BIG Af-Pak Debate in White House and New York Today

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Afghanistan Debate.jpg
Today, Barack Obama is spending nearly all of his day in briefings related to Afghanistan and Pakistan. While many Members of Congress are invited to the briefings, you and I are not.
But for those in New York, you can see Patrick Lang, Ralph Peters and me debate my boss, Steve Coll — author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 that Barack Obama has been reading for about eleven months (really. . .11 months??), John Nagl and James Shinn.
That’s right, I am debating my boss — but we plan to demonstrate what constructive discourse can look like. We can’t speak for others on our respective teams, however.
The proposition we are going to wrestle with is too stark — but that’s the way debates are framed. The debate proposition is “AMERICA CANNOT AND WILL NOT SUCCEED IN AFGHANISTAN/PAKISTAN.”
Binary choices are not the way the real world works in my view, but at least this debate tonight will help those of us on stage and others in the audience explicate what the big issues in Afghanistan and Pakistan are — and are not.
Tonight’s debate is sponsored by the Intelligence Squared Debates Series and will be at NYU. Info and ticket information here.
Unfortunately, the gratis tickets I was given are all spoken for now — but folks can still purchase tickets if you are interested.
I will be posting links to National Public Radio and Bloomberg coverage of the debates in coming days.
— Steve Clemons

Comments

31 comments on “BIG Af-Pak Debate in White House and New York Today

  1. Mr.Murder says:

    China’s interest being higlighted is a way to try and triangulate Russia’s northern province presence to greater degrees vis-a-vis NATO.

    Reply

  2. Jackie says:

    David,
    I’ve never read Ghost Wars, but I’ve heard Coll on some radio interviews about the book.
    What I really want to know is how last night’s debate came out. Did the “get out” side win ordid the “stay in side” prevail.. Anyone there who could tell us???

    Reply

  3. David says:

    Jackie,
    I was thinking more in terms of the informative value of GHOST WARS. I should not have called it a tome, because one of the unfortunate connotations of tome is ponderous, and ponderous it is not. I’ve been following Steve Coll’s thinking on his blog.
    I’m actually never anywhere near as interested in their conclusions as in the intellectual honesty, comprehensive informativeness, and clarity of people’s contributions. The only person whose conclusions deeply interest me is the person who makes the decision. Thus I want to know what drives Obama’s thinking, and I stand ready to endorse or condemn his various decisions.
    The great value of TWN is its intellectually honest and comprehensive informativeness. And Steve Clemons is a contender for some kind of award in the category Soundness of Decisions Based on Comprehensive Inquiry and Intellectual Honesty.
    Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, and that pathetic racist who went from CNN to Fox, on the other hand, and their socio-political acolytes…

    Reply

  4. Outraged American says:

    Nadine: so you’re claiming we didn’t kill Iraqis, but that more than a
    million Iraqis committed suicide?
    You and Wig should become commediennes in a new version of the
    Borscht Belt, but please do it in Sderot so that a Palestinian bottle
    rocket might hit you when your jokes BOMB.
    You can enlist Questions as your warm-up act so that your guest
    will be nice and sleepy before you hit the stage.

    Reply

  5. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “Furthermore, the new left does not care if girls can’t go to school or women can’t leave their houses”
    This selective “concern” you two bigoted zionist assholes show for women’s rights is despicable.

    Reply

  6. nadine says:

    Wigwag, to the new left, it’s always America’s fault, so “we” broke Afghanistan, just as “we” killed Iraqis. Who actually killed them or whether they got killed at at all is besides the point. The point is, it’s all America’s fault because we are involved. Not that not having sent troops would have absolved us. No, in that case it would be our fault for ‘supporting’ their local corrupt dictators. It’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t setup.
    Furthermore, the new left does not care if girls can’t go to school or women can’t leave their houses. That’s just part of Afghan cultural authenticity, which we must respect because otherwise we’d be saying our culture is better than theirs, and we mustn’t say that, esp. when they are Muslims and liable to blow things up when they get upset.
    BTW, speaking of the region, Iran just announced that the big concession we got from them, that whole agreement to ship enriched uranium abroad for further enrichment – never happened. Nope, they got more time & more talks in exchange for nothing. But I’m sure Steven still thinks Obama is taking a great “tone” with Iran.
    The Iranian announcement here: http://www.presstv.ir/detail.aspx?id=107721&sectionid=351020104

    Reply

  7. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “It seems that Pakistan, not troop levels in Aghanistan, is the real key to success here”
    Yes, we sure got alot for our money when that asshole Bush was funneling copious amounts of it to Musharif, didn’t we?
    Karzai has proven himself to be a real trifecta, too, hasn’t he?
    And ya gotta love Maliki.
    We sure can pick ’em.

    Reply

  8. bob h says:

    It seems that Pakistan, not troop levels in Aghanistan, is the real key to success here.
    I sometimes wonder whether Nixon and Kissinger would allow themselves to be played by Pakistan in the way we are. My guess is that Pakistan Tribal Areas would be Cambodia-ized.

    Reply

  9. Jackie says:

    David,
    Interesting that you mentioned “Ghost Wars”, because Steve will be debating the author of that book tonight. Coll is on the other side of the get out now debate

    Reply

  10. WigWag says:

    “Ethical to whom?” (Jonst)
    To millions of Afghan women who would be victims of the Taliban.
    “We, WE, “broke Afghanistan”? Just a tad bit hyperbole perhaps?” (Jonst)
    No, not at all.
    “Ah, yes, attacks on people’s patriotism? IOW…..people against the plan are rooting for its failure, for the US to fail. Always the attack on patriotism.” (Jonst)
    Sensitive about attacks on people’s patriotism, Jonst?
    I didn’t notice you commenting on the threads where Republican patriotism was attacked because they had a different view than Obama on the Olympics or Hondarus. Your concern about attack on patriotism seem rather selective to me, Jonst.
    “You reinforce my firmly held belief that the neo-liberals are as dangerous, and mistaken, as the neo-cons…” (Jonst)
    My views aren’t “neo-liberal”, they’re just “liberal.”
    But that’s better than all of the reactionary views masquerading as leftist views that you see around here; don’t you think, Jonst?

    Reply

  11. ... says:

    this post has to be repeated even if wigwag chooses to avoid it.. thanks for stating this way better then i ever could johnh…
    >>Posted by JohnH, Oct 06 2009, 1:40PM – Link
    Wigwag–your heart bleeds when it comes to Iranian and Afghan women. But when it comes to Palestinian women and children, you condemn the Goldstone Report which exposes Israeli war crimes, particularly against women and children. So which is it? Do you support the rights of women and children? Or do you simply back Israel, right or wrong?
    My position backs the rights of women and children more than yours. War is hell, causing immense suffering, particularly among women and children. And so I oppose senseless wars, whether they be against Iraqis, Iranians, Afghans, or Palestinians. You back war, despite its impact on women and children. It’s as if you believe in destroying a village to save it. How many more wars and occupations do you want to put helpless women and children through?

    Reply

  12. David says:

    Obama has been reading GHOST WARS? That is the best news I’ve read today. Second in line is Nancy Pelosi’s statement that there will be a public option in the final version of health care reform.
    The 11 months thing could mean that he has to read it in short segments (it is a tome, one of the worthiest of tomes), or it could mean he is bound and determined to digest all of its implications. Whatever the case, one cannot read that work and remain pinheaded about Afghanistan.
    People like Lindsey Graham and John McCain, on the other hand, can and likely will remain pinheaded regarding Iran and Afghanistan. Sad in McCain’s case, inexcusable in Graham’s case.

    Reply

  13. jonst says:

    Wig-Wag,
    Because Jimmy Carter and ZB are still dodging the dust bin of history, we owe a debt, an alleged debt, to the people of Afghanistan? But once they wind up in the dust bin we might be, MIGHT BE, off the hook, so to speak? Ok……..strikes me, among other things, as utterly illogical, but who is to say in the end.
    You wrote: “There is simply no ethical way that the U.S. can permit the return of the Taliban?” No matter what the cost in money and blood I take it? And you call that an ethical position? Ethical to who?
    We, WE, “broke Afghanistan”? Just a tad bit hyperbole perhaps? You also write: “General McChrystal” plan, to the limited extent the true scope of that plan has been made public, has chance of working? I think you dead wrong about that. Given our disagreement on this it would be needlessly provocative of me to share with you my opinion of the so called Surge.
    Finally, you write: “The operative question is still the one asked of the opponents of the surge in Iraq; are opponents of additional troops in Afghanistan more afraid that the strategy won’t work or more afraid that it will?”.
    Why would opponents of the plan be afraid it might “work”? Whatever “work” means?
    Ah, yes, attacks on people’s patriotism? IOW…..people against the plan are rooting for its failure, for the US to fail. Always the attack on patriotism.
    I believe you to be a naive Utopian (though some may plausibly argue that that is redundant) willing to shed American blood and American money to ‘make the world a better place’. Personally, and I only speak for myself, my country has endured enough of that kind of ‘thinking’. You reinforce my firmly held belief that the neo-liberals are as dangerous, and mistaken, as the neo-cons and if take more of their venomous counsel we will be fighting for the next 100 years, or till the Empire both groups advocate collapses. Which ever comes first.

    Reply

  14. Elisabeth says:

    Will you first define what “success” in Afghanistan/Pakistan is? Or, at least what each side thinks it is? Hard to argue for or against something before defining what it is.

    Reply

  15. WigWag says:

    Steve Clemons and Ralph Peters on the same side seems rather strange to me. I’ve never thought of Mr. Peters as either a realist or a progressive person; in fact, perhaps mistakenly, I always thought of him as a neoconservative.
    Unless I’m wrong, he writes a column for Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post. My assumption is that a prerequisite for that job is to be a neocon. But to paraphrase our former President, perhaps I am misunderestimating Ralph Peters.
    I did see Peters conduct an amazingly good and eruite interview of Nick Schmidle about his book, “To Live or to Perish Forever on C-SPAN’s “Booknotes” a few months ago. In that venue, Peters impressed me very much.
    Will the debate be live broadcast on television or elsewhere or will it be taped for broadcast later as a podcast or on You Tube?

    Reply

  16. Outraged American says:

    From the National Priorities Project RE the true cost of war in
    Afghanistan:
    Eight Years of U.S. War in Afghanistan:– October 7, 2009 marks
    the eighth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.
    National Priorities Project (NPP) analyses find that, to date, U.S.
    military operations in Afghanistan have cost U.S. taxpayers $228
    billion, $60.2 billion of which was spent in FY 2009 alone.
    Monthly costs in Afghanistan during FY 2009 averaged $5
    billion, up from $3.5 billion per month in FY 2008.
    In FY 2010, U.S. military spending for the Iraq and Afghanistan
    wars is projected to be $130 billion. In the past, funding was
    split between the two U.S. wars at a 70/30 ratio, with the
    majority of U.S. dollars going to operations in Iraq. In FY 2010,
    this ratio is projected to shift, with Afghanistan war spending
    accounting for over 50 percent of total costs.
    NPP has a host of Afghanistan War-related resources, including:
    Cost of War Counters: Afghanistan, Iraq and combined,
    http://www.costofwar.com/
    War spending trade-offs: state, Congressional district and more
    than 1,000 cities and towns, helping to convey the magnitude
    and meaning of budget figures,
    http://www.nationalpriorities.org/tradeoffs(see below)
    “Quick facts” about Afghanistan: with troop levels, annual
    funding, etc.,
    (You’ll have to go to the National Priorities Project.org website to
    see those stats. and the next two because of TWN being
    incapable of allowing us more than two links)
    Cost of War in Afghanistan: a primer on both the human and
    economic costs of war,
    “The numbers are staggering. $228 billion in Afghanistan war
    spending equals 800,000 4-year university scholarships for U.S.
    students,” notes Jo Comerford. “$228 billion also means $469.1
    million from Boston, MA taxpayers which is the equivalent of
    healthcare for 140,600 people; $1.5 billion from Alameda
    County, CA folks which equals 4,341 affordable housing units;
    or $89.2 million from people in Evanston, IL which equals 1,372
    elementary school teachers.”
    With the passage of the FY 2010 Department of Defense budget,
    total U.S. spending for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will exceed
    $1 trillion by March of next year.
    Nadine, people pray for the “return of the Messiah” in Christian
    churches every single day. I do, and pretend it’s Ash Wednesday
    to explain to fellow congregants why I haven’t taken a shower
    since last fall.
    And I’m sure Wigs’ grandkids are Rangers, because she sure is
    wiling to sacrifice to make sure “Af-Pak” the graveyard of
    empires, is fixed.

    Reply

  17. Outraged American says:

    From the National Priorities Project RE the true cost of war in
    Afghanistan:
    Eight Years of U.S. War in Afghanistan:
    the dollars add up
    Northampton, MA – October 7, 2009 marks the eighth
    anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. National
    Priorities Project (NPP) analyses find that, to date, U.S. military
    operations in Afghanistan have cost U.S. taxpayers $228 billion,
    $60.2 billion of which was spent in FY 2009 alone. Monthly costs
    in Afghanistan during FY 2009 averaged $5 billion, up from $3.5
    billion per month in FY 2008.
    In FY 2010, U.S. military spending for the Iraq and Afghanistan
    wars is projected to be $130 billion. In the past, funding was
    split between the two U.S. wars at a 70/30 ratio, with the
    majority of U.S. dollars going to operations in Iraq. In FY 2010,
    this ratio is projected to shift, with Afghanistan war spending
    accounting for over 50 percent of total costs.
    NPP has a host of Afghanistan War-related resources, including:
    Cost of War Counters: Afghanistan, Iraq and combined,
    http://www.costofwar.com/
    War spending trade-offs: state, Congressional district and more
    than 1,000 cities and towns, helping to convey the magnitude
    and meaning of budget figures,
    http://www.nationalpriorities.org/tradeoffs(see below)
    “Quick facts” about Afghanistan: with troop levels, annual
    funding, etc.,
    http://www.nationalpriorities.org/2009/09/02/quick-facts-US-
    military-operations-Afghanistan
    Cost of War in Afghanistan: a primer on both the human and
    economic costs of war,
    “The numbers are staggering. $228 billion in Afghanistan war
    spending equals 800,000 4-year university scholarships for U.S.
    students,” notes Jo Comerford. “$228 billion also means $469.1
    million from Boston, MA taxpayers which is the equivalent of
    healthcare for 140,600 people; $1.5 billion from Alameda
    County, CA folks which equals 4,341 affordable housing units;
    or $89.2 million from people in Evanston, IL which equals 1,372
    elementary school teachers.”
    With the passage of the FY 2010 Department of Defense budget,
    total U.S. spending for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will exceed
    $1 trillion by March of next year.
    Nadine — people pray for the “return of the Messiah” in
    Christian churches every single day. I do, and pretend it’s Ash
    Wednesday to explain to fellow congregants why I haven’t taken
    a shower since last fall.

    Reply

  18. WigWag says:

    Jonst,
    You ask about a “statute of limitations” for American complicity in creating the Taliban. I don’t know that there is any statute of limitations for such a dreadful deed. But if there is to be one, surely it won’t occur before the two thugs who enabled the Taliban, Jimmy Carter and Zbignew Brzezinski, are no longer viewed as gurus by fake progressives and cynical realists. Perhaps when Carter and Brzezinski are relegated to the dust bin of history, American responsibility for what happens in Afghanistan will begin to fade.
    You also ask about the possibility that the United States may just not be able to do anything to prevent the Taliban from taking over and subjecting Afghans to the terrible treatment they dished out when they were last in power.
    But that’s almost certainly not true. As bad as things are in Afghanistan now, even with the level of U.S. troops already there, the Taliban is still unable to control any major population center and none of the worst abuses that they perpetrated a decade ago are still operative. And General McChrystal has proposed a plan that at least has a chance of working. The operative question is still the one asked of the opponents of the surge in Iraq; are opponents of additional troops in Afghanistan more afraid that the strategy won’t work or more afraid that it will?
    There is simply no ethical way that the U.S. can permit the return of the Taliban. It’s not about Al Qaeda and their potential for attacking Americans; it’s about the Taliban and their potential for attacking decent Afghanis.
    One thing that I’ve noticed about debates like the one Steve Clemons and Steve Coll will be engaging in at NYU is that they always talk about what’s in America’s interests but they rarely delve into the stakes for the Afghanis. Given the role of the United States in breaking Afghanistan it seems to me that it’s only ethical to talk about our responsibility for fixing it.

    Reply

  19. Jackie says:

    I hope Steve’s side wins this one. Eight years of this is crazy.

    Reply

  20. samuelburke says:

    “Demonstrations mark 8th anniversary of Afghan War–demand
    immediate U.S./NATO withdrawal
    Students on 25 campuses across the United States will protest
    eight long years of war against and occupation of the people of
    Afghanistan, on Wednesday October 7. Students for a
    Democratic Society (SDS), a nation-wide student organization
    committed to activism for peace, justice and equality, are
    organizing the protest.
    “We are outraged by the daily loss of life and devastation caused
    by the U.S. military in Afghanistan,” Daniel Ginsberg-Jaeckle, a
    member of SDS in Milwaukee, WI. “For eight years this
    occupation has brought nothing but misery, poverty and
    suffering to the Afghan people. The U.S. and NATO need to get
    out now.”
    The protests come on the heels of the largest loss of life for U.S.
    occupation forces in a year. On Sunday October 4, anti-
    occupation fighters in Afghanistan killed nine U.S. soldiers in a
    series of attacks. So far, 869 U.S. troops are dead in Afghanistan
    since the occupation began in 2001 – with over a quarter of
    those killed in the past ten months alone. There are over 4,000
    U.S. wounded.”

    Reply

  21. samuelburke says:

    “The UN reportedly had evidence that one in three Karzai votes
    was fraudulent, though former ambassador Galbraith was
    ordered to keep this secret. The man doing the ordering, Kai
    Eide, reportedly told Karzai that he supported his re-election
    campaign.”
    http://news.antiwar.com/2009/10/05/un-watchdogs-new-
    rules-likely-to-ensure-karzai-win/

    Reply

  22. samuelburke says:

    “Nowhere has American power been more visible than the
    massive expansion of the embassy in Islamabad, sparking
    protests against the site that will some day hold Ambassador
    Anne Patterson, a contentious figure in her own right who has
    been threatening US military attacks against the city of Quetta if
    Pakistan doesn’t give in to demands to launch action of its own.
    Then last week the US Congress pressed through with
    overwhelming support a bill to triple aid to Pakistan as part of a
    “strategic partnership.” The bill was enthusiastically supported
    by President Obama and was described as expanding America’s
    commitment to the nation over the next decade.
    Less enamored with the bill was Pakistan’s government and
    particularly its military, which sees assorted requirements under
    the bill as an attempt to exert growing control over the domestic
    affairs of the nation. The bill gives the US power to monitor
    Pakistan’s military and court system, leading to concerns that it
    is a threat to the nation’s sovereignty.”
    http://news.antiwar.com/2009/10/05/pakistan-resists-
    expanded-us-influence/
    “This is less an assistance programme than a treaty of
    surrender,” MP Ayaz Amir wrote in an editorial piece circulating
    around the Pakistani press, insisting “a convicted rapist out on
    parole would be required to give fewer assurances of good
    conduct.”

    Reply

  23. JohnH says:

    Wigwag–your heart bleeds when it comes to Iranian and Afghan women. But when it comes to Palestinian women and children, you condemn the Goldstone Report which exposes Israeli war crimes, particularly against women and children. So which is it? Do you support the rights of women and children? Or do you simply back Israel, right or wrong?
    My position backs the rights of women and children more than yours. War is hell, causing immense suffering, particularly among women and children. And so I oppose senseless wars, whether they be against Iraqis, Iranians, Afghans, or Palestinians. You back war, despite its impact on women and children. It’s as if you believe in destroying a village to save it. How many more wars and occupations do you want to put helpless women and children through?

    Reply

  24. jonst says:

    Wig-Wag,
    Is it your intention to frame the debate in the following manner:
    Either stay in Afghanistan, employing whatever strategy or tactics you want, or get out, and thereby prove we “don’t care” about all the horrible things you point out?
    Or is there a middle ground? We “care” (whatever that ultimately means) about all the horrible things you point, but it may just be possible that there is nothing we can do about those things. That the Afghans themselves must address those issues. And we conclude that it just might be possible that our further involvement will not only not stop the things you are rightly concerned about, but in fact may exacerbate.
    Is it also possible that “we care”, but we do not have the resources or the will to intervene in the manner you might proscribe to stop said horrible things?
    Lastly, what is the ‘statute of limitations’ on our actions 30 years ago? To the limited extent our actions contributed to the mess. Or are there no limitations?

    Reply

  25. Zathras says:

    I’d be interested to know if any panelists at this event address whether the answer to this question would have been different in 2002 than it is today.
    Knowing what we want in Afghanistan today is a good thing. However, the years wasted since the Taliban government was thrown out have had consequences that I’m not sure policymakers, to say nothing of commentators, are giving due weight. We have a new administration in Washington and a new commander in Kabul, but the American effort in Afghanistan has already been a long-term project. The Afghan government it has produced is an unreliable partner in all sorts of ways, rendering a “nation-building” project there problematic. It’s a lot easier to build a house from scratch than it is to build it while you’re struggling to fix a badly defective foundation.
    There is much to admire in modern counter-insurgency doctrine, but I wonder whether en. McChrystal and its other adherents have taken adequate account of this problem. My impression is rather that many of them feel that since we’ve gotten in the soup by doing things wrong in Afghanistan, we’ll therefore get out of the soup by doing things right. This doesn’t follow, not necessarily; we don’t get a “do-over” of the last seven-odd years.

    Reply

  26. Bart says:

    As long as the Great Recession lasts there will be plenty of jobless, frustrated young people who will volunteer to fight in our Asian wars. Another reason for a second stimulus package.

    Reply

  27. WigWag says:

    “Time to end the whole charade and put the money to creating jobs and assuring health care here at home.” (JohnH)
    Sure, JohnH, let’s spend the money at home.
    Who cares if Afghan women can’t leave the house? Who cares if Afghan girls don’t learn to read? Who cares, if gay people are stoned to death? Who cares if Buddhist statues and other priceless cultural artifacts are smashed to smithereens? Who cares if once again museums in Afghan cities are locked permanently? Who cares if the Taliban burn the few remaining books they didn’t destroy last time they were in power and converts Afghan libraries into weapons depots (again)? Who cares if the playing of music is punishable by caning? Who cares if civil society is replaced by Sharia? Who cares if religious education completely replaces secular education? Who cares if Afghan children can’t fly kites? Who cares if teenagers who hold hands in public are shamed, beaten or worse?
    Most of all, who cares if the destruction of Afghan secular society was dramatically exacerbated by the support of the United States for the Afghan Mujhadeen 30 years ago?
    One thing we do know, JohnH is that you don’t care; after all when it comes to the Middle East and Central and South Asia, you can always be counted on to support the most conservative, regressive and brutal elements of those societies.
    Your position, JohnH is, (to use your words) absolutely disgusting.
    I don’t know if the debate on NYU will touch on these critical moral elements of American involvement in Afghanistan. If it doesn’t, something critical will have been left out.

    Reply

  28. ... says:

    my impression of debating is the person who really believes in their position is more likely to be successful in convincing others… my first impression is this would seem uncharacteristic of steve as he works hard at being neutral or diplomatic most of the time… good luck taking a strongly opposed position to this steve..

    Reply

  29. JohnH says:

    If you don’t know what you’re trying to do, you might not succeed. What happens instead? You chase your tail around, like the US is doing in Afghanistan.
    Time to end the whole charade and put the money to creating jobs and assuring health care here at home.

    Reply

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