The Afghanistan Good War/Bad War Problem

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This is a short clip of myself discussing America’s mess in Afghanistan with Rachel Maddow.
And here is a link to a new U.S. Institute of Peace Report titled “The Future of Afghanistan” which indicts the Bush administration for seven years of short-term thinking and the absence of strategy in Afghanistan.
— Steve Clemons

Comments

25 comments on “The Afghanistan Good War/Bad War Problem

  1. rich says:

    The only surprise here is that this realization didn’t dawn on policy geniuses 5 years ago.
    Sorry to be frank, but the near-constant news of Predator drones bombing Afghan wedding parties ought to’ve been a clue. Unmanned drones–love the inadvertent symbolism–can’t discern civilian from combatant or friend from enemy–and don’t qualify as cultural emissaries or diplomatic negotiators.
    Land war in Asia?
    I’m usually amused by the jokes about the hubris that leads to oh, invading Russia in October using summer-weight motor oil in your Panzer divisions . . . but the utter lack of foresight with which we attempted to occupy Afghanishtan just isn’t funny. No one holds Afghanistan. If they manage to hold ground, it’s temporary and they pay a price.
    We’ve repeated in Iraq, item by item, the mistakes we made in Vietnam. You’d think we could catch even a minor clue.
    In Afghanistan, we’ve been slow to revise our method. Though there’s been some progress, it’s a too little, too late — and can Never compensate for what has gone wrong. You can’t take back the basic, central mistakes.
    A little cultural knowledge can markedly reduce the bombs and bullets headed our way. But that doesn’t mean using Human Terrain teams –anthropologists — is necessarily bright or right. They can’t make up for what’s gone wrong, or undo what’s been done. And they can’t win hearts and minds when we’ve set up a military battle to substitute for a political contest that our political leaders dont’ have the courage to engage.
    http://blog.wired.com/defense/2008/11/army-social-sci.html
    http://blog.wired.com/defense/2008/09/controversial-a.html

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  2. Don Bacon says:

    Syed,
    Stability is the last thing on the minds of the warmongers. Regarding learning, when the goals are power and immense profits the lessons have been well learned, and in this sense there is no “failed strategy.”

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  3. Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi says:

    Needless to say, the emerging political-cum-military challenges for the ISAF and the Nato focres in Afghnaistan. But one point that I would like to add here that any means of engaging bipolar US-diplomacy(involving both Pakistan and India)in Afghanistan would be highly detrimental and fatal to the furure of stability in the region.Given the present predicaments and stakes of the US and its allies in Afghanistan, requires a multipronged strategy of dialogue, economic rehabilitation and intervention-the only means to appreciate the smart-power US doctrine in that country, and hopefully, the next US administraion under Brack Obama would positively learn from the Bush administration’s failing strategy in Afghanistan and Fata.

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  4. TonyForesta says:

    A thousand apologies. The previous post was meant for another thread.

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  5. TonyForesta says:

    It’s glaringly clear that Hagel does not want to move his family overseas’ so any ambassadorship is a nonestarter.
    Afghanistan like, Iraq is all about the oil, and America’s imperialist ambitions of erecting and oil energy corridor out of the Caspian, bypassing Russia. All our neverending military entanglements are rooted in control of oil.
    Sad.

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  6. DonnaZ says:

    Great interview. Thanks
    What’s to worry about?
    After all Gen. Jones, who over saw the running the war in Afghanistan, is now the NSA. Yes, I know that Rummy sat in the Pentagon at the time, but I never sensed that Jones was throwing any elbows to change the strategy. Of course there was no strategy, but that never bothered Jones either. Nor did Jones have a problem with torture prisons. Gates and Jones are now minding the store.
    May the goddess help us all.

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  7. Don Bacon says:

    There is no absence of strategy in Afghanistan.
    The goal for the US in Afghanistan is fairly obvious when one looks at a world globe and sees the position of Afghanistan at the center of South Asia, proximate to both Turkmenistan with its energy and with China ally Pakistan, while also considering that US enemy Iran is now bracketed east and west by the US military.
    There ought to be no limits to US imperialism, and there will be none. Getting the guy in the cave is merely a convenient cover story, and September 11, 2001 was merely a convenient start date. The Afghanistan strategy was developed prior to that.

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  8. ... says:

    my – most

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  9. ... says:

    questions – very good observations lost on my people, at least those who like to respect or ook up to who are in ‘power’…

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  10. questions says:

    Yet another (sort of) dimension — let’s say we leave Afghanistan (whatever it would mean to “leave”) and there’s a major bombing. We will conflate correlation and causation. We will blame the bombing on the leaving despite our not really knowing the relationship between bombing and leaving, bombing and staying, bombing and international issues, bombing and domestic issues. We won’t actually know what happened, but we’ll react as if we did know.
    Equally, if we stay, we assume our staying has worked magic on the world. We are the worst social scientists possible.
    Correlation is not causation.

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  11. ... says:

    people of privilege are often given positions by other people of privilege(politicians in amercica?), even though we apparently live in a democracy.. gives more meaning to the word ‘dumbocracy’…

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  12. JohnH says:

    Khalilzad’s dad was a government official in Afghanistan and he got to attend the Ghazi Lycée school in Kabul. This meant that he was part of the Afghan elite and his attitudes were shaped by it.
    So you have to think of Khalilzad as an Afghan equivalent to many wealthy Cuban American expatriates and to the AIPAC/neo-conmen crowd. The desire for revenge seems to trump common sense and blind them to the local realities, which were warped anyway by their positions of privilege.

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  13. Linda says:

    There was no TWN when we went into Afghanistan. But I was among a very small percent of people who felt we shouldn’t go there except perhaps to wipe out the training camp and get out. I am very far from having any expertise in military or foreign policy–but I had a little knowledge of Afghanistan and worried that we could end up like this.
    It never was a “modern” country outside of Kabul in any sense like Iraq—mostly nomadic tribes fighting each other other, of which the Taliban was/is one. And it had become the most hostile place for women’s rights and never changed after our invassion.
    I based my concerns mostly on what the experience of the USSR there was. It looked just like the French in Vietnam, and I didn’t want us to make the same mistake twice of getting into endless futile war that we couldn’t win.
    JLight, what Dana Priest meant was that literally as a joke. The only way to save the women of Afghanistan is to build tunnels to get them out of the country. Karen Hughes, Condi Rice, Dubya didn’t help them like they thought they would.
    But what disturbs me most about the Maddow segment is that neither she nor Steve mentioned
    Zalmay Khalilzad who was at NSC, then special envoy to Afghanistan, then Ambassador to Afghanistan, then Ambassador to Iraq, and now US Ambassador to the UN until Susan Rice takes over in a couple weeks. Khalilzad is Afghan-American, and if anybody in the Bush Administration should have known what US was getting into, he should have. But then he did sign the PNAC letter to Clinton, so maybe he liked the idea of diverting to Iraq.

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  14. ... says:

    questions 2:59pm – indeed! look at who is being scapegoated to get an idea where the financial/military machine (‘power’) wants to go, or be justified in staying on at… the latest mainstream think on who the ‘evil ones’ are, are those being scapegoated at present..

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  15. questions says:

    USSR in Afghanistan way before Sept 11, 2001. Power plays across the globe before Israel was founded. Power is the issue. There was power before there was Middle East policy. The current name of the power play is “IsraelPalestine9/11-oilmilitary-industrialcomplex….” It used to be SovietCommiemilitaryindustrialcomplex. There have been other names for the same phenomena. Step back from the historical specificities and look at the general patterns. Then go back to the specificities. We need to do this dance in order to see what we’re doing.
    We maybe need to do less in order to do more. (See taoism/wu wei.)

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  16. Deborah says:

    Personally, I don’t think any war is a good war.

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  17. rich says:

    “…”,
    And all roads led TO 9-11. Israel-Pal conflict incited regional/global terrorism, Part 4. From Informed Comment:
    “In 1996, Israeli jets bombed a UN building where civilians had taken refuge at Cana/ Qana in south Lebanon, killing 102 persons; in the place where Jesus is said to have made water into wine, Israeli bombs wrought a different sort of transformation. In the distant, picturesque port of Hamburg, a young graduate student studying traditional architecture of Aleppo saw footage like this on the news [graphic]. He was consumed with anguish and the desire for revenge. As soon as operation Grapes of Wrath had begun the week before, he had written out a martyrdom will, indicating his willingness to die avenging the victims, killed in that operation–with airplanes and bombs that were a free gift from the United States. His name was Muhammad Atta. Five years later he piloted American Airlines 11 into the World Trade Center.”
    Got that? Israel bombs civilians; Mohammed Atta is enraged; commits to striking back in defense of that wrong; and flies a jet into the World Trade Center. Was it right? Of course not. But the arc of cause-and-effect is crystal-clear.
    “(Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower, p. 307: “On April 11, 1996, when Atta was twenty-seven years old, he signed a standardized will he got from the al-Quds mosque. It was the day Israel attacked Lebanon in Operation grapes of Wrath. According to one of his friends, Atta was enraged,and by filling out his last testament during the attack he was offering his life in response.” ).”
    Cole concludes by noting:
    “On Tuesday, the Israeli military shelled a United Nations school to which terrified Gazans had fled for refuge, killing at least 42 persons and wounding 55, virtually all of them civilians, and many of them children. The Palestinian death toll rose to 660.
    You wonder if someone somewhere is writing out a will today.”
    http://www.juancole.com/2009/01/al-fakhoura-school-bombed-42-killed.html

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  18. ... says:

    one other point… all roads lead back to 9-11.. for some reason 9-11 is something that has been intentionally buried, and will continue to be buried with time… too bad the usa under obama doesn’t appear to have the guts or fortitude to examine 9-11 more honestly then the bush admin ever has.. until a closer look at 9-11 happens, the usa appears ripe for more 9-11 type events, whether the perpetrators are financiers, or crazed people wearing turbans… my gut says the former while the later continue to be the convenient excuse..

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  19. ... says:

    good interview steve… thanks for sharing.. questions poster above raises some good questions.. my short answer is the reason the usa is in afgan is to feed the military industrial complex.. all other answers while relevant pale next to this fundamental consideration of why the usa is making war in other countries… bin laden was the first excuse/reason, but when you look at this honestly you see that it was just a good public relations excuse to spend the past 7 years in afgan.. meanwhile….. what is it feeding???? MIC

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  20. JohnH says:

    There’s a lot to like in this interview, particularly Maddow’s question: “What’s the goal?” Great question! (And one I have been hammering on here for ages.)
    Steve’s answer, it turns out, is basically: “It depends on who you talk to.” So the Occupation of Afghanistan, like the Occupation of Iraq, is about nothing in particular (as I have suggested many times.)
    I also like Steve’s use of the term “these post-modern” wars. I don’t know exactly what Steve had in mind by postmodern, but the term is apt. According to Wikipedia, “postmodernism was originally a reaction to modernism. Largely influenced by the Western European “disillusionment” induced by World War II, postmodernism tends to refer to a cultural, intellectual, or artistic state lacking a clear central hierarchy or organizing principle and embodying extreme complexity, contradiction, ambiguity, diversity, interconnectedness or interreferentiality, in a way that is often indistinguishable from a parody of itself. It has given rise to charges of fraudulence.” (It doesn’t get better than this!)
    On Dec. 7 I described “postmodern foreign policy, …using the literary definition, exhibits ‘ironic self-reference and absurdity.’ Having lost its functional utility, US foreign policy can best be described as massive destructive power in search of worthy enemies, who ultimately prove irreductible, like Asterix the Gaulois.”
    Maybe we should start calling Iraq and Afghanistan the Seinfeld Wars, or wars “about nothing.”

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  21. JLight says:

    I’m an old fart Steve, so would you mind explaining what the
    phrase “tunneling out” means, as in “tunneling out women?” This is
    a serious question; I really can’t decide what it means. Thanks

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  22. Hijikata(was Ken) says:

    Well spoken, Steve.

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  23. DavidT says:

    Terrific interview Steve. Wish I had cable to see the whole thing. Thanks for sharing the clip.

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  24. PissedOffAmerican says:

    I don’t understand how Bush/Cheney get away with being accused of simple malfeasance when it comesa to Afghanistan/Pakistan. You cannot separate the handling of the two countries and treat it as two different issues. From the beginning, it was obvious that the handling of Pak/Afgh lent the lie to this epic scanm, “The Global War On Terrorism”. The fact that we KNEW that the ISI, or at least high ranking members of the ISI, were involved in 9/11 immediately raised suspicion when Bush touted Pakistan as an “ally”. Then, the airlift of taliban OUT of Afghanistan, into Pakistan, immediately following our invasion, was like a klaxon alarm going off, telling us that motives and goals were not at all what we were being told they were.
    And the reporting of war crimes coming out of Afghanistan made the abuses we’ve committed in Iraq pale in comparison. But we were so close to 9/11, that fever was running high here, and I guess we were willing to “overlook” crowding Afghanis into metal storage containers, locking the doors, and letting them cook in the sun until they were well done, and quite dead. Putting bounties on the heads of “terrorists”, so that rival factions could turn each other into Guantanamo residents simply by pointing a finger at someone was quite constructive too, wasn’t it?
    No, there was far more at play than mere ineptitude and incompetence. But hey, if we aren’t going to investigate, indict, prosecute, and punish our war criminals, how better to cover the crime than to just paint them as bumbling idiots, tsk tsk a coupla times, and send them off to enjoy the substantial fruits of their “incompetence” with a light pat on the ass and a few billion in the bank.

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  25. questions says:

    Meandering thoughts on perspective–
    Why do WE think WE are the answer to Afghanistan? If WE are powerful, we might feel fine, but our power, our sense of feeling fine, is the very stuff of another nation’s discomfort and desire to arm. We see ourselves from the inside, not from the outside.
    Why do we think we’re the saviors of women under the Taliban? We’re not really entirely a women’s paradise here. A woman could easily prefer being covered rather than exposed, but we expose women. Women are raped, abused and beaten in the US. Spend enough time within a family and you see uneven power, responsibility and exhaustion across genders. We don’t have it quite right, and yet we intend to export our ways at the point of a gun?
    Why do we think our economic system should be the model for other nations? Why do we ever think we have the answers? There are lots of ways to distribute goods and services, power and responsibility, and social roles. Social change happens when new goals and older goals fit together in some locally accepted logic, when evolution is allowed. Revolution tends to cause blowback unless it’s deeply accepted. But that acceptance comes because the new logic fits nicely with the old.
    So maybe it’s time to stop exporting American power and social structures.

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