Afghanistan: What Are We Fighting For?

Last week, new polls showed that a majority of Americans now think that the "good war" (relatively speaking) in Afghanistan is not worth American blood and treasure. Here's how The Washington Times editorialized:

America must keep up the fight in Afghanistan despite the polls. Fifty-one percent of Americans now think the war in Afghanistan is not worth fighting, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll released last week. That is a dramatic 10-point move since March, when the number of war skeptics was at 41 percent. It's the first time since the question was asked in 2007 that the "not worth it" number was higher than 50 percent. Among Democrats, the antiwar number is 70 percent.

The Afghan war is following a pattern established more than 50 years ago. Since the end of World War II, every long-duration limited conflict has witnessed a slow erosion of public support on the question of whether the war was worth fighting. This makes sense intuitively; the longer a war continues, the more it costs and the less the original reasons for fighting it seem to matter. Gen. Maxwell D. Taylor said the Korean War "illustrated the difficulty of convincing the American people and keeping them convinced for the long pull of the necessity and justification of exposing the lives of a small segment of our manhood for a stake far from home with little visible relation to the national security." The same could be said of the wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Whole thing here. The short history lesson above makes me feel better about the average person in the U.S.

But here's the very basic thing with the war in Afghanistan, which in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks had virtually unquestioned support: When's the last time you heard a U.S. president explain what the goals of our being there are? There was the hunt for Bin Laden and the Al Qaeda terrorists...and that's about it. Are we going to bring democracy to Afghanistan? Pakistan? The whole region? Support may be slipping because support always slips for long-term military intervention (typically with good reason). Or it might be slipping because it has been forever since anyone, especially a certain someone who is ramping up U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, has bothered making a clear and coherent case, much less a convincing one, of what we're doing there.

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  • Xeones||

    The Russians think this is hilarious.

  • ||

    "America must keep up the fight in Afghanistan despite the polls." Translation - We must continue to fight in Afganistan despite what the American people who elected you and whose will you supposed represent want.

  • Kyle Jordan||

    Ok World, take note.

    If we don't knock you out at the beginning, all you have to do it wait and we'll eventually give up.

    I'm not in favor of us playing world police but on the other hand, it's not good for us to look weak.

  • Warty||

    Absolutely nothin'. Huh! Say it again.

  • #||

    "Afghanistan: What Are We Fighting For?"

    Our chickenhawk president.

  • ||

    Isn't it just our turn in the historical rotation? Like it was in Vietnam?

  • Barry Loberfeld||

    FROM HERE:

    You will notice, N., that the finding of no weapons of mass destruction hasn't been taken by the White House as a reason to bring our troops home. On the contrary, it's seen as a need to invent a new reason for their presence there: We must bring democracy, not merely to Iraq, but to the entire Middle East! Well, that's a good thing, right? No, not at all. N., we pay taxes for our Suffolk County police to fight crime here in Suffolk, not to go fight robbery in Cairo, rape in New Delhi, and murder in Berlin. It is no less a dereliction of duty for our national forces to do anything other than defend American lives and liberties.

  • ||

    Warty, thanks. That's a damn good song to have stuck in my head.

  • Rich||

    FTE: "[W]hether a war is worth fighting is unrelated to the public assessment of how the war is going generally. ... [W]hether the United States is winning or losing doesn't matter to how people value the war overall."

    Isn't something worth what a willing buyer would pay for it?

  • Fluffy||

    This makes sense intuitively; the longer a war continues, the more it costs and the less the original reasons for fighting it seem to matter.

    Um, that makes sense more than "intuitively". As the costs for something rise, it is actually "less worth it", and not just intuitively so.

    The problem is that the Iraq war did not end with US helicopters flying diplomats and refugees off the roof of the US Embassy in Baghdad. Because it didn't end that way, assholes who can't do a simple cost / benefit analysis consider it a "win". That makes them determined to "win" in Afghanistan too. Which means that we will continue to pour resources into Afghanistan whether it's of any benefit to us or not.

    Our political culture is so dominated by assholes who can't compare costs to benefits that we have the editorial board of the Washington Times asserting that actually performing a rational cost / benefit analysis is a mere "intuitive" approach and denying what it actually is: the only rational way to measure the success of an undertaking.

  • ||

    Wait a minute, they implicitly identify the current actions in Afg with those in Iraq. Were they singing the stay-the-course tune about Iraq back in '06?

  • Fluffy||

    Sorry, I'll try that again with fewer tags.

    This makes sense intuitively; the longer a war continues, the more it costs and the less the original reasons for fighting it seem to matter.

    Um, that makes sense more than "intuitively". As the costs for something rise, it is actually "less worth it", and not just intuitively so.

    The problem is that the Iraq war did not end with US helicopters flying diplomats and refugees off the roof of the US Embassy in Baghdad. Because it didn't end that way, assholes who can't do a simple cost / benefit analysis consider it a "win". That makes them determined to "win" in Afghanistan too. Which means that we will continue to pour resources into Afghanistan whether it's of any benefit to us or not.

    Our political culture is so dominated by assholes who can't compare costs to benefits that we have the editorial board of the Washington Times asserting that actually performing a rational cost / benefit analysis is a mere "intuitive" approach and denying what it actually is: the only rational way to measure the success of an undertaking.

  • ||

    "America must keep up the fight in Afghanistan to [insert pet project] despite the polls."

  • ||

    I'm an Afghanistan vet and while I think the war was justified initially, I'm not really sure what we're hoping to achieve from here on out. Part of that is that Afghanistan's war started on one premise (find/kill bin Laden) and now has morphed into another much vaguer one (support an increasingly ineffective and unpopular leader?). Our goal now should be the same as it was before, removing the al-Qaeda threat on the AFPAK border, and some of that is still obviously going on, but it's taking a backseat to a project that I'm not sure we can handle (rebuilding Afghanistan) and it sets a precedent that I'm not sure is militarily or economically sustainable in a continued fight against al-Qaeda. The nation-building is ostensibly being undertaken to deny al-Qaeda access to another failed nation-state in which to train, but the world is filled with those (particularly in the Muslim world) and the only way in which you could deny them such access is by undertaking similar projects in every other failed Muslim nation-state, which simply can't be done (both from a national sovereignty perspective and a military/economic perspective). Simply put, Afghanistan's a just war that's turning into a colossal goat-rope.

  • ||

    Or it might be slipping because it has been forever since anyone, especially a certain someone who is ramping U.S. military in Afghanistan, has bothered making a clear and coherent case, much less a convincing one, of what we're doing there.

    Wouldn't that require speaking in terms more complex (and specific) than grandiose platitudes?

  • Mike in PA||

    I always thought that, of the two wars, the Afghan war was more foolhardy.

    At least I can understand the reason for Iraq... Introduce freedom to a region whose strict controls lead to repressed citizenry that lashes out by killing innocents. Ok, not exactly wise, but in theory, it makes sense. And if we have a dictator that refuses to abide by a cease-fire agreement and takes shots at our troops, it's a good place to start.

    BUT... Afghanistan had no strict controls. The country is unmanageable. By us or by themselves. If anything, we'd have been better off to just keep invading their sovereignty every time we had intel about a terrorist site.

  • ||

    Don't forget teh HEROIN MENACE!

  • Kevin||

    while I think the war was justified initially, I'm not really sure what we're hoping to achieve from here on out.

    This is a really nice summary of every major government undertaking in the past 10 years or so.

  • robc||

    every long-duration limited conflict

    The part I bolded is the problem. If it is worth fighting at all, it is worth fighting all out.

    WW2 wasnt limited. We destroyed the nazis and the japanese. Forced unconditional surrender. I considered the war against the Taliban to be legitimate, but if we arent going to fight for there total destruction and/or unconditional surrender, then I dont see the point.

  • Kevin||

    Wouldn't that require speaking in terms more complex (and specific) than grandiose platitudes?

    Worse than that, it would require taking reality into account.

  • Kyle Jordan||

    "WW2 wasnt limited. We destroyed the nazis and the japanese. Forced unconditional surrender. I considered the war against the Taliban to be legitimate, but if we arent going to fight for there total destruction and/or unconditional surrender, then I dont see the point."

    +1

  • ||

    The short history lesson above makes me feel better about the average person in the U.S.

    What if I told you they are the same people who advcoate theft for their own personal agenda? And they have short memories, and believe in unicorns?

    Don't forget teh HEROIN MENACE!

    Bingo.

  • robc||

    Kyle,

    +1

    I think Im contradicting your 9:04 point. :)

  • ||

    robc is correct. We aren't at war with Iraq or Afghanistan. We are attemting to change make them a western style democracy through military ummm, encouragement.

  • T||

    The country is unmanageable. By us or by themselves. If anything, we'd have been better off to just keep invading their sovereignty every time we had intel about a terrorist site.

    It reminds me of Yugoslavia. The only long term success anyone has had governing the Balkans has been somebody like Tito or the Romans, who would just kill everyone who acted up. If you're not willing to do that (and we aren't) you should stay the fuck out of the tribal mountains.

  • Kyle Jordan||

    Rob,

    In what way? I don't think we were, at least at the beginning, playing World Police with Afghanistan. I also feel that if we had kept our definition of why we are there to what you posted that it would at least be clearer to people. Deviating from that is what I think makes us look weak right now. Kind of like the US has ADHD en masse so just wait until they forget or get distracted with something else and you're good to go (attack) again.

  • creech||

    I suppose it is too late for the U.S. to turn into a Switzerland and stop poking our nose into every other nation's business. What terrorists bother the Swiss? Porous borders that make it extremely easy to bring in suicide bombers, etc. but no one cares to because Switzerland isn't bothering anyone.

    Let's stop meddling and see what happens? Those who can't resist hitting us can be dealt with using our superior technology and, if necessary, surgical strike teams that get in, punish the bad guys, and get out. If you want to live in some inaccessible cave, then maybe you'll avoid our retaliation but leave your protected bubble and it's lights out.

  • Fluffy||

    Wait a minute, they implicitly identify the current actions in Afg with those in Iraq. Were they singing the stay-the-course tune about Iraq back in '06?

    Since the piece is from the Washington Times, I'm guessing yes.

    Maybe you got confused and thought that this was from either the Washington Post or the New York Times - but even then, the editorial boards of those two papers were fiercely and reliably pro-Iraq war all the way through. Their individual columnists weren't always, but the editorial boards certainly were. It would be hard to find a more pro-war publication than either the Washington Post or the New York Times.

  • ||

    Kind of like the US has ADHD en masse so just wait until they forget or get distracted with something else and you're good to go (attack) again.

    I don't think it's that, but what Shelby Steele pointed out in an op-ed piece a few years ago: America is deeply insecure, culturally. We now feel the need to justify every military intervention in humanitarian terms. We can't just go in and exterminate the bad guys and leave.

  • Mike in PA||

    Creech, are you suggesting "Peace, commerce and honest friendship with all nations--entangling alliances with none"???

    You must be naive...

    (sarcasm)

  • robc||

    I don't think we were, at least at the beginning, playing World Police with Afghanistan.

    I kinda think we were. Goal-wise, it looked like we were doing the right thing in that the Taliban quickly lost power. However, we never pushed it. There was never a commitment to total war, mostly because Iraq was on the radar.

  • ||

    Agree with comments about why and how to fight wars.

    You fight them all out, to destroy your enemies. I would have thought be now we would have learned our lesson about fighting wars half-way for "humanitarian" reasons.

    At this point, Afghanistan will never be free of the Taliban unless we are willing to go into Pakistan. Since we are not willing to do so, we should declare victory and go home.

    The initial incursion into Afghanistan should have been a straight-up old-school punitive expedition, not a nation-building exercise, as they are at least a generation, and likely more, away from being culturally ready for a nation-state there.

  • ||

    We are fighting to accomplish a level a stupidity equal to Russia.

  • kinnath||

    The solution to Afghanistan is to legalize Heroin and then let Big Pharma build production facilities and hire their own security.

  • robc||

    You know what would be a good step towards fighting wars properly?

    Requiring a fucking declaration of war before you go to war. You know, like the constitution fucking requires. Fuckheads. Fuck Fuck Fuck.

    Sorry, it just pisses me off.

  • Billy!||

    the good news is "Afghanistan" is much easier to throw into all the Vietnam songs. So we got that going for us.

    "What are we fighting for/don't ask me I don't give a damn/next stop is Afghanistan"

    Try singing that with "Iraq".

  • robc||

    What are we fighting for/dont ask me I dont give a frak/next stop is Baghdad, Iraq.

  • ||

    @Kyle Jordan: A good way to avoid looking weak is to avoid rushing into situations where one has a high likelihood of failing spectacularly.

    Unfortunately, with the Democrats in office I think we're going to have to drive all the way off this particular cliff. The D's were hammering Bush for "taking his eye off the ball" in Afghanistan back in 2004, so they've rhetorically backed themselves into a corner on the subject.

  • Mike in PA||

    Careful, Billy...

    Iran fits into that song pretty well.

  • Kyle Jordan||

    "Requiring a fucking declaration of war before you go to war. You know, like the constitution fucking requires. Fuckheads. Fuck Fuck Fuck."

    Again, +1. Actually, +a really large number.

    And I do see your point about not fully pressing the Taliban in to extinction from the get go. Sadly, there's little we can do right now that will work out "good" in the conflict. We're either going to pull out, look weak, and have to possibly face the same type of scenario again in Afghanistan down the line, or send more troops in to a hostile area with no clearly defined mission that will end up costing lives.

  • robc||

    Kyle,

    "looking weak" is better than continuing stupidity. We arent going to fight total war in Afghanistan, so lets come home.

  • Billy!||

    robc-

    C'mon "Baghdad, Iraq" is kinda pushing it. Even more important what's a man to do with Jimmy cliff's "Vietnam"?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JK2bPfOXq-w&eurl=http%3A%2F%2Fvideo.google.com%2Fvideosearch%3Fhl%3Den%26source%3Dhp%26q%3Dvietnam%2520jimmy%2520cliff%26um%3D1%26ie%3DUTF-8%26sa%3DN%26tab%3Dwv&feature=player_embedded

  • T||

    "looking weak" is better than continuing stupidity.

    Our politicians are the best in the world. We'll get both.

  • ||

    When's the last time you heard a U.S. president explain what the goals of our being there are?
    Reasonoids are are sharp bunch, I'll ask them.

    Guys and gals, what defines a western* victory in Afghanistan? Obama fans, what does your saviior think would allow the troops to come home from that primitive pestilential hellhole?

    The Chosen One has been silent on the topic. I'm at a loss to explain what "victory" would look like. If it's a viable democracy with respect for human rights in Afghanistan, the war is completely unwinnable. If it's chasing bin Laden out of the country and removing the government that welcomed him, that was done years ago.

    * It's still a NATO thingee, right?

  • Rich||

    Guys and gals, what defines a western* victory in Afghanistan?

    Freely elected warlords.

  • ||

    Someone other than the Taliban taking power. Like, say, the Baliban.

  • ||

    "At this point, Afghanistan will never be free of the Taliban unless we are willing to go into Pakistan. Since we are not willing to do so, we should declare victory and go home."

    I am starting to agree with you. I am not happy about Afghanistan or the way things are going. It is going to be fun, however, watching the anti-war left defend Obama as Afghanistan turns into everything they said Iraq was.

  • hmm||

    It took the Soviet Union 10 years to figure out it wasn't worth it. We only have two more years to beat their record! We can show those socialist whats for.

  • T||

    Guys and gals, what defines a western* victory in Afghanistan?

    I'm old and cynical, but I'm thinking getting out now and not getting entangled any further is a victory. But I think we'll lose by that definition.

  • ||

    The problem is that the Iraq war did not end with US helicopters flying diplomats and refugees off the roof of the US Embassy in Baghdad...



    ...YET...

  • ||

    Guys and gals, what defines a western* victory in Afghanistan?

    Now that we are committed to nation-building, winning or losing can't be defined in purely military terms. Its pretty nebulous and open-ended. Dammit.

  • ||

    Personally, I define victory as the opening of Afghan-Disney in Kabul.

  • Citizen Nothing||

    We'll leave as soon as they get universal health care.

  • robc||

    Pro Lib,

    Does that mean we didnt defeat Germany? Or does Euro Disney in France count?

  • ||

    We will not have achieved a comprehensive victory in Afghanistan until Vail Associates builds a large ski-and-golf resort project in the mountains there.

    And ELF burns it down.

  • ||

    We arent going to fight total war in Afghanistan, so lets come home.



    Of course we're not. We're already getting a bunch of flak about civilian casualties. And every civilian casualty is at least one friend or relative recruited by the Taliban.

    Our parents (grandparents etc) were willing to support inflicting massive civilian casualties in WWII because the German and Japanese people were our enemies just as much as their soldiers and sailors were. That has not been the case in nearly every conflict we fought since.

    We are trying to help the Afghan people just as we were with the Vietnamese.

    Just exactly who would conduct Total War against in Afghanistan anyway?

  • ||

    Actually the stupid old hippie song works with the new sylables.

    And its one two thre four
    What are we fightin for?
    Don't I ask me I don't give a damn
    Next stop is Af-ghan-istan.

    I am probably going to risk divorce and volunteer for a deployment over there next year. It is a crappy war, but it is the only one we have.

  • ||

    "Just exactly who would conduct Total War against in Afghanistan anyway?"

    Nukes. That and a bounty on the head of all ferrel Afghanis.

    We don't have the stomach to fight a real guirilla war. We shouldn't be trying.

  • ||

    robc,

    Silly, both of our wars in Europe were actually directed against France, not Germany. In WWI, German territory was pretty much untouched, while France was ripped to shreds.

    In WWII, we invaded France first and forced the French to drink Coke and, later, eat Big Macs.

  • ||

    """Now that we are committed to nation-building, winning or losing can't be defined in purely military terms. Its pretty nebulous and open-ended. Dammit."""

    Right. So under the nation building concept, the only victory would be a nation built, and that's not going to happen. Afganistan isn't interested in being a nation. They like being fiefdoms, so our desires are against their will. How is that suppose to workout? Damn it, you Afghanis have to accept the infastructure we want you to have. Nation building in Afghanistan is a losing battle. Here's an interesting Article.

  • ||

    Perhaps we should allow all the feudalism but make it clear that we're lord and master.

  • ||

    Legalize heroin and tell them that they can only sell their poppies and get rich on the condition that they adopt a mild form of Islam and kill anyone who talks about planning a terror attack in the West.

  • robc||

    Just exactly who would conduct Total War against in Afghanistan anyway?

    The Taliban and Al Queda. And anyone protecting them. So, we might have to fight it in Pakistan.

  • Joseph De Maistre||

    in WWII because the German and Japanese people were our enemies

    Every country has the government it deserves.

  • JB||

    Savages will be savages. Peacefully trade with them and that will improve things over time.

    They want to get rowdy? Go in, blow things up, and then quickly leave. Rinse and repeat until their rowdiness is low-level.

  • Warty||

    What the fuck's wrong with you, John? REMFing is the way to go, every time.

  • polio robot||

    "A good way to avoid looking weak is to avoid rushing into situations where one has a high likelihood of failing spectacularly."

    After eliminating all other options (Unconventional Warfare, etc.) if you do have to go to another country and kick its ass, make sure to be ready to completely lay waste, turn that mother into a moonscape. Make the next poor bastard think really long and hard before starting a fight.

    If the Russians had the resources we are expending in Afghanistan, they would have finished the job they started.

  • ||

    "What the fuck's wrong with you, John? REMFing is the way to go, every time."

    Unfortunately, running toward the fire comes natural to some people.

    ...

    I kid. I'll probably be headed there too, if public support doesn't bottom out so significantly that we begin to pull out in the next few years (actually conceivable, though the political class is currently doing everything they can to deny it due to myopia).

    Personally, I've got a thing for lost-causes. It's probably part of the reason I'm a libertarian/classical liberal. Cause damn, have we lost.

  • ||

    You are not going to win against the Taliban if Afghanistan is will to reconcile with them.

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090824/ap_on_go_ca_st_pe/as_taliban_reconciliation

  • ||

    "What the fuck's wrong with you, John? REMFing is the way to go, every time."


    A lot. And I am REMF anyway, even over there.

  • ||

    "Personally, I've got a thing for lost-causes. It's probably part of the reason I'm a libertarian/classical liberal. Cause damn, have we lost."


    I can identify with that.

  • ||

    The Taliban and Al Queda. And anyone protecting them. So, we might have to fight it in Pakistan.



    You cannot make total war against an enemy that hides among the citizens on whose behalf you claim to be fighting.

    Destroying the village to save it is not an effective policy.

    I'm afraid the fact of the matter is that the US agreed to fight a war of nationbuilding to get the Euros on board. They didn't have the stomach for a war of revenge and reprisal. Probably we didn't either. And it's not like not having the stomach for a war of revenge and reprisal is the worst thing either.

    I's going on eight years and I'm wondering what the point is. Our enemies simply need to be told that if they fuck with us we'll wipe their countries (or big parts of them) of the map. It wouldn't hurt if we told some of our friends that too. (kidding) (maybe) :)

  • anonymous||

    "What if I told you they are the same people who advcoate theft for their own personal agenda? And they have short memories, and believe in unicorns?"

    Well, the retarded are stereotyped as being gentle and good-natured, so I guess it makes it even more believable.

  • Art-P.O.G.||

    Freely elected warlords.

    Either Rich or

    Personally, I define victory as the opening of Afghan-Disney in Kabul.

    ProLib won this thang. Not OEF, I mean the thread.

  • han||

    In examples that have just come to light,

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