Guest Post by Katherine Tiedemann: Holbrooke on Success — “We’ll Know it When We See It”

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Katherine Tiedemann is a policy analyst at the New America Foundation/Counterterrorism Strategy Initiative and author of the AfPak Daily Brief. This post originally appeared on the AfPak Channel, a new joint venture between the New America Foundation and Foreign Policy to explain and analyze the conflict in South Asia.
I’ve just come from live-tweeting a conference with Amb. Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and members of his interagency team hosted by the Center for American Progress. While there were certainly substantive issues discussed (the role of Iran, the upcoming presidential elections in Afghanistan, the state of the Pakistani Taliban post-Baitullah Mehsud), what caught my attention was a flippant quip by the ambassador.
Asked about how to measure success and progress in Afghanistan, Holbrooke remarked, “In the simplest sense, the Supreme Court test for another issue: We’ll know it when we see it.”
A universal head-desk rippled through the Twitterverse, with Foreign Policy blogger Mark Lynch tweeting “Feel reassured?” and Spencer Ackerman chiming in with “Is there alcohol here?” CAP’s Brian Katulis asked, “Will ‘we know it when we see it’ be convincing enough for the American people and the Hill, focused on econ and health care?” and FP’s own Josh Keating drew the parallel, “Holbrooke suggests AfPak success like pornography: ‘we’ll know it when we see it.'” Harvard’s Stephen Walt has added his two cents here.
Metrics in Afghanistan are hard. That much is obvious. There’s also potential peril in being held to standards that you may or may not be able to meet. But Katulis hit the nail on the head: “We’ll know it when we see it” is not a convincing enough argument for the public and policymakers. And since President Obama has made accountability a pillar of his Afghanistan policy, I’m hoping Holbrooke’s comment was just an attempt to be funny and nothing more than that.
National Security Advisor Jim Jones has reportedly “approved a classified policy document on July 17 setting out nine broad objectives for metrics to guide the administration’s policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan,” but another couple of months are needed to work out the details. One metric under consideration is an opinion poll to gauge how corrupt Afghans think their public officials are.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top American commander in Afghanistan, has said that another measure of success is the number of civilians protected, not the number of Taliban militants killed (and indeed, CENTCOM is not publicizing the latter). Although that first metric is much harder to calculate, it shows the Obama administration’s focus on implementing counterinsurgency strategies in the Afghan theater.
Another yardstick of progress will be how legitimate the international community considers the August 20 presidential elections. With incumbent President Hamid Karzai’s supporters allegedly trying to buy voter registration cards and security concerns about safety on polling day rampant, to put it mildly, this is a challenge. Holbrooke said at the conference that he’s leaving it up to the media to determine whether the elections are legitimate, but one of his interagency team members, British diplomat Jane Marriott, clarified that the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan will handle complaints.
You can check out my live-tweeting along with that of several other colleagues by clicking here.
— Katherine Tiedemann

Comments

98 comments on “Guest Post by Katherine Tiedemann: Holbrooke on Success — “We’ll Know it When We See It”

  1. rich says:

    Not the medium. I know where you stand b/c I’ve read all your posts and followed this thread — but that last, concluding one seems to revert an ambiguity that calls where you stand into question (if I didn’t know better; do I know better?)
    “Does it really matter?”
    Doesn’t this work to call into question the critical importance of the entire discussion? I don’t understand the function of questioning whether the point I raised matters.
    Middle paragraph — yes, it confirms that wigwag knew he was lying, and knows exactly the erasure and dogmatic point he was maintaining. Which is why I used the word “lying.” You get my point, of course, I’m just being explicit.
    But your last sentence is _his_ conclusion — not yours. Ending with “Thus …” makes it appear your conclusion as well. Since people generally conclude with their own endpoint / bottom line….

    Reply

  2. Paul Norheim says:

    “…that you disagree with that sentence and are
    not affirming it. Right?”
    Yes. I thought that was obvious. Perhaps I
    underestimate the inherent difficulties in
    communicating on a blog? But yes, I was shocked
    when I read that sentence.

    Reply

  3. rich says:

    Paul,
    Not exactly clear there where you stand on the issue. So, in order:
    1. Yes, it really matters.
    2. “WigWag knew precisely (explicitly) what he was saying, didn`t he?” Yes, wigwag knew exactly what he was saying, and there was no “more or less” about his bald assertions. I used the word “lie” for the sake of precision; the clarity of language is a necessary, and does not demand an emotional read or tone.
    3. Paul wrote, “Thus no abuse of their human rights took place in those years.” I’m assuming you’re recounting wigwag’s line of reasoning here, that you disagree with that sentence and are not affirming it. Right?
    Check this instructive wigwag tactic. ‘Women’s suffering will be tremendously more horrifying in Afghanistan under the Taliban than the suffering women have experienced in Iraq in the aftermath of the U.S. invasion.’ There’s little to support this, of course. But note the effect: it minimizes the near-total horror inflicted by American methods and mistakes in Iraq, and rationalizes continued involvement in Afghanistan — supposedly to defend women from the horror to come. Both ends of this dual gambit evade American responsibility for shattering the status of women in Iraq AND for facilitating a lost war in AfPak that’ll have devastating consequences for women. We’ve seen this before: dominoes will fall; there’ll be a bloodbath if we pull outta South Vietnam. It’s a compounded exploitation.
    There’s a reason wigwag dare not look closely:
    _>
    They Want Us Exterminated
    Murder, Torture, Sexual Orientation and Gender in Iraq
    “This 67-page report documents a wide-reaching campaign of extrajudicial executions, kidnappings, and torture of gay men that began in early 2009. The killings began in the vast Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City, a stronghold of Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia, and spread to many cities across Iraq. Mahdi Army spokesmen have promoted fears about the “third sex” and the “feminization” of Iraq men, and suggested that militia action was the remedy. Some people told Human Rights Watch that Iraqi security forces have colluded and joined in the killing.”

    Reply

  4. Paul Norheim says:

    Yes, Rich, I think you`re correct: the argument
    was not implicit, it was more or less explicitly
    expressed during the argumentation.
    Does it really matter?
    If WigWag claimed (as he did) that the
    Palestinians didn`t exist, in the context of a
    discussion with Dan about how Jews violently
    removed them from their homes 60 years ago – a
    discussion also involving the rights of the human
    beings removed by force from their homes – WigWag
    knew precisely (explicitly) what he was saying,
    didn`t he?
    WigWag said that the Jews existed, and that the
    Palestinians didn`t exist. Thus no abuse of their
    human rights took place in those years.

    Reply

  5. rich says:

    That may’ve been the exchange, maybe not; because if so you downplay the position significantly. Ameliorating language aside, that’s unlike you. There was no ‘implying’ going on, but rather the explicit assertion that no crime took place _at all_, and no Palestinian nation or people existed _at all_, ignoring every applicable code and statute. I think you need to revisit the rationale wigwag presented. Whether indigenous people or formal contemporary nation with legislature and armed forces — the reality lies in between those and does not preclude applicable British, moral and international law. Not to mention Jewish code. The absence of a constable does not allow one to conclude no crime occurred. Resorting to such tactics doesn’t just seek to rewrite & erase history, for the rationales presented have no merit at all and are by definition childlike and extremely destructive, both here and in the broader national & global discussions.
    You write,
    “I still hope that you`ll take time to absorb the rest of my comment at an appropriate time later, and think twice about my suggestion.”
    I haven’t read that aspect of your post and will get to it if I have time. Meaning I will be thinking about it for *the first time.*

    Reply

  6. Paul Norheim says:

    Rich said: “I held back at the time, posted
    upthread in the cold light of reason, and believe
    it necessary to identify the bald & banal denial
    of history that wigwag practices on that
    point.(…) The tactic of erasure attempts to
    wield absolute power over language, over our
    dialogue as well as over history; and that goes
    beyond obdurate refusal to engage productively.
    It’s a tool, with a specific function, that
    eviscerates the responsiveness and reciprocity you
    appeal for. And that just doesn’t pass muster here
    or on the specific issue.”
    ———————————-
    I think you refer specifically to one of the
    discussions between Dan and WigWag some weeks ago?
    WigWag said that the Palestinians didn`t exist as
    a identifiable entity or legal term when the state
    of Israel was founded – the Palestinians “didn`t
    exist” (“if you like” – implying that no abuses
    took place. If this is correct, I remember the
    discussion, and if my memory doesn`t fail me, I
    think I even reacted emotionally (!) in that
    thread, with a short comment.
    Yes, that was indeed a grave example of abuse of
    language, supported by a mixture of historical
    circumstances and legal terms.
    However, we all fight and sense things through
    language and words here, and I believe we are
    capable of noticing such attempts, and arguing
    against them. I still hope that you`ll take time
    to absorb the rest of my comment at an appropriate
    time later, and think twice about my suggestion.

    Reply

  7. rich says:

    Paul Norheim,
    Interesting and thoughtful contribution. Keep in mind one can be forthright without being impolite, and that’s what I do. And yes, while it is always worth hewing a concise text, sometimes it’s necessary to elaborate with precision, as few here are lucky enough to share a longer conversational backdrop. Like you, I work to cut back excess verbiage.
    Two key points. You read too much into my words if you see them as emotional. Extend to my text your characteristic open-minded reading. Second, there is nothing over-the-top or ungenerous about identifying lies or propaganda points (big lies). I held back at the time, posted upthread in the cold light of reason, and believe it necessary to identify the bald & banal denial of history that wigwag practices on that point. There are events which must never again be forgotten, or occur, and that kind of colonialist erasure of peoples, of history, of responsibility actively abets their repetition.
    My upthread posts are a bit out of context, so your ability to situate them as a reader is attentuated, I think. And the medium is demanding on the score of balance, though I’d phrase it in other terms. Sometimes one has to make their point, which doesn’t equate to an accusatory mode. And let me make a sharp distinction between tolerance for a different point of view, very easy to do, and letting slide some truly abhorrent assertions or ideologically positions, rigidly held and inexorably wielded, despite the most difficult to accept lessons of the 20th century. I agree with wigwag on many points; that doesn’t mean we can overlook tactics corrosive to the only solution available, generally based on forthright, sincere and mutually reciprocal give-&-take. The tactic of erasure attempts to wield absolute power over language, over our dialogue as well as over history; and that goes beyond obdurate refusal to engage productively. It’s a tool, with a specific function, that eviscerates the responsiveness and reciprocity you appeal for. And that just doesn’t pass muster here or on the specific issue. Now, Paul Norheim, no time to absorb and respond to the rest of your post this morning. Gotta run. But I do trust you are insightful enough to get beyond characterizing my posts as rash or lacking balance or as somehow unsupported. Upthread comments had a specific point and addressed a specific topic for which wigwag deploys a specific tactic (though the pattern carries over into other areas like Carter). Have a great morning, I gotta fly.

    Reply

  8. Paul Norheim says:

    Rich,
    occasionally I think you write too many words. I
    do that as well – very often I curse myself for
    not deleting 9/10 of a comment after reading what
    I just posted. And sometimes I think you get too
    emotional, accusing opponents of dishonesty, of
    delivering big lies etc., like you“ve done in
    this thread. I do the same sometimes. It`s often
    difficult to obtain a balance between honesty and
    politeness; between tolerance for a different
    point of view, and moral integrity.
    Let me say that I`m glad to see that you`re back
    (haven`t seen you for a while here). And let me
    also say that I don`t think your comments here
    during the last couple of days have been
    longwinded – they`ve mostly been highly
    interesting and to the point – Rich at his best…
    This is actually the reason why I write this.
    Personally I think WigWag is one of the most
    interesting commenters here who I frequently (and
    often strongly) disagree with. I seriously doubt
    that he is more insincere than many of his
    opponents. He usually writes a somewhat dry prose
    supported by arguments and facts, often spicing it
    with a certain irony or malice that I`m afraid
    some of his opponents are too outraged to notice.
    He may not show his cards in a particular
    discussion, but on a general level, WigWag have
    made no secret of his sympathies: pro Israel,
    mostly pro AIPAC, mostly anti Obama, anti
    Islamism, anti Iran, very pro Hillary Clinton etc.
    etc.
    After a while, you learn to read him and sort out
    things. Yeah, I often express outrage against some
    of his statements. But I`ve learned to respect him
    as an opponent (sometimes we actually agree).
    There are often (but not always) substantial facts
    and considerable knowledge behind his claims,
    substantial reflection behind his points of view –
    despite the fact that I often regard his point of
    view as wrong. He is also willing to admit (and I
    believe that this is not only a rhetorical point)
    that he is selective with regard to facts: that he
    tend to put more weight to facts that fit into his
    narrative, than those facts that stubbornly oppose
    it – an admission most of his opponents are not
    willing to make.
    Now I am the one getting longwinded… What`s my
    point?
    That there`s some substance in many of your
    comments. That there`s some substance in many of
    WigWag`s comments. Be honest: is there a more
    intellectually worthy opponent than WigWag at TWN?
    As you may have noticed, Dan Kervick always sticks
    to the issues and arguments, ignoring possible
    motives, while discussing with WigWag. I think
    this have enhanced the quality of this blog
    considerably. What I modestly suggest – not as a
    criticism, but as a suggestion that may even be
    interpreted as flattering? – is that you tone down
    you focus on WigWag`s motives and morality, and
    stick to the arguments and the issues. Perhaps
    WigWag would be encouraged to involve in dialogues
    with you if you did so?
    I think The Washington Note would benefit from
    such a dialogue.
    Just a suggestion. What do you think?

    Reply

  9. rich says:

    That’s a lot of energy & labor, wigwag, to demonstrate what everyone already knows: that President Carter could wield hard power on the world stage, consistent with every other President before and after. It’s a grand American tradition. So what? That record completely destroys the myth/smear that Jimmy Carter was a wimp, an appeaser, a quavering wavering lily-livered Democrat.
    His ‘crime’, of course, was advocating for human rights and working for peace in _some_ situations, when & where he knew he could make _some_ difference. Where rigid, strategic relationsips outweighed the cost of change, or ongoing operations were difficult to halt mid-stream, Carter would’ve felt abrupt course corrections weren’t worth the price. Not that I agree with him, but the Cold War thought process is pretty well-documented and in the context he was far ahead of his time.
    In short, Carter built relationships and worked for human rights in areas where big gains, clear injustices and strategic interests were at stake: the Soviet Union, South Africa and the MidEast/Israel.
    And that’s what has attracted your ire. President Carter actually had the chutzpah to get something done and fight for human rights — in Israel and among its neighbors; you find it galling to have Israel’s impunity brought up short when Carter wasn’t also invading Iran or Cambodia or Indonesia. Which is a blind and self-involved read: Carter acted in the MidEast because he could. It’s not as though Israel was held to a higher standard or somehow victimized by the Peace Process. Opportunity, strategic necessity and a set of relationships that worked in our interest all fueled those events, just as the lack of those positive factors in other regions precluded (so conventional thinking has it) the same moves.
    There is no contradiction in wielding soft power & hard power — advancing human rights & facilitating war crimes — at the same time. President Carter’s job was to deploy each tool in the right circumstance, to maximize our interests.
    Your fixation seems to arise from the President Carter’s accurate identification of the political realities currently facing Israel. Several times you’ve put forth the proposition that nothing’s amiss in Israeli policy, because might makes right; no one could stop Israel; and that everybody else does it too. None of which removes Israel’s responsibility for a set of legal, moral, divine and human crimes in Palestine; these are childlike excuses without any merit. The pattern, though, is interesting: you seem to think that if you say it, it somehow becomes so. That just has no staying power, non spirit.
    Dirk rightly differentiates between mujahedeen and the Taliban, directly contradicting your claim about Carter and radical Islam. There’s a huge difference between supporting & feeding an indigenous resistance force and implanting a radicalizing ideology & re-tasking your proxy group for geopolitical destabilization beyond their normal range. The former is often efective; the latter entails blowback. The Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan; al Quaeda went all 9-11 on our attitude. The distinction isnt’ hard to grasp.

    Reply

  10. WigWag says:

    Paul Norheim says,
    “However, like most commenters at TWN, WigWag cherrypicks from a huge smorgasbord of causes deserving moral outrage, and is surprisingly tempered, even mute, confronted with other causes.”
    I certainly plead guilty to that. I write about what I find interesting and I am happy to admit that I have a point of view. Unlike many of the people who comment here, I don’t consider myself morally superior or inferior to most of the other Washington Note devotees. I’m not interested in what motivates other commenters to say what they say; I’m just interested in the cogency of their arguments. If I want to witness emotional outbursts by adults behaving badly, I’ll head to the Club House in my condo when we have our monthly board of directors meetings. Otherwise, I’ll just watch “House” on TV.
    But I am interested in reasoned arguments from those I disagree with. That’s why I like Steve Clemons and the guest posters he selects. It’s also why I like to read your comments, Paul, and comments from Kervick, Questions, JohnH and a few others.
    As for my comments on this thread about Brzezinski, Carter and Reagan; the original post was about Richard Holbrooke. Katherine Tiedemann along with several other prominent foreign policy bloggers ridiculed Richard Holbrooke for a careless comment he made about metrics to judge success in Afghanistan. Like everyone else, she knows that Holbrooke is too sophisticated to believe that “I’ll know success when I see it” is the only metric he or Obama have in mind. She decided to have a little fun at Holbrooke’s expense. Steve Walt, Mark Lynch and others did the same thing.
    In light of Tiedemann’s remarks about Holbrooke (disdain for him is widely shared among the Washington Note set), it seemed entirely appropriate and “on topic” to mention that the problems we are facing today in Afghanistan are not Holbrooke’s fault or Obama’s fault. They’re not even the fault of George W. Bush. The blame lies squarely at the feet of politicians in power decades ago. Anyone who wants to blame Holbrooke should be equally interested in exploring the complicity of Brzezinski, Carter and Reagan.
    During the presidency of George W. Bush, the Washington Note was filled with comments about how venal and wrong headed the policies of his Administration were. I couldn’t agree more.
    On the other hand, the proprietor of this wonderful website encouraged Brzezinski to write his most recent book, invites him to conferences and generally refers to him as an expert. Jimmy Carter is widely admired on the left and is viewed by some as a great moral voice. The historical record of both Brzezinski and Carter puts the lie to their reputations and demonstrates hypocrisy on the part of their admirers. As I’ve documented in previous comments, Brzezinski was instrumental in formulating American policy that supported the mujahideen for no reason other than his fanatical hatred of the Soviets. For Carter, his mantra on human rights extended no further than Soviet Union. He didn’t care about human rights in Nicaragua or elsewhere in Central America; he didn’t care about human rights in South America; he didn’t care about human rights in Africa or South Korea or the Philippines; he didn’t care about human rights in Cambodia and he didn’t care about human rights in Iran. Carter called the Shah his “great friend” and he supported restoration of the Khmer Rouge to power in Cambodia. All of these morally questionable decisions can be attributed to one thing; all Carter really cared about was fighting the Cold War.
    Anything Holbrooke has or hasn’t done pales in comparison to the damage to the United States and the world that Carter and Brzezinski inflicted.
    I’m happy to admit that George W. Bush made terrible and frankly immoral decisions in his fight against the Islamic World. Perhaps those bad decisions would not have been made if Carter and Brzezinski had never empowered women-hating, Shia-hating, modernity-hating fundamentalist bigots in the first place.

    Reply

  11. Paul Norheim says:

    There is a lot of blame to spread around. This one
    goes to American and Israeli neocons like
    Wolfowitz, Perle and Netanyahu:
    (from BBC today)
    “Anti-gay attacks on rise in Iraq
    Being gay in Baghdad is a dangerous lifestyle and
    secrecy is paramount
    Gay Iraqi men are being murdered in what appears
    to be a co-ordinated campaign involving militia
    forces, the group Human Rights Watch says.
    It says hundreds of gay men have been targeted and
    killed in Iraq since 2004…”
    read more here:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8204853.stm

    Reply

  12. Paul Norheim says:

    Apropos US Presidents:
    Who is to blame for Vietnam – Kennedy, LBJ or
    Nixon?
    Who is to blame for Afghanistan – Carter or
    Reagan? And Bush & Obama as well – in retrospect?
    Who is to blame for Iraq – Bill Clinton or George
    W. Bush? More than one million civilian
    causalities -divided roughly 50/50 between the two
    presidents?
    Behind the president, you had officials like
    McNamara, who afterwards expressed regret for
    Vietnam.
    Albright who, with regard to the 1/2 million Arab
    children said “We think the price is worth it”.
    And Brzezinski, who essentially says the same
    today with regard not only to the destruction of
    Afghanistan, but also the geopolitical
    consequences, which are his main (or only?)
    concerns.
    Of course WigWag is basically correct: Brzezinski
    and Carter cynically destroyed Afghanistan, with
    horrible (and fortunate) consequences years and
    decades later. WigWag and Questions are also
    correct when they claim that the treatment of
    women under Taliban rule was beyond anything seen
    in the 20`th century.
    However, like most commenters at TWN, WigWag
    cherrypicks from a huge smorgasbord of causes
    deserving moral outrage, and is surprisingly
    tempered, even mute, confronted with other causes.
    We all know that Carter and Brzezinski support a
    different US policy against Israel. We also know
    that WigWag regards the Taliban as part of a huge
    wave of militant islamist forces clashing against
    Israel and western civilization – and that they
    should be fought with all means available. It`s
    hard to know how much of WigWag`s outrage has its
    source in fear for the fate of Israel, Afghan
    women, or Western civilization.
    Just like it`s hard sometimes to know if certain
    people`s concern for Palestinians is primarily
    based on compassion, ideological preferences, or
    hatred and paranoia.
    In any case, I react with suspicion when I see
    such sudden outburst of moral outrage from WigWag
    on behalf of Afghan women – with reference to
    decisions made three decades ago. He seems to be
    much more comfortable, morally speaking, watching
    some of the horrible scenes unfolding in 2009,
    than contemplating discussions between a president
    and his advisor in 1979.

    Reply

  13. Dirk says:

    You may not see the contradiction, but there is a world of difference to providing arms to resisting Afghans and to involving the ISI to gather Islamic radicals from all over the world to fight the Soviets with whatever weapons they wanted.
    Yes, Brzezinski may have wanted to give the Soviets their own Vietnam and prevent them from advancing their goal of a warm water port but Reagan was clearly nuts to create what would become Al Qaeda.
    I’ll agree that it was Carter who canceled US participation in the Moscow Olympics, but at the time I supported his decision and I’m still not sure I disagree with it.
    Your statements about the things presidents have to say when they’re in power is sadly disingenuous as every president must say and do things that are highly distasteful both to themselves and their supporters.

    Reply

  14. WigWag says:

    Nothing you’ve said contradicts my point, Dirk. Carter supported the mujahideen who were religious extremists against the secular Afghan government aligned with the Soviet Union. Zbig Brzezinski specifically said that the Carter Administration supported the extremists in order to give the Soviet Union its Viet Nam.
    But for the American support of the mujahideen, the Soviet Union might very well have prevailed. The United States, the Afghans, and the rest of the world would be alot better off today if the Soviet backed government had survived instead of the fundamentalists.
    The Taliban of the 21st century has its roots in the American backed mujahideen of the 20th century.
    Yes Ronald Reagan increased support of the mujahideen, but he was merely continuing and expanding the policy invented by Carter and Brzezinski.
    It wasn’t Reagan who cancelled American participation in the Olympics over the Soviet invasion to support its puppet regime in Afghanistan, it was Jimmy Carter.
    When Carter wasn’t busy dreaming up ways to thwart the Soviets and support Muslim extremists, he was busy supporting the Shah, assisting the Somoza regime against the Sandinistas and unbelievably giving aid and comfort to the Khmer Rouge.
    What a guy!

    Reply

  15. Dirk says:

    “That’s also the fault of the United States because the United States created the Taliban. Or to be more precise, Jimmy Carter, Zbig Brzezinski and Ronald Reagan created the Taliban.”
    Actually the US, under Carter, supported the Afghan mujahideen, not the Taliban, which didn’t come into existence until 1994. You’ve made this claim before Wig Wag, but I didn’t have time to debunk it then.
    When Reagan came into power the support for the mujahideen increased dramatically until the Soviets eventually withdrew in 1989. It was during this time that they likely received SAMs.
    After the Soviet withdrawal, the victorious mujahideen factions started fighting each other, becoming warlords, and in 1994 after a gruesome rape of a young boy in Kandahar the Taliban formed and Mullah Omar and his madrassa students vowed to rid the country of the warlords.

    Reply

  16. WigWag says:

    Here’s a little more on the reality behind that great “human rights activist”, Jimmy Carter. Carter never really believed that human rights needed to be respected, he just viewed promoting human rights as a politically popular position to be used to attack the Republicans in the post Watergate era. He also viewed it as a convenient tool to bash the Soviets. In fact, Jimmy Carter was as avid a Cold Warrior as Ronald Reagan. Jimmy Carter was as hypocritical and evil as George W. Bush. The only human rights abuses he cared about when he was President was those he accused the Soviet Union of.
    A Bill of Indictment:
    1970: When running for Governor, Carter calls his primary opponent a *racial liberal.* Carter attacks his primary opponent for speaking negatively about George Wallace and promises that if elected he will personally invite Wallace to Georgia. (Betty Glad, Jimmy Carter, In Search of the Great White House (New York: W.W. Norton, 1980), 84-85)
    1972: Jimmy Carter calls busing *the most serious threat to education that I can remember*. (Peter G. Bourne, Jimmy Carter. A Comprehensive Biography from Plains to Post residency (New York: Scribner, 1997), 213.
    1972: Jimmy Carter calls George Wallace *a great American* and says that Wallace would be a good President. (Elizabeth Drew, American Journal: The Events of 1976 (New York: Random House, 1977), 123)
    1976: At the very height of the Primary Battle, during the 1976 presidential campaign, Carter nearly sinks his candidacy by making his infamous *ethnic purity* remarks. He talks about *black intrusions* in white communities and of *alien groups* and of the negative effects of *injecting… a member of another race* or *a diametrically opposite kind of family* into communities trying to maintain their *ethnic purity.* He later apologizes but because the remarks were made shortly after Wallace withdrew they are viewed as a blatant attempt to attract Wallace voters. (Christopher Lydon, *Carter Defends All-White Areas,* New York Times, Apr. 7, 1976; Joel D. Weisman, *Carter Supports *Ethnic Purity* of Neighborhoods,* Washington Post, Apr. 7, 1976)
    1976: Carter close friend, Bert Lance says, *Jimmy was a formidable campaigner. He was a moderate to the moderates, a conservative to the conservatives, and a liberal to the liberals. He was all things to all voters, a great trait to be able to project…* (Bert Lance with Bill Gilbert, The Truth of the Matter: My Life in and out of Politics (New York: Summit Books, 1991), 30.).
    1976: In February, Carter says, *We have overemphasized the so-called advantages of détente.* (Elizabeth Drew, American Journal: The Events of 1976 (New York: Random House, 1977), 41) In March, Carter says, *every time we have had a tough negotiation with the Soviet Union, we have lost or come in second-best.* (Elizabeth Drew, American Journal: The Events of 1976 (New York: Random House, 1977), 91)
    1976: Interviewed by a French newspaper, Carter says, *It is evident that our wheat or grain sales… and our sales of electronic equipment or machines… are of great value to the USSR. I would not use them as means to blackmail the Soviets, but I would like to obtain an equal benefit from them for the United States or for world peace.* After he becomes President, Carter institutes a grain embargo on the Soviet Union. (Interview of August 23, 1976, in The Presidential Campaign, 1976, Vol. I, Part I, 547)
    1976: During the Presidential debates, Carter criticizes Gerald Ford for refusing to invite Alexander Solzhenitsyn to the White House. *The Soviet Union, for instance, put
    pressure on Mr. Ford and he refused to see a symbol of human freedom recognized around the world, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.* (Complete transcript of the debate available from the Commission on Presidential Debates, on the internet.)
    1976: After his election, Carter like George W. Bush two decades later bases his foreign policy decisions on his religious beliefs. In his memoirs, Zbig Brzezinski (Carter’s National Security Advisor) says *[t]he commitment to human rights reflected
    Carter’s own religious beliefs…* (Zbigniew Brzezinski, Power and Principle. Memoirs of the National Security Adviser, 1977-1981 (New York: FSG, 1983), 49.) Carter’s former speech writer, James Fallows quickly becomes disillusioned with Carter. Fallows calls Carter’s presidency *passionless* Fallows accuses Carter of believing *fifty things but no one thing.* (James Fallows, *The Passionless Presidency: The Trouble with Jimmy Carter’s Administration,* Atlantic Monthly (May 1979), 33-48.)
    1976: Within one week of taking office, the Carter State Department reverses the Ford (read Kissinger) State Department and issues a strong statement of support for Andrei Sakharov (Cyrus Vance, Hard Choices. Critical Years in America’s Foreign Policy (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983), 46.)
    1976: Three months after taking office, Carter asks Congress to double the budget of Radio Liberty. (David Binder, *Carter Requests Funds for Big Increase in Broadcasts,* New York Times, Mar 23, 1977.)
    1977: Carter dramatically ramps up production of U.S. weapons systems; he orders development of the MX Missile, he approves *Mirving* of the Minute Man Missiles, and he approves development of the Trident Submarine (Robert M. Gates, From the Shadows. The Ultimate Insider’s Story of Five Presidents and How They Won the Cold War (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996), 111.)
    1978: When Romania turns against the Soviet Union, Carter welcomes one of the worst eastern European butchers to the United States. Greeting Romanian leader Ceausescu in
    Washington in April 1978, Carter attributed to Romania the aspirations for freedom and economic prosperity he himself professed. *Our goals are the same,* Carter said, *to have a just system of economics and politics, to let the people of the world share in growth, in peace, in personal freedom, and in the benefits to be derived from the proper utilization of natural resources.* (Visit of President Nicolae Ceausescu of Romania,* Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, April 17, 1978, 735.)
    1978: Despite the fact that many Latin American nations have a far worse record on human rights than the Soviet Union, Carter requests substantial increases in military assistance for Argentina, Brazil, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Paraguay and Uruguay. Carter remains silent about the human rights record of these nations. (Thomas M. Franck, Edward Weisband, Foreign Policy by Congress (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979), 86.)
    1978: The Carter Administration requests an increase in military assistance to South Korea despite the fact that it is run by a military junta with a human rights record as bad as the Soviet Union. (Thomas M. Franck, Edward Weisband, Foreign Policy by Congress (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979), 86.)
    1978: In response to congressional concerns about human rights abuses by American allies, Carter’s Secretary of State Cyrus Vance says *there is a need to balance a political
    concern for human rights against economic or security goals* except where the Soviet Union is concerned. (Senate Committee on Appropriations, Foreign Assistance and Related Programs Appropriations for Fiscal Year 1978, 95th Congress, 1st Session)
    1978: The Senate Appropriations Committee lists 12 countries receiving foreign aid as gross human rights violators. The Carter Administration refuses to characterize them as such because if it did so, it would need to reduce military aid to these nations. (Elizabeth Drew, American Journal: The Events of 1976 (New York: Random House, 1977), 43).
    1978: Congress concludes that the worst human rights abusers in the world are the Shah’s Iran, Zaire and the Philippines. Carter Deputy Assistant Secretary of State says, *Iran was judged critical because it shared a long border with the Soviet Union, was a major
    supplier of oil to the West, and defended our strategic interests in the Persian Gulf. Military ties with South Korea were deemed essential to deterring the threat of an invasion from the north. Military bases in the Philippines were judged critical to the United States and a security assistance relationship essential to keeping the base. Finally, Zaire, the third largest country in area in Africa, was the source of nearly all the West’s cobalt, a material crucial to the performance of high performance jet engines. (Stephen Cohen, *Conditioning U.S. Security Assistance on Human Rights Practices,* 270.)
    1978: Jimmy Carter increases aid to the Somoza regime in Nicaragua to fight the Sandinista guerillas. Carter is fully aware that fully aware that much of that aid will be used by the Nicaraguan National Guard which, as the repressive arm of the regime, was responsible for assassinations, torture and other abuses of human rights. Carter approves the aid despite the fact that he knows that Somoza ordered the assassination of opposition leader Joaquin Chamorro just a few months earlier. (Dennis Gilbert, *Nicaragua,* in Morris J. Blachman, William M. Leogrande and Kenneth Sharpe, eds., Confronting Revolution. Security through Diplomacy in Central America (New York: Pantheon Books, 1986), 94; Walter LaFeber, Inevitable Revolutions: The United States and Central America (New York: W.W. Norton, 1983), 229-231)
    1978: Carter orders increased cooperation between the CIA and the Iranian Intelligence Service, SAVAK. Informed about SAVAK’s human rights abuses, Carter decides, that *the intelligence which we received, particularly from our listening stations focused on the Soviet Union, was of such importance that we should continue the collaboration between our two intelligence agencies.* (William Sullivan, Mission to Iran (New York: W.W.Norton, 1981), 21-22.)
    1977: Jimmy Carter requests the Congress sell the Shah seven AWAC’s aircrafts. Congress initially refuses but later relents. (William Sullivan, Mission to Iran (New York: W.W.Norton, 1981), 114-118).
    1977: The Shah visits Washington, D.C. and Jimmy Carter promises him $12 billion in military equipment. Carter’s words about the Shah at a State Dinner are so warm that they bring tears to the Shah’s eyes. These are Jimmy Carter’s exact words about the Shah at the State Dinner. *Our talks have been priceless, our friendship is irreplaceable, and my own gratitude is to the Shah, who in his wisdom and with his experience has been so helpful to me, a new leader. We have no other nation on earth who is closer to us in planning our mutual military security. We have no other nation with whom we have closer consultation on regional problems that concern us both. And there is no leader with whom I have a deeper sense of personal gratitude and personal friendship.* Several weeks later, Carter visits Iran. (Gary Sick, *All Fall Down* 33)
    1978: As SAVAK beats Iranian demonstrators, the Carter Administration continues to express unequivocal support for the Shah. Despite the fact that hundreds of demonstrators are killed by Iranian troops, Jimmy Carter approves the sale of tear gas to Iran. (Gary Sick, *All Fall Down, 51, 59, 62, 68)
    1978: Despite the murderous behavior of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, Jimmy Carter orders the CIA to assist the Khmer Rouge to reconstitute itself. The reason is that Carter wanted to improve relations with China to counter the Soviets. China supported the Khmer Rouge against the recently installed Cambodian Government aligned with China’s enemy, Viet Nam. Carter orders his U.N. Ambassador to vote with China in the U.N to recognize the Khmer Rouge government as the sole legitimate representatives of the Cambodian people. (Garthoff, Détente and Confrontation, 824; Kenton Clymer, *Jimmy Carter, Human Rights and Cambodia,* 275.)
    Jimmy Carter was a Cold Warrior who used human rights as a smoke screen. He supported Somoza; he called the Shah one of his greatest friends and unbelievably he supported the Khmer Rouge.
    Jimmy Carter=George W. Bush.
    Those wanting a fuller description of Carter’s hypocrisy should read, “Moralism as Realism: Jimmy Carter’s Human Rights Policies” Stoyan Stoyanov, Columbia University Press.
    And Brzezinski was worse.

    Reply

  17. PissedOffAmerican says:

    ALL your posts are about Israel, Wig-wag. Do you really think we are so friggin’ stupid that we don’t know the major reason you have a corncob up your ass about Carter?
    As far as “women’s rights” goes, how do you feel about Palestinian women giving birth in the backseats of taxicabs at Gaza checkpoints?
    Yeah, you care about women’s rights, all right. As long as condemning the oppressor fits in with Israel’s agenda. Otherwise, for all you care, they can bleed to death while some Israeli jackboot holds them at a checkpoint. Or Israel dumps white phosphorous on them.

    Reply

  18. WigWag says:

    “I won’t be subjected to your fake back-&-forth, but it’s worth noting explicitly that very little of your method passes unnoticed, or passes the mustard. Just sayin’; too often folks believe their own line until, that is, someone calls em on it.”
    It doesn’t matter whether you think I’m a liar or I thing you’re oblivious. It doesn’t matter whether you think my motivations are nefarious or I think you’re an idiot. That kind of back and forth is for simpletons.
    I never tried to downplay the situation of women in Iraq, I think their situation is awful and I think it’s the fault of Bush and all those who supported the American invasion. None of that changes the fact that under the Taliban, the situation of women was uniquely bad; in fact worse than anywhere else in the world. That’s also the fault of the United States because the United States created the Taliban. Or to be more precise, Jimmy Carter, Zbig Brzezinski and Ronald Reagan created the Taliban.
    The fact that you’re unable to accept that reality doesn’t make you a liar, Rich, it just makes you wrong.
    As for your comments about Israel, the next time their’s a thread on Israel I’m happy to discuss it with you if you like. You’ll know where to find me; I comment on those threads all the time. But this thread is about Afghanistan and U.S. policy. To be precise, it started with a post about Richard Holbrooke. Carter and Brzezinski make Holbrooke look like a saint. Those who can’t admit it are simply deluded by their own ideology.
    Jimmy Carter, Zbig Brzezinski and Ronald Reagan have done more harm to the nation then any other political figures in modern times with the possible exception of George W. Bush.
    The fact that “pretend leftists” and so called “realists” want to blame Reagan and Bush and Holbrooke while giving Carter and Brzezinski a pass tells you all you need to know about what a hypocritical bunch they really are.

    Reply

  19. rich says:

    wigwag,
    Your endeavor to privilege the suffering of women in Afghanistan and to downplay the suffering of women in Iraq is, at best, dishonorable. You describe the former as worse and as more important to shore up a failed propaganda line designed to excuse a failed foreign policy. What we’re doing in Afghanistan is just as much an obscenity as what we did in Iraq — and citing women’s lib or the suffering of women in AfPak cannot excuse our counterproductive tactics.
    Whatever its root, subsequent decisions in the Reagan, Bush, Bush — and Clinton administrations in dealing with the Taliban and al Quaeda were the driving factors that delivered Islamic blowback onto American soil in 2001. You only cite Carter and Zbig because they put forth a sane foreign policy in the American national interest, a stance likely to produce peace and properity rather than endless war. It suits your ideological line to blame them for the excesses of Reagan in Afghanistan and the overreach of Rumsfeld & Cheney in Central Asia. Transparent, of course, but anything to avoid Israel having to operate with less than total impunity on the world stage.
    Your tactic I’d termed a lie, the accurate term, for it’s a pattern you depend on heavily in previous threads. In one, you denied that the Palestinian People in 1948 were a nation, or a people; or that their state had laws, their cities had rules; or that their ethnic group really had a culture or an organized legal structure at all. You argued that they didn’t exist at all. A classic colonialist mindset: whether uncivilized or undeveloped, the exterminated Nation it was continually asserted did not exist at all. In the context of British rule, it’s not a valid gambit. It takes a sophist, of course, to claim first that all this was true when it is a seminal Big Lie; but second to assert that no law was broken, no sin committed, no land stolen, well that takes a liar. I thought yours was a remarkable performance, largely because of its obvious and near-total vulnerability to even minimal scrutiny. One only needs to glance at the historical record. It’s not simply that you aren’t conscious of the voluminous literature on the subject — though uninformed, you’re far more aware than you let on. It’s the tactic: colonialists rewrote history to erase whole civilizations and the violence required to subjugate them, sure, but the Big Lie earns no you no greater credit than it did Goebbels.
    It comes easy, but that’s the problem with the Big Lie as a tactic: it’s so obviously and easily disproven. Your flat assertions that Jewish residents outnumbered Palestinian indigenous peoples was false, to take just one example. Takes 5 to 20 minutes to determine — but of course that question evades the actual isssue: even if so, it doesn’t justify the ethnic cleansing and conscious use of terrorism to empty towns of Palestinian land-owners. Doesn’t matter whether Jewish-cum-Israelis broke Jewish law or Palestinian law or International Law, or British Commonwealth law — or the equally valid local laws of village, state, ethnic nation or cultural tradition. There’s no question those laws were violated each individually and together in totality. There is no getting around that point, and no quibbling or sophistry or evasions will ever change that. We can all agree that laws against organized rape and arbitrary murder and wholesale property theft of both land and businesses and homes, were violated, and violated intentionally.
    It only takes a small effort to understand the choices made and methods used. Now, neither the origin of Israel nor Palestinian justice/liberty are my particular issues. So understand, if I can expose the bankrupt and willful refusal to engage on the historical record and current political landscape — then imagine what someone well-versed in colonial studies can do? Imagine how effectively someone who’s actually motivated can dispatch your poor excuses. For the blind, there’s no help. For those in denial; it’s not really worth the time, as history leaves you behind. I have some sympathy, though: it must be hard to work so hard and really come up with nothing but a layer of empty lies, and I use that word very precisely, with little utility in terms of effecting power or changes in power relations. I won’t be subjected to your fake back-&-forth, but it’s worth noting explicitly that very little of your method passes unnoticed, or passes the mustard. Just sayin’; too often folks believe their own line until, that is, someone calls em on it.
    nessly athis is not my

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  20. Paul Norheim says:

    “The next head of the British Army has said the UK’s involvement in Afghanistan could last up to
    40 years.”
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/8191095.stm

    Reply

  21. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Well, Gates has just declared its a “mystery” how long we will be in Afghanistan. That meshes pretty well with “we’ll know it when we see it”, doesn’t it?

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  22. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “Sorry, Rich, if you think women in Iraq today are as bad as off as women in Afghanistan were under the Taliban you are simply misinformed”
    First, thats not what he said.
    Second, its actually irrelevant, unless you are advancing the ridiculous premise that we are in Afghanistan to improve the situation for Afghani women. But, as full of bullshit as you are 99.9% of the time, it wouldn’t suprise me in the least if you advanced such an asinine and purposely dishonest premise.

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  23. Outraged American says:

    Don’t call it AfPak-you’re conflating two different countries and it
    only benefits the Terrorism/ Military Industrial crowd.
    We interviewed feminists in Iraq, they don’t think they have it better
    than they did under Saddam. Mostly because half of their friends
    are dead and the other half are under constant threat.
    So much for freedom and democracy.

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  24. WigWag says:

    Sorry, Rich, if you think women in Iraq today are as bad as off as women in Afghanistan were under the Taliban you are simply misinformed.
    As you surely know, one of the many reasons the Iranian retime hated the Taliban and assisted the United States in its war against the Taliban is that the Iranians couldn’t stomach the way the Taliban treated Shia women in Afghanistan.
    I do agree with you that women in both nations are very poorly treated; poorly treated that is by the fundamentalists that the United States empowered.
    We empowered them, we are obligated to “unempower” them. If we don’t, women in Iraq will continue to be worse off than they were under Sadaam Hussein and women in Afghanistan will once again be under the sway of extremists who thing females should not be allowed to learn to read.
    By the way, if you read my posts on this thread you will see that I agree that Reagan is also to blame for supporting the mujahideen. But the policy was thought up by Carter and Brzezinski. Carter cancelled the olympics and gave the go-ahead to providing funds before Reagan was ever elected.
    Brzezinski brags about his involvement to this day.
    Your unwillingness to acknowledge the degree of their complicity is, to use your word, hypocrisy.

    Reply

  25. questions says:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/aug/14/afghanistan-womens-rights-rape
    Just click and read. Read and weep. And then let me know if Iraq does this too. And if there’s some context that makes this not completely insane, I’d like to know.
    Not war, but not leaving the scene entirely. What comes in between the two positions is what we need to figure out. Not over or under involvement. Not illegitimate, not threatening or undermining social structures.
    But not this either.

    Reply

  26. rich says:

    wigwag: “In both cases, women suffered. But anyone who thinks the women in Iraq have it anywhere near as bad as the women in Afghanistan will have it if the Taliban take over just isn’t paying attention.”
    Lie. And you’ve been engaging in a full-on slate of lies to justify various facets of your rigidly-held ideology. Must cost you a tremendous amount of energy.
    Back on topic, wigwag: privileging the degradation and suffering of women in one country over another is fool’s game, a rhetorical ploy to attend to one question while ignoring the other. Have to disagree that one has it worse, or that the complete collapse of modernity in Iraq doesn’t matter. Promoting a false equivalence is equally worthless an endeavor. Better to stick closely to the record of recent events, define who did what and force some accountability, repair — and push specific actors until real remorse is exacted.
    Agree that American implantation of radical Islam by the CIA and Reagan is and was a huge mistake that will continue to damage American national security and likely led to immense blowback in the form of al Quaeda, so recently our allies and paid employees. Carter & Zbig were hardly alone, their role does not account for subsequent events or dynamics, and this kind of one-note blame-laying and refusal to address the full arc of that issue does us all a disservice. It’s really unworthy. And it’s indicative of a larger, less-than-forthright pattern.

    Reply

  27. WigWag says:

    “The hypocrisy is staggering, though it is no surprise. We NEVER hear anger or criticism about the status of women in Iraq.”
    That’s correct!
    The United States is responsible for deterioration in women’s rights in both Iraq and Afghanistan; and we did it the same way. In both cases, we empowered Muslim fundamentalists.
    In the case of Afghanistan, Jimmy Carter and Zbignew Brzezinski assisted the most radical Muslim extremists topple an authoritarian but secular government.
    In Iraq, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney toppled a brutal but secular government and helped empower radical Shia and Sunni fundamentalists, if not at the national level, at least in the provinces.
    In both cases, women suffered. But anyone who thinks the women in Iraq have it anywhere near as bad as the women in Afghanistan will have it if the Taliban take over just isn’t paying attention.
    The Taliban (especially the Mullah Omar faction) is far more extreme than any of the major players in Iraq. As much as things have deteriorated for women in Iraq, most can still go to school, learn to read, be seen out on the street, listen to music and in many cases work outside of the home.
    When the Taliban was in power, none of those things was possible in Afghanistan. If they take over, women in Afghanistan will once again have it worse than women anywhere in the world.
    Jimmy Carter and Zbig Brzezinski empowered the thugs in Afghanistan in their zeal to hurt the Soviets.
    Having toppled the Taliban and their women hating fellow travelers, the United States is obligated to make sure they never return; no matter how long it takes or what the costs to America are.
    If you don’t like it, blame Carter and Brzezinski. George Bush learned everything he needed to know in Iraq from the Carter and Brzezinski example of 30 years ago.
    It’s funny that people on the so-called “left” think the man who cancelled the Olympics over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan or gave refuge to the Shah is worthy of admiration.
    It’s equally funny that so called “realists” are so unrealistic that they don’t realize that policies Brzezinski advocated three decades ago planted the seeds for 9/11 and all the major problems we face today in South and Central Asia.
    Yes, the hypocrisy is staggering!

    Reply

  28. rich says:

    As war is obscene; so illegitimate war is pornography. In that sense, yes, Holbrooke will “know it when he sees it.”
    Many times, to be fair to Justice Stewart, differentiating a work of art from pornography just isn’t that difficult. Picasso isn’t Hustler, and the intent, outcome and aesthetics are plain to see.
    Same in war.
    Problem for Holbrooke is, he saw Vietnam but doesn’t get Afghanistan. Problem for Holbrooke and for Obama, is that Washington never saw a war clearly, never viewed a war accurately or with justice or even with the national interest firmly in mind. Wars became driven by institutional mission, bureaucratic self-interest, and by economic vested interests — like Halliburton and Blackwater. And the vanity and vested interests of the McNamaras and Bundys and the Best and the Brightest of today really work to preclude the best decisions and the best American talents from delivering positive or useful outcomes from this sorry escapade. The Scowcrofts and Wolfowitzs are blind to any sane, just or intellectually defensible position. Sorry, that’s just the way it is — and the result has been a tremendous setback for the American national interest and for our national security.
    ON Women’s rights and security. Using the status of women to justify & ameliorate our misbegotten wars and failed foreign policies is not just appalling, it is beyond the pale.
    The hypocrisy is staggering, though it is no surprise. We NEVER hear anger or criticism about the status of women in Iraq. Nor has there been ANY move to improve their status. Erik Prince has not been arrested or indicted for complicity in prostitution, etc.,; we could go on.
    Iraqi women had rights and privileges — and held a status that was the envy of any modern nation. That’s all been shattered and turned to dust. Routine degradation and endless humiliation of the women of Iraq, along with the loss of everything they had, has been their fate. And no one’s doing a thing about it.
    So it is offensive as hell to invoke women’s rights or the physical & social conditions women survive under as a pretext for sinking America further in the AfPak Quagmire.
    That further exploits women, this time just for our purposes. And our purposes in AfPak & Iraq have set women back to the Stone Age.
    Listen, we’re ALL for women’s rights.
    But NOTHING about our continued military involvement will EVER work to the benefit of Afghani women.
    Were that not so, we’d be using different tactics.
    Were that not so, we’d not be using Predator drones, nor targeting wedding parties for air strikes.
    Our methods are losing this war. And Richard Holbroooke should know better: the methods that cost America so heavily in Vietnam will never work in AfPak.
    It’s a loser’s strategy. And we’re using loser’s excuses.

    Reply

  29. Outraged American says:

    Sorry Dan and Questions. Here I was thinking that Questions
    was famous and had been interviewed by CNN…I almost became
    a fan girl.
    But the whole documentary kinds of proves my point — the
    corporate media is controlled by Zionists. I worked in it, I know.
    Women in Iraq had the highest rates of higher-level education
    in the Arab world. IIRC there were more women in universities
    than men.
    Look what our “intervention” did to those women? Many of the
    Iraqi Christian girls have been forced into prostitution in Syria.
    I’m very much of a feminist and would seriously take an “acid
    facial” over a burka, but when we, by “we” I mean the US,
    meddle in other peoples’ business, which we do constantly, we
    just screw them up. Well, usually bomb the F out of them.
    All this war making has nothing to do with “terrorism” (one
    man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter) it just has to do with
    MONEY.
    What I will never get is how someone like Cheney, who has
    considerable sums still invested in Halliburton/ KBR via the
    Vanguard Group, values money over the lives of his
    grandchildren.
    He’s going to pass away, goddess willing sometime soon, but
    look at what he left for his grandkids?
    Complete destruction of the Bill of Rights and endless war
    against Islam, hat tip Israel, as if Dick Cheney had ever said a
    Christian prayer in his life.
    Actually, that’s not true, at an anti-war rally in LA I met his
    minister from a long time ago and she said that she was so
    ashamed of him.
    I was like, “Dick Cheney knows the teachings of Christ?”
    Seriously the Earth is a Sims game from some version of a
    pimply adolescent out at the edge of the universe, because it’s
    all too absurd.

    Reply

  30. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Its fits the agenda to make women’s rights in Afghanistan an issue. But note how our media ignores the gross deterioration of women’s rights in Iraq since 1991.

    Reply

  31. Dan Kervick says:

    “Being Muslim means hating others? ” Are you a member of the KKK?”
    OA, questions didn’t say that. The entire post was a passage from a Newsweek article in which the *author* said that the *Taliban’s* message is that being Muslim means hating others.

    Reply

  32. Outraged American says:

    “Being Muslim means hating others? ” Are you a member of the
    KKK? I have dozens of Muslim friends and beg to differ. Not one
    has tried to kill and/or indoctrinate me. In fact, I find them to be
    very kind and funny.
    There are radical nutjobs in every religion. Ever dealt with
    Scientologists? Work in Hollywood.
    If we wanted peace we should just ban religion. Well, and
    nuclear “nu-klor” weapons. And squirt guns. Talk about WMD.
    I worked for Ted Turner way back when. He has said that one of
    his biggest mistakes was selling CNN. Amanpour’s a corporate
    media whore and she knows it. She even talked about it once
    IIRC.
    That 1996 Telecommunications act destroyed any hope of a free
    press in this country, except for indy media.
    I had a friend who was an aid worker in Afghanistan and she
    said that the pre-Taliban government was extremely corrupt
    and women were considered moving vaginas, so a lot of women
    welcomed the burka because it made them less of a target for
    rape.

    Reply

  33. questions says:

    “Are young Muslims going to be bombs of destruction or bridges of cooperation? That’s the central question asked in Christiane Amanpour’s documentary Generation Islam, which aired on CNN Thursday night, and for which I was interviewed.
    There are 780 million Muslims in the world under the age of 25 – over 11 percent of the world’s population. The median age in Afghanistan is under 18; the median age in Iraq under 20. Too many of these young people grow up in poverty. And while poverty doesn’t cause extremism, it does create conditions that extremist groups like the Taliban exploit.
    The Taliban’s strategy is simple: build schools in villages too poor (and too poorly served by their governments) to afford their own. Parents send their kids to these schools because they provide food, shelter and what masquerades as instruction. And because there is effectively no alternative. The Taliban and other extremist groups use these schools to inject a poisonous message into unsuspecting children — being Muslim means hating others, and the most righteous Muslims kill their enemies.
    In the words of the analyst Ahmed Rashid, “Abandoning the children of the poor to the madrasa sector bears social costs, not just in the form of exposure to abuse and diminished educational opportunities, but also in increased intolerance and militancy.”
    http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/eboo_patel/2009/08/young_muslims_the_battle_for_h.html?hpid=talkbox1

    Reply

  34. Outraged American says:

    I have interviewed people at the forefront of the women’s rights
    movement in Afghanistan, including the founders of RAWA.
    We can’t save the women in Afghanistan by killing them.
    Afghanistan is located in a very unfortunate place, well, for the
    Afghans. Various armies have messed around with the Afghans for
    centuries. Alexander” the Great” springs immediately to mind.

    Reply

  35. PissedOffAmerican says:

    questions…….
    First, the gravity of the oppression of women in Afghanistan is not the point. The point is that to imply that we are there to address or ease that oppression is pure unmittigated bullshit, and you know it is. There is no collective sense of “moral duty” driving our policy in Afghanistan.
    Second, your flip reponse is garbage. I wouldn’t give you two cents for the over-stocked store of useless shit slopping around in your cranial cavity. You’re on excrement overload, questions.
    Oh, and how earthshattering, questions found a counterpunch article that touches on some of his own opinions on the power, or lack thereof, of the Israeli lobbies. One article in a sea of opinions and articles that underscore the influence of the powerful Israeli lobbies. And now we are supposed to jump to questions’ demands for rebuttal, and pay homage to his find.
    No thanks. We’ve been through this enough, and I don’t relish giving you an excuse to violate our senses with yet one more long example of literary flatulence. I’d much rather sit back and follow your ongoing attempt to obscure Dan’s quite successful campaign of making an ass out of you. A campaign, I might add, that is successful because of his powers of observation, rather than because of historical knowledge, education, or advanced intelligence. He has simply read your consistently obsfucating and convoluted musings, and drawn the obvious conclusion that you are full of crap.
    Heck, it doesn’t take Dan all day to look at a horseshoe he picks up on the trail. You? You’d take a year, and in the end we still wouldn’t be able to get you to admit the friggin’ thing is just an ‘ol discarded horseshoe.

    Reply

  36. questions says:

    OA,
    It’s not “burkas” — it’s that an unaccompanied woman cannot go out, it’s that a woman cannot see a doctor because the doctor (male, of course) is unrelated. A male relative has to go to the doctor and point on his body to where the woman has a symptom and the diagnosis is made by proxy. At least, according to an article I read some years back.
    There’s actually a pretty intense dilemma in trying to help without doing harm.
    POA, you’re so right. It’s better not to know anything because if you don’t know anything then you really know things. I bet you’re a great surgeon as well as a foreign policy expert. You know things without knowing them! You don’t read or talk to people. You just KNOW.
    Wow. You could get rich selling that!
    And why not a response to the Counterpunch link I put in above? I’d like at least to read how you’ll call this one nonsense, too!

    Reply

  37. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Its laughable that women’s rights have been given a space in the debate. The complete and utter immorality of our actions, callous beyond belief, discredit any altruistic motives or designs that can be placed in the laps of the framers of our middle eastern policies. After murdering over a million Iraqi non-combatants, subsidizing and abetting Israel’s racist policies of war crimes and human rights abuses, and torturing prisoners in our custody, the idea that our politicians give a shit about whether or not Afghani women have to wear burghas is asinine beyond comprehension.
    If women’s rights were a motive, we’d be bombing the shit out of Israel because of the growing popularity of ultra-conservative Judaism. You can bet, when the Israeli women are subserviently standing in the aisleways of buses so the menfolk can be seated, we’ll still be shipping these racist religious wackjob zealots arms and money. The Muslims don’t have a monopoly on religious wackjobbity. In fact, what say we bomb the shit outta the vatican, using children’s rights as an excuse??

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  38. Outraged American says:

    No one has ever been able to “fix” Afghanistan. I loathe that
    women have to wear burkas, but killing them will not change
    their wardrobe except to turn what they wear into shrouds.
    I’m old enough to remember the USSR and Commie China —
    what brought them forward? Coca-cola, McDonalds and Levis.
    Change has to come from within.
    I was in Tibet in 1996 and they had the internet then. I didn’t
    have the internet then and I lived in LA. What’s happened to
    Tibet since?
    When a group of people is attacked e.g., the Palestinians in
    Gaza, they band together to repel the invaders.
    The Northern Alliance was corrupt, the Taliban was not. Read
    Hamas and Fatah / the PA.
    I have complete confidence that if we left Afghanistan alone the
    women of Afghanistan would rise-up and take control of their
    own lives.

    Reply

  39. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Further, if this shameless habit of self-promotion through the advancement of insincere intellectual grandstanding was limited to blogs such as this, than one could file it under the heading of “Entertainment”. But unfortunately, much of American policy, both domestic and foreign, is conceived, implemented, and judged by such insincere intellectual posturing. Case in point, Holbrooke’s recent Saturday Night Live appearance with his crew of fellow obsfucators masquerading as “foreign policy experts”.
    Oh, uh, oops, that wasn’t Saturday Night Live, was it? Silly me.

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  40. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Amazing. The one factor that is not discussed here is the accuracy of one’s predictions. For all of Kervick’s intellectually sequined dissertations, Wig-wag’s consistent gloating over Israel’s obscene dominance over American Middle Eastern policies, and questions’ unfailingly obtuse and convoluted horseshit compositions, the fact remains that one’s predictions are the true gauge through which one’s understanding of modern politics, (and what makes the machine tick), can be judged.
    As I’m quite sure Nina will attest to, my irritating and obnoxious musings, since 9/11 of ’01, have been remarkably prescient. It is my belief it is because my powers of observation are not cluttered up with the obsfucating bias of over-education, I am not drowning in a sea of historical “knowledge” spun by a favorite educational body’s propagandized representation of history, and instead have learned to rely on logic and common sense based on observing actual events, policies, and trends.
    Frankly, I find 80% of the commentary here, both from the actual contributers, to the commentors, over-intellectualized self-promoting horseshit, composed not for it’s constructive informative value, but more to impress the reader with the writer’s self assumed intellectual prowess. Much of it is pompous, intellectually pretentious, presented condescendingly, and based in a skewed and perverted deviation from the obvious black and white facts on the ground.
    http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/KH15Ak02.html
    An excerpt…….
    “Consider that a little history of expertise about our recent wars. There’s a corollary. If you’re not anointed an expert, you’re never likely to be. Among those automatically disqualified for expertise on Iraq: just about anyone who bluntly rejected the idea of invading Iraq or predicted any version of the catastrophe that ensued before it happened”

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  41. questions says:

    I think that if some general orders troops to move, and indeed the troops move, it’s probably a safe bet that there’s causation going on. But if ice cream consumption rises when the murder rate rises, if the abortion rate rises and 16-27 years later the murder rate falls, if all the broken windows get fixed and the crime rate falls, if a congressman gets a donation and then votes in line with it, you may want to do a little more investigating before you yell EUREKA.
    And I have read a fair amount of stuff about Cheney at this point and he does seem to have had some pretty significant influence. The scholarship on Congress, however, doesn’t run the way that people here assume. (I put a link in on the AIPAC issue straight from Counterpunch. It’s been bumped to the archives. I will repost it.)
    When you reduce to the point of absurdity, you get absurdity as you well know.
    What you wrote above wasn’t a “paraphrase” it was a parody. Different in intent and tone.
    I am not a defender of the status quo just to defend the status quo. Rather, I think that there is a pretty deep failure of analysis that runs through a huge amount of policy and routinely lands us in horrible situations. Some of the failure is likely inherent (we cannot really know the future and we cannot predict the unpredictable and our sense of what counts as evidence is often screwy). But a lot of what we do wrong we could avoid simply by having a better grip on the problem.
    Re lobbying, if we don’t describe the problem accurately, we cannot come up with a proper solution.
    Re Afghanistan, if we attempt to impose and illegitimate order then over the long term we will cause a huge amount of suffering, and simultaneously, if we just leave the mess we made as it is, we will likely cause a huge amount of suffering. It’s a lose/lose situation that needs a great deal of creative thinking by people who are more familiar with particular instigators on the ground.
    There isn’t much value in “screeding” routinely to GET OUT, STOP SPENDING, LEAVE or whatever when it comes to international relations any more than it is helpful for the birther/deathers/death panel nuts to scream out “get the government out of my Medicare.” Both yelps are misinformed about the nature of the problem and so are misinformed about the nature of the solution.
    But Paul, really, feel free to continue KNOWING how powerful AIPAC is, KNOWING that every vote in Congress is bought and not at all constituent-related, KNOWING that we merely need to move troops out and let everyone do what they do. I’m glad you and POA and OA and arthurdecco…have such deep knowledge about things. At least there’s someone who KNOWS all of this stuff for sure. It’s kind of comforting in a way that my sense of my own ignorance is balanced by other people’s senses of their deep knowledge of how the world works (and of course, their sense of MY ignorance as well).
    http://www.counterpunch.org/dimaggio08072009.html
    Here’s the Counterpunch piece that seems to confirm a great deal of what I clearly don’t know anything about — the LOBBY. It’s good to know that Counterpunch is as hasbaritical as can be and so this piece is a pile of foggy obfuscating horseshit — written by a foggy congressional/American politics scholar. Gee, what could he know by doing something as stupid as vote-counting and statistical work? The nerve of him to study something instead of just reading the AIPAC website and therefore KNOWING the truth of things. He should just proclaim his knowledge! (I originally posted this in the August Southampton thread.)
    So Paul, keep ripping away.

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  42. Paul Norheim says:

    “What if Cheney had had doubts and refused his terror of death?”
    Yeah, then what?
    Allow me for a moment, Questions, to randomly apply your “Socratic” method on the former Vice President. I could have chosen Mussolini, the weather, the Vatican, the French Revolution or just an ordinary pair of shoes – but since you mentioned Cheney`s influence, let`s apply it on him!
    Have you read up on the literature on this issue? Which studies do you base your exaggerated claim on, that Cheney actually had so much power? That there was a cause-effect thing going on here?
    What if the fatal events happened because of other influential people like Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Libby, Addington, Perle, Feith?
    Or what if even these people didn`t matter, because there was nothing more than correlations between the events and these people, and no causal relation?
    What if the individual motives and actions of 300 million Americans together happened to create results like the invasion of Afghanistan, Iraq, torture, surveillance of American citizens etc.?
    So why are you demonizing Dick Cheney, as if he is the cosmological root cause of evil?
    And how can you be so sure that an optimistic VP filled with doubts and questions would be any better than the determined and death-scared VP you got? Couldn`t his many questions and doubts have confused him to the point that he would have advised Bush to make even worse decisions?
    Questions, questions wherever you look…
    Perhaps Dick Cheney was more well meaning and less influencial than most people think; perhaps we should be thankful that things didn`t get worse than they actually did?
    Who knows, perhaps he even deserves a Medal of Freedom?
    I mean, after all: who are we to know for sure that he doesn`t deserve a medal?
    Admittedly, he`s no veggie – but hey, don`t judge him before you take the time to reflect on the alternatives: If not for Cheney, Bush could have chosen a cannibal as Vice President of America!
    —————————
    Sorry, Questions, but more often than not, your questions more or less sound like the paraphrase above, at least to my ears. More often than not, I regard your many question marks as nervous warning signs against those who oppose status quo.
    I`m sure this is one of the unintended consequences of how you choose to apply you method. Or perhaps just a coincidential correlation? Who knows…

    Reply

  43. questions says:

    POA, I don’t believe I said what you say I said.
    There is a moral duty to doubt and hope simultaneously. Where you get the idea that I think the Iraq war specifically is part of our moral duty is beyond me.
    Doubt and hope, doubt and hope, doubt and hope. Doubt but don’t fall into depression, hope, but don’t assume you already have the truth. Only tyrants assume they have the truth. The rest of us doubt. And hope.
    ***
    “Try” above means “try to figure out the truth” NOT try a war, by the way — just in case that’s where you misread.

    Reply

  44. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “So I come along and suggest, yes, in Socrates’s sense, that there’s a chance we don’t know what the hell we’re doing, there’s some chance we can never know, but we have the deepest moral duty to try to figure things out, and even if it’s not possible to figure things out, we have a moral duty to try”
    To suggest ANY part of the murder of over a million Iraqi non-combatants is part and parcel of some sort of “moral duty” is pure unmitigated CRAP. The Iraq “war” is an adventure invented with lies, maintained by lies, excused by lies, justified by lies, and the framers of this debacle are escaping prosecution by lies. The above paragraph illustrates PERFECTLY what Dan has been saying about you on this thread, and I have been saying since you got here. But he needn’t be so lengthy in his criticisms. In a casual conversation over beer at the corner pub, it is probable Dan’s whole critique would have consisted of one line;
    “Are you always this full of crap?”

    Reply

  45. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “Personally I find it refreshing that commentators like Questions see the nuance and complexity in the issues discussed around here”
    “Seeing” complexity is one thing. Inventing it, where none exists, is quite another.

    Reply

  46. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “Frankly, questions, I doubt your sincerity and good faith, and do not believe you yourself even believe the radically diffident positions and excuses you are putting forward, but are just indulging a taste for contrarian perplexity-mongering”
    Hmmm, Dan, and it took you how long to call him on his bullshit? I guess you were too busy being “embarrassed” by my crass and intellectually challenged observations, eh?
    Honestly, Dan, yes, there is a bit of satisfaction in it for me seeing you rub questions’ nose in his obtuse natter. Lord knows, I have been doing it since he started posting here, and it is somewhat gratifying to see I’m not the only one turning on the yellow Halogens every time he pecks the keyboard.
    But where’s the introspection in your new found role as the TWN commentary critic? You don’t have any warts?

    Reply

  47. questions says:

    Thanks WigWag, I needed that!

    Reply

  48. questions says:

    Paul,
    Instead of caricaturing, why not look at actual policy that well-intended individuals have carried out over time. Honestly, most of the posts on this blog are related to bad policies that most likely well-meaning people doing their diligent best have carried doing their best to serve what they have taken to be the public good — and the world sucks.
    There’s so much desire for ACTION — as if ACTION will solve every single problem — regardless of the action, it would seem.
    It sucks to have troops in Iraq, it sucks to have troops in Afganistan. So pull them out. It sucks not having troops in some humanitarian Samantha Power disaster area, so send them in until it sucks to have them in.
    So I come along and suggest, yes, in Socrates’s sense, that there’s a chance we don’t know what the hell we’re doing, there’s some chance we can never know, but we have the deepest moral duty to try to figure things out, and even if it’s not possible to figure things out, we have a moral duty to try.
    Some how that moral duty to figure things out without knowing for sure that we’ll get it right, and always having doubt so that we never stop struggling to figure things out is taken to be: fog, bullshit and horseshit, amoral or immoral or who knows what, hasbarism and so on.
    Well, in fact, it’s something along the lines of applied Socrates, and as far as I’m concerned, a dose of actual skepticism might be a helpful policy additive.
    What if Cheney had had doubts and refused his terror of death? What if moments of pause and reflection and doubt were to become part of the policy process? What if it was a custom for MCs to speak about not knowing rather than mouthing their party’s pieties?
    I think all of this would be an improvement.
    But I’m not champing at the bit for action when I’m unsure what action would be a good one.
    So parody away, and then go move some troops around the map. Perhaps something good will come from pure motion.
    And did you know, speaking of unintended consequences, that some people will die of cancer because smoke detectors are radioactive, that some people will be terribly injured by their seatbelts and if they don’t get to a trauma unit quickly they will die, but the number of trauma units need to be limited because trauma surgeons need constant exposure to difficult surgeries so that they can keep their skills up, that some number of people will be paralyzed as airlines practice (yes, practice) evacuation procedures, that things that are good for us are often also bad for us (read up on the “pharmakon”).
    So, yes, it’s complicated, even when it’s simple. And unintended consequences need to be taken into account by policy makers. When we create new incentives, there will be new behaviors.
    A little fog, just for you.

    Reply

  49. WigWag says:

    Well, Paul, I don’t know if Questions agrees with me as often as you suggest; but to the extent you’re right it can only be a sign of perspicacity!
    Personally I find it refreshing that commentators like Questions see the nuance and complexity in the issues discussed around here. All too often both the people who write posts and the people who write comments see things in black and white and pen missives that do little more than reflect their own ideological predilections. I plead guilty to doing this myself.
    Recognizing that things are often more labyrinthine then they initially appear demonstrates a sophistication that merits approbation not criticism.
    More often than not I learn something from reading Questions’ comments just like I frequently learn something from reading yours.
    I always look forward to hearing what you both have to say.

    Reply

  50. Paul Norheim says:

    I think I`ve detected five principles behind the fog Questions so
    frequently produces at TWN:
    1) Read up on Plato, Hume and Rawls as much as you can. The
    risk of producing any unintended consequences while you`re
    sitting on a chair studying philosophy, is considerably less than
    if you get out of your house with the intent of doing something.
    2) The world is so complex and difficult to grasp that nobody
    can confidently object to what WigWag says – especially with
    regard to his more outrageous positions. I mean, how can any
    human being be absolutely sure that WigWag is wrong?
    3) We all want to see things change to the better (especially
    WigWag and I, but probably everybody else as well).
    4) This however does not imply that anybody should act in a
    different way than they are acting today, or act at all, or even
    avoid acting.
    5) The effects of any kind of action (and non-action) are so
    unpredictable that it`s probably wiser to let things stay as they
    are, and let the powerful people in the world do their things. If a
    butterfly in Central Park can create a storm in Australia, can you
    imagine what kind of planetary cataclysm may be the outcome
    of a change in US Middle East policy?!

    Reply

  51. questions says:

    On that, I can agree with you. But the fact is that now there are soldiers there, there is a destabilized mess there, there are injustices there. And I am modest enough to admit that I don’t know what would bring about more rather than less justice.
    Just as we probably can’t “manage” the war, so we probably can’t “manage” the not-war. Not everything is a “management” problem. Some things are inherent problems. Some conflicts are irreducible. Lots of things are complicated no-win/lose-lose situations. I would guess that Afghanistan is one of those.

    Reply

  52. Dan Kervick says:

    “Finally, I think the statement may well have been honest, not, as you put it, arrogant and outrageous. Policy is a mass of contradictory impulses, not a coherent team of togetherness.”
    Well, if our government doesn’t think it can manage a war in Afghanistan, then they shouldn’t be spending billions of dollars on one and sending soldiers to their death there.

    Reply

  53. questions says:

    It’s not “what if there are unintended consequences” — there are always unintended consequences.
    It’s not that I don’t know anything about management, it’s that there is a limit on what can be managed.
    You are correct that I shouldn’t be in charge of policy because I spend a great deal of time thinking about the problems that policies can and do bring about and that means my focus tends to be on failure moments rather than on success moments.
    Come to think of it, maybe no one should be in charge of policy because everyone louses up big chunks of the world. I am willing to admit my flaws, though.
    One can make all the estimates one wishes. But those estimates are just guesses with more or less information behind them. Cheney guessed wrong on the WMD issue and convinced huge portions of the government to go along with him. Estimates are just that.
    Finally, I think the statement may well have been honest, not, as you put it, arrogant and outrageous. Policy is a mass of contradictory impulses, not a coherent team of togetherness.

    Reply

  54. Dan Kervick says:

    WigWag, you’re being carried away by Brzezinski’s own inflated estimate of his historic significance. The Saur revolution produced a communist government that never had majority support in Afghanistan and was doomed from the start in the face of massive conservative, traditionalist resistance. That’s why they had to beg for assistance from the Soviets. Afghan religious traditionalism isn’t the creation of Carter and Brzezinski. It was only militarily exploited by them to fight the Soviets.

    Reply

  55. Dan Kervick says:

    “You think I want more injustice in the world rather than less?”
    I think you don’t know what you want, questions. And I think that even if you knew what you wanted, you would have no ideas about how to achieve it. And I think that even if you had some ideas on how to achieve it, you would have no resolution in putting those ideas into effect, but would paralyze yourself with endless excuses and questioning epicycles of “What if there are unintended consequences?” and “How can I be sure?”
    Mainly, I think you don’t understand the process of management. Richard Holbrooke and other government officials have particular jobs in our government. But it is beyond me how you distinguish personally between responsible or irresponsible ways of doing those jobs. If you were Holbrooke’s boss, how would you assess his performance? With your “gut”?
    You obviously claim no confidence in your ability to predict of even estimate the future. You don’t even seem to think you can assign rough probabilities to the outcomes of alternative courses of action. (Though I imagine you are able to overcome this profound doubt when you go grocery shopping, or make a budget.) So I suggest you never be put in charge of US policy for Central Asia. But Holbrooke has a job that you and I don’t have. He and other high officials in our government *sought* those jobs. It is their *business* to make such estimates, to assign comparative values to alternative outcomes, to anticipate contingencies, to assign probabilities to those contingencies, and to allocate resources in such a way that they are available for the contingencies that are most likely to occur. He and others working the same beat must work as a time on a coherent, mutually understood policy agenda whose progress is continually assessed by clear criteria. In that context, his statement – suggesting that there is no clear agenda or criteria of assessment, but only a vague desire to do good – was arrogant and outrageous.
    And since New Jersey is among my least favorite states, you have used a bad example.

    Reply

  56. WigWag says:

    “I will stick with the view that a man in Richard Holbrooke’s position of responsibility should actually know what the United States is attempting to accomplish in Afghanistan, and should be able to articulate how progress toward those goals is being assessed. And if he can’t do these things, he should be replaced with someone who can.” (Dan Kervick)
    I don’t think Holbrooke is either as brilliant as his fans think or as clueless as his critics assert. While he was lionized by some for his role in negotiating the Dayton Accords, despite the fact that I was a Bill Clinton fan, I think the Clinton Administration’s policy towards Serbia, Bosnia and Kosovo was wrongheaded. I think bombing Serbia was a mistake on several levels and I think the durability of the Dayton Accords is now being called into question.
    As a matter of fact, I think the way the administrations of George H.W. Bush, Clinton, George W. Bush and now Obama have handled the Balkans has been naive. Pretending that everything that happened in the former Yugoslav states is all the fault of the Serbians was a mistake. The penchant of all of these Administrations to be disdainful of Russia’s views about all of this is one of the root causes of the troubled relationship between Russia and the United States today.
    With this said, while Holbrooke may have been Clinton’s point person, he was carrying out Clinton’s policy. The ultimate blame for any mistakes made should be directed against the President and his Secretary of State, not a mere envoy regardless of how powerful that envoy might have been.
    Similarly those who don’t like American policies towards Afghanistan are mistaken if they think Holbrooke’s to blame. If they have a beef with the American approach, their complaints should be directed at President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton, not Holbrooke.
    There is a real irony here. Critics of the Administration’s Afghanistan policy (Lynch, Walt, Kervick, maybe Clemons, etc.)are seizing on an off hand comment made by Holbrooke to caricature the Administration’s entire policy. Of course they know that Holbrooke’s comment doesn’t represent anything other than a poorly crafted sentence. By pretending that it does, Administration critics are trying to achieve a temporary rhetorical victory that is essentially meaningless. In doing so, they’re turning themselves into caricatures of thoughtful commentators.
    Instead of blaming Holbrooke or Obama, they should be blaming the people who got us into this mess in the first place; Jimmy Carter and Zbig Brzezinski. It’s hard to understand why otherwise thoughtful people are reluctant to place the blame where it really belongs. Come to think of it, maybe it’s really not so hard to understand their reluctance.
    I even know of one erudite, articulate and charming think-tanker who owns a terrific blog who actually encouraged Brzezinski to write his most recent book and to appear on a panel about Saudi Arabia.
    It just goes to show that no one’s perfect.
    And the man Brzezinski worked for, Jimmy Carter; does anyone remember his claim to be the President who put human rights first? It’s a claim he was making at the same time he was empowering a fundamentalist insurgency that aimed to ban music and literature, execute apostates and imprison women.
    Jimmy Carter was so enamored of these fundamentalist insurgents that he cancelled American participation in the Olympics to protest Soviet advocacy of a secular but admittedly imperfect regime.
    And those who want to blame Ronald Reagan for all of this should think again. When he took office, Reagan didn’t have to invent a new policy towards Afghanistan; all he had to do was implement the strategy that Carter and Brzezinski had already developed.
    The level of hypocrisy about the Afghanistan debate is extraordinary to behold. Don’t blame Holbrooke; blame the architects of the disaster who held power more than three decades ago.
    They’re the villains in this mess.

    Reply

  57. questions says:

    Dan,
    Do you honestly think that the Cold Warriors figured out that it would last this many years, result in this many deaths, that Afghanistan and Iraq and Iran would still be playing out all of the implications of the Cold War in 2009?
    I can’t say as I think so, but I don’t have a lot of confidence in my ability to see far into the future and figure out how some instigator a couple of decades hence will use my intervention or failure to intervene or kind of intervention as a spark for some as yet unforeseen insurgency or rebellion.
    I don’t expect leaders to have some mystical understanding of the impacts of their decisions any more than I expect that I will be able to figure out the effects of my decisions. The utilitarian calculus fails. Logical fallacies abound and make thinking and planning a little more difficult than you seem to indicate. Our preferences are screwy, and our policies are subject to all of our limitations.
    There’s a crapshoot element to policy, there is blowback, there are unintended consequences. Time is a vector and we are on a point on that vector and we can’t just jump ahead or change directions. Maybe you can get around this, maybe you have more confidence in your ability (or someone’s ability) to predict what comes next and next and next, but I really don’t feel that myself.
    And of course we “know” what we want in Afghanistan. We want to turn it into New Jersey — a suburban state with people just like us, and a strong industrial base in the area of food additives/colorants/flavor enhancers. In fact we want to turn the whole world into New Jersey. Short of that, we’d like some kind of stability and enough of a police state that we can avoid the kinds of problems that come from failed states. Whether or not we can get there, how one gets there is anyone’s guess.
    But if a general gets on tv and says, well, we want to avoid a failed state, that’s just about equivalent to “I’ll know it when I see it” since “failed state” isn’t well-defined.
    The fact is that the goals are indeed murky, there is a broad range of possible more and less satisfactory solutions (more satisfactory would be to enhance the New Jersey solution, less satisfactory would be to have a minimally functional police state complete with brutality, but no functioning al Qaida.) And insisting on one version of reality is a politically stupid move.
    As for doubting my sincerity and good faith, WTF? You think I want more injustice in the world rather than less? WTF.

    Reply

  58. Dan Kervick says:

    “Because impacts are IMPOSSIBLE to calculate, the lines we draw are arbitrary.”
    This is irresponsible obscurantism. The effects of policy decisions in Afghanistan are not *impossible* to calculate, they are just *difficult* to calculate, and beset by unavoidable imprecision. But decision-making under uncertainty is inherent in practical reasoning, including reasoning about government policy. You seem to be defending a radical ambivalence according to which the presence of mere uncertainty and imprecision in our decisions collapses into a more profound uncertainty about everything, and evens out the cases for every alternative course of action.
    “My position is really that it’s a lose-lose situation and I don’t know which losing side is the better one to be on.”
    You never know do you? Do you have any firm policy positions on anything? Or is it all just a big imponderable cloud to you?
    “Of course, lives and posterity are at stake. They are at stake no matter what we do.”
    And thus grown-up decision-makers make it their business to take their best stab at estimating the costs and benefits of alternative courses of action, based on whatever limited information they happen to possess, including costs and benefits in terms of lives lost and saved. They then formulate plans of action that make sense in light of those best estimates. Holbrooke’s comment suggests that some of our top policy planners have not made such estimates, and do not even have a clear idea of what they are trying to accomplish in Afghanistan. And that’s no way to make policy, even granting the uncertainties inherent in such estimates.
    Frankly, questions, I doubt your sincerity and good faith, and do not believe you yourself even believe the radically diffident positions and excuses you are putting forward, but are just indulging a taste for contrarian perplexity-mongering.
    I will stick with the view that a man in Richard Holbrooke’s position of responsibility should actually know what the United States is attempting to accomplish in Afghanistan, and should be able to articulate how progress toward those goals is being assessed. And if he can’t do these things, he should be replaced with someone who can.

    Reply

  59. questions says:

    Because impacts are IMPOSSIBLE to calculate, the lines we draw are arbitrary.
    In a “political situation” either you are vague on the goals or are unable to compromise.
    Success will be defined the way it always is defined, by circumstances that are out of anyone’s control and at an arbitrary moment.
    I’m not being vague here, I’m being descriptive.
    In the health care mess, what percentage of covered Americans is “successful”? It’s an arbitrary number and it will never get to 100% because there are always cases outside the system — rural people simply will never have the resources of city dwellers, low income people will really have to struggle to deal with a range of costs (including work loss) that simply don’t plague the well-off, not everyone will get state of the art care, experimental care, the best of the best, the one medical practice in town that has actually managed to have good outcomes in one disease or another.
    And yet, success will be declared. Whether or not there’s a public option, whether or not it’s single payer, whether or not ALL pre-existing conditions are dealt with (how does one handle true fraud regarding this issue?) and so on.
    We declare success after the fact, we change “goals” along the way, we find failure where we had hoped to find success. It isn’t vague, it’s a general characterization of policy issues from a theory standpoint.
    Regarding Afghanistan, do you honestly know what the right course of action is? If we unilaterally pull out and the Taliban gain the unopposed upper hand, what do you think will happen? If we stay, we have a disaster anyway. In a sense, WigWag might be right about this. We intervened in our infamous Cold War way and we destabilized a nation that is still playing out the destabilization.
    My position is really that it’s a lose-lose situation and I don’t know which losing side is the better one to be on. Much policy has this characteristic and I am not in need of definitive answers to every problem such that action can be taken instantly.
    I think the admin’s approach to Afghanistan might be in something of a holding pattern while people see which way the wind is blowing, and that might actually be a wise thing to do for now.
    If you take a kid to the pediatrician for an ear infection check, the advice will be what is called “watchful waiting” — there might be a problem but the problem is more likely viral than bacterial and antibiotics won’t do any good and might do harm. Watchful waiting is a useful concept.
    Of course, lives and posterity are at stake. They are at stake no matter what we do.

    Reply

  60. Dan Kervick says:

    And maybe the White House should focus more on the Taliban we are facing at home:
    http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/story?id=8324481&page=1

    Reply

  61. Dan Kervick says:

    questions,
    You are adrift on a sea of vagueness and mental unclarity. As far as I can tell, you have no coherent point to make or sensible plan to offer. In fact, I don’t think you yourself even know what you are trying to say. Some of the extreme and irresponsible views you endorse:
    – Because impacts are difficult to calculate, the lines we draw are “arbitrary”.
    – In a “political situation”, it makes sense to be fuzzy on the goals.
    – Success will be defined only when, in someone’s judgment, we “can no longer stay” in Afghanistan.
    questions, the world isn’t nearly as fuzzy as your own fuzzy mind imagines it to be. Your approach is irresponsible. And I would like you to consider the possibility that this outlook is also just an irrational crutch and excuse for your own apparent inability to make decisions and take a stand on any issue. You multiply perplexities and imponderabilities beyond all sensible bounds, and then endorse confusion and drift as a way of life.
    Thousands of lives and the well-being of our country and posterity are at stake. So try taking a stand and choosing a side. If you think we should fight a war in Afghnaistan, explain to what end we should fight that war and the argue for your position. If you think we should stop fighting a war in Afghanistan, do the same. And if you think the issue is just too hard for you and I to figure out, at least demand that our leaders don’t practice the same sort of irresolute drift, confusion and incoherence.

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  62. questions says:

    Dan, still not quite my point. I’m not all for sending troops in without goals or reasons or a plan. I’m not for sending troops in all sorts of situations. I don’t think warfare and force do much of anything over the long haul.
    But, troops are there. And politicized. In a political situation, it makes sense to be fuzzy on the goals. In an honest read of policy, it makes sense to be vague on the “metrics” because in fact “metrics” really are nearly impossible to calculate.
    You probably know all of the utilitarian lit — how can you have a calculus that measures all of the impacts of an action such that you can determine the utilitarian value of that action. Well, since the effects of any action are infinitely broad, it becomes impossible to calculate them. So we draw arbitrary lines and limit the impacts we will count.
    This arbitrary line-drawing is fraught with policy problems and policy makers need to be aware of the arbitrary nature of their boundaries. What the “I know it when I see it” comment shows, as far as I can tell, is that in fact there’s someone being honest about how arbitrary and political the situation is.
    Success will be defined not when, say, 42.5% of the people have some lifestyle choice, but when, in someone’s judgment, we can no longer stay in Afghanistan.
    It’s a political fact of the world that we cannot really draw lines, that we have to compromise with reality and with one another.
    And what I said was “textbook” is the difficulty in measuring policy outcomes given the diffuse range of effects. Read Robert Goodin’s Political Theory and Public Policy as a primer on the topic. If you can’t really measure, it may be best to “know it when you see it” cuz you can’t foresee it.
    And POA, read up on recycled toilet paper and you’ll see that even that decision is significant!

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  63. Paul Norheim says:

    “Militant feminism, Paul? Which part? Women being free to leave
    their homes without their husband’s permission? Women
    choosing for themselves…”
    No, WigWag. But this:
    “20) Every Muslim fundamentalist who would deny Afghans
    these basic human rights who is killed by American or Afghan
    forces represents success.”
    Just killing those on the planet who deny their citizens human
    rights – by using US soldiers and drone pilots – is in my view a
    typical example of immature American idealism (or, in the big
    picture: arrogant imperialism, which always is legitimated with a
    certain amount of idealism and moralism). It is militant
    feminism in the context of the 19 other points you suggested.
    By the way: the reason why it is so difficult to define success in
    these matters, is that USA is a post-colonial semi-empire – not
    using the traditional means (like the former British Empire or
    France) of simply conquering territories and transforming them
    into colonies or protectorates. This strategy made it much easier
    to define success.
    And this is probably the main reason why people like JohnH
    never will get a clear answer with regard to a definition of goals
    and national interest in foreign affairs. There are no clear goals
    and strategies – again compared to the British Empire. The
    American project fluctuates constantly between idealism
    (exceptionalism), energy security and profit; “national interest”
    means one day oil for suburbia, and the next day some
    grandiose universal idea like democracy in the Middle East or
    basic rights for women in Afghanistan.
    We (the Europeans) know exactly why we`re sending some
    soldiers to Afghanistan: It´s our effort to persuade America not
    to dissolve NATO, 20 years after it lost its raison d`etre. Our
    definition of success in operations in Central Asia is not
    connected to results in the region, but simply to keep NATO
    alive for another decade.

    Reply

  64. Dan Kervick says:

    WigWag, it’s not your list that is frivolous. What’s frivolous is your apparent implication that the ability to produce such a list of worthy desires for Afghanistan is an adequate substitute for a realistic and morally responsible plan.
    And I can’t believe you are serious when you say you are willing to give the Obama administration “all the time they need to prove the efficacy of their approach.” Frankly, that’s crazy talk. Do you really mean to say that as long as the Obama administration keeps saying “we need more time”, there will be no end to your patience? Your cavalier way with the lives of American soldiers and the contents of the US teasury disturbs me. You seem to be saying that not only does the US owe a debt to Afghanistan, but that the debt is effectively infinite.
    Anyway, I’m pretty sure that the administration has not announced to the American public that it intends to fight a permanent war in Afghanistan. If the administration’s intent is to settle in for a multiple-decade war that only “keeps the Taliban at bay” indefinitely, all the while lying and dissembling about the scope of their purposes to the American public, then their jig will be quickly up. And if there are really people in the Pentagon who are thinking in these terms, then they are cluelessly afflicted with some sort of ivory tower institutional madness.
    And I’m sorry, questions. But I don’t think your prescription is textbook anything. I would be amazed if there is any competent textbook on defense policy planning that would posit that one viable way of fighting a war is to begin by “refusing to define” a goal constituting success, and then to follow that up with refraining from establishing ascertainable targets and benchmarks. I would be amazed if there is a competent policy planning textbook in *any* field that takes that approach, especially where substantial human and material resources are involved.
    I would also be amazed if there is a competent policy planning textbook anywhere that allows that a rational approach to war-fighting might consist in leaving the very aim of the war undefined, while resting comfident in the faith that success will eventually be stumbled upon, and will be recognized when it is seen.
    Yes, the universe is vast and complicated and we are small and limited, etc., etc. But nevertheless we have to act in that universe. That requires employing some finite and tractable model of the problems we face, the best and most accurate one we can come up with given our limited powers, and formulating coherent plans that make sense in light of that model. Rational action is impossible if our thought and deliberations are beset and overwhelmed on all sides wtih endless examples of “maybe this”, “maybe that”, “maybe a hundred thousand other imnponderable things.” Your tolerance for sending American soldiers into a violent theatre of war on a wing and a prayer, with no other plan but to grope our way to something good frankly stuns me.
    I am simply flabbergasted that after a two decade period of criminal Washington bungling and swashbuckling in which we precipitated the deaths of somewhere around a million Iraqis – that’s about *eight times* the population of my state of New Hampshire – there are still Americans who are willing to say, “lets just go in with our good intentions and fine ideals, and wing it until we bump into something we are pleased to call success.” This response makes me despair that people are even capable of learning from the past.

    Reply

  65. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Gads, if someone made the mistake of asking questions to pick up toilet paper while he’s at the store, just to get out of it he’d probably dream up a two page essay on the harmful effects of wiping your ass.

    Reply

  66. questions says:

    WigWag, re “metrics” there’s a whole list of problems with measuring policy outcomes — when do you measure, what do you measure.
    For when, if we measure Afghanistan right now, it looks bad. What if we wait a decade? A century? When is the time to decide? Clearly politicians eventually have to DO things, but if they do those things at the wrong time, what might be successful or failure-ridden could turn out the opposite.
    What do we measure? Re Afganistan, do we measure the general happiness of women? The social disruptions of forcing modernity on a people (think the Shah of Iran), the suicide rate if change is overly hasty, the number of poppies growing or destroyed?
    It’s a lot harder to define “success” than people here would like. The chicken in every pot point is glib, especially if intensive farming is needed to produce all of those chickens and bird flu sweeps the nation. Full employment is inflationary…. Policy is multifarious and success in one arena will likely cause problems in another.
    And no, Dan, I’m not being overly anything. This is all pretty standard text book policy stuff, not really original, and not really deserving of “there you go again” style criticism.

    Reply

  67. JohnH says:

    How about some really, really easy metrics, ones that would be sure to make the government in Kabul popular beyond belief–
    1) a chicken in every pot
    2) jobs for anyone who wants to work
    3) health care for all
    So much for those metrics–we can’t even provide them at home.
    So I guess we best be content with having every movie theater that opens in Kabul as being a sure sign of success…

    Reply

  68. WigWag says:

    “American idealism combined with militant feminism – a fatal combination.” (Paul Norheim)
    Militant feminism, Paul? Which part? Women being free to leave their homes without their husband’s permission? Women choosing for themselves whether to cover their hair, their whole bodies or appear in public without a burqua? Women working outside of the home or being free from the fear of “honor killing?”
    None of this seems particularly militant to me.
    “C’mon WigWag, you’re being frivolous. We can all cite any number of events that would count as nice things to happen in Afghanistan. But such disembodied lists have little to do with the competent management of a coordinated diplomatic and military project in the country.” (Dan Kervick)
    All I can say, Dan, is that while my list may seem “frivolous” to a nice Irish guy from New Hampshire it might not sound “frivolous” to a Afghan woman striving to live a secular life in Kabul or Kandahar. I think you trivialize the freedoms I mention by calling them “nice things.” They’re not just “nice things”; their human rights.
    While women in Tehran might be beat up right now for reading “Lolita.” because of the United States military presence women can read “Lolita” in Kabul. It’s not everything but it’s something and I’m very glad about it.
    It’s the Obama Administration’s job to come up with a reasonable strategy to keep the Islamic fundamentalists from returning to power in Afghanistan. It’s too early to tell if their strategy is a good one, but I’m willing to give them all the time they need to prove the efficacy of their approach.
    The reason is simple; we owe the Afghans. Before Jimmy Carter, Zbig Brzezinski and Ronald Reagan, in their zeal to give the Soviets a black eye, armed, trained and fought with (through the CIA) the mujahideen, Afghanistan was an authoritarian but secular society. But for the aid provided by the Americans, the Russians would have defeated the Muslim fundamentalists, the mujahideen would never have morphed into the Taliban and Afghan society today would probably be secular and more or less free.
    I’m not suggesting that Afghanistan would be rapidly developing and on the road to prosperity like Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary. But it could easily be more or less democratic with slow but sure economic development like former Soviet satellites, Romania, Bulgaria or Slovakia.
    Even if Obama’s approach fails and we are only able to keep the Taliban at bay by a U.S. presence that lasts decades, I’d be for it. I think we owe the Afghans that much. How many girls who would otherwise be illiterate will get an education if U.S. troops stay for 25 or 50 years? If we can keep troops in Europe, Japan and South Korea for that long, we can keep troops in Afghanistan for that long. As a matter of fact, the best source of troops to police Afghanistan is probably the American troops in Europe, Japan and Korea who should have been removed at least 15 years ago.
    To me, the most galling part of all of this is that the author of the biggest foreign policy mistake in American history, support for the Afghan mujahideen, still brags about his colossal mistake.
    When asked in a 1998 interview whether he regretted the Afghan policy he dreamed up, this is what Brzezinski said,
    “Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter. We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam War. Indeed, for almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war unsupportable by the government, a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the break-up of the Soviet empire.”
    That’s the man so many otherwise intelligent people believe to be a superior foreign policy strategist.
    As I said in an earlier comment, Colin Powell was right. When it comes to Afghanistan, Jimmy Carter, Zbignew Brzezinski and Ronald Reagan broke it. Now, we all own it.

    Reply

  69. John Waring says:

    1. http://www.cnas.org/blogs/abumuqawama/2009/08/afghanistan-strategy-dialogue-day-two.html#comments
    Please read Bernard Finel’s comments at the above link, or at his blog BernardFinel.com
    2. http://www.commonwealmagazine.org/article.php3?id_article=2609
    Please read Andrew Bacevich’s article “The War We Cannot Win: Afghanistan and the Limits of American Power”.
    3. “We’ll know success when we see it” and “Metrics in Afghanistan are hard”.
    For my money, Bacevich and Finel offer the most lucid reasons for opposing the Administration’s policy for armed nation building in Afghanistan. They also offer the minimalist alternative to a large-scale and long-term US ground presence, that I find quite persuasive. I cannot do their arguments justice in this space, so please read them at length.
    I’d like to comment on #3. If this is the best definition of success Mr. Holbrooke can offer, then we need to take second thought and ask several more questions. How many military adventures do we have to engage in during the short span of my life before we conclude they are extremely bad ideas? If the Russians, British, and half a dozen others could not bend Afghanistan to their will, what makes us think we can? Do we really think we are God’s gift to the world? If Afghans have not wanted to become like us at any time in recorded history, what makes us think they will want to become like us during the next 100 years? As agents of change we have a problem of legitimacy, and it is insuperable.
    Metrics in Afghanistan are not hard. They are impossible, because the goals and methods of this administration are impossible. No outside entity can ever own or control Afghanistan. Its terrain is among the wildest on earth, and its people among the fiercest and most xenophobic. Afghanistan is utterly alien to the American experience. I think we would be just as well served putting our troops on the moon.
    Armed nation building in Afghanistan? We simply can’t get there, no matter how hard we try.

    Reply

  70. Paul Norheim says:

    Neocon meets leftist interventionism meets Silicon Valley… Say
    hello to the revolutionary freedom fighters from the 21. century:
    Pimpled pro democracy drone pilots targeting the reactionary
    enemy wherever he`s hiding on the planet, from behind PC
    screens in some secure bunker in America.
    Disgusting.

    Reply

  71. Paul Norheim says:

    Every bastard who would deny alligators in Florida the opportunity
    to lay eggs, who is killed by American forces or alligators,
    represents success.
    American idealism combined with militant feminism – a fatal
    combination.

    Reply

  72. Dan Kervick says:

    C’mon WigWag, you’re being frivolous. We can all cite any number of events that would count as nice things to happen in Afghanistan. But such disembodied lists have little to do with the competent management of a coordinated diplomatic and military project in the country.
    At least apply the same standards you would apply to any other field of government endeavor. Suppose your state gave an official a large budget and staff to clean up and conserve forests and wetlands in Florida, and was then asked in a public forum about his action plan, his allocation of resources and how he measures progress. And suppose he said things like, “We’ll know progress when we see it” and “Every time an alligator lays an egg, that’s success.” Wouldn’t that official deserve to be booted out on his posterior?

    Reply

  73. WigWag says:

    The difference DonS is that the Afghans had all of that until Jimmy Carter, Zbig Brzezinski and Ronald Reagan screwed it up in the interest of hurting the Soviets.

    Reply

  74. DonS says:

    Wigwag, I’m touched by your deep concern for improving the lives of Afghanis. Which of course you could say for any number of nations (that their social infrastructure needs radical improvement). But is it for the US to ‘fix’ all that? For God’s sake, we can’t even get the neanderthals to agree that the US deserves national health.
    Meanwhile, far from improving the the lot of many in the world, the US seems to have a reverse midas touch in that we seem to make life worse, not better, for those we seek to ‘help’? So, please, keep the righteous indignation under control, and take a reality pill.

    Reply

  75. WigWag says:

    “Metrics in Afghanistan are hard. That much is obvious…” (Katherine Tiedemann)
    “Anybody who thinks we have an obligation to “fix” Afghanistan because we “broke it” has a concurrent obligation to define an achievable objective, and propose a realistic plan for achieving that objective.” (Dan Kervick)
    I’m certainly not sophisticated enough in military strategy to suggest a military plan for Afghanistan, but I think several metrics of success are pretty obvious. I suggest that success be measured by the following criteria:
    1) Every girl who learns to read represents success.
    2) Every woman who is able to leave her home without asking her husband’s permission represents success.
    3 )Every woman who escapes rape from a family member who believes she is mere chattel represents success.
    4) Every woman who works outside of the home represents success.
    5) Every woman not murdered in an “honor killing” represents success.
    6) Every statue in the Kabul Museum not destroyed because it represents a graven image represents success.
    7) Every painting and other art work not destroyed for being “unIslamic” represents success.
    8) Every child educated in a secular environment rather than a Madrassa represents success.
    9) Every child who gets to fly a kite represents success.
    10) Every Afghan gay person not stoned to death or murdered in some other horrendous manner represents success.
    11) Every time traditional Afghan music is played in Afghanistan represents success.
    12) Every time Mozart, Beethoven or Bach is played in Afghanistan represents success.
    13) Every record player, compact disc player, IPOD or other MP3 player operated in Afghanistan represents success.
    14) Every day the Kabul Museum is open (the Taliban used it as a military compound) represents success.
    15) Every day the Kabul Library is open represents success. (The Taliban closed it down.)
    16) Every open movie theater in Afghanistan represents success.
    17) Every Shia Afghan not murdered for being an apostate represents success.
    18) Every free and fair election held in Afghanistan (as opposed, for example, to the recent example of Iran) represents success.
    19) Every time the most popular show in Afghanistan, “Afghan Star” (the Afghan version of American Idol) appears on television represents success.
    20) Every Muslim fundamentalist who would deny Afghans these basic human rights who is killed by American or Afghan forces represents success.
    You see, coming up with metrics of success really isn’t that hard.

    Reply

  76. Paul Norheim says:

    “But there really isn’t a non-interventionary position (…) and so defending non-interventionism is a little like trying to get rid of the wheel once it’s been widely adopted. There’s no real going back anymore, and the bigger and more important question has to be how do we go forward.” (Questions)
    Frankly, your musings in the quoted post and the one above are either pretty worthless or worse. Apply what you said to the Vietnam war, and it would fit A) the Kennedy decision of sending in troops, B) the LBJ position of fullscale war and C) the Nixon/Kissinger position of staying there – as well as any other thinkable and unthinkable position with regard to the Vietnam war.

    Reply

  77. Dan Kervick says:

    questions, you are chasing red herrings, and indulging your extreme tolerance and fondness for vagueness and incomprehensibility. Use some common sense for once, and stop pretending every issue is so complex and beset by unanswerable questions that clear answers are impossible.
    It’s not just a matter of putting “numbers” on things, although certainly for a complex military and state-building operation like Afghanistan, numbers are going to be important in many areas. The successful management of every complex enterprise or project requires the establishment of a hierarchy of long-range goals and subsidiary targets, and some criteria by which it is determined whether the targets are being met, or whether the project requires a managerial overhaul at some level. If the people running the Afghanistan project can’t even describe in concrete *qualitative* terms what they are attempting to do, how subsidiary goals and current requests are matched to long-range plans, and how they are measuring success and failure so as to use human and material resources wisely and productively, then it is hard to have any faith that they are managing their project at all well, or that they will succeed in doing more good than bad.
    Anybody who thinks we have an obligation to “fix” Afghanistan because we “broke it” has a concurrent obligation to define an achievable objective, and propose a realistic plan for achieving that objective. I take it the objective should be a little more grounded than, “no more bad people in Afghanistan.” A vague and self-indulgent sense of moral obligation to do good, accompanied by haphazard and disorganized groping, is no substitute for a well-conceived plan to actually do some good. Undisciplined good intentions yielding bad results are no better than disciplined bad intentions yielding those bad results on purpose.
    Now I’m sure there must be at least some people in the Obama administration and the Pentagon who are mightily pissed off at Holbrooke today, because they actually do think they know what they are trying to accomplish in the long run and short run, and look every day at planning documents, timetables, spreadsheets and all the rest in trying to assess how well they are meeting their assigned tasks and objectives. They are probably suggesting up the chain of command that if Holbrooke himself doesn’t really know what the US is doing in Afghanistan, then he should stop running his prima donna mouth about it, and leave the messaging to someone more competent.
    Haven’t we had enough of American leaders who embark on large costly military projects with no more than a promise to use their “guts” to intuit the true path and feel their way to an undefinable success?
    The United States has broken innumerable things during its historical course. Now if we actually know how to fix some of the things we have broken, and can do so at a cost that is not grossly incommensurate with the damage done, then maybe we have an obligation to fix those things. But if we really have no clear ideas about how to clean up some of the messes we have made, then perhaps we should confine ourselves to not doing any further harm.

    Reply

  78. DonS says:

    Questions, I question your assumption: the null hypothesis, doing ‘nothing’ (or relatively nothing) cannot have significantly worse consequences than the US interventionism has had — ok — from Carter, hell, from Kennedy on forward.
    If ‘we’ broke’ Afgahanistan, and we don’t know how to ‘fix’ it, what makes anyone think we suddenly will figure out how to fix it? Besides national hubris of course. Sometimes doing nothing is the best alternative.

    Reply

  79. questions says:

    Yes nation-building does not work (POA’s point). Sadly, not-nation-building might be immoral (WigWag’s point), and sadder still, nation-building probably leads to nation-reversionism (Carroll’s point).
    And this is the hole we’re in. And it’s a fundamental problem with any policy or absence of policy. We intervene in the world and cause huge disasters for people. We don’t intervene and someone else causes huge disasters for people. (I think it’s sins of commission and omission?)
    But there really isn’t a non-interventionary position. There will be trade, trafficking, migrants, communications, alliances, power struggles and so on. each one of these is an intervention of some sort, and so defending non-interventionism is a little like trying to get rid of the wheel once it’s been widely adopted. There’s no real going back anymore, and the bigger and more important question has to be how do we go forward. What non-nation building activities could we undertake that might help? Are there ways to structure aid successfully?
    And DonS, I don’t “fancy” myself some kind of “contrarian” at all. I actually think that there aren’t easy moral answers to interpersonal and international conflict. What you seem to see as contrarianism and POA sees alternately as “fog” “horseshit” “bullshit” “immorality” and what arthurdecco sees as some kind of genuine wickedness on my part is actually my sense that we cannot just stop doing what we’re doing when what we’re doing fails. It just doesn’t lend itself to the quick and easy. Not Congress, not money in politics, not measuring the results of policy, not ending or starting wars. Just not easy.

    Reply

  80. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “We broke Afghanistan; what choice do we have but to try and fix it?”
    Same argument you jackasses used to keep us in this Iraq debacle. Now the Iraqi people, (those that aren’t dead), see an upswing in religious wackjobism, are increasingly being subjected to Sharia law, and are once more headed towards major sunni/shiite conflict. Is that the same kind of “fix” you have in mind for Afghanistan?
    I watched Holbrooke and his merry band of think tank assholes lay out their grand scheme for Afghanistan, and its the same grand scheme these self important jackasses lay out everytime they’re busy fuckin’ up someone else’s space and killing a bunch of people.
    You could of summed up the whole comedy by simply saying, “Yep, these fuckin’ idiots are nation building again, the one thing they’ve proven time and time again, JUST DOESN’T WORK.”
    So yeah, we are about to piss a couple trillion bucks down another sinkhole, making sure we kill a few thousand, (or hundred thousand), people in the process. Now thats “change” for ya, eh?

    Reply

  81. WigWag says:

    Questions, I think you make some interesting points. Attempting to apply metrics to foreign policy problems in the same manner that one would solve a quadratic equation is probably a doomed effort. In foreign policy it’s always hard to define success because you can never be sure what the result would have been had a different policy been pursued.
    Speaking of Iraq, Colin Powell famously said to President Bush, “If break it, you own it.”
    My view on Afghanistan is that the United States broke Afghanistan so fixing it is our responsibility. Or to be more accurate, Jimmy Carter and Zbignew Brzezinski “broke” Afghanistan with a big assist from Ronald Reagan who continued Carter’s policy.
    The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan is frequently referred to as “Russia’s Viet Nam.” That analogy always seemed suspect to me. The United States had to send its troops half way around the world to fight in Viet Nam; during the Soviet era, Afghanistan and the Soviet Union shared a border.
    It’s certainly true that prior to the Soviet invasion, the government in Kabul was a Soviet puppet. But it was a secular puppet that was only mildly autocratic. They didn’t oppress women, they didn’t destroy ancient Buddhist statues of enormous historical significance, they didn’t execute homosexuals and they didn’t outlaw the playing of music.
    Brzezinski, the architect of American policy towards Afghanistan at the time, was a fervent Cold Warrior who viewed nothing as more important than hurting the Soviets.
    Everything that’s happening in Afghanistan today is a legacy of his and Carter’s decision to support, train and arm the mujahideen.
    The widespread idea that Iraq was the biggest foreign policy and military mistake in U.S. history is wrong. The Carter/Brzezinski/Reagan policy on Afghanistan was the worst foreign policy mistake in U.S. history. The September 11th tragedy, the problems in Pakistan and the turmoil in much of the rest of South and Central Asia has its roots in decisions made by U.S. Administrations 40 years ago.
    We broke Afghanistan; what choice do we have but to try and fix it? What’s the alternative? Girls not being taught to read? Women forced to wear the veil whether they want to or not? Adulterers being stoned to death? Gay people being beheaded? Kite flying being outlawed? Shia Afghans and the few non Muslim Afghans being hunted down by death squads?
    What type of country would just walk away from all of that and wash our hands of our complicity?
    I don’t love Barack Obama. But I’m glad that he has enough of a moral compass to know that we have an ethical responsibility towards Afghanistan.
    Anyone who thinks the costs in American lives and treasure in Afghanistan are too great can thank Jimmy Carter and Steve’s friend, Zbignew Brzezinski.
    They broke it but it’s America’s military that has the impossibly hard job of putting Humpty Dumpty back together again.
    In the meantime, Carter and Brzezinski publish books and travel around the world providing their “wisdom” on numerous issues. The fact that neither of them has apologized for their terrible error tells you all you need to know about what kind of people they are.

    Reply

  82. Carroll says:

    Always said Iraq would revert to being Iraq and it has.
    No matter what the US military does in Afghanistan it will revert to being Afghanistan.
    Half a century would be half the time required to change Afghanistan and then what would you do with a country that has next to nothing in resources to support a so called democratic civilization?
    ..””One metric under consideration is an opinion poll to gauge how corrupt Afghans think their public officials are.”””
    Anything to keep Americans from thinking about how corrupt our own politicans are.
    Monumental waste and stupidy.

    Reply

  83. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “I know that you fancy yourself something of a contrarian, using apparent logic to parse every point,…………”
    Now there’s a classic understatement.
    And, uh, “apparent” to whom? I doubt even questions would make the claim, if somehow his honesty switch got turned to the “on” position.

    Reply

  84. DonS says:

    “I think the fundamental problem is that we do not know how to, or simply cannot, measure “success” in fixed terms.” So, Questions, the American people don’t deserve a more coherent response than Holbrooke gave? As to your last sentence, “if Afghanistan intervention becomes seriously unpopular in the US, what might previously have been labeled “intolerable” suddenly becomes a smashing success”, you could say that of any policy or intervention but, again, are the American people owed no more explanation for the current circumstances?
    I know that you fancy yourself something of a contrarian, using apparent logic to parse every point, but there is little in Holbrooke’s words that merits the effort.

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  85. questions says:

    It might actually make sense to refuse to offer a definition. The goal is likely something like a “stable enough” “friendly enough” “legitimate enough” regime that can negotiate religiosity and modernity, faction against faction, development against tradition, and the like.
    Putting numbers to such things (what percentage of girls have access to school, or how many poppies have been ripped up on average each day this month, or how many days have we gone without an “incident” of one sort or another) might not be informative because we don’t know the meaning of the numbers.
    I think the fundamental problem is that we do not know how to, or simply cannot, measure “success” in fixed terms. Measuring the success of any policy is an iffy undertaking because there are long term systemic effects, “blowback” issues and so on that really cannot be determined.
    And on the political side, if Afghanistan intervention becomes seriously unpopular in the US, what might previously have been labeled “intolerable” suddenly becomes a smashing success.

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  86. jonst says:

    Look, were it up to me, I would get us ‘out’ of NW Asia today. Further, I think the Admin’s policy is doomed. And incoherent, as well.
    But in a world that is reducing commentary to 140 character bursts………’we’ll know it when we see it’ has a certain demented ring to it.

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  87. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “I don’t know how to define “pompous douchebag”, but I know one”
    Is that the same as a worthless piece of shit?

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  88. Dan Kervick says:

    “We’ll know it when we see it.”
    That’s kind of the way I’ve always felt about Holbrooke. I don’t know how to define “pompous douchebag”, but I know one when I see one.

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  89. Dan Kervick says:

    “We’ll know it when we see it.”

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  90. Dan Kervick says:

    Holbrooke is sounding like the new Rumsfeld. Soon enough, he’ll be quipping about the known knowns, the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns.
    But personally, I’m clueless about Afghanistan. If someone in our government has a clear idea of what they are trying to do there, why can’t they explain it to me? Am I just too dumb to understand what they are saying? Granted, I’ve never been in the military, so maybe I just don’t get it.
    There are certain phrases I hear so many times that is easy to forget I don’t know precisely what they mean:
    What is an Al Qaeda “sanctuary”?
    What is an Al Qaeda “safe haven”?
    If the fight in Afghanistan went as well as could be expected, would there still be Al Qaeda sanctuaries and safe havens in Afghanistan? Would they be dangerous? Are they dangerous now?
    Is it possible that the government has concluded that there is no hope of Afghanistan ever being governed from Kabul, it least not in a fashion we would count as satisfactory, so they have just decided to keep a permanent gendarmerie in Afghanistan from now until eternity? Is there really a “war” there, or just a permanent police effort?
    Are they really as confused as they sound, or have they just decided that they prefer to keep the war vague and distant and ambiguous and obscure, so that the public doesn’t meddle in it?

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  91. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Yeah, and how’d the billions we pumped into Musharif’s coffers work out for us? I want a refund.

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  92. samuelburke says:

    Is the war meant to defeat the Taliban? Why? What business is it of the United States to determine who runs Afghanistan, when the Afghan nation has absolutely no ability, interest, or capacity to do harm to the United States or to any of the NATO countries?
    http://original.antiwar.com/pfaff/2009/08/11/political-solution-in-afghan/
    The Bush administration put Hamid Karzai into the Afghan presidency because he was a compliant figure Americans could work with. He was a Pathan, an Americanized Pathan, and Pathans (also known as Pashtuns) are the ethnic majority in Afghanistan. As the U.S. had worked with the hostile Northern Alliance, and other ethnically hostile warlords, to defeat the Taliban government, itself composed of Pathans, it seemed prudent to put one of them in charge. This was too clever by half. Washington should have left it to the Afghans to decide.
    Washington manipulated the Loya Jirga (national assembly of regional and tribal leaders) called in June 2002, so as to put Karzai in office. This was despite the will of the majority of the assembly to bring back the former royal family, and the ex-king, as non-partisan and traditionally legitimate influences in the country’s affairs.

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  93. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “We’ll know it when we see it.”
    I don’t know why he thinks that. These assholes obviously don’t know failure when they see it, such as this con job known as “the surge” in Iraq, so why does he expect to be able to recognize success?.
    “Success” isn’t “seen” by these people, it is invented by them. “Success” in Afghanistan will be whatever they tell us it is, no matter what the facts on the ground are.
    3 more GIs killed yesterday. The toll is rising. Aren’t we glad we elected Obama? I guess we are just used to having posturing liars in the Oval Office, having gained the office by making promises they have no intention of honoring.

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  94. Zathras says:

    I’m sure Richard Holbrooke was attempting to be funny, but his flip remark throws a spotlight on our major problem in Afghanistan. Success there is intended to be measured by what we do not see, namely use of the country’s territory as a sanctuary for al Qaeda.
    Now, is a strong central Afghan government necessary to achieve that objective? Is population protection for the time and in the places we can afford to offer it sufficient to achieve that objective? How much of the job we are setting out to do can only be done by Afghans, and what reason do we have to think they can do it?
    Everyone knows the political context here: President Obama spent two years attacking the Bush admininstration for “taking its eye off the ball” and ignoring the “real central front in the battle against terrorism” in Afghanistan while it pursued the adventure in Iraq. Whatever else current administration policy in Afghanistan is intended to accomplish, it is clearly intended to fulfill the campaign promise to emphasize the “good war” in Afghanistan and wind down the “bad war” in Iraq.
    It is also true that the critics of administration policy haven’t offered much in the way of a coherent alternative. As other commentators have already observed, they’ve raised questions without offering very convincing answers; in particular, administration critics haven’t addressed the fact that in Afghanistan (and Pakistan as well) the prevailing historical narrative is that the Taliban and al Qaeda rose in the first place after the United States turned its back on the region after the Soviet withdrawal — or the possibility that something that looked like America was turning its back again might have similarly negative consequences.
    That’s not a good reason, though, for the Obama administration to plow ahead with a hope-based strategy. It seems clear enough that what might have been possible seven-plus years ago in Afghanistan, when the Bush admininstration “took its eye off the ball,” is not possible any more, or at least is exponentially harder than it would have been then. It takes a lot more effort to make a weak, corrupt government effective than it does to create an effective government from scratch, and we’re not working from scratch any more.
    I think Obama’s people recognize this; I’m just not sure they know what to do about it. They may be where the Bush admininstration was for so long in Iraq — not seeing a clear way forward, but fearing that lessening the American effort would lead to disaster. And would look like a flip-flop on the President’s part, compared to the position he took during the campaign, which would be a different kind of disaster.

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  95. DonS says:

    That jaded old fart Holbrooke might show greater respect for the listening audience, not to mention the American public that is paying for his gig. Obama bought Afghanistan months ago with his increase in troop levels and commitment. A foolish move for all the obvious reasons. The only real question is whether the alluded to metrics will actually be articulated to the public , not just a publicity ruse for the smoke and mirrors that go into actual “decision making”. (hahahahahaha – forgive me, I still have this Vietnam déjà vu thing going on). Can you say quagmire? Obama will need all his rhetorical skills to find the right shade of lipstick for this pig. And guess what? His enemies ain’t buying it and his friends (who he has abandoned with abandon) never thought it was a good idea in the first place.

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  96. WigWag says:

    “Asked about how to measure success and progress in Afghanistan, Holbrooke remarked, ‘In the simplest sense, the Supreme Court test for another issue: We’ll know it when we see it.'”
    The phrase in question, “I know it when I see it” actually has an interesting pedigree; the phrase was originally uttered by Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart to describe pornography.
    In a concurring opinion in Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964) the Court was asked to decide whether a movie, “The Lovers” was obscene. Stewart’s opinion famously said,
    “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.”
    So Holbrooke used a phrase pertinent to the definition of pornography to describe American progress in Afghanistan.
    Some critics might find that extraordinarily appropriate.

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  97. JohnH says:

    “We’ll know it when we see it.” Compelling evidence that Holbrooke is clueless about US ambitions in AfPak or alternatively that the ambitions, if articulated, are so repulsive that they would provoke horror from decent people around the world. What other reasons could Holbrooke have for not clearly spelling out America’s goals?

    Reply

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