Monday, September 10, 2018

17 Years

We have been in Afghanistan now for 17 years.  The reason we went in was 9/11, but Seal Team 8 killed the man responsible for that six years ago.  Why are we still there?   This war is older than some of my grandchildren and all of my great-grandchildren.  When do we get out of there? 

Alexander the Great spent less than a year there.  He arrived in May 327 BC and left in March 326 BC after renaming a city after himself (Alexandria of Arachosia).  The name did not stick.  Soon after he left the Pashtuns gave it back its old name, Kandahar.   But he was smart enough to get out of Dodge City in just ten months.   Getting out was something the Brits and the Soviets learned the hard way.   But that is something we haven't learned yet.  We should rename Kandahar, maybe to FlatBush, or Obamaville, or Trumptown and then abandon the place.


  1. The cost of empire is endlessly fighting imperial wars. The British lost an army in Afghanistan in 1844 and fought the Third Afghan War in 1919. The number of "columns" and "expeditions" in between number in the dozens.

    So long as you have a hearty jingo contempt for the lives of the Afghans, and a relatively tiny professional imperial army, and the wealth to toss cash into a bottomless geopolitical pit...the downside is in getting OUT.

    The only problem with staying is 1) it sucks for the locals, but they don't vote in American elections, so fuck 'em, 2) some GIs die pointless deaths and others get maimed physically and mentally, but they are a) more useful as patriotic pull-toys that way, anyway, and b) a tiny minority who will always vote reliably imperial, anyway, so fuck 'em. If there were anyone in the US government thinking past the next election cycle they might ponder the effects of fighting endless, pointlessly cynical imperial wars in Asia. But who the hell would that be?

    These little wars make good political fodder for the people who want to fear up the public over dusky wogs, blood the grunts, deliver largesse to the MICC, and give the spooks and sneaks a place to farkle about playing the Great Game.

    Where's the "problem"?

    Hell, yes I'm cynical.

  2. FDC -

    Even that tiny minority that always vote imperial must have by now realized that AQ has metastasized due to our inept attempt at surgical removal.

    Probably none or not many left in Afghanistan. But they trickled into Iraq, under Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. So after we killed him they were in Syria, renamed several times and now known as Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham, 12,000 or so. Now also in Yemen as the AQAP maybe 6000 - in Libya 5000, in Timbuktu and elsewhere in North Africa 1000 - in Nigeria 2000 - in Somalia 7000 - in the Sinai 1000 - in Russia #? And they have actual territorial control in parts of Somalia, Yemen and Syria.

    If our strategists were medical doctors they would all be sued for malpractice: for causing an major epidemic while amateurishly and incompetently attempting a cure. What we are doing is analogous to using folk remedies like flannel belts or camphor or tomato syrup to cure cholera.

    We need a modern day Clausewitz or Sun Tzu to scope out this problem and devise solutions. But while waiting for that genius saviour, our first step should be to adopt a grand strategy version of the medical promise in the Hippocratic Oath to "do no harm".

  3. The problem is that the problem isn't a MILITARY problem. So the problem with our "solution" IS that we've been looking for a Clausewitz where we should have been looking for a Metternich or a Richelieu, or a George Marshall. We've treated the entire Middle East as a nail, and our hammer has simply broken the parts we've hammered into smaller but still fraught and problematic pieces.

    The U.S. SHOULD be an honest neutral broker in the Middle East, doing nothing but buying petroleum on the open market. But starting in 1945 we've been fucking up politically in ways that have led to fucking up militarily.

    First, we followed the scripts written by the colonial powers, and were seen as their successors. We sided with the French in Syria and Algeria, with the British in Iraq. Then we equated anti-colonial movements and local nationalization of colonial resources with communism. That got us involved in things like the Mossadegh coup and the '58 invasion of Lebanon.

    Finally, the old State Department Middle East hands told Truman that going all in on setting up a latter-day Crusader State on the eastern Levant would poison the Muslim Middle East for generations, and it has. This is not a diatribe against Israel. The original Zionists had exactly the same "right" that any nation and people have; the right to take what they could with their own strength and hold it. Good for them. The U.S., OTOH, had no business backing the idiotic Balfour Declaration. If we wanted to give land to an ethno-religious state we had Utah.

    I keep hammering on this because it seems so simple. The U.S. has only three "vital interests" in the Middle East; access to petroleum, passage through the Suez chokepoint, and a relative degree of "stability" so the region doesn't produce ideological troublemakers. Instead, our hamfisted meddling has produced problems with the first two and a massive, now-global problem with the latter.


    1. Metternich was vastly overrated. Or maybe I just don’t like his preference for ”autocratic absolutism, upheld by a loyal army, by a submissive bureaucracy, by a police machine, and by trustworthy churchmen.”

      I am a fan of Richelieu despite all the defamation heaped on him by the English, or by Dumas’s Musketeer novels. He is said to have had military command in the siege of La Rochelle and in Northern Italy. That gave him (and Marshall) an insight that was unavailable to political hacks like Arthur Balfour.

      But it is much too late to complain of Balfour's declaration and of Israel’s recognition by Harry Truman. 41 years after that recognition in 1989 the US Congress declared Israel a Major non-NATO Ally (MNNA). Then in 2014 Congress went one up on that and declared Israel a major strategic partner through the US-Israel Strategic Partner Act. No treaties in any of these shenanigans – an easy way to get around the two thirds of the Senate ratification requirement in the Constitution.

      And lately Trump's son-in-law has made an AIPAC wet dream come true regarding Ûrshalîm-al Quds.

    2. No argument; that genie ain't going back in that bottle.

      Israel is one of the things the convinces me that the U.S. has a sort of bipartisan brain-fart when it comes to geopolitical thinking. In a rational world Israel would be seen for what it is; a luxury, a sort of diplomatic indulgence that the U.S. can fiddle with when nothing more important is going on. It's idiotic to put Israel over actual U.S. interests and yet, that's the default diplomatic setting for both sides of the political aisle.

      The Trumpkins, in their typical boneheaded manner, are just the GOP-grade stupid version. A Clinton Administration would just be less hamfistedly Likudnik.

      At this point I don't see any elements of the U.S. political spectrum willing to break with the "war on terror" lunacy short of some sort of immense, unforeseeable electoral upheaval. The sunk costs are just too high. So long as GIs are killing and dying "we" haven't "lost". The moment some future administration rolls up the AUMF, pulls the last fobbit out of Kunduz, and shutters Gitmo is the moment We the People have to face the reality that we've wasted decades, billions, and tens of thousands of lives for nothing. Worse than nothing! Since our efforts have made matters worse in many ways in many of the parts of the world they were active. There's no way that happens. So it won't.

      We're just doomed to this Groundhog Day for the foreseeable future.

    3. The problem with having the Izzies as allies is that there is no way to get any reciprocity out of those scumbags. Instead, they get Uncle Sugar to do their dirty work for them. They demand failed states to grow like dead tulips around their territory surrounding them....and they will get them. Their generals have said as much. Lebanon is next. The US military is in all probability dense enough to occupy the low ground with their backs to the sea. No Battleships available this time though. Then, Bibi will ask their Uncle to head south and destroy Hezbollah. They sure as hell will not engage in such a daunting task themselves, given their unfortunate performance in 2006. All Y'all git you some brewskis and popcorn, this is the coming episode..... of? You can furnish a name, if you are so inclined, got to get us some humor around here.

  4. Its worse than that. The USA is (still) doing the bidding of bin Laden. The whole point to 911 was to get America to militarily intervene in the Ummah, thereby driving the people towards the jihadists. Talk about jujitsu. Lucky for us, the vast majority of Muslims want no truck with the crazies. Still, as Mike points out, it has metastasised.

    On a happier note, Afghanistan does offer me entertainment watching Bolton's temple veins throb as he rails against the ICC (and the potential for American soldiers to be held accountable to International Law.) Pretty sure it isn't worth the price, though.

    1. And we intervened big time. bin Laden must be laughing at us in his grave.

      Bolton, and some of his neocon buddies IMO should do a perp walk. If not in the ICC, then here at home.

  5. Mike,

    We stay because we cannot win.
    We cannot win because we don't care about winning.
    We don't care about winning because stalemate is painless for 99% of Americans.

    The additional tragedy is that 'not winning' is not just a waste. It is an active ratcheting up of pressure that will end in a great calamity. This leads to the second axiom of why we don't leave.

    We stay because we will not lose.
    We will not lose because losing will be catastrophic.
    It will be catastrophic because our method of not losing makes it more dangerous to lose.

    We cannot lose and cannot win, so the war will continue. And the bill gets ever larger.

    1. Jesus, PF, I'm trying to remain positive here, keeping hope alive and all that, and you just stripped that out of my hands.
      I need a drink.


    2. I agree in general, PF, but my specific question is; even if "we" (and by we I mean We the People) would we win?

      To "win", as in post-WW2 Germany or Japan-levelreconfiguration of Afghan government, economy, and society would seem to require a level of blood and treasure that would seem incompatible with the likely gains. No occupier has succeeded in that transformation, and it would seem like the apex of hubris to think that our military and geopolitical skills are that much better.

      So perhaps it's less a matter of "caring" so much as a brutal recognition that 1) a conventional military "win" would require a WW2-level of effort, that 2) the U.S. public will not support, and that 3) is unlikely to endure even in the short term without an even larger, more costly, less politically sustainable, effort to reshape SW Asia and the Middle East.

      Hence the continued, endless fight. It's "not losing" as a better option than the alternative, except for the GIs, and that's what they get paid for thankyewferyerservice, amirite?

    3. Those Germany and Japan analogies annoy me. Americans think too highly of their performance there.

      Germany was about as democratic pre-WWI as was the U.S.. The head of state was not up for election, but the legislative branch was based on a more sound election system.
      Germany in 1919-1932 was more democratic than the U.S., including national-level plebiscites, one year earlier women's suffrage and no citizens group (blacks) excluded from elections.

      It wasn't much of a performance to return West Germany to a republic post-1945. The West German basic law (constitution) was written by Germans themselves and hardly incorporated anything new from the U.S. constitution. Former Nazis remained an effective force in government till the late 60's - in small part because Americans valued their anti-soviet experience and stance. The denazification was almost entirely a farce.

      Still, West Germany was MORE democratic by a HUGE margin than the U.S. by late 1949 already. That's but by a tiny margin the performance of the American occupation forces and diplomats (which, BTW, slowed down recovery for years because they were fixated on planning economies); only a minor part of West Germany was occupied by the U.S. at all.

      Japan had a democratic tradition similar to pre-1914 Germany as well. It wasn't composed of crazy fanatic Hirohito and Tojo followers only.

    4. Chief,

      My basic point is that there are two ways out of a war. In victory or in defeat. Obviously, there are degrees to either, but there's no third way to leave a war.
      I don't disagree with your assessment about what it would take to 'win.' Anything that doesn't risk a greater regional conflict is unlikely to lead to a 'win' for America, and that doesn't change over the next 20 years.
      But I think how much Americans care does factor in here because our Presidents care enough to look like they care about winning and we care enough to expect them to do that, but beyond that, we don't care.
      We don't elect people based on their plans to prosecute or end the war.
      We don't care about the money we spend there enough to both doing anything about it.
      We don't care about the women and kids blown up overseas by accident.
      We say we don't care about that because we have to 'win the war' but then we don't do the things required to get there.
      At the end of the day, though, I think we agree on what's occurring but might be quibbling on the semantics of why it is happening.
      My hope is that as we get to the place of 'we cannot win' we'll depart from stalemate and seek an end to the war over continued not losing. I don't think we can end the war until we end the fiction that we don't care enough to win, and by care I mean, its not worth potentially irradiating large parts of SW Asia.

      PF Khans

      PS Sorry sheerahkhan, I've been seeing this for what it was for close to a decade, and I can forget how depressing it really is.

    5. It depends on definitions, but there were plenty white peace treaties in history - a return to status quo ante by treaty. All sides have losses in such wars, but the conventional view is that such wars were draws, neither victories nor defeats.

      My own view is that it's almost impossible to gain more in war than to lose (with few exceptions, mostly short wars of liberation), so almost every war is a loss to everyone.

  6. PF Khans -

    I was hoping the Russians would wipe out the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda (al-Nusra or HTS or whatever their newest name is). But it seems like Putin has put that onus on Erdogan if we can believe the news from the Russia/Turkey conference in Sochi today.

    Or maybe not? Putin is sure to know that the jihadis will break the cease fire. So the Russian Air Force and the Syrian Army will have another go at them as soon as that happens.

    Perhaps we should get out of Dodge City, Afghanistan and get the President, Ashraf Ghani, to invite the Russkies back in. I doubt he would go for it though. He went to High School as an exchange student down in Lake Oswego Oregon, not far from FDChief's neighborhood.

    1. Mike,

      We need to leave because we're making it worse by not winning and not losing. We should aim for as good as we can get and depart.
      Russia should be welcome to have another go, but the primary focus has got to be preventing Afghanistan from turning into the fourth Indo-Pakistani war. If 20 years from now, no nukes have been exchanged between the two, we should consider it a win.
      The struggle between the two for control of Afghanistan is a huge part of the continued conflict there and has enormous potential consequences.

      PF Khans