defined victory conditions in Point 2 above in terms of identifying American national security conditions. Your description of what the surge will entail is incomplete at best. Inapt Vietnam analogies bore me.

    4. The tribes we are fighting may well melt into Afghanistan, but they will be forced to stay away if American troops have enough time to train the Afghan security forces. The question is whether the Administration will allow that, or whether it will commit to beginning a drawdown in July of next year, come Hell or high water.

  • jarober

    Inapt comparisons? In both cases, the one similarity I point to is a safe haven. The two situations are very different in most respects, but that one thing is crucial. It means that winning will be well nigh impossible, because the enemy can always withdraw to a place where we won't follow (drone attacks don't count so far as I'm concerned, because they don't assert control).

    Right now, we are going into year 10 of this war. Just how much patience (never mind money) do you think the public has? You say we need to stay and fight; roughly speaking, just how long do you expect that to go on? 2 years? 5 years? Another decade?

    I'd suggest that you have a look at “The Great Gamble”. I took it as something of a cautionary tale on Afghanistan.

  • Pejman_Yousefzadeh

    1. Safe havens will avail the Taliban/al Qaeda nothing if we have time to train the Afghan army. Drone attacks certainly do count, because airstrikes on enemy targets help ground troops gain and keep control.

    2. The public may have less patience than I do, though there is no reliable patience-monitor out there to tell how much they have. But that is besides the point. The point is that if enough patience is not shown, we will rue the day that we decided to leave Afghanistan too early.

  • jarober

    We've been training that army for nearly a decade; at the current rate of success, I think my earlier description of a forever war is pretty accurate.

    Secondly, there's a simpler answer to dealing with terror groups based in Afghanistan (or Somalia, or wherever) – the funding. Afghanistan is poor. Very poor. The funding for terror training comes from elsewhere. If the state sponsors felt actual peril from the US, the problem would dry up and blow away.

    Your solution is nothing but a gigantic game of whack-a-mole. Say we “win” in Afghanistan, and set up a stable government that controls it's territory. Yay – the terrorists go to Somalia. Or Yemen. Or somewhere in Africa.

    It's a completely useless approach. Target the source, or don't bother.

  • Pejman_Yousefzadeh

    1. If you thought that a competent Afghan security force would be trained overnight, then I can understand your disappointment that it hasn't been, but the fact that it has not been trained overnight does not mean that we ought to stop working at training it. And no, before you bring up the word “forever,” it won't take that long to train a competent Afghan security force. It may, however, take longer than July, 2011 to do so, which is why the Obama Administration needs to get away from its self-imposed deadline.

    I have at no time argued that the United States should not target funding, so I don't know why you seek to make that a point of disagreement.

  • jarober

    I'm not sure I'd call a decade “overnight”. However, if that is what you call overnight, the I presume that means that our ongoing commitment there stretches out beyond another decade? Do you actually believe that such a course of action is politically sustainable? Military actions must conform with political realities, not with perfect world fantasies.

    As to targeting funding, my point is that doing so with vigor – i.e., telling the Saudis and the Iranians that such actions will cost them a city or two – would actually have an impact. As opposed to your favored long, so, ineffectual bleed.

  • Pejman_Yousefzadeh

    Well no, actually, I didn't call a decade “overnight.” You seemed to. In any event, again, if we withdraw preemptively because of what you perceive to be “political realities,” then we will rue the day.

    You appear to be advocating the destruction of Saudi and Iranian cities, and you think that is more realistic than allowing conditions on the ground in Afghanistan to determine our departure? Well, that's . . . um . . . interesting.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QWHZASZXMZ236QON7KF5CBMN2M Naif Mabat

    “A better policy would be one where we just leave with a nasty warning – to wit, any attacks originating from there will be met with an utterly disproportionate response. “

    Except that they won't be.

    Once we leave, we won't want to think much about Afghanistan again. And if we have to think about it again, we won't be willing to face up to any kind of disproportionate response or the international condemnation it will lead to.

    And once Afghanistan is controlled by our enemies, you can bet that any response we launch, even any utterly proportionate one, will be spun as a massive human rights violation. They will completely control the perception of it for their own ends. And not having thought about Afghanistan for several years, we will not even want to think about this kind of thing.

    We'll always be able to convince ourselves that the attacks didn't really originate from Afghanistan, it wasn't their fault, etc. to get out of having to summon the fortitude to respond at all.

    War isn't just a technological or economic ability or political doctrine. It is a state of mind. A nation not at war will not be able to summon the courage to launch a devastating attack just because some formula on the law books says they're supposed to.

  • jarober

    As I said in a reply to him, Afghanistan is not really winnable under any kind of victory conditions this country is willing to pay for. And ultimately, it's not the Afghans who are a problem anyway – it's the money guys in Saudi Arabia. So long as we continue to pretend that they are our friends, this problem will persist – and fantasists like you guys will advocate absurd wars in places like the Hindu Kush, or Somalia.

    It's like trying to “win” the drug war by shutting down the street level dealers. It gets a lot of headlines, but accomplishes very little.

  • Naif_Mabat

    I resent being called a fantasist. And I was not advocating war anywhere.

    In fact, if you just want to argue that the war in Afghanistan should be abandoned, and the consequences be dealt with as they arise later on, I'd have a lot more respect. I might even agree with you, at least on my more pessimistic days. In any case, that' s a reasonable argument.

    What is unreasonable is thinking that the war on the ground can be beneficially replaced by some kind of a remote-control on-again-off-again auto-pilot series of responses.

    The historical record (in particular Nixon's bombing campaign of Hanoi and Israel's bombing of Lebanon since their withdrawal in 2000) makes clear that this kind of approach does not work. It would only serve to further the propaganda of our enemies, while temporarily giving us a false sense of security and ultimately sapping our will from mounting any real response when the time came. We would truly be better off doing nothing at all.

  • jarober

    What we are playing now is whack-a-mole. And you can resent the label all you want; after 10 years of warfare in Afghanistan, I think the utter lack of progress (note the current terror warnings for Europe) speaks for itself.

    What we are doing now does not work. Period. what migt work is getting serious with the people and nations that fund this stuff, but that would require us to stop viewing the Saudis as a *cough* friendly *cough* nation.

    What I expect to see is more of what you and Pejman advocate – ongoing “nation building” until the political support utterly erodes, followed by another round of “we could have won if only…” excuse making. The US is not politically constituted to support wars that go on and on and on. That's just the way it is. You need to match up what you advocate with something that will actually fly.

  • Pejman_Yousefzadeh

    Actually, I didn't advocate “nation-building.” I advocated getting rid of America's enemies in Afghanistan. If you are going to argue with me, get my arguments right.

  • jarober

    Oh come now. You say we must stay until the Afghan army is trained (by us) and can defend against re-infiltration by terrorists. To have a functioning army, you need… a functioning government. So to build up an army, we must, by definition, build up a government.

    Now, perhaps you have some interesting term you use for that other than “nation building”, but it's as good a description as any.

  • Pejman_Yousefzadeh

    Actually, no. To build up an army, one need not build up a government. There are plenty of shaky governments out there with fully functioning armies–woe betide the nation-states that have them, because they are subject to military coups, but many have them nonetheless. And while I cannot help how you choose to describe my rhetoric, I can call out misleading commentary on your part in terms of building up a strawman to knock down. Nowhere did I advocate nation-building. To claim otherwise is to either be ignorant of what I wrote, or plainly dishonest.

  • jarober

    So… then you advocate building up a military in Afghanistan that is detached from a functioning government? Wow – in the annals of bad plans, that should be placed right on the first page.

    Are you serious? How exactly do you expect such a plan to yield a stable place that isn't a haven for terrorists? Take Mexico, for instance, which now has a shaky government and a collection of narco-trafficking warlords. Afghanistan has plentiful poppies, so in the absence of a strong government, one has to conclude that the Afghan army would fund itself via the narcotics trade.

    Given how well that's working out for Mexico, I have to say that your plan is sub-optimal, to say the least. It will yield a failed state with well armed warlords.

    Which is what my idea of just pulling out would yield, only with a whole lot less blood and treasure being spilled by us first.

  • Pejman_Yousefzadeh

    Once again, you seem willing to lie–there, I said it–about what I think. To put things in order:

    1. I never said that I advocate building up a military that is detached from a functioning government. I said that I wanted to rid Afghanistan of America's enemies, and part of doing that is building up a working Afghan security force. I also said that I did not advocate nation-building; to the extent that we assist the Afghan government, it will be via diplomacy, and likely with foreign aid, but I never advocated that troops engage in nation-building. I am sure you will find a way to twist this unequivocal statement into yet another strawman to knock down, but that says more about your relationship with honesty than it does about the coherence of my arguments.

    2. Point 1 above renders the rest of your points superfluous. Which, increasingly, is what the whole of your comments appear to be.

  • jarober

    On (1), please read your last comment. That's what you implied. Either you're ok with a trained military and a nonstable government, or you're implicitly in favor of nation building. Pick one.

    As to which element of the government does nation building, you're now engaged in massive hand waving. Whether it's the DoD, State, or whoever, it's still the US government engaged in nation building. Which means that you implicitly support that goal.

    Your point one is nothing but hand waving in order to avoid the dread charge of nation building. Since you now seem to accept that we'll be doing that, perhaps you could explain two things:

    – Just how long do you expect that to take? We've been at it for a decade now
    – How do you expect to retain enough political support to accomplish this?

    The second point is a crucial one, so long as you care about the consent of the governed.

  • Pejman_Yousefzadeh

    You'll understand if I decline to engage you from here on out. You are not honest about what I wrote. My position has been made clear, and you are determined to lie about it. At this point, it's just wrestling a pig with you.

  • jarober

    yes, I understand perfectly. When confronted with where your policy choices go, you wave your hands, deny your own assertions, and then refuse to engage. Makes perfect sense to me.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QWHZASZXMZ236QON7KF5CBMN2M Naif Mabat

    It's possible you have a valid point in there somewhere.

    But I'd have more patience trying to follow it if you weren't so trigger-happy with the ad hominem attacks. And if you bothered to actually read what other people are saying before responding.

  • jarober

    I'm not the one throwing around the term “liar”. You might look at what Pejman has commented for that kind of thing. Generally speaking, he seems to dislike having the direction of his policy choices explored. I have no idea what personal attacks you think I've made.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_TUMNB3LYUQTD36WUUAD2BF7QIM Michael

    We agree about the need. Whether it's possible is another question. We're the strongest military power in the world (at least, so far), and they're tribesmen armed with AK-47s and the odd ground-to-air missiles (which, unfortunately, are almost unstoppable). It should be no contest. But there we are, year after year.

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