Obama's Afghanistan Problem

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In his latest Washington Post column, George Will says it's time to reassess America's war in Afghanistan, arguing that "forces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent Special Forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters." The Atlantic's Benjamin F. Carlson provides a round up of conservative reaction here.

To those who followed his column throughout the Bush years, Will's about-face on Afghanistan (he was an initial supporter of both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) is hardly surprising, and it will doubtless have a negligible impact on the wider question of whether the United States should continue fighting the Taliban. Liberal opposition to the "surge" in Afghanistan, on the other hand, is starting to worry the White House. Politico's Mike Allen reports that administration officials are increasingly fearing "liberal pressure" on Afghanistan: 

White House officials are increasingly worried liberal, anti-war Democrats will demand a premature end to the Afghanistan war before President Barack Obama can show signs of progress in the eight-year conflict, according to senior administration sources. 

These fears, which the officials have discussed on the condition of anonymity over the past few weeks, are rising fast after U.S. casualties hit record levels in July and August. 

The aides also expressed concern that Afghan election returns, still being tallied, will result in a narrow reelection for President Hamid Karzai that could result in qualms about his legitimacy—"Tehran II," as one official put it, in reference to the disputed Iranian election. 

The result: some think Afghanistan—not health care—will be the issue that defines the early years of the Obama administration. 

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  1. Ain't consistency of ideology a bitch?

  2. Didn't Obama campaign that Afghanistan was the more important war and that GWB had become distracted by Iraq?

  3. Will was wrong to support the war in Iraq and right to support the war in Afganistan. The biggest problems arose, however, after we had won the wars and decided that it was our obligation to export our democracy as well. In Will's defense he has been consistent in his opposition to nation building in both arenas. This column is not so much an about-face as it is a forceful consolidation of sentiments previously expressed over the past five years.
    Will does, as do the writers and bloggers at Reason.com, highlights the problem Afganistan portends for an administration elected to bring the troops home. Obama, who during the elections was perceived not as he was but as people wanted him to be, cannot please everyone on this issue. He cannot bring the troops home quickly with a stable Afganistan. He almost surely can't bring the troops home at any time with a stable Afganistan so why prolong the inevitable. The quicker you tear that band-aid off, the less it will hurt.

  4. I think we should make thousands and thousands more armed drones, automate them fully, and fly them over Afghanistan continuously. If the Taliban takes power, the drones start blowing stuff up.

  5. What's the point of having nukes if we're never gonna use 'em.

  6. Pro, why just Afghanistan, why not the world? 😉

  7. I think we should make thousands and thousands more armed drones, automate them fully, and fly them over Afghanistan continuously.

    If I were God-Emperor, I would put a permanent drone patrol over the Pakistani border, and declare a cordon sanitaire. Anything moving within, say, two miles of the border gets greased.

    Until the Pakistani safe harbor is solved, Afghanistan is a lost cause. When it is solved, Afghanistan will be almost home.

  8. If I were God-Emperor, I would leave them the hell alone. It is readily apparent that our presence is driving more people to self-identify as "Taliban" than would normally.

    Afghanistan is a nation that shouldn't be - let it dissolve. There is no reason to continue supporting arbitrary nationhood on a group of disparate peoples who clearly cannot get along.

  9. Only the spread of Christianity will solve the riddle of Afghanistan.

  10. It is readily apparent that our presence is driving more people to self-identify as "Taliban" than would normally.

    Wrong.

    It is their total misogyny that makes them self-identify as Taliban.

    They are no more freedom fighters than that nithing who had kidnapped Jaycee Lee Dugard.

    That is why our troops must slay them wherever they are.

  11. FWIW, John Nagl's response to Mr. Will's column is entitled "Afghanistan needs more Afghan troops".

  12. If I were God-Emperor, I would leave them the hell alone.

    That's running a close second. I look at closing the border with Pakistan as the last bit of legitimate business we have there. I regard the pursuit and termination of AQ/Talibanis in and around Afghanistan as legitimate retribution for the 9/11 attacks.

    Nation-building? Can't be done.

  13. Mr. Ejercito, your naivete, while adorable, is unfortunately mixing with false self-assurance.

    As the United States, and the Western powers in general, ramp up in Afghanistan, I assure you that resistance will increase, and that resistance will naturally flow to the most established and well-known force: i.e. the Taliban.

  14. So, Obama won't take the advice he gives to Israel and surrender? Nice to see he is making the right decision in one place.

    If I were God-Emperor, I would leave them the hell alone. It is readily apparent that our presence is driving more people to self-identify as "Taliban" than would normally.

    We were leaving them alone, right before their guests plotted and killed over 3,000 Americans and others.

  15. It is readily apparent that our presence is driving more people to self-identify as "Taliban" than would normally.

    I suppose you've been over there to witness this phenomenon? I keep hearing that argument, but without any hard facts or real world basis, other than anecdote. I'm not actually arguing the point, cause honestly I don't know the truth, but your statement was very flippant.

    However, I do agree completely that we shouldn't be involved. I'd be fully supportive of bringing our troops home, all of them. Do we really need to be in Korea, Germany, Japan? If North Korea does something exceptionally stupid, bomb them. If Iran sets up a nuclear missile, blow it up. If the Taliban gets their hands on nukes, blow it up.

    Leave people alone until they show themselves to be a significant and reasonably imminent threat, than rid the earth of them. Meanwhile our soldiers can be actually doing what a standing military should do, guarding our land. Protect our borders, and train for the possibility of attack. Although there would need to be many fewer of them.

  16. If I were God Emperor, I'd kill that Siona chick. Screw the Golden Path.

    TrickyVic,

    Gotta start somewhere!

  17. "If Iran sets up a nuclear missile"

    I agreed with everything you said, aelhues, except for the above quote. Should somebody blow up our nuclear missiles? Just having nuclear missles doesn't mean you're going to use them.

  18. Oh, Obama already has a solution to his Afghanistan problem.

    It's the same as the solution to his other problems:

    blame Bush and spout off a bunch of empty rhetoric.

  19. Stating that you intend to wipe a neighbor country off the face of the earth kinda sorta does.

  20. Oh, and sure. If they feel that we are an imminent threat to them or their allies, go for it. See how that works out for them.

  21. Just having nuclear missles doesn't mean you're going to use them.

    Like I was saying, it's about time to show them Afghanis a trick or two.

  22. A little latent radioactivity will make the border with Pakistan less appealing to the Taliban.

  23. Seemed to have a positive impact on the Japanese.

  24. "Stating that you intend to wipe a neighbor country off the face of the earth kinda sorta does."

    That's a mistranslation that often gets repeated. The correct translation was that Ahmadinejad hopes that the day will come when the present regime in Israel is removed from the pages of time. The government of Iran would be stupid to attack Israel when they know that we would retaliate in kind. If Iran wants nukes, I'm sure it's just for the purpose of deterrance and the US and Israel know this. Israel just wants to be the dominate power in the Middle East.

  25. "Seemed to have a positive impact on the Japanese."

    Japan was ready to surrender. They didn't because Truman insisted on unconditional surrender. They only surrendered later because Truman changed his position and allowed Japan's terms of surrender which was to allow Japan to keep their emporer and not try him for war crimes.

  26. Continuous conflict is necessary to keep the engine of wealth creation cranking along.

  27. "Oh, and sure. If they feel that we are an imminent threat to them or their allies, go for it. See how that works out for them."

    Aren't preventive wars, wars of aggression and therefore a violation of international law?

  28. We would never have gotten better, cheaper cars from Japan if we hadn't nuke them. That should be self-evident to any thinking person.

    We need to level the infrastructure in Afghanistan so that Big Pharma can go in and rebuild it in our image.

  29. There are a variety of statements, not just the one that in various levels of strength, predict, or call for the end of Jewish rule, and or the destruction of the Israeli state. If you choose to believe that they have no intent to, if the opportunity arises, destroy Israel, that I suppose you also think they have no nuclear ambitions. They keep saying they don't, after all.

    As for those ambitions, I personally don't care if they do gain their fruits, as long as it is clear that they intend them only for deterrence.

  30. I'm sorry, are we caring about international law? If so, why? On that note, we also need to pull troops, and financial support out of the UN.

  31. ""If I were God-Emperor, I would put a permanent drone patrol over the Pakistani border, and declare a cordon sanitaire. Anything moving within, say, two miles of the border gets greased.
    ""

    I flew over the Afghan/Pakistan border. There were miles and miles of trucks on the road going both ways. There was the same thing in donkey and foot traffic.

    I am guessing most of that was peaceful and necessary commerce.

    Prosperity lies in peaceful and open trade. Why would you deny to others what you so like for yourself?

    IMHO
    Step 1 to winning the war in Afghanistan is ending the war on drugs. No number of drones, troops or nukes is going to win our and Europe's drug habit.

    Step 2 is to federalize the Afghan government. Kabul does not know what is best for all its regions anymore than DC knows what is best for Reno NV. Stepping up the level of force, in both cases, will just step up the level of resistance (I hope).

    Set parameters for free speech and equal protection under the law, maybe.

  32. We were leaving them alone, right before their guests plotted and killed over 3,000 Americans and others.

    Military operations are almost always considered on a utilitarian basis. Much as I want to see justice done, you have two problems:

    1) blanketly declaring an entire nation's government as complicit in the attacks means that you've dedicated yourself to dragging all of them out of the country in irons (or killing them), and piggybacking off of that

    2) You don't know who was Taliban pre 9/11 or post. At what point do criminals complicit in 9/11 become resisters to United States imposition?

  33. ""We need to level the infrastructure in Afghanistan so that Big Pharma can go in and rebuild it in our image.""

    I think Afghanistan infrastructure is pretty closed to leveled.

  34. I flew over the Afghan/Pakistan border. There were miles and miles of trucks on the road going both ways. There was the same thing in donkey and foot traffic.

    Saudi Arabia has oil; Afghanistan has poppies.

    Afghanistan won't be peaceful until its rulers are as rich as the sheiks. Of course, it wouldn't be terrible if they were commerically dependent upon us as well.

  35. I think Afghanistan infrastructure is pretty closed to leveled.

    Step one, check.

    Step 1 2 to winning the war in Afghanistan is ending the war on drugs.

    Step two, stalled.

  36. Honestly, I become more and more a proponent of the "We'll come back, biotches" method of doing business. While we may not be particularly good about occupying a country and establishing a stable, liberal government, we're hell on wheels when it comes to destroying a country's military capacity and toppling its government. So why hang around? Just make it clear to everyone that if they allow the Taliban or anyone like them to take power, then we'll blow stuff up again. Might as well enjoy this preeminence while we can, because in a few decades, everyone will have nukes. . .or worse.

  37. I flew over the Afghan/Pakistan border. There were miles and miles of trucks on the road going both ways. There was the same thing in donkey and foot traffic.

    I am guessing most of that was peaceful and necessary commerce.

    Sigh. I know, I know, it would probably do more harm than good.

    But I stand by my assertion that until the Paki safe harbor is eliminated, Afghanistan cannot stop being a playground for barbarians. I think that leaves us with three options:

    (1) Close the border, commerce be damned.

    (2) Invade Pakistan, and inflict enough pain that they never want to see us or the Taliban again.

    (3) Leave Afghanistan to the barbarians, perhaps after making a convincing threat that if any of their guests attack us again, we will be back, only this time to make sure that they don't leave the stone age for at least a generation.

  38. CHICKENHAWK!!!

  39. "I'm sorry, are we caring about international law?"

    We should care about international opinion. The world has a very low opinion of us because of our wars of aggression, i.e. preventive wars.

  40. That's a mistranslation that often gets repeated. The correct translation was that Ahmadinejad hopes that the day will come when the present regime in Israel is removed from the pages of time. The government of Iran would be stupid to attack Israel when they know that we would retaliate in kind. If Iran wants nukes, I'm sure it's just for the purpose of deterrance and the US and Israel know this. Israel just wants to be the dominate power in the Middle East.

    You are confusing the Farsi translation with the Martian translation from Mars Attacks.

  41. Don't you make me stop this car . . .

  42. We should care about international opinion.

    Two questions:

    (1) What is "international opinion" and how is it determined?

    (2) Why should we care?

  43. Based on the increasing number of Tea Party members I run into who are for pulling the hell out of Afghanistan, Obamessiah may soon have the bi-partisan support he needs to bring the troops home.

  44. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/02/world/asia/02fraud.html?_r=1&hp

    Well, it looks like our attempt to rig the Afghani election was so amateurish and ham-handed that we got caught.

    The ultimate problem with attempts to export democracy is that after we invest in a puppet like Karzai we can't afford to have him lose. So essentially we're exporting democracy, as long as the populace votes for our puppet, and not exporting democracy if they don't.

    We will do the same thing in Iraq if there's any danger of pro-Iran parties dominating in the next election, too. We'll either corrupt their election process or attempt to steal the election outright through fraud. I have absolutely no doubt of this. We pacified the insurgency through open bribery and will probably obtain the election result we want the same way.

  45. "There are a variety of statements, not just the one that in various levels of strength, predict, or call for the end of Jewish rule, and or the destruction of the Israeli state. If you choose to believe that they have no intent to, if the opportunity arises, destroy Israel, that I suppose you also think they have no nuclear ambitions. They keep saying they don't, after all."

    I stand by my position that they wouldn't dare destroy Israel with nukes because they know we would retaliate in kind.

    "We were leaving them alone, right before their guests plotted and killed over 3,000 Americans and others."

    Actually, Osama bin Laden was angry over how our sanctions were killing children in Iraq and how we were supporting Israel over the Palestinians. bin Laden wasn't justified in killing innocent civilians, but our meddling foreign policy led him to attack us, otherwise, there is no doubt in my mind that 911 would have never happened.

  46. So why hang around? Just make it clear to everyone that if they allow the Taliban or anyone like them to take power, then we'll blow stuff up again. Might as well enjoy this preeminence while we can, because in a few decades, everyone will have nukes. . .or worse.

    Why even topple the Taliban?

    We wanted Osama, and the Taliban wouldn't give him to us. It probably wasn't in their power to do so in any event.

    But it was entirely within our power to stroll into Afghanistan and take him, while ignoring the will of the Taliban altogether. The same "weak state" factors that allowed Al Qaeda to be in Afghanistan in the first place also made it impossible for the non-state that was the Taliban to stop us.

    There was never any need to take responsibility for giving Afghanistan a working government in the first place.

  47. "(1) What is "international opinion" and how is it determined?"

    "(2) Why should we care?"

    Because low opinion of our meddling foreign policy led to 911.

  48. We should care about international opinion. The world has a very low opinion of us because of our wars of aggression, i.e. preventive wars.

    Uhh.. explain to me again why we should care about the opinions of a bunch of appeasers?

  49. I object to that characterization. It's not like 9/11 was a rational response to American meddling. In fact, with all the hangwringing about the attack, one thing that's lost is how devastating our response was to the "cause." Sure, they can recruit more people, but the attack alienated a number of moderate sympathizers and resulted in the U.S. conquering and occupying two Islamic nations, while freaking out several more.

    I'm not saying I'm pro-meddling--I'm not and think we shouldn't directly intervene in the Middle East at all--but it's not fair to blame this on meddling when the people who launched the attack were irrational. I've heard bin Laden blame some of this on the Crusades, which ignores the fact that Muslims attacked the West long, long before (Spain, anyone)?

    It's all a crazy mess now, which makes it really hard for us to extricate ourselves from it.

  50. """"Seemed to have a positive impact on the Japanese.""""

    What was in those bombs, Sony radios.

    RC, I'll go with #3.

    For the most part, Afghanistan likes being barbarians and we can't change that.

  51. "explain to me again why we should care about the opinions of a bunch of appeasers?"

    I don't look at it as appeasing. I believe in the philosophy of our Founding Fathers who believed in friendly relations and free trade with all and annimosity toward none.

  52. ""preventive wars.""

    Afghanistan was not a pre-emptive war. Bush demanded that they hand over OBL or else, they chose or else.

    I don't really think Iraq was a preventive war, that was an excuse so the neo-cons could finish the job that they felt Bush Sr. did a half-ass job with back in the 1990s.

  53. "I don't really think Iraq was a preventive war, that was an excuse so the neo-cons could finish the job that they felt Bush Sr. did a half-ass job with back in the 1990s."

    Also, the neocons wanted to help Israel. They believed Saddam was a threat to Israel. For the same reason, they would like to go to war against Iran to protect Israel or ensure that Israel remains the dominate power in the Mideast.

  54. The general problem is that our government ignores the rights/responsibility connection when it comes to other nations. They have a right to be free of a dictator, but they shouldn't shoulder the responsibility of making it happen.

  55. I love Obama he's the best and I don't think no one should talk any more smack about him or else surfer the consequences of being sent to hell for eternity.

  56. Because low opinion of our meddling foreign policy led to 911.

    Whoa! The UN was behind the attacks on the Twin Towers? That's a new one.

  57. International opinion of the 2nd amendment and even our hateful 1st amendment is not too high either. Maybe we should change those as well? If we had socialized medicine, the Euro-peons would think us to be almost as sophistimacated as they are. Gotta do that too. We also could use some official religions and a monarchy or two.

    Or we could live or lives as adults rather than teens who are preoccupied with everybody else's opinion.

  58. We should care about international opinion. The world has a very low opinion of us because of our wars of aggression, i.e. preventive wars.

    who gives a flying fucstick about international opinion?


    Because low opinion of our meddling foreign policy led to 911.

    no, our foreign policy (and domestic), and some crazy whakamoles on airplanes led to 9/11.

    we need to concentrate on good policy, not what people think of it.

  59. i wanna surfer the consequences


  60. long before (Spain, anyone)?

    no shit. we need to get outta there no doubt, but i too am tired of the assertion it's all america's fault. the europeans have been mucking it up down there for centuries, and all of the sudden it's all our fault?

  61. "Whoa! The UN was behind the attacks on the Twin Towers? That's a new one.""

    Yep, I have long held that we need to bomb the UN


  62. Yep, I have long held that we need to bomb the UN

    now let's be reasonable. only if they refuse to leave the country.

  63. A significant change in Afghanistan, that would help win the hearts and minds of the downtrodden, would be Obama's promised end to the poppy eradication programs there. Of course if that winds up like his end to the medical MJ raids...

  64. Yep, I have long held that we need to bomb the UN

    Wait, were you the LP's candidate for president in 2004?

    I'll need to see a drivers license to confirm your identity. Oh, wait...

  65. Obama is only fighting so hard in Afghanistan because he doesn't want to look like a pussy for leaving Iraq.

    There's no such thing as a terrorist threat. Any American president who reduced traffic accidents or crime would save more lives than one who went around blowing up people who have nothing to do with us.


  66. There's no such thing as a terrorist threat. Any American president who reduced traffic accidents or crime would save more lives than one who went around blowing up people who have nothing to do with us.

    not sure about the first part, but the second point is valid. of course what means would be employed to do that is another question....

  67. 1) blanketly declaring an entire nation's government as complicit in the attacks means that you've dedicated yourself to dragging all of them out of the country in irons (or killing them), and piggybacking off of that

    2) You don't know who was Taliban pre 9/11 or post. At what point do criminals complicit in 9/11 become resisters to United States imposition?

    The Taliban refused to hand over Al Qaeda. Bombing and shooting them was the correct response.

    If you harbored someone accused of rape or murder or both, what would happen to you?

    International opinion of the 2nd amendment and even our hateful 1st amendment is not too high either.

    Not to mention international opinions on how Americans treat women.

    The concept that Americans are outraged over what happened to Jaycee Lee Dugard is totally alien to the Taliban nithings.

    What is "international opinion" and how is it determined?

    If America gassed all of its Jews, I am sure international opinion would rise.

    Would it be worth it?

  68. The Taliban refused to hand over Al Qaeda. Bombing and shooting them was the correct response.

    If you harbored someone accused of rape or murder or both, what would happen to you?

    That's not the right analogy, considering that 99.9% of Afghans didn't harbor anybody.

    A better one is this: a criminal runs into a building filled with people. Do you level it and kill everyone inside to get the criminal?

    The latter case is closer to the logic of the US's response to 9/11.

  69. *sigh* - great, I gotta go and join sides with Dick the Racist.

  70. RC Dean,

    Until the Pakistani safe harbor is solved, Afghanistan is a lost cause. When it is solved, Afghanistan will be almost home.

    I doan theenk so omeego.

    Sure Pakistan is a big huge problem. But settling things down in Afghanistan is a way big problem even if you solved the border problem. btw, if I was president I'd give serious consideration to your idea.

  71. The Angry Optimist

    If I were God-Emperor, I would leave them the hell alone. It is readily apparent that our presence is driving more people to self-identify as "Taliban" than would normally.

    Only in the same sense that the Vietnam war "drove" people to "self-identify as communists more than normally would".

    The Afghani people, like the south Vietnamese before them, have little of no real choice in the matter. Unless they just want to give up and die now that is.

    The problems these people face would simply be accelerated if we packed up and left today.

    Not that I'm saying we shouldn't pack up and leave today. At this point I think we should. But don't make the same mistake that we've made in past history. I swear the US does not yet grok what happened in Vietnam. And maybe never will.

    I'm married to a south Vietnamese refugee. Go read up on how the Viet Cong "drove" people to "self-identify as communists more than normally would". You can bet the Taliban are doing the same basic thing today.

  72. The basic problem here is that the United States is unequal to the task of solving the basic problem.

    The basic problem is that there is no good pre-existing civilized order in place (Afghanistan and Iraq both). If you want to "nation build" in this environment, you will only succeed if you are prepared to smash any and all opposition first. That means breaking shit loads of "innocent" eggs. Then, you must be prepared to impose your own order, or else. The US is unwilling to do either of these. But even if we were --

    There's enough oil in Iraq that, if we a more pragmatic people, you could almost justify the cost of pacifying it.

    In Afghanistan there is no possible way the benefits of success could ever pay back the cost.

    Nonetheless, we will squander an as-yet unknown quantity of blood and treasure on this lost cause in Afghanistan before we finally pull out. Because when you get down to it, the US just isn't that smart anymore.

  73. Essential difference between the Roman world view and that of Western nations today: the Romans believed in their own vision. They believed in it enough that they didn't hesitate to impose it on others.

    We in the West today do not believe in ourselves to this degree.

    Like Roman faith or lump it. But there's no getting around the fact that civilizations are always-always carved out by those whose faith is like that of the Romans.

    Moral to the story: if you aren't prepared to turn central Asian nations (or any others for that matter) into US satellites, then don't invade them with the idea that you're going to hang around after the shooting is over. It's just a waste of everybody's time and money.

  74. """That's not the right analogy, considering that 99.9% of Afghans didn't harbor anybody.""

    The Taliban was the defacto government at the time.

    99.9% of Iraq didn't harbor Saddam either.

  75. """Essential difference between the Roman world view and that of Western nations today: the Romans believed in their own vision. They believed in it enough that they didn't hesitate to impose it on others.

    We in the West today do not believe in ourselves to this degree."""

    Is that why Iraq got a Euro-democracy instead of a government modeled after our democratic republic? 😉

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