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What’s the point of these justifications for the ongoing war in Afghanistan?


11:30 am - May 15th 2012

by Flying Rodent    


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There was a jaw-dropping editorial in the Times yesterday, haunted by spectre of democratic accountability looming over our Afghanistan mission, that could’ve been churned out at any point in the last hundred years.

The Taleban hope that each new killing of a Nato soldier will be the straw that breaks the back of the resolve of America, Britain and their Isaf partners to linger in Afghanistan a minute longer than the 2014 deadline they have already set.  Who knows? – the Taleban wonder – it may even spur them to pick up their skirts and run away even sooner if pressed to do so by restive electorates at home.

Imagine, restive electorates, possibly pressing their governments over an eleven-year long war!

Well, here we are in 2012.  Osama is toast, his evil crew long since captured or incinerated and the US has been running high-profile victory laps around Al Qaeda’s smoking corpse for about two years. 

So, why do we still have thousands of soldiers in Afghanistan?  According to The Times:

To make clear to Afghanistan’s militants that the withdrawal of British troops from the country will be dictated by a timetable set in Downing Street and the White House, not by murderers in Afghanistan.

Now, here’s a lesson from American military history – if you’ve been training an army to defend its capital city for eleven years and it still isn’t up to the task, it’s probably not that interested in defending its capital city.

Bonus points too for the sunk-costs fallacy:

A premature exit that abandons the ambitions and achievements of the past decade would be a betrayal of those who have given their lives to make Afghanistan more stable.

Translation: We must continue to get our soldiers killed in an effort to achieve the impossible, because doing otherwise would be disrespectful to all the soldiers that we have already got killed by trying to do the impossible.

Additionally, Barack Obama hopes that his recent agreement with the Afghan government will “persuade the Taleban that negotiating now will pay greater dividends than waiting for American soldiers to leave”.  Diplomacy, after all, is the art of saying “Nice Doggie” while groping for a rock that doesn’t exist, in a room full of ravenous timber wolves.

And that’s it.  That’s the sum total of their best case, their most convincing justification for British troops staying for the next two years. 

If we want to show our gratitude for our soldiers, we could always repay them by bringing them back to Britain and buying them a round of drinks, rather than by forcing them to act as target practice for any passing Pashtun with a grudge.

After all, as an American politician once famously asked – How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?

The answer comes back firmly and confidently from the Times editorial board: On pain of court-martial.


The full editorial is here (non-paywalled).

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About the author
Flying Rodent is a regular contributor and blogs more often at: Between the Hammer and the Anvil. He is also on Twitter.
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Reader comments


1. margin4error

All very silly. We are leaving in 2014 – and hopefully we’ll have done enough of a job to help the Afghans put together something resembling a nation state from which decent education and economic development might hopefully flow.

The achievements are vast amounts of money and life wasted on a corrupt government which has virtually no influence outside its capital.

The ambitions are getting hold of that $1 trillion of mineral wealth before the Chinese.

hopefully we’ll have done enough of a job to help the Afghans put together something resembling a nation state from which decent education and economic development might hopefully flow.

You mean we’ll have imposed, by force, our view of what a nation state should be and what constitutes our view of what education and development should be?

You mean we’ll have established a corrupt government beholden to the West and taught it that the nation state is held together by the steadfast imposition of the will of its government over its population, whatever the human cost?

Yes, we’ll certainly have taught those savages a valuable lesson.

All ignoring history as well, no Afghan national army has ever showed any interest in protecting the capital.

“You mean we’ll have established a corrupt government beholden to the West and taught it that the nation state is held together by the steadfast imposition of the will of its government over its population

Whatever else we’ve taught the government of Afghanistan, it’s certainly not that.

“Translation: We must continue to get our soldiers killed in an effort to achieve the impossible, because doing otherwise would be disrespectful to all the soldiers that we have already got killed by trying to do the impossible”

When it comes to the armed forces respect or the lack of it, doesn’t even feature in a politician’s vocabulary.

Henry Kissinger referred pointedly to military men as ‘dumb, stupid animals to be used’ as pawns for foreign policy.” and he was so highly thought of he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

British fighting men and women have been treated with absolute contempt since the Napoleonic Wars and as far as I know well before.

One only needs to reflect on the homecoming of Vietnam veterans to realise the situation is no different when Uncle Sam has his hand on the tiller.

As of May 13, 2012, the British forces have suffered 414 fatalities and 1,875 wounded in action, another 3,759 have suffered from disease or non-battle injuries. Of these, 374 soldiers were killed as a result of hostile action, while 40 are known to have died either as a result of illness, non-combat injuries or accidents, or have not yet officially been assigned a cause of death pending the outcome of an investigation. The vast majority of fatalities have taken place since the redeployment of British forces to the Taliban stronghold of Helmand province in 2006, as only five men died between April 2002 and early March 2006.

Our woeful, corrupt and incompetent political elite feel they have no option other than to swill the lives of yet more brave men and women down the plughole of humanity that is Afghanistan, else the electorate might just see what a waste of young lives, money and resources their little adventure in ‘state making’ has already been.

It might be argued that we won the last (2nd) Afghan War in 1880 but gained nothing from it, losing over a 1000 troops at Maiwand alone.
If the people of Afghanistan want a democracy then let them bring their tribal fiefdoms together and create one

Whatever else we’ve taught the government of Afghanistan, it’s certainly not that.

No, that’s what we’ve told it do- to establish a monopoly of violence within the national borders.

It’s not our fault that they’re incapable of doing it.

Afghanistan has no history of being a nation state and its peoples have shown no inclination to want one. Indeed the only time they show any homogeneity of purpose at all is when ……somebody invades their territory.

No, that’s what we’ve told it do- to establish a monopoly of violence within the national borders

I suppose that it’s possible that we’ve told them that–but I don’t think it’s very likely, since, today, no one believes it (preferring airy cant about “the will of the people”), and it doesn’t seem at all consistent with our behaviour there.

Not sure what you mean by “nation state”. Afghanistan is not a recent construction. And I expect we’ll see plenty of unity of purpose from it just as soon as ISAF removes itself from the equation.

9. margin4error

Pagar

I should stress I have no qualms about using violence against oppressors in order to provide the prospect of freedom, democracy, education and the chance to economically better one’s self.

You might think some people shouldn’t be supported in trying to achieve those things. And maybe you are right. Maybe Afghan women don’t want or like reading and do like being raped by whoever their dad sells them to for the rest of their lives. Maybe ethnic Tibetans in China are quite taken with the exile of their religious leader and the ethnic colonisation of the land of their birth. Perhaps the Syrians enjoy being slaughtered by their long-standing dictator. And maybe we were right to let Poll Pott do what his people had historically always done and let Europe cleans itself of those nasty Romanies and support Russia in the starvation of the Ukranians and, well, thousands of other modern and historical examples of oppression that should have been or were right to be left to carry on.

But as a socialist – I don’t think that and have always found it perverse that anyone ever does.

10. margin4error

oh – and it is somewhat our fault that afghanistan is unable to do what the UK, Russia, China, India and so on are able to do – and establish the state as the sole legitmate source of forceful action across society.

Between Russian and English abuse of the nation as part of the Great Game – and the USA’s creation of tribal/terrorist organisations in opposition to Soviet invasion – we can hardly absolve ourselves of responsibility for the desperate plight of normal people Afghanistan.

@ MFE

But as a socialist – I don’t think that and have always found it perverse that anyone ever does.

But of course not.

Because you have a belief system that anoints you with necessary arrogance to believe you can always identify the bad from the good and the moral rectitude to justify the use of force to put those perceived wrongs right and create a world in your image.

The consequences of this thinking are writ large in Iraq, but you are intentionally blind to them.

it is somewhat our fault that afghanistan is unable to do what the UK, Russia, China, India and so on are able to do

And then you have the impertinence to justify your Fabian imperialism by saying you’re just trying to make up for the imperialist crimes we previously committed.

Why can’t you just leave people in peace to determine their own futures?

How can you be so certain they want they one you’ve mapped out for them?

I can tell you now that the people of Afghanistan won’t want the post 2014 future we have bequeathed them.

I should stress I have no qualms about using violence against oppressors in order to provide the prospect of freedom, democracy, education and the chance to economically better one’s self.

I’m not entirely sure that progressive cultural and social change can be brought about by force of arms by a foreign power.
How’s it working out in Libya? Still revenge killings going on?

I’m not entirely sure that progressive cultural and social change can be brought about by force of arms by a foreign power.

What about WWII?

14. flyingrodent

What about WWII?

Well, a few years of heavy artillery and mass carpet bombing on southern Afghanistan followed by a couple of nuclear warheads would certainly quiet the place down, yes.

Frankly, it’s hard to know if that would be enough in Afghanistan. I suppose it depends on what exactly you understand by “progressive social change” and whether the other stuff you’re doing as well makes any kind of strategic sense. Either way, progressive social change and force of foreign arms are not exactly total strangers. Quite the opposite, it seems to me.

16. the a&e charge nurse

[11] “Because you have a belief system that anoints you with necessary arrogance to believe you can always identify the bad from the good and the moral rectitude to justify the use of force to put those perceived wrongs right and create a world in your image” – imposing culture is one thing but lets suppose unimaginable atrocities are being committed on a systematic basis, are you saying there is never case for intervention no matter how high the body count is?

17. flyingrodent

I never start to be amazed by how quickly these “Let’s look at the utility of force in the specific case of Iraq/Afghanistan/Libya” threads turn into “Let’s discuss the general principles of military intervention in theoretical terms”.

Every time.

The internet must be a constant source of disappointment to you.

19. the a&e charge nurse

[17] because establishing first principles is a useful starting point for debating whether a case in point is likely to be supported or not.

Very few commentators at LC have ever supported Afghanistan – the Times article does not change this, nor indeed the government’s exit strategy, so what is it we are meant to be debating – how bad the Times is?

20. flyingrodent

Very few commentators at LC have ever supported Afghanistan

I have to shame-facedly admit to having been glad that Afghanistan got the American revenge mission, rather than anywhere else – I guessed that, since it was a backwater in regional terms, it might result in a lower death toll and fewer horrific repercussions than attacking Iraq or Iran would. Plus, the Taleban weren’t exactly sympathetic characters, and nobody would weep for a few thousand of them.

I mean, I thought it was insane and that it’d kill lots of innocent people for no good reason, but that if the US was going to batter somebody, better they do it somewhere it might do some vague good.

Of course, I didn’t realise then that we were going to get two insane, nonsensical bloodbaths for the price of one.

what is it we are meant to be debating – how bad the Times is?

How paltry the justifications for keeping UK soldiers in Afghanistan are? If these are the best we can find, we have none. How fraudulent the emotional manipulation of the populace is?

British troops have been dying in their hundreds in Afghanistan for over a decade, and keeping them there for another two years will achieve nothing that leaving tomorrow won’t do. I haven’t heard a single reason that rang true to believe otherwise.

Let’s be clear – British soldiers are in Afghanistan because if they weren’t, the Americans would have to pick up the shortfall. That is, we are voluntarily allowing British soldiers to be killed in pursuit of an impossible goal, so that American soldiers won’t be killed.

That being the case – and it is – it’s kind of offensive when people play on our sympathy for dead soldiers to urge us to support this bullshit mission, yes.

Hilarious badinage aside, is there anything that general principles can tell even those of us uninterested in the gap between progressive rhetoric and reality?

I suspect that there might be. It seems pretty obvious that, 1, even if Afghanistan could be bombed into the 21st century, it would be not be easy to generate public support for this; and, 2, Afghanistan cannot be bombed into the 21st century.

Weren’t the ‘cultural and social change can be brought about by force of arms by a foriegn power’ during WW2 being done by the Axis*? Pretty sure our part in the war was largely retaliatory in defence.

*And the Soviets, obviously.

23. margin4error

Pagar

2 things

one – i never said I could always tell right from wrong. I just claim that any sane and rational understanding of human decency should tell enable human beings to tell right from wrong in most or at least some cases.

and second…

The “why can’t we just leave these people in peace to determine their own futures?” – what a pathetically naive view of the world. For start, “these people” didn’t leave us in peace to determine our own futures. They slaughtered thousands of us in the Twin Towers.

And yes – I know – it wasn’t the afghan people as such who decided to do that. Their government was a dictatorship that held them under a jackboot and who sponsored terrorism and terrorist training activities across their country in part to help keep the Afghan people under a jackboot.

But you can’t really argue that can you? Because you are a big enough idiot to think the afghans determined their own fate rather than had it determined by people far worse to the Afghan people than the present government there, and who were in place not by terribly imperfect elections, but by slaughtering afghans left right and centre to keep them under-foot.

So yeah – lets leave the world’s poor to suffer under the vicious rule of those with big guns in their part of the world – that’s a very socialist attitude to take.

24. flyingrodent

lets leave the world’s poor to suffer under the vicious rule of those with big guns in their part of the world – that’s a very socialist attitude to take.

This particular high horse picked itself up and left town circa 2006, Margin, if not before.

When your humanitarianism consistently delivers significantly higher death tolls than non-intervention could reasonably have been expected to in the same period, these noisy and ostentatious attempts to claim some kind of moral high-ground – based entirely upon theorising – lose all of their power.

I would usually say that it’s surprising that anyone still needs to be told this, but the last decade’s experience demonstrates that it isn’t surprising at all.

25. the a&e charge nurse

[24] I think we have to distinguish two things – [1] the aspirations of ordinary people who have little in the way of ulterior motive when it comes to the idea of relieving systematic oppression and violence in other countries – and the actions of the power elites who regard places like Afghanistan and Iraq as exciting business opportunities, opportunities to profit from arms deals, or exploitation of those country’s natural rersources.

Only the most inward looking isolationist would not advocate military intervention if a later day Auschwitz were to arise – the argument about 1 million being killed because of intervention as opposed to 750,000 through holding back hardly engenders a feeling of warm contentment – it is an argument of course but one tyrants prefer rather than others.

26. flyingrodent

I think we have to distinguish two things…

I’m at a loss as to why we should distinguish between the two.

“Ordinary people” may well want to relieve “systematic oppression and violence in other countries” but as Afghanistan – even considered in isolation – clearly shows, they are almost certain to get a hamfisted, ultraviolent, blundering catastrofuck aimed at victory through superior firepower. They can also be sure that it will be carried on far, far beyond the point where the futility of the exercise is nakedly obvious to everyone.

Perhaps it’s unfortunate that many “ordinary people” still refuse to recognise that this is the case. Nonetheless, we’re surely long since past the point where they deserve to be cut any slack at all on the matter, especially when so many of them are so determined to ignore the effects of our actually-existing military disasters, because they’re a bit inconvenient.

@ A7E

Only the most inward looking isolationist would not advocate military intervention if a later day Auschwitz were to arise

A Godwin point, but I suppose you’re right.

If intervention were to prevent the sort of massacre that happened at Srebrenica for example…….

Eh. Just a minute!!!

Socialists need to understand that, no matter the purity of their intentions when they call for “humanitarian interventions”, the only logical reason for deciding to intervene is where we can be certain that the outcome for the people we are trying to help will be improved.

Both short and long term.

Yet although all the evidence we have is that such interventions ALWAYS make bad situations worse (I don’t need to list them), still people like Margin For Error can’t resist the siren call of their consciences and love to advocate spilling blood to satiate their own bleeding hearts.

Weren’t the ‘cultural and social change can be brought about by force of arms by a foriegn power’ during WW2 being done by the Axis*?

And what happened to the Axis powers?

To get a feel for the current state of our Afghan adventure, I recommend this (notorious) AFJ article by an officer in the US Army: http://armedforcesjournal.com/2012/02/8904030

I spent last year in Afghanistan, visiting and talking with U.S. troops and their Afghan partners. My duties with the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force took me into every significant area where our soldiers engage the enemy. Over the course of 12 months, I covered more than 9,000 miles and talked, traveled and patrolled with troops in Kandahar, Kunar, Ghazni, Khost, Paktika, Kunduz, Balkh, Nangarhar and other provinces.

What I saw bore no resemblance to rosy official statements by U.S. military leaders about conditions on the ground.

Entering this deployment, I was sincerely hoping to learn that the claims were true: that conditions in Afghanistan were improving, that the local government and military were progressing toward self-sufficiency. I did not need to witness dramatic improvements to be reassured, but merely hoped to see evidence of positive trends, to see companies or battalions produce even minimal but sustainable progress.

Instead, I witnessed the absence of success on virtually every level….

30. the a&e charge nurse

[26] “I’m at a loss as to why we should distinguish between the two” – because motive is an important factor.

Is it really too much to expect to have some sort of international standard to prevent tyrants from butchering their own people – you know, something like the international community developing the capacity to intervene if the terror reaches a certain threshold?

I mean, for the record, are you saying that there can never be a case for intervention no matter how many hundreds of thousands are being killed?

A yes, or no response would be nice – hell, even Pagar (under the protection of Godwin) recognises that the need to curtail extreme terror might become necessary from time to time?

For me the problem is not so much that military intervention is necessary (to prevent the lesser of the two evils) but rather the lack of an international framework to coordinate such activity – anything involving the USA alone is hopelessly corrupted by their own corporate agenda

31. flyingrodent

Apologies A&E, it looked to me like you were asking for a line to be drawn between a) ordinary people who think that Something Must Be Done about an awful situation and b) those who are actually in charge of delivering Something in the form of bombing campaigns, invasions and occuptions a la Afghanistan and Iraq. Reading you again, I see that this is the point you were making.

As I said, you can’t separate the two. The former’s desire can only ever be practically implemented by the latter. When people ask for Something to Be Done, they are actually going to get bombing, invasion and occupation, delivered by the genius minds who brought you Afghanistan and Iraq.

Now sometimes, unleashing these geniuses on some benighted third-world country may have a better outcome than refusing to do so, and sometimes it’s vice-versa. The one thing that’s a constant, however, is that any plans for the uplift of the benighted people of Whereverstan is going to mean unleashing the geniuses again.

Now. I’m not trying to set out some kind of Rodent Doctrine that covers all the bases here. I’m just saying that surely, given everything we’ve seen in the last decade and the wars we’re still embroiled in, discussions about the desirability of Doing Something should be a bit more practical than just insisting, as some do, that Something Must Be Done?

Especially when “Doing Something” means “Asking the geniuses who brought us our previous disasters to go start bombing and invading somewhere all over again”.

It seems fair enough, to me.

“Yet although all the evidence we have is that such interventions ALWAYS make bad situations worse (I don’t need to list them)”

How did UK intervention in Sierra Leone make a bad situation worse?

For me the problem is not so much that military intervention is necessary (to prevent the lesser of the two evils) but rather the lack of an international framework to coordinate such activity

But there will never be such a framework.

Nation states act in their own self interest and use raw power and threats to get their way. In the end, that’s all that counts and the supra-national bodies are a sham.

I’d rather see powerful states be honest about their interests and intentions rather than continuing to try to manipulate a UN fig leaf to conceal their erections.

34. margin4error

flyingrodent

I’m going to be even more controversial now and say that all lives are not equal and a higher death toll is not by itself evidence of bad consequence.

And here’s why. There would almost certainly have been a lower death toll in Spain if socialists from across Europe didn’t go there to join those fighting against fascism in the 1930s. Would we say it was thus wrong to do it? I hope not. Likewise there would be a lower death toll in Syria right now if the rebels simply stayed at home and accepted their fate. Should we thus be campaigning for them to stop opposing their dictator? Similarly South Africa would have suffered fewer deaths had violent opposition to white rule not been launched. Was that a bad decision from the ANC?

Because here’s the thing. Human beings consider all maner of things to be of greater significance than their lives. I certainly do. Freedom, equality, democracy, love, faith. It is only when balanced against the extent to which such things are achieved that a death toll is at all useful to the debate. And even then, how do you balance 50,000 dead women with 5million living women learning to read and right and given a vote for the first time?

It’s a ludicrous balance to even try to weigh.

@ Vimothy
What happened to them?
Defeat.

It went a bit beyond “defeat”. The regimes were completely dismantled and reconstructed. Nazi Germany did not simply lose a war; it was annihilated and replaced with something radically different.

Human beings consider all maner of things to be of greater significance than their lives. I certainly do. Freedom, equality, democracy, love, faith.

I value the first of these, too.

But come on, we’re supposed to be here to debate politics. You’re not to trying to win a Fabian beauty pageant………..

38. flyingrodent

I’m going to be even more controversial now and say that all lives are not equal and a higher death toll is not by itself evidence of bad consequence.

I’m going to be less controversial and point out that this is a wonderful conceit if it isn’t your family having holes drilled in them by an Iraqi death squad. That goes double for this gem – “Human beings consider all maner of things to be of greater significance than their lives. I certainly do”. I take it you’re not posting from Kandahar, which makes this kind of airy declaration ring a little hollow.

Further, let’s also observe that Syrians and South Africans fighting against their own governments is a far cry from a superpower sticking its size-nines into those conflicts that it finds convenient to intervene in; nor is that comparable to, say, twenty thousand poorly-armed volunteers in a civil war.

I really do think it’s interesting to note that, presented with the argument –

“There is no prospect of our armed forces achieving any kind of notable improvement in Afghanistan in the next two years. Let’s withdraw them now and let the Americans, whose war this idiotic venture has always been, extricate themselves from their own mess”

…Is met with a) But fighting wars for good reasons is awesome and b) Teaching little girls to read without them being oppressed is also awesome. Let’s ignore these actually-existing wars and focus on interventionist theory at its most abstract!

Nonetheless. The actual war under discussion has been a disaster and an abject failure; it’s going to end in ignominious defeat and Afghanistan will inevitably be a warzone for decades, if not centuries, to come.

This has been obvious since at least 2006. Every British soldier who’s died there since has died for nothing, and every soldier who is killed between now and withdrawal in 2014 is going to die for nothing, except perhaps staying in the Americans’ good books.

I understand why people would rather debate first principles here. After all, it’s a more congenial topic than a chorus of “All we are saying/Is let’s deliberately sacrifice a large number of our countrymen in pursuit of an impossible goal because we are incapable of admitting publicly that we have horrifically fucked up and that all of our empty chatter about defeating the Taliban and establishing a functioning democracy has been a ludicrous, fantastical pipe dream”.

Harder to fit into a soundbite, but rather closer to the truth.

It went a bit beyond “defeat”. The regimes were completely dismantled and reconstructed. Nazi Germany did not simply lose a war; it was annihilated and replaced with something radically different.

Well it was a liberal democracy before it turned to Nazism, well within living memory of anyone of adult age at the time, and any cultural change to German character came from self reflection, rather than imperial imposition. Not to mention that the allies themselves underwent a bit a character reassessment, with the formation of the UN, the universal declaration of human rights and the Nuremberg Trials which established that aggressively going to war was the crime from which all other atrocities inevitably flowed. We didn’t so much imprint our values onto the Germans, as developed them for ourselves alongside their own introspection.

Half of Europe was conquered by the USSR. It became Communist. The other half was conquered by the US. It became liberal-democratic. As did Japan. The idea that this was the result of “self-reflection” seems a bit silly.

Cylux

Well it was a liberal democracy before it turned to Nazism, well within living memory of anyone of adult age at the time, and any cultural change to German character came from self reflection, rather than imperial imposition.

Actually, there was a very active Allied policy of denazification. Millions of books were destroyed; the radio, theatre and cinema were censored and criticism of the occupiers was banned.

I believe the Soviets tried a similar policy in Afghanistan and it didn’t end particularly well. Admittedly, they had the Americans funding the opposition…

Half of Europe was conquered by the USSR. It became Communist. The other half was conquered by the US. It became liberal-democratic.

Interesting, so you believe our parliamentary democracy is a result of our being conquered by the USA during the second world war, and not say something that was a part of our culture long before world war 2. That’s one reading of history I suppose…

@39 cylux

“Well it was a liberal democracy before it turned to Nazism, well within living memory of anyone of adult age at the time, and any cultural change to German character came from self reflection, rather than imperial imposition.”

Not for long: the Weimar regime between 1918 and the Nazi assumption of power was very much a novelty in German terms. There was little if any experience of a truly civic society in Germany before Weimar, and the regime itself was unstable politically, beset by huge economic problems, and faced ingrained hostility from powerful forces on the extreme left and right bent on destroying it.

As others have pointed out, the Germans (and the Japanese) were turned into liberal democracies because the victorious allies demanded unconditional surrender, both were totally prostrate in 1945, and they were comprehensively de-Nazified in the German case, or “de-authoritarianised” in the Japanese case. There was no Nazi or Japanese resistance post 1945, so the situation was/is not analogous to Afghanistan.

What the German and Japanese cases tell us perhaps, is that if you want to “re-invent” a society, you better be prepared to be in it for the long haul (decades, not years), spend lots of treasure, and devote hundreds of thousands of troops to doing it.

In Afghanistan, as in so many other cases, the fault lies in the narrative before hand, which promises the impossible, i.e. that Afghanistan could be made into a democracy in a relatively short time, with minimum numbers of feet on the ground, and that we should turn a blind eye to corruption, tribalism, and the desire on the part of many Afghans to carry on their society much as they had before, including all the aspects of a crypto-medieval theocracy most of us find abhorent.

It’s not going to change because our leaders aren’t being honest with us, and we as societies don’t have the will to devote the resources and time to actually making a difference.

I don’t beleive likeflyingrodent that such things ALWAYS end badly, or are destined to do so; the omnishambles made of Afghanistan and Iraq are indictments of the poor planning, lack of exit strategy and lack of strategic vision of our elites and societies.

@34 m4e

I agree with some of your points…however, in the Spanish Civil War the Rebels killed significantly more than the Republicans (hence the recent book naming it a holocuast). Altho both sides committed atrocities, the Rebels were much more systematic, and made no attempt to stop atrocities (indeed they actively encouraged them) unlike the Republican government. Also of course the Franco regime continued to kill thousands after the end of the Civil war in 1939.

Many more lives would have been saved if the Republican forces had received the kind of help from Britain and France that Franco did from the Nazis and Fascists in Germany and Italy…. or indeed just more in the way of armaments, materiel etc.

45. douglas clark

There are all sorts of reasons that Afghanistan went wrong. It ought to be remembered that we invaded it with the express intention of bringing Al Quaida to heel and then failed to do so. Tora Bora? No, living in Pakistan. It ought to be recalled that there were peaceful, constructive ideas promulgated by the victors when their politicians went there to make speeches. Including massive investment. What became of that? A favourite of mine was to use poppy for legitimate purposes. I believe the puppet Afghan government didn’t favour their best cash crop and supported the destruction of a, potentially legal and viable industry. Internal politics.

It goes on and on this intervention/invasion dichotomy. Whatever fine words are used to justify it, they fail as attention drifts elsewhere. Iraq obviated the need to help Afghanistan rebuild. The victors had a new agenda, and it didn’t bother to fix Afghanistan, if that were even possible. Oh, no, it was yesterdays news and became a military and (corrupt?) economic basket case. Iraq was the new news.

And, back in Afghanistan, the world watched superpowers meeting kryptonite. Which is what asymetric warfare appears to be about. Just keep the flag, any flag, flying long enough and the worlds attention moves on. It’s interests diminish and you, eventually get your country back. Whether it is right now or later is, almost, beside the point.

And that country will still be as unreconstructed, socially and democratically, as when you started.

Flying Rodent is right. An ill thought out intervention is frankly releasing a killing machine on a population. With no appreciable gain. The fact that there was no strategic aim, whatsoever, that was achieved, damns the planners of that campaign forever.

Although it could be argued that by releasing the genie of revenge thereafter we have messed up our own society unto a nearly unrecognisable mess. If you look into the abyss, the abyss looks back. Some folk wanted that outcome.

46. So Much For Subtlety

44. Galen10

however, in the Spanish Civil War the Rebels killed significantly more than the Republicans (hence the recent book naming it a holocuast). Altho both sides committed atrocities, the Rebels were much more systematic, and made no attempt to stop atrocities (indeed they actively encouraged them) unlike the Republican government. Also of course the Franco regime continued to kill thousands after the end of the Civil war in 1939.

The Nationalists won. It is inevitable that the people who win kill more. Nor were the Nationalists particularly systematic – they did not want to kill anyone much and certainly not anyone on the basis of their class. Half the Republicans did. The Republican government could have avoided the war all together if they had worked to stop atrocities. Instead those crimes forced the Right to defend themselves. And Spain.

Many more lives would have been saved if the Republican forces had received the kind of help from Britain and France that Franco did from the Nazis and Fascists in Germany and Italy…. or indeed just more in the way of armaments, materiel etc.

On the contrary. Franco was a conservative. He soon stopped killing people. Most political parties survived in Spain in an underground form. After all, Franco did not want to kill every worker. He wanted them to shut up and do what they were told.

If the Spanish Communists had come to power, there would have been Soviet-style genocide with forced collectivisation and wholesale execution of “class enemies”. They did want to kill every landlord, every factory owner, every member of the middle class.

You are confusing what they could get away with with what they wanted to do.

47. flyingrodent

@Galen – In Afghanistan, as in so many other cases, the fault lies in the narrative…

Name me one other war, from any point in human history, that was lost because of a “flawed narrative”. Name me just one.

Note, for example, that the Soviets were not driven out of Afghanistan by several thousand heavily-armed and fanatical flawed narratives hiding in high-altitude bases, firing American-made surface-to-air weapons at Russian helicopters.

we as societies don’t have the will to devote the resources and time to actually making a difference.

Afghanistan alone has cost the US, and just the US, something like three hundred million dollars a day, for eleven years. The estimated total cost is in the trillions.

Since your contention is that more should’ve been spent – how much more? Five trillion? Ten trillion? Who’s paying? – and that the project should take long – how much longer? Ten years? Fifty? Who’s volunteering for that kind of commitment? – you could maybe explain how you intend to get that kind of mission past the public without being voted out of office.

the omnishambles made of Afghanistan and Iraq are indictments of the poor planning, lack of exit strategy and lack of strategic vision of our elites and societies.

The omnishambles of Afghanistan and Iraq are indictments of idiots who think that, given infinite time, money and materiel, reality can be made to obey their every whim. We’re past the point where that conclusion is up for debate.

There is no reason – not a single reason at all – to believe that more money or time would’ve significantly improved the outcome in Iraq or Afghanistan. All there is, is unsupported, windy bullshit about “the long haul”, “narratives” and, like, de-Nazification.

And now, to demonstrate the absolute truth of those last statements, I hand you over to Galen, who will explain his magical realist vision for Afghanistan.

Today – “how being honest with the public” = guaranteed military successes in a parallel dimension where Galen writes all the rules and where Galen has executive veto over any and all enemy actions.

48. flyingrodent

And I feel I should re-emphasise some aspects of Galen’s patter in particular. To paraphrase Taibbi on Iraq – the notion that our problem in Iraq and Afghanistan was a resource deficit is pure, unadulterated madness.

Our enemies don’t have airplanes, tanks or body armour. They are fighting us with garage-door openers and fifty year-old artillery shells, sneaking around in the middle of the night to plant roadside bombs. Anytime anyone dares oppose us in the daylight, we vapourize them instantly, practically from space, using weapons that cost more than the annual budgets of most Arab countries to design. We outnumber the active combatants on the other side by at least five to one.

In an average year, the United States alone spends more on the military than the rest of the world combined – more than six hundred billion dollars.

…we as societies don’t have the will to devote the resources and time to actually making a difference.

Eleven years is longer than World War One and Two combined. By the time we leave in 2014, the Afghan War will have surpassed the total combined duration of WWI, WWII, the Falklands War, the First Gulf War and the Kosovo War.

And here’s the good part – Galen is being serious. He actually believes that, given more resources than hundreds of billions per year and more time than eleven years, some form of victory could have been achieved. It’s a masterclass in self-deception.

49. margin4error

Galen

Agreed that both sides of any war tend to do terrible things – and the republicans in spain more so than most – but as you recognise, the principle that one kills in order to build a better life is long established and not at all condemned as a notion. So hopefully it’s a useful historical example of why a simple death toll doesn’t in itself justify or de-justify military action.

FlyingRodent

It no less wonderful a conceit than the alternative view expressed by people living lives in which it isn’t their family banned from education, killed seemingly randomly by the government, unable to worship as they wish and forced into effective slavery by men with lots and lots of guns and bombs.

So neither you nor I, presumably, should form an opinion for fear of ringing hollow?

As for the super-power in question – they didn’t do it because it was convenient and you know that. Well, at least you know that if you are not very dumb. They did it because they were attacked by an institution that was run from and supported by the government within, that country. What would then be rotten would be to go in – fight the war against those who started it – and make no attempt to support people there in putting something better in place.

I really do think it’s interesting to note that, presented with the argument –

And I do apologise for appearing abstract. I was unambiguously arguing in favour of remaining in afghanistan for as long as we have because of things like a desire to establish a degree of democracy and rights for the people who were suffering there. After all – the evidence is that this is not impossible. Afghanistan now has elected institutions. Granted they are about as democratic as Russia’s equivelents – but they are in place and that creates a chance for improvement in future. Likewise women are now being taught to read and write in their millions there – suggesting that some degree of success is achievable. You might consider that a disaster. You might think that a failure to achieve nirvana would be a disaster. But some of us live in the real world and consider some good better than no good. If staying there for longer has helped to cement some of that good – then that’s something to be balanced against the cost. Letting the perfect be the enemy of the good is just purile childish nonsence.

Or do you genuinely believe that creating a state that educates women where there was previously a state that didn’t – is impossible? Because one obvious (not so abstract) example of that impossible being achieved is Afghanistan.

Of course you may find it harder to soundbite if you admit that truth.

50. the a&e charge nurse

‘America’s strategy to globally liberate capital investors is not new, nor is the more publicized feature of the Bush Doctrine–pre-emptive military action. The U.S. was globalizing free trade and regularly using pre-emptive military force as a tactic to implement its strategy throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. What is new in the Bush Doctrine is that this strategy is explicitly stated’.

And …. ‘The challenge for the U.S., as Zbigniew Brzezinski has argued since the 1990s, is that whoever controls Central Asia including Afghanistan will control Eurasia and consequently the world. The problem for the U.S. is that, other than its military power, it has no comparative advantage economically, politically or socially over other powerful states in the competition for influence in Central Asia. A constant state of insecurity in the region is, thus, to America’s advantage’.
http://socialistworker.org/2011/01/07/afghanistan-open-for-business

Whatever Afghanistan is about, it’s not driven by western concern for ordinary Afghanees.

Socialist Worker has it exactly upside down. The sad truth is that American elites are not evil Machiavellian geniuses, artfully creating the appearance of incompetence to disguise the truth of their total dominance of the international scene, but wussy NYT readers like the rest of us.

52. the a&e charge nurse

[51] since 1945 has there been a more internationally aggressive country than the USA?
http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Blum/US_Interventions_WBlumZ.html

If the answer is yes, then one of the questions must be why – personally I have very grave doubts that concern for the indigenous population has ever been a factor in any of the blood letting.

Surely Afghanistan is just another episode in a wide spread and predictable pattern of international thuggery?

I think you mean, “if the answer is no”.

America’s foreign policy is one of Wilsonian idealism aka liberal internationalism, and has been since Woodrow Wilson was President; i.e., for about a century.

Its rulers believe the same nonsense that we all do. Indeed, they have been instrumental in spreading liberalism around the world. Since they are liberals, they make very bad imperialists, but the urge to intervene to spread democracy and freedom and truth and justice is at base a liberal one.

After all, that’s why Afghanistan is such a disaster. The US can’t conquer it, because it believes that it is there to liberate. But it can’t liberate it either, because Afghans are not secret Americans waiting for their heroes to arrive and build their daughters’ schools. They don’t want to be liberated, thank you very much.

However, the American Empire is built on the liberal lie that all peoples are the same. It can’t admit to itself that its task in Afghanistan is totally and utterly impossible, and that Afghanistan is never going to turn into New Jersey, no matter how much tea they drink with the locals, or how much development money they hand out. So it stays there, for years, pouring out its blood and treasure.

It’s the white man’s burden all over again.

It’s the white man’s burden all over again.

Correct–only now with added bullshit.


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