Sunday, September 21, 2014

Lest Iraq Again Distract Us from Afghanistan

Recent international affairs calamities in the Middle East have caused me to reconsider some previously held assumptions about the stability of affairs in Afghanistan.  I had long thought of Afghanistan as being able to absorb any all sorts of damage caused by war.  Iraq’s example has opened my eyes that perhaps, we should reconsider the assumption that our impact on Afghanistan won’t be catastrophically bad.

On one of the bases I stayed at in Afghanistan, rain and snow turned a central portion of the base into a strange morass of mud.  It wasn’t that it was just a shitty place to walk or move, it was that it was more of a sinkhole than mud hole.  Some smart NCOs attempted to solve the problem of the mud with wooden pallets that were on the base.  We used them to walk above the mud, but with each soldier’s weight, they slowly sank in themselves.  One on top of another, they sank.  With enough water, the mud turned into a bottomless pit for our equipment and gear.  No drainage, no bed rock, just pure sinkhole.

For a long time, I viewed Afghanistan and our activities there as being similar to our failures with the sinkhole.  It was useless to do more because it would just get absorbed.  Still, it was only useless to send more money and weapons to a region of strife.  The outcome was unavoidable, to my old way of thinking, and essentially a null hypothesis.  We didn’t make a difference.  Pallets of money, guns, bullets, soldiers were all destined to sink into Afghanistan’s sinkhole forever and remain an absorbed piece of historical trivia until some archeologist of the future discovered this odd stash of military equipment.

I believed that partly due to my own experience in Afghanistan with locals who could take money and turn it into nothing and with a military that took our weapons and turned them into nothing and an earth that took our best and brightest and turned out nothing, I came to believe that all of our efforts would amount to nothing.  I also took this belief because it appeared as though our military and political leaders were waging this war so as not to lose it.  The strategic vision of the Pentagon and Washington appeared to be that given an input of X we could maintain the war in Afghanistan without loss forever.  Given that such a strategy would never actually prevail and only provided short term and feeble benefits, I naively assumed that such a strategy would at least have the benefit of having little long-term ramifications post-the end of the war.

This way of thinking, though, is flawed, and events in Iraq have helped clarify why that is. Afghanistan is not a sinkhole.  The actions of the US are not ultimately wasted effort.  They are inherently destructive.  We are not leaving Afghanistan just the same due its ability to absorb our wasted efforts; we’re leaving a bomb that will explode.

For those of you who missed Afghanistan’s brief moment of national security significance, it should be noted that the IG noted that the US has sent close to 750,000 weapons into Afghanistan in the past decade plus of war, with some 250,000 being totally unaccounted for.  Afghanistan’s presidential election has turned out worse than not holding one as the two candidates refuse to concede, have rejected US mediation efforts, and Afghanistan’s weak government is now in extended limbo, and although recent news suggest that US has finally managed to overcome this impasse, I think its worth mentioning that this is not the first time the news has carried this story.  Add to that, incredible amounts of waste and corruption in the form of cash and development work and you have the recipe for something terrible.

Afghanistan has been gifted the disposition and tools for tremendous violence.  The US has left a huge trove of weapons both intentionally and unintentionally.  This doesn’t even account for the trove that the Taliban has amassed and the arms industry that has thrived in this world during the war.  It is a mistake to think that when the war ends for the US that those millions of weapons will remain silent.  It’s nearly an impossibility to imagine such a scenario.

From my perspective, the best case scenario is that the Afghanistan war does continue in a way where both the Afghan government and Taliban collectively start to de-escalate the fighting while still continuing to battle one-another and over time reach a healthy settlement that avoids a one-side overwhelming and destroying the other side in a bloodbath sort of way.

What sort of historical precedent is there for such an outcome? None.  This doesn’t happen outside intervention or limitations on armaments from the outside world.  Pakistan and the Taliban aren’t interested in limitations and neither is the US.  Outside quarantining the two quarreling parties, the war will only escalate until one side or the other breaks.  Take a good guess at which side it’ll be?  The one with zero political leadership and nearly absolute corruption that just happens to be sitting on metric shit tons of weapons and cash but without the will to fight for it?  Sounds a lot like the force we assembled in Iraq.  Not that a slaughter of the Taliban wouldn’t happen if our team prevailed, it just seems so immensely unlikely.

Never mind what this means about how terribly we’ve failed to date because it’s simply too staggering a disaster to consider.  Consider what it will look like if the Taliban take over one of Afghanistan’s biggest cities in the years after the end of the war?  More importantly, consider how Afghanistan has generated a great deal of conflict-oriented industry in a region that features Islamist insurgencies in China, India, and Pakistan and what the departure of the great Satan and the fall of its puppet government will mean for the region?  Now add the $90 billion unaccounted over the past 13 years, and hundreds of thousands of weapons, and you have the makings for a pretty decent sized war in its own right.  Not to mention the billions being spent by those three countries alone and all the nuclear weapons in the area.

I think that the best case scenario is that both Kashmir and Xinjing both get significantly more violent in the short and medium term but don’t become extra-territorial conflicts.  Worst case involves some strange ISIS-like hoard occupying areas of central Asia from the –stans to Pakistan to China and causing a regional war that kills hundreds of thousands of people.  Probably won’t happen, even though, ISIS has found some friends in a part of Afghanistan that has ties to ever conflict in the area.

Doesn’t matter though, Afghanistan has not reached a violent equilibrium and our addition of huge amounts of resources has only made sure that when that equilibrium is reached, it will be gigantic, catastrophic and hugely violent.  America needs to reckon with this and take steps to ensure that the conflict gets shrunk in a controlled manner.  We won’t, or at least we have no history of doing so, so I guess I’m getting ready to see the Third World War fought in the next decade or the Islamic equivalent of the Khmer Rogue as a result of the craziness we let loose there.


  1. I think valuable lessons can be drawn from looking at the post Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
    Perhaps the next five years will look a lot like the early nineties, alas.

  2. In the end it won't matter. Suppose the taliban win (again). Then it becomes their sinkhole and they can expend time and effort trying to extract anything out of Afghanistan. The best they can get is a constant small stream of cannon-fodder and small arms. Any actual value they manage to extract can be harvested by us by proxy. After all, we had to deal with the corrupt movers and shakers for over 10 years. In time, the neighboring states will either adopt a shoot-on-sight policy on the border or get infected with that islamic barbarism virus themselves.

  3. A taliban win doesn't mean sinkhole, it means all those fighters find a new place to fight for the cause, China's seeing it already.

    Only going to get worse

  4. Fortunately, the Taliban don't have the resources for a total "win" in Afghanistan. Pashtun are only a slight majority and are unlikely to be able to take and hold northern Afghanistan. The Tajiiks and Uzbeks would not permit it.

  5. Interesting post. From a strategic theory perspective, there is an interesting take on this, but I find it all far too depressing . . . We're not really what we thought we were . . . too bad about that.

    1. You do cryptic better than almost anyone I know, seydlitz, but this is cryptic even by your standards.

      First, this seems like the usual Great-Power-pursues-objectives-in-the-hustings-despite-having-no-good-methods-to-achieve-the-notional-objective-or-even-being-willing-to-state-actual-objective-as-opposed-to-publicly-acceptable-pablum situation. Annoying and depressing? I'll by that. "Interesting"? I guess I'm missing something? Where's the interesting part about watching the U.S. repeat Spain-in-the-Netherlands in the 21st Century?

      And second, what did "we" think we were? The Arsenal of Democracy? The Global Policeman? The Tooth Fairy? For that matter, who was "we"? Dittoheads? Code Pink? The Great American Public?

      I agree that the U.S. public in general has been exceptionally credulous and stupid about getting involved in these Middle Eastern bunfights. But the U.S. public was pretty credulous and stupid about "Remember the Maine", too. So if the "we" here is Joe and Mary Lunchpail, I'd argue that the "we" thought that the U.S. should go and beat up some towelheads just like "we" thought "we" should go beat up some Spanish Dagoes in 1899 and Huns in 1917 and Nips in 1941 and gooks in 1966. Seems like "we" thought "we" were supposed to do what we're doing - kill "other people" because "freedom".

    2. Not so cryptic. Simply go back to our main point of disagreement, which has remained unchanged for years. You argue "same ole, same ole" regarding the US, and I argue we are in a new political paradigm . . . which would mean that past US history is not much of a guide.

    3. But that's my point - the past IS a guide. How is the current U.S. public delusion that the U.S. is the Global Cop, the Universal Force for Good, that much different from the way the damn fools thought about Vietnam in 1964, or Cuba and the PI in 1899, or China in 1900? Hell, or Mexico in 1846? I mean, you can plausibly argue different means and methods of massaging that public opinion, but how structurally different are the results?

      You keep saying that we're looking at a "new political paradigm". But how does the modern GOP differ from the imperialist wing of the Republican Party in 1902 other than Twitter? How does the rhetoric of the interventionist Right differ fundamentally from the "White Man's Burden" of the late Victorian and Edwardian eras?

      So you keep saying that, and I keep seeing the same sorts of factors that drove the Banana Wars and the occupation of the Philippines. I just don't think that word means what you think it means.

    4. The past would be no guide at all if the paradigm has in fact changed. It's like plotting vortices (in the Cartesian sense) to explain the "universe" of what we are talking about . . . So what is exactly at the (political) center? Who or what wields power?

      What are the basic assumptions behind this whole thread? List them . . . It might be interesting. From a strategic theory perspective, that would always be the first task . . .

      Perhaps the most obvious (dubious) assumption is that "states" are the basic organizing systems of our political power reality . . . which I would argue demonstrably they are not if I were so inclined . . . otherwise PF Khan's recommendations would have some chance of actually coming to pass . . . which I think we agree they do not.

      So, based on what we all see, this isn't really how power is organized at the macro level at this point in time contrary to the past, that is the old paradigm . . . sorry to have to point this out, but maybe somebody needs to . . .

    5. I'm sorry, but were you actually trying to say something?

  6. seydlitz: "We're not really what we thought we were", which is compounded by them not being what we want them to be. So we have self delusion waging war against a misconception. Yes, far too depressing.

    1. Al-

      Yes, one leads into the other . . . nice. But then there is something in the air. That human element that holds us all together? A bit of the "cosmic" . . . how many people do you know right now who are dealing with some pretty heavy mental, even existential issues . . . regarding their lives in this reality . . . what we have allowed to happen . . . comes down to responsibility doesn't it . . . ?

  7. Couple of thoughts, PF.

    1. No question that the U.S. has done an assload of harm in this region, unstable and fucked-up as it was to begin with. I think the biggest single piece of U.S. geopolitical stupidity was ignoring (or being ignorant-of) Pakistan's issues with a non-Pakistani-compliant regime in Kabul. Pakistan's issues are and always will be with India, and to date the Karzai regime has been entirely too cozy with India for Karchi's liking. The U.S. was boneheaded in not seeing that or, having seen it, not factored that into its "plan".

    @. "The strategic vision of the Pentagon and Washington appeared to be that given an input of X we could maintain the war in Afghanistan without loss forever. Given that such a strategy would never actually prevail and only provided short term and feeble benefits..." I think you're giving the "leadership" in D.C. way too much credit here. I think the entire notion behind the continuing military actions (as opposed to the initial attack) has been "This is not WW2; we can't afford nor do we want to sink a gajillion dollars and millions of troops into this shithole. The gain isn't worth the cost and our publics won't stand for it, so let's just do what we can and hope that some sort of Afghan strongman will turn up to take over..." Not much different in effect than the Soviet hopes for the Najibullah regime, and about as effective. But I think you're mistaking a LACK of any sort of actual idea how to declare victory and get out with a "plan" that involved maintaining a long-running insurgency. I'm sure that ISAF, DoD, and the U.S. government would have loved to lined the Kabul Highway with Taliban crosses. They just knew that to do that - and assuming it would have actualy worked - would have taken a cost in blood and treasure that the member states' publics wouldn't have borne.

    3. "...close to 750,000 weapons into Afghanistan in the past decade plus of war, with some 250,000 being totally unaccounted for." There are about 3.1 million AR-15-type rifles in the U.S. today. A quarter of a million infantry rifles - many of which have likely already become NMC based on shitty PMCS and mishandling - aren't really such of a muchness on the geopolitical scale, given the sheer volume of military hardware lying around Southwest Asia and the Middle East. Yes, it's pretty slipshod of DoD, but not exactly pants-pissing scary.

    4. "Worst case involves some strange ISIS-like horde occupying areas of central Asia from the –stans to Pakistan to China and causing a regional war that kills hundreds of thousands of people." I'd actually call this the "Newt-Gingrich-alternative-history-novel-level-freakishly-impossible-worst-case-assuming-magical-sparkle-ponies" scenario. That would have to be one strange "horde", given that the "Islamist" community can't even get it's shit together in Syria, where there are dozens of Islamist factions of which the IS mob is just one, much less across the umma from the Levant to the South China Sea. The possibility of a single megalomaniac Islamic group controlling some sort of continent-spanning uprising? Sorry, PF, that only happens inside Glenn Beck's head. "Third World War"? I doubt it. The region is too fragmented, and the parties involved too inimicable and too inmiscible, for any sort of massive regional free-for-all to develop.


    1. Chief,

      One thing to note. The rifle thing is a bit misleading in my opinion. The population of the US is 10x as large as the population of Afghanistan. The number of AKs, RPGs, mortars and rockets per capita is pretty scary. It's not a small amount, and is better compared to a larger, wilder, less controlled Operation Fast and Furious. It's bad. These weapons are in the hands of people who will shoot, not guys with dick issues.

    2. Yes, but what was there in 2000, per capita? I'd bet a *lot*. And the Pakistani government can presumably afford to ship quite a number of AK's into Afghanistan at will ($100 each?).

  8. (con't from above)

    Now...are we likely in for a decade or five of horrible Wars of Religion within the Islamic Crescent? THAT's entirely possible. Sunni fundamentalists vs Shia fundamentalists, different versions of Sunni versus each other, Sunni fundamentalists vs secularists, Shia fundamentalists vs secularists..? And so on and so on? Yep. I'd buy that. But the troubles these wars will stir up will be largely for the locals involved and the governments thereof. The U.S. has little to offer - in my opinion - other than a massive does of stupid and more destruction. Getting involved in other people's Wars of Religion is one of those "land wars in Asia" sorts of things that one is warned against.

    5. "America needs to reckon with this and take steps to ensure that the conflict gets shrunk in a controlled manner." How on Earth would, or could, the U.S. do that (short of taking itself and it's lethal toys and going home)? I mean, I can see how the U.S. could try and lessen its contribution to the regions' lethality. But I don't see how the U.S. "controls" much of anything at this point. Our street cred in that troubled area is pretty well shot, and any time we get involved we've got a dozen ready-made enemies who will oppose anything we do just because we'rethe one doing it. I mean, it's a nice idea, but so would me making sweet, sweet love to Angeline Jolie, and I can't see any sort of way that happens without involving Industrial Light and Magic.

    1. Well Chief, there is the traditional British approach of maintaining order in Afghanistan. Promise and deliver an annual donkey load full of gold to whoever is "King" of Afghanistan (and be clear that you don't care much about who that king is). Then, through intermediaries, give much smaller amounts of gold to the next two likely successors.

      The net result of this strategy is to keep all the factions jostling for the throne (thereby limiting the amount of energy they have to export their conflicts).

    2. But you'll note that the Brits were typically sure to lavish a good portion of that largesse on the Pashtun factions; Afghan history is replete with proofs of the rule that you always count in the Pashtun - they're typically the largest single factor in the tribal math.

      Like it or not, a fairly big chunk of the Pashtun went with the Taliban back in the late 90s and Oughts. By making implacable war on the "Taliban" we've pretty much ensured that this ar has turned into a "Pashtun-versus-Tajik-and-Uzbek" war. So the old British game doesn't really work here.

      That and, mind, that the Brits fought three major Afghan Wars and literally dozens of "expeditions" in Afghanistan over the years; they spent an assload of blood and treasure there. So I'm nor sure that citing their experience is necessarily an endorsement...

  9. If looked at as a prediction, Colin Powell was half right in his "You break it, you own it" analogy. We did, indeed, break Afghanistan and Iraq. However, we never really accepted ownership, and consequently it is more like it owns us. The US is overcome by events and, as has become the national tradition, pants shitting and blame delegation is the order of the day.

    Chief is spot on, the US "controls" little or nothing at this point, and in the situation under discussion, I'm not sure we could even assert influence. Yup, where's the sense in getting involved in somebody else's war of religion? Jerry Boykin's "bigger god than their god" seems to have ceased to decide the outcome of battles. The US is going to pay the piper for the liberal dose of dumbass and stupid we invested in the area, either in humiliation or national treasure. I just hope it's mostly the former.

    1. "If looked at as a prediction, Colin Powell was half right in his "You break it, you own it" analogy. We did, indeed, break Afghanistan and Iraq. However, we never really accepted ownership, and consequently it is more like it owns us. The US is overcome by events and, as has become the national tradition, pants shitting and blame delegation is the order of the day. "

      There's an assumption here that we 'could' own it, in the sense of being able to do things at an acceptable cost. In Iraq, we probably could have, but Afghanistan is more primitive and splintered and used to fighting invaders.

  10. Nothing says, "Doing Something for Something's sake!" like throwing resources mindlessly at a conundrum defying our vague attempts of understanding the tip of intrusion into the morass we call "Spreading Freedom!" in a country of fighters from birth who defines freedom as to how long they can hold out till their position is overrun with either superior fire-power, or bodies.

    Of course, if we throw the definition of stupid in the mix, you know, "Repeating the same mistake a hundred times with the same negative result, yet expecting a different result each time" really makes us look bad.


  11. So people are rightly concerned about me saying the US needs to do something; here's what I'm proposing the US should do.

    We should intentionally, immediately, and systemically gear our side down. We should intentionally lead to essentially a losing situation.

    We will lose. What's the scenario where our Afghan government survives? We have pumped them so full of cash and weapons and they still have next to no chance of winning this war. Who believes they'll win? Who believes they're going to survive and limp along for a while? They can't form a government and are surrounded by enemies.

    How will they survive with the army and police force that we gave them given that the vast majority of it is paid for us and their whole economy is essentially this war. This country is a gigantic bubble.

    If the US was interested in ending this in a way responsibly, we'd have to wind it down for OUR side and just actually handle a loss like responsible adults.

    We're not doing that. We're dumping so many resources to a side that will lose that the winner will be pumped up beyond what they normally should be. That should scare us a lot. Given that ISIS got pumped up well beyond it's state-let size and is now causing major disruptions throughout the middle east, think about what major disruptions in China and India and definitely Pakistan mean? What about in another neighbor, Iran? The nuclear weapons alone are enough to make us nervous about what this all means, but there are significant portions of the population that are Muslim and already demonstrated a willingness to use weapons and violence to solve political grievances.

    We would be much better off "doing something" like disarming the monster we've made, or at least halting the creation of an even bigger one. While we still hold some of the tools and levers, we should point them specifically towards off. Even that is fraught with risk because doing that's likely to spark a panic that's going to run it all down that much faster.

    It is going to happen. We still have a choice here, though. We did not use that choice in Iraq. We didn't do it in Vietnam. We should consider it for Afghanistan.

  12. I see no way to disarm the monster, short of inducing it to bloodily tear itself apart.

    Suggestions are welcome.

  13. Oh it's going to tear itself apart, we missed the chance to avoid this when we continued to double down on the losing side in the hopes that it would stop being losers by dint of our hanging around.

    My thoughts on a solution to this problem are hardly politically feasible, but I think they represent a best for everyone kind of approach.

    1. We need to acknowledge that our attempts to use minority tribal affiliations and picking favorites is going to result in a bloodbath once we leave. We should set up the system now to pull out all the ethnic oddities, Shia followers, and anyone not Pashtun in the Pashtun areas that supported us because they don't deserve to die for our mistakes following the collapse of this thing. Can't save everyone, but we should strive to save as many as possible.
    2. We should start the dialogue to partition Afghanistan and start the ground work for Tajik/Uzbek state and a Pashtun state. That's what's coming, we should get ahead of it.
    3. We should put major boots on the ground for a serious operation in tandem with Pakistan to smash as many Al Qaeda, Lakshar-e-Taiba folks as possible in Kunar, Nuristan and the Tribal Areas. Won't solve all the problems, but it'll do damage to the guys that are incorrigible and likely to send fighters out of Afghanistan elsewhere.
    4. Once 3 is done, we should start making local deals with whomever is available that involve us and the Afghan army leaving without fighting. Locals will get shit on, tough tits, avoiding a fight over bases will prevent the wars end from being more explosive and with higher deaths.
    5. US needs to convene a conference of Afghanistan's neighbors to share intelligence and prepare for the de-stablization and violence to follow. The US should avoid direct contact but agree to foot a large part of the bill.

    We do those things, I think we lower the chances of catastrophic failure enough for my comfort levels.

    PF Khans

    1. "Oh it's going to tear itself apart..."

      I guess my question would be why now? This place has been fairly well fucked since the late Seventies. How has the past decade been worse than the Eighties?

      And my responses to your proposition would be, in order:

      1. Where do we put all these people we're "pulling out"? Sheboygan? Can you imagine Sean Hannity's head exploding on national TV? I mean, I agree that the U.S. owes the people we've put in an impossible position, but how do you do this, practically?

      2. Dialogue? With whom? First, who in the region would trust us? Second, who would agree to this? Why would, say, the Pashtuns agree to part of "Afghanistan" when they think they will get all of it? Why should the Uzbeks get a "state" and not the Hazaras, say? And if the Uzbeks get a state of their own why should the FATA and the southeastern portion of "Afghanistan" not become "Pashtunistan"? I mean, the Durand Line is a goddamn fiction and a dangerous one at that, but you throw it out and where do you stop? Half the "national borders" in southwest Asia are colonial fictions.

      3. Not. Gonna. Happen. Ever. No government in Karachi would survive five minutes after inviting a U.S. expeditionary force into the FATA, and no government in Karachi would willingly allow a U.S. expeditionary force to operate independently inside Pakistan, and no U.S. government would accept Pakistani command of a U.S. expeditionary force. Not to even mention the shitstorm when the first 101st Division checkpoint shoots up a Pakistani family. Won't solve "ALL" the problems? Shit, man, this wouldn't "solve" ANY problems when you compared it to the immense Himalayan massif of geopolitical disaster it would cause.

      4 and 5: This is actually a great idea, and similar to what Pat Lang used to tout as the "Grand Concert of the Middle East"; a sort of "Congress of Vienna" conclave to discuss and attempt to deal with the issues of internal division and external borders in the region. However, it founders on the same problems as #2.


    2. (con't)

      First, the U.S. can't "convene" dick in this region. There's WAY too many poisoned wells and burned bridges in central and southwest Asia with "Made in the U.S.A." stamped on them. There's WAY too many people, and governments, to whom our country is pure poison. In fact, it'd be hard to find any government or UN agency that has the standing to convince the regional actors to sit down and talk. That's been one of the biggest source of troubles IN the region; there's very little trust here and nobody with either the interest or the authority to develop it.

      Second, the various power centers have competing interests, and many of those groups or nations see the advancement of those interests as more important than worrying about violence and de-stabilization. Which is not to say that they're right and you're wrong, but you'd have a hell of a hard time getting them to see that. In a lot of cases they see a fire in their neighbor's house as an opportunity to fuck with their neighbor whilst he's distracted, not a danger to their own roof.

      And last, even assuming you could a) get all the parties to sit down and b) come to some sort of agreement on a plan to deal with failed-state fallout of a post-Afghanistan, there's also nobody to guarantee any sort of agreement that would come out of that sort of Congress. Again, the U.S. can't do it; nobody there trusts us and a hell of a lot of them flat-out loathe us.

      I hate to be Debbie Downer, but I'm afraid this place will have to continue to discomfort you. My optimistic prescription, however, is that this region has been a chaotic mess for centuries. This is just the latest round. The current hysteria over "OHMYFUCKINGGOD ISLAMI!" is just that - hysteria. There is less than a picometer's chance that this will spill out as more than nasty acts of random violence. Very unpleasant for those killed and maimed, but not WW3 and definately not worth investing significantly more blood and treasure.

    3. "And last, even assuming you could a) get all the parties to sit down and b) come to some sort of agreement on a plan to deal with failed-state fallout of a post-Afghanistan, there's also nobody to guarantee any sort of agreement that would come out of that sort of Congress. Again, the U.S. can't do it; nobody there trusts us and a hell of a lot of them flat-out loathe us."

      Or come out of the US Congress, which right now is dominated by nihilists and scum.

  14. Chief,

    Do you think that the Afghan government has a chance in hell of survival? Do they have what it takes to limp along or not? What's it take from the US to keep the party and music going?

    My intention here is to get the party and music as low as possible before ending it altogether, nothing more. I gather that you think the end of this war (for the US) will just make for more same old same old. Why do think that? Care to elaborate?

    As for your points:

    1. It's completely unpractical and would get all sorts of people in a pissing state, but it's the right thing to do. Not saying that there's a way to do it 100% or without fallout, but it should be attempted and at the very least we, as Americans, should acknowledge that we can and we should and we will back those who backed us in that they have an out when it falls apart. Think of it as the FDIC for Afghans, it's a way to make sure that they don't just all panic at once.
    2. I have no idea who to start with, but, and this is important, IT WILL HAPPEN. We should not delude ourselves into thinking that any other option is realistic. If we couldn't keep Iraq together or Serbia or Libya or Somalia or Yemen together, what chance in hell do we have of keeping Afghanistan together? Better to plan for it, take some time to draw up some contingencies, get people talking about it and ready for it than to see the violent results of a partition by force. This should be a, fuck it, just get it done! kind of thing because the reality of Afghanistan is gearing that way and what we did in this war makes it inevitable.
    3. Agree with your point, but I wasn't not suggesting the US go into FATA. The Pakistanis need to clear FATA but the US has to provide the anvil in Kunar and Nuristan. Right now the Pakistanis are regularly shelling these provinces because they don't have drones like we do. It's filled with Pakistan's most wanted. We have had next to no presence in a lot of these areas since the withdrawal from Kamdesh and the Korengal in 2009-2010 and the Pakistani Taliban have filled that void. There exists a weird proto-state that straddles the border, kinda like ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Time and success is going to make it worse, the US should handle its side, Pakistanis there side.
    5 - I don't think it requires a great deal of US trust, just a way of saying, hey, heads up, the next 5 years are going to be rough and if you want to be adults about it, here's what we know and if you can make a good claim that we're responsible here's a check that isn't worth as much as it should be but still is better than nothing. They can take it or leave it and go take a hike, it's their neighborhood at the end of the day, not ours.

    I really think you should reevaluate your assessment for the likelihood of a greater expansion of violence around Afghanistan. Every conflict zone we've entered into since the end of the Cold War has metastasized and has drawn in neighbors. And although India has shown itself to be stalwart and immovable in the face of bold terrorist attacks, if these guys put another campaign in Kashmir again and things start trending worse, are they going to remain that way? President Modi is not the type of guy to take guff. China's also not used to seeing bombs in train stations and knife wielding jihadis. How did Russia fare when Chechans started blowing up schools? How did the US react to terrorism? China's gonna play hardball too and it will be messy.

    But to what I think is your point, I do agree that it is unlikely that this will reach the level of immediate national security threat to the US because ISIS isn't even really a national security threat and they're within driving distance of strategic amounts of oil. But to India and China and Pakistan? Most certainly this is a national security threat! US national security, well, it depends on how smart other players are and whether or not we lose access to something that makes our shiny economy run.

    1. "I gather that you think the end of this war (for the US) will just make for more same old same old. Why do think that? Care to elaborate?"

      Sure. Because after the three British Afghan Wars Afghanistan returned to the same bubbling cauldron of endemic inter-tribal warfare and occasional extraterritorial raiding that had characterized it before the wars. Same with the "expeditions". Same with after the Soviet occupation...with the exception that Charlie Wilson & Co. had mobilized the jihadis (which eventually produced AQ and its affiliates). What the recent occupation has done is not really different in nature - and, in fact, less devastating physically to the Afghan infrastructure, what there is of it - than what the Soviets left. The region will continue to throw out occasional jihadis, although now with the whole Fertile Crescent region a fucking shitshow there's more competition there, so relatively the chaos in the high Paimirs will be LESS disruptive relative to the broad regional instability across the south Asian crescent.

      Call me an old sergeant, though; I'm less interested in "doing what's right" and more in "doing what's possible". So your point #1? Yeah, it'd be nice if everyone got to live happily ever after. The real chance of getting these people into some U.S. territory - with Louie Fucking Gohmert going insane about Mexican Muslim infiltrators sneaking over the southern border? - is less than zero.

      2. The difference is that it happens and we're seen to help MAKE it happen? The U.S. becomes the facilitator of and takes the blame for every regional fucking sectarian insurgency across the region. Sure, it's probably gonna happen (though is hasn't after every other foreign incursion, so why now?). But the important geopolitical point is that the U.S. can't BE SEEN to MAKE it happen. Then we get blamed.


    2. (con't)

      3. ISAF pulled out of the Korengal and Kamdesh for a reason. See my comment on why it looked like ISAF was "playing just hard enough to lose". The blood and treasure required to reoccupy the southeastern portions of Afghanistan would make the rest of the Occupation look like a stay at Fort De Russy. Ain't gonna happen because it CAN'T hapen, not at this point. None of the publics will stand for the losses that force would take.

      5. Well, I suppose that's one way to look at it. Seems like a pointless gesture to me, but by all means let's make it.

      And I'm not saying that I doubt that this sore will fester. I think you're OVERestimating the degree to which this will foment regional - as opposed to local and internal - instability. I'm not really arsed about the Chinese going all medieval on their jihadis; the Russians did on the Chechens and it hasn't really affected anything outside Russia. Likewise the Pakis and Indians - they've been feuding over Kashmir for generations. Another generation of bad dudes coming out of the FATA ain't really gonna change that much. The internal dynamics of China's counterterrorism machinery or Pakistan-and-India's relations are likely to react to some increased stress. But how much and whether it will become and external problem are very difficult to assess and are, IMO, just as likely to force these nations to turn inwards and become LESS aggressive externally as they are to make them more of a regional problem. Assuming that the U.S. needs to "do something" or the Taliban will become the next Golden Horde seems as reckless and unsupported as assuming that occupying Afghanistan for a decade was a good idea because freedom.

      And the whole "how did the U.S. react to terrorism" is kind of the point here; we reacted by immediately doing Very Stupid Things. Like getting into land wars in Asia and empowering the NSA. The more we DON'T get all pants-pissing freaked out about this stuff, the better. Starting now might be a good idea.

      Don't get me wrong. I understand how you feel; I felt that way back in 2003 - that we'd broken Iraq and had to find a way to "fix" it. It wasn't for years that I realized that the U.S. can't - because of our position and our history in the region - be an antibiotic or a bandage for political problems there. We chose to be the bullet; we went in, killed people and broke shit. And, like the bullet, we have to be extracted just to stop the bleeding. Once out, then perhaps we can play SOME minor role in influencing things. But we seem to be insanely convinced that the way to heal the wound is to keep shooting...

    3. Chief,

      I don't think we're arguing for that much of a different outcome. I want the US to pull out ASAP from Afghanistan because we are bad there and our input is neither helpful nor wanted. We should leave yesterday, but we should go knowing that it's going to be bad.

      I base this more off of the US than Afghanistan, but here it goes:
      a) US involvement since the 1950s has led to some serious crackpot states. The Korean war spawned the monster North Korea, Vietnam has Cambodia, Iraq has ISIS and Afghanistan is just as likely to end up generating something perverted and death bound.
      b) ALL of the recent news from Afghanistan is bad and that's how it's been since 2009 pretty much. The Army is getting creamed, Afghanistan's Taliban is cheering on ISIS and has joined the beheading movement. Add to that, the fact that Pakistan is regularly rocketing Afghanistan and getting raided by Pakistani Taliban that operate with impunity within Afghanistan's borders and the spike in terrorist activity within China and India and it seems as though Afghanistan will be less of a contained implosion than a violent explosion.
      Oh and the government is such a shit show and they somehow can't even pay their government employees despite all the hand outs.
      c) You're right that Afghanistan has handled a variety of intruders without ending the world but things are both better and worse there now. First of all, my thought is that all the right pieces are in place for greater and expanding violence. It doesn't have to make a ton of historical sense for that to be true. But you have power politics being played in the area (India and Pakistan), lots of potential wealth (Chinese investors and US/NATO investments), and a huge disparity between the actual power that each side has and their ambitions to hold on to that power. That bodes ill for Afghanistan's future, but the tools, the hatreds built up, and the style of warfare we've conducted seems likely to produce a particularly brutal response. Taliban militants roaring in Ghazni beheading, murdering, and burning villages is just the beginning. The number of grudges from the past war has been high and the ability to act on them has been limited, the reckoning will come and be brutal.
      d) I see Afghanistan's violence spreading because communication/transportation networks are better and because this vacuum will adjust in a particularly violent way due to its nature (lots of fighters, weapons, and a collapsing side). Also, there are pre-existing areas of conflict that are religious in nature. There are existing networks of soldiers and weapons and logistic packages. Lastly, the only reason that terrorism in India hasn't led to historically large amounts of violence is because Indian leadership let stuff slide. We think Modi will? India's response to Pakistan's latest escalations in Kashmir have been tough and the politics there will reward greater toughness. We should be very worried about the results of such a war.

      PF Khans

    4. I tend to agree with you in general. My issue is that you seem to be where I was a decade ago, wanting my country to "do something" to unfuck the situations it had created in the Middle East and southwest Asia. It's taken me that time to come to the understanding that, by and large, the U.S. CAN'T "do something" - other than try and unass that AO - because it has managed to screw that pooch so throughly. Our credibility is shot, and we've now created so many bitter enemies that they will oppose anything we propose just because we propose it.

      On the specifics...

      a) I'd argue that you should leave Korea off the list. Had the US/UN not jumped in we'd have an entire Korean peninsula that is was batshit crazy as the current North half. Not that the U.S. is a better angel for the state of the ROK; had the U.S. continued to back Syngman Rhee's thuggish successors we might be looking at a Korea that resembled the Philippines. To our somewhat-credit we didn't allow the ROK Army to unseat Kim Young-sam, and the results have been outstanding.

      I'll agree on Vietnam, Laos, and Combodia. We went a long way to create that mess.

      Iraq...well, frankly, the IS is in my opinion just one of "Iraq's" problems. "Iraq", as an entity, was a fictional creation of the Brits after they pried it loose from the Ottomans. The only way to keep the cat-circus that was the Iraqi tribes and sects together was to rule as a brute; that's why Saddam was Saddam and why everyone who knew the place advised against knocking the stopper off that bottle.

      But - here's the thing. Iraq, Vietnam, and Korea were accustomed to brutal rule by a thuggish despot. Afghanistan was, and is, accustomed to notional dictatorship from Kabul but actual tribal chaos. That's why I don't see the current and future tribal chaos as more destabilizing in A-stan. Iraq exploding? That's a bomb going off in the region. Afghanistan can't really "explode" because it was ALWAYS just a pile of bits.

      Same-same for the Paki-Afghan feuding. Provide Karachi a compliant regime in Kabul and a lot of that problem goes away - you'll note that they had little or no problem with the Afghan Taliban before 2001, right?

      And power politics in Afghanistan? New? Google "The Great Game", man. That's all the Russians and Brits DID there for a century or more. Throw in Mughals and Greeks and you take it back thousands of years. I'll agree that communications are better - sorta - but I think the "potential wealth" is a scam. Afghanistan today is as poor as it ever was, and the turbulence pretty much assures that whatever Chinese or US/NATO "investment" comes in will be skimmed off in bribes or looted or stolen...

      And while I agree that there are lots of sectarian divisions in that region. But what I don't see is any real way of connecting all those sectarian dots. Like I said; you've got a bunch of Sunni muj in Syria and Iraq who share the same basic social, political, economic, and ethnic background and they can't agree on shit except that they hate each other. Try spreading that to Kashmiris in India, Uighirs in China, Ghurkas in Nepal? It'd be like 12 monkeys fucking a football. To try and "prepare" the U.S. for whatever-the-hell will happen would be like 12-dimension chess. You could do it, but it seems unlikely to me that you could possible "prepare" for what could happen in any real sense or at any sort of realistic cost.


    5. (con't)

      And lastly India-Pakistan. How has India's response been "tough" relative to the Indo-Pakistani Wars of 1947, 1965, 1971, and 1999? Note the last date - preceding the nuclearization of the two nations. So I think in anticipating the likelihood of future Indo-Pakistani conflict the wild card is the nukes. As the Cold War powers found out, having nukes makes conventional war kind of scary because of the possibility that someone will freak out and go nuclear.

      So, will the two nations find ways to poke each other? Sure. But my money would be on LESS actual saber-rattling on the border than more. Both because nobody in Pakistan REALLY wants the booby-prize that is Kashmir and because of the scary nukes sitting in the bunkers on both sides of the border.

      I really feel your pain - I'd LOVE to think that somehow our country could "do something" or "prepare" for the Thirty Years' Islamic Wars we're going to see. But I honestly don't have a clue how we'd do that other than by doing more of the same stupid things we've BEEN doing, and I'd just as soon not do that.

  15. Gwynne Dyer is a lot more optimistic than me on Afghanistan.