Afghanistan is NOT the Good War


the good war twn.jpg
I will write much more about this subject in coming days, but I am increasingly worried about the framing that America’s next President and his team are applying to Iraq and Afghanistan.
To be blunt, they have been arguing that “Iraq was the bad war and Afghanistan is the good war,” not in those precise words — but close enough.
A mutual friend of Katrina vanden Heuvel and mine wrote this to her (and then me) in an email:

“Afghanistan. The place where the dreams and hopes of the Obama Presidency are buried.”

We have to be careful of who we think we are fighting in Afghanistan. What army exactly is America trying to squelch? If we are now in a full on war with the Taliban, then this country will see its global leverage deteriorate to even lower levels than what is the case today.
More later — but we shouldn’t allow corruption scandals and other silly posturing on Sunday morning shows to distract us from the reality that we are on a quite negative trajectory in Afghanistan (and Pakistan) right now — and we need whopping game-changing moves there that are as significant, if not more, than challenges about America’s auto sector.
— Steve Clemons
Travel Update: In Pittsburgh today — off to see the Andy Warhol Museum and then Mt. Washington. In Washington, DC Monday. Plan to be in New York on Tuesday.


21 comments on “Afghanistan is NOT the Good War

  1. Blackie says:

    Afghanistan, like Iraq is a total waste, all around the board. Obama should think MORE than twice about expanding the war there. Why send more kids to the meat grinder??


  2. David says:

    Thanks, WigWag. I always included that poem in my American Lit 2 survey class at Lake-Sumter Community College. For me, the reading is matter-of-fact, and chilling. I also always included William Dean Howells’ short story “Editha.” I tried to let the students make of those works what they could for themselves before offering my thoughts. They both elicited some quite interesting thinking from my small town and rural Central Florida students of the 70s and 80s.


  3. WigWag says:

    Do not weep, maiden, for war is kind,
    Because your lover threw wild hands toward the sky
    And the affrighted steed ran on alone,
    Do not weep.
    War is kind.
    Hoarse, booming drums of the regiment,
    Little souls who thirst for fight,
    These men were born to drill and die.
    The unexplained glory flies above them.
    Great is the battle-god, great, and his kingdom–
    A field where a thousand corpses lie.
    Do not weep, babe, for war is kind.
    Because your father tumbles in the yellow trenches,
    Raged at his breast, gulped and died,
    Do not weep.
    War is kind.
    Swift blazing flag of the regiment,
    Eagle with crest of red and gold,
    These men were born to drill and die.
    Point for them the virtue of slaughter,
    Make plain to them the excellence of killing
    And a field where a thousand corpses lie.
    Mother whose heart hung humble as a button
    On the bright splendid shroud of your son,
    Do not weep.
    War is kind!
    War is Kind, by Stephen Crane, 1899


  4. Paul Norheim says:

    I´m glad you`re paying attention to this crucial subject, Steve.
    And this is the place to repeat what I`ve already said in another
    thread: Some people see Obama as the new John F. Kennedy;
    others hope that he will become the new Roosevelt, the savior in
    the middle of a depression.
    When I hear him talk about Afghanistan and Pakistan, I fear
    that Barack Obama may become the new Lyndon B. Johnson.
    And after eight years with George W. Bush, I don`t want to even
    try to imagine how the world would look like if America just
    elected a new Lyndon B. Johnson.
    After a while, I`m afraid only Kotzabasis will be uplifted by
    the drama.
    “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce,” Karl
    Marx famously said. Well, in this case, we may see history
    repeating itself in the shape of a new tragedy, on a much bigger


  5. Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi says:

    The US policy of venturing the strategy of mooring its strategic depth via twisted, devious and failed Afghanistan war , by all accounts, seems to put a great trail of policy-vision for the incoming Obama administration.


  6. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Whenever the Afghanistan war comes up, I can’t help but think about the “prisoners” that were in our custody, and were alledgedly crammed into metal storage containers, where they died of aphyxiation from the heat. Remember that? 9/11 revenge fever was still raging, and anyone that questioned what these fucking monsters in the Bush Administration were doing was labeled as being “anti-american”. The media gave short shrift to the story, and it dissappeared, just like the story about the “dancing Isrealis” did. The “Downing Street Memo” story met the same fate.
    But thats “news” in Bushworld, isn’t it. These lying scheming pieces of shit have screwed the pooch so many times that its impossible to keep up, as each crime, malfeasance, ineptitude, and act of incompetence gets its five minutes of fame, another crime, malfeasance, ineptitude, and act of incompetence is committed, blurring our memories of the last one. Its a chain of incompetence and criminality. Eight years of absolute horror, treachery, torture, murder, mayhem, treason, and deception. And a pack of cowardly mewling weasels on the left, complicit, abetting, and non-apologetic to the people they have betrayed by failing to represent our best interests, protect and respect the Constitution, and employ the checks and balances installed by the founding fathers.
    Of course Afghanistan is a clusterfuck. Its what Washington does best. They’re clusterfuck pros. Even now, as I type this, I have every confidence they are working dilligently to see if they can make matters worse. And I have full faith that they can.


  7. Carroll says:

    WHY….are we in Afaghan?
    REALLY…WHY…are we in Afaghan?


  8. JohnH says:

    TonyForesta–absolutely! They simply cannot articulate a coherent basis for current Afghan operations, because there is none that would be acceptable to public opinion. The foreign policy/ national security mob (and their pundits and hired pens in the media and at think tanks) proceed as if the rationale were obvious. We the people are just too stupid to see it and should be ashamed to ask such simple questions of our betters.
    Truth be told, the reason these highly educated experts can’t articulate a basis for current Afghan operations is that they are either indulging in moronic group think or have a hidden agenda…


  9. TonyForesta says:

    Incitefull, and hilarious commentary JohnH. You cut to the heart of the matter by framing the issue as “WHAT ARE WE TRYING TO ACCOMPLISH?”.
    If I may add to your poignant point – whatever it is tha “WE” (the American people) are trying or hoping to accomplish, is entirely different and contrary to what the fascists in the bushgov are trying to accomplish and succeeding in accomplishing. Hense the reason we never have had, and never will have any definition of victory, and measurable way to end any of these conflicts. The fascists in the bushgov are bent on neverendingwar, and profiteering from the prosecution and promotion of neverendingwar exclusively, and singularly. Obama is relatively powerless to stop this process. The private military, private intelligence, and private message-force multilplier complexes, are too deeply entrenched in the system to be quickly redressed. Trillions of dollars, and critical missions are imbedded as blackmail to prohibit and alteration to the status quo and wanton profiteering. The SOFA argreement, bruted without any debate in our congress and thrust down the throats of Iraqi’s by bribing parlimentatarian in the socalled Iraqi government will force all future US administration to pay dearly and for decades for the fascists in the bushgov’s neverending presence and wanton profiteering in Iraq.


  10. JohnH says:

    Steve is kind of, sort of gradually sliding toward the real issue in Afghanistan. It’s not quite “what army exactly is America trying to squelch?”
    Rather, the issue is, WHAT ARE WE TRYING TO ACCOMPLISH?
    Having successfully avoided the question in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and spent $Trillions in the process, isn’t it time the foreign policy/national security mob started coming clean with the American people about basic goals and strategic interests?
    Like Yogi Berra once said, “You got to be careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.” Sad to say, that sums up the predicament of the foreign policy establishment. High pay, impressive titles and illustrious degrees don’t seem to give these folks an iota of common sense or an ability to reflect on fundamental questions, like why they’re doing what they’re doing, or why they insist on digging deeper into the hole they’ve dug themselves.


  11. Sam Thornton says:

    I’ve been reading some of Noam Chomsky’s essays about American foreign policy during Vietnam ( and it’s uncanny how his forty-year old analysis is so spot on regarding today’s Iraq and Afghanistan adventures.
    Somehow, we as a people have to rid ourselves of the idea that we have some innate right to bend other peoples to our will with violence. It seems like such a simple idea. Quit destroying things and killing people. Why can’t we get it?


  12. haypops says:

    Many of us on the left think of PE Obama as a peace-knick. Probably this is not so. The best we can hope for is that he a military pragmatist not just a political pragmatist.


  13. Keith M Ellis says:

    The invasion of Afghanistan certainly was a “good war” in that the Taliban was an eminently evil regime that grossly oppressed and enslaved half its population as well as being intimately involved with and hosting the organization that directly attacked the US. There is no comparison to Iraq.
    That’s not to say that not too long after the occupation of Afghanistan began we started to make terrible mistakes there. And it’s not to say that the Taliban is necessarily still an enemy of the US. It’s certainly not a direct threat. And the Taliban is an endemic problem of Pakistan that cannot be solved by US military action.
    Our goal should be the stabilization of Afghanistan to a reasonable degree; and the rebuilding of the infrastructure that we destroyed. It should not be the establishment of a strategic military occupation, nor the destruction of the Taliban, nor even the long-term stability of a US-friendly government. We need to be done with Afghanistan as soon as possible. But leaving now, with the warlords in ascendency and the Taliban with a renewed foothold, along with all the fighting, terrorism, and unrest, would be irresponsible and contrary to our interests.


  14. TonyForesta says:

    Strategically, no occupation force will ever win the hearts and minds of any occupied or victim nation. Tactically, Afghanistan is one of the most treacherous, rugged, vast, and inhospitable, warspaces on earth. Hurling thousands of US and coalition troops in uniform into the hellhole that is Afghanistan is fruitless, futile, and suicidal, – and only feeds the warmaker profiteers and the “military industrial complex” – as well as the private military and private intelligence industrial complexes beholdend to the fascists in the bushgov.
    Wanton profiteering is the single and exclusive goal, aim, and only objective of the bushgov’s costly bloody wayward wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the socalled neverendingwaronterror. The fascists in the bushgov never defined “victory”, in any of these conflicts, and shapeshifted the framing of ‘victory’ mercuriously and continuously over time for each of these costly bloody endless engagements, – because wanton profiteering was, is, and will always be the only and exclusive objective of the bushgov’s fascist misadventures in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the socalled neverendingwaronterror.
    Regardless, and in spite of the sordid message-force multiplying of propaganda, disinformation, partisan blandishments of parables, fictions, and naked lies bruted by the fascists in the bushgov justifying these misadventures and crimes, – the only objective, and singular exculive purpose, end, and intent of the bushgov’s military activities are neverendingwar and wanton profiteering. NEVERENDINGWAR & WANTON PROFITEERING!
    Everything else is a patent lie.
    Strike threats anywhere, anytime, with impunity, and with overwhelming firepower. Forget about invasions, occupations, nationbuilding, democratization and wanton profiteering. The latter enterprizes are fruitless, futile, enormously costly and bloody, not to mention immoral, and illegal. Thousand of US troops roaming the untamed netherreaches of Afghanistan and Pakistan in uniform like legionaires is suicidal, and doomed to fail.
    Does history not teach us anything?


  15. DonnaZ says:

    Reading your post reminded me off something written by Barnett Rubin at IC:Global Affairs.
    According to a story I heard in graduate school, a chemist, a physicist, and an economist were stranded on a desert island where their only provisions were canned food. How would they eat? The chemist tried to analyze the composition of the metal and searched for materials that would rapidly corrode it. The physicist sought to create a lens out of palm leaves and sea water to concentrate the sun’s energy enough to pierce the metal. All failed. Finally, they turned to the economist to ask his advice.
    The economist examined the can. After reflection he said: “In principal the problem is very simple. First, assume the existence of a can opener.”
    In this case, the solution is: assume the existence of a state.
    Rubin ends with this thought:
    According to Samina, the international community should first build a state in Afghanistan and then negotiate the Taliban’s surrender. Talking now would just be a “quick fix” that would not work. First we should build a functioning nation-state, and then construct the political agreement on which it will be based. Sounds good to me! And how do we build that state without a political agreement? Assume the existence of legitimacy.
    I don’t know how you feel about Rubin; however, I find him well informed about what is going on in Afghanistan. The Obama security team gives me fits. If we want to change the course in Afghanistan then is Gen. Jones the person to listen to? All I’m hearing is more of the same only bigger. We are clap and shut up, but I must tell you, that Jones and Gates have too many wrong ideas. No one who makes sense is at the table.
    Afghanistan, the place where armies go to die.


  16. Bartolo says:

    If you can’t get close enough to spit, throwing your shoes at a rascal must be the final measure of indignity for Bush.


  17. Don Bacon says:

    It’s important to use the proper language if one is to understand the situation properly. Operation Enduring Freedom is not exactly a war, that is a clash between nations, but (as in Iraq) a regime change followed by a resisted occupation.
    Unwanted military occupations have generally not gone very well for occupying armies. “By the rude bridge that arched the flood” and so on, when the Minutemen fired on the Redcoats from behind trees. Very unkind of them — but it worked for the Minutemen, and the Vietnamese, and others. Afghanistan has a particularly good record in this department.
    Nowadays, that shooting from behind trees has been replaced by roadside mines and suicide bombers with equal effectiveness, with the added benefit to the partisans that the occupiers now retaliate by killing lots of civilians which greatly enhances the recruitment of more partisans.
    Obama, smart as he is, probably hasn’t considered any of this, or has at least given no sign of having done so. The “new” strategy he offers is to (1) double the amount of partisan targets slash civilian-killers and (2) double the aid to whatever civilians survive (1), most of which, experience shows, will be siphoned off by corrupt Afghans allied with Karzai.
    A cynic might say that the goal isn’t victory (of whatever description) anyhow, but ongoing war accompanied by high military spending and a “united we stand” mentality. I subscribe to this view.


  18. Linda says:

    I never was very supportive of going into Afghanistan even late in 2001 and thought a lot more attention should have been given to a long-range plan there and perhaps other ways of containing or eliminating the Taliban and Al Queda.
    We ignored the history of the French in Vietnam and surely are not taking seriously enough the history of the USSR in Afghanistan. Somehow American “exceptionalism” makes us think we can do things better and just ignore facts, reality, and history.


  19. Barnaby Levy says:

    Couldn’t agree more. Going to go back and reread Talbot Mundy’s “King of the Khyber Rifles” just for fun if I can find it.


  20. questions says:

    A few years ago at any rate, Pittsburgh had some wonderful bookstores, and the botanical garden/greenhouse is great!
    Afghanistan needs much better analysis, some historical memory, and a much much better sense of how to deal with less-than-savory regimes we have armed in the past. We also need to remember that the military solves nothing, especially when the people have no economic alternatives, little education, and a lot of opium. Building a society that is immune to the charms of violence and drug money and enforced poppy cultivation and extreme religion requires talents we do not have. Appropriate technology, appropriate institutions, substitutes for current practices all need to be developed and handed over by trustworthy agencies and individuals.
    I hope they stop and think.


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