I had some thought on the new Afghanistan NIE at RT yesterday:
I think Matt misses the truly insidious follow through of this:
I’ve been struck over the past three or four years by how many different Chinese people have expressed to me the view that the purpose of U.S. military engagement in Afghanistan is to establish a long-term presence there in order to encircle the PRC. This would not, as a policy objective, make much sense, but I think it does illustrate the important fact that Chinese people have a China-centric view of the world.
If you want to see how foreign policy commitments metastasize, think this through: If the Chinese believe that the United States is in Afghanistan in order to encircle China (and to be sure, I don’t think this), then a US withdrawal from Afghanistan becomes a “win” for China, even if Chinese beliefs were without foundation. If the Chinese believe that the American encirclement project has failed, then they might be inclined to take more aggressive steps in some other part of the world that touches on “genuine” US national security interests.
And thus, we need to stay in Afghanistan in order to make the Chinese believe that we’re committed to the encirclement project, even if we’re not interested in the encirclement project. It’s right there in the Schelling, and Kissinger would totally understand.
Fantastic J. Malcolm Garcia piece at Guernica about the use of burn pits in Afghanistan. Essentially, the military burns everything they use in Afghanistan and Iraq. This includes everything from electronics to plastic bags to feces. Not surprisingly, this is making a lot of people sick.
While one might see the need for immediate disposal of waste in new operations, in bases we have operated for years, this should be entirely unacceptable.
Specifically, I call for legislation that forces U.S. bases abroad, including permanent or semi-permanent bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, to be subject to the Environmental Protection Agency and the environmental laws of the United States. I would call for similar legislation for labor law.
My column this week calls for a more rigorous appraisal of US interests in Afghanistan, and gives some reasons why we’re unlikely to see it:
In other words, would it make sense for the United States to “lose” the war in Afghanistan simply to put an end to the steady stream of casualties and the ongoing political and military investment in the survival of the Afghan government?
Some argue that the idea of winning by losing is a contradiction in terms. If the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai fell and the Taliban returned to power, they say, U.S. interests around the world would suffer grave reputational harm. Defeat would also increase the likelihood of additional terrorist attacks. However, the idea that the United States must “win at all costs” isn’t very satisfying. Even maximalists will find some measures — a domestic draft, for instance, or the mothballing of the aircraft carrier fleet — too high a price to pay for victory.
Assessing the cost of victory is complicated by two factors. The first is that costs are most clear in hindsight. It is very difficult while in the middle of a conflict to project how long the current level of spending and casualties will continue into the future. This is doubly true of counterinsurgency conflicts, which most often lack clear victory points. Second, the measure of “national interest” is more complicated than it sounds, as not everyone in the United States has the same foreign policy interest. To take an obvious example, workers very often benefit from protection against international competitors, while capital benefits from mobility and the relatively free movement of goods.
I went on the Alyona Show yesterday to discuss a book I haven’t read:
To elaborate a bit, I think that it’s correct to say that the President could have de-escalated in Afghanistan if he’d been willing to expend the political capital necessary to do so. The Woodward seems to indicate that the President did, in fact, want options for de-escalation. Opposition within the military, the professional national security bureaucracy, and the foreign policy elite of the Democratic Party could have been overcome; a different set of advisers would have presented different options (although the pro-escalation bias in all three of the above communities would have persisted). Observing this, however, doesn’t excuse us from taking note of how difficult de-escalation would have been for the President. I don’t think it’s surprising that Obama chose to pursue priorities other than de-escalation; to the extent that we want assign credit and blame, taking note of the obstacles doesn’t preclude us from determining that he deserves either or both.
I’d also want to briefly re-iterate what appears to have been a central aspect of the President’s thinking: Ten years and another trillion dollars IS defeat, regardless of the situation that we leave behind in Afghanistan. There is no construction of US national interest (as apart from parochial interest) that could treat such an intervention as victory. The position of the uniformed military is interesting. Although the military as an institution is less pro-intervention than commonly assumed, in this case the senior command appeared to be resolutely pro-escalation. This is entirely understandable; this leadership continues to remember the demoralized military of the 1970s, and does not wish to be perceived as responsible for failure in another war. On the other hand, there are substantial portions of the uniformed military which are deeply skeptical of the COIN strategy being used in Afghanistan, and which wouldn’t be too sad to see that doctrine fail. This includes elements of both the USAF and USN, but also a faction of the Army.
Despite admitting that he has not purchased a compact disc in years, General David Petraeus revealed Wednesday that he is “an Enya guy,” referring to the new-age Irish musician.
“I do like Celtic music. And Enya is among those,” the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan told Fox News Channel’s Jennifer Griffin in an exclusive interview.
Petraeus said he has not had the opportunity to enjoy his favorite artist in the battlefield, saying he has not listened to music since he’s been on the ground in Afghanistan.
“Maybe over time I’ll get to that,” he added.
Maybe the Taliban will decide that killing Enya fans isn’t worth the trouble?
UPDATE [by SL]: I can’t resist once again quoting one of my favorite hatchet jobs:
Pondering the fate of post-September 11 pop, everyone predicted what they already wished for–Slipknot undone, Britney in hiding. What happened instead was the unthinkable–sales of Enya’s first album since 1995 spiked 10 months after release. (And she thought that movie where Charlize Theron fucked Keanu Reeves and died of cancer was a promotional coup!) Two years in the making with the artiste playing every synthesizer, the 11 songs here last a resounding 34 minutes and represent a significant downsizing of her New Age exoticism since 1988’s breakthrough, Watermark–it’s goopier, more simplistic. Yanni is Tchaikovsky by comparison, Sarah McLachlan Ella Fitzgerald, treacle Smithfield ham. Right, whatever gets folks through the night. But Enya’s the kind of artist who makes you think, if this piffle got them through it, how dark could their night have been? Like Master P or Michael Bolton only worse, she tests one’s faith in democracy itself.
This is interesting for a couple of reasons:
Nato and the United Nations are cautiously considering a Taliban proposal to set up a joint commission to investigate allegations of civilians being killed and wounded in the conflict in Afghanistan, diplomats in Kabul have told The Guardian.
The Taliban overture, which came in a statement posted on its website, will revive a divisive debate about whether to conduct any formal talks with insurgents who are responsible for the majority of civilian casualties in Afghanistan, and whose assassination campaign now kills one person every day on average.
The Taliban statement called for the establishment of a body including members from the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, UN human rights investigators, NATO and the Taliban. “The stated committee should [be] given a free hand to survey the affected areas as well as people in order to collect the precise information and the facts and figures and disseminate its findings worldwide,” the Taliban said.
One human rights organisation has already thrown its support behind the joint commission plan, which echoes a similar idea floated four years ago.
The UN and NATO are treading carefully, but western diplomats say the proposal is being carefully considered. One said that some senior officers at the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force were keen on the idea but that no steps could be taken until it was considered “at the highest political level”.
It appears that last week’s UN report suggesting that 76% of Afghan civilian casualties over the past year were caused by the Taliban, rather than by the government or ISAF, hit home. NATO/ISAF should strongly consider taking the Taliban up on this offer. First, it offers an opportunity to develop productive contacts with the Taliban, contacts that could provide the foundation for an eventual settlement. Second, just as public criticism has helped make NATO more conscientious about civilian casualties, sensitivity about public criticism may make the Taliban more likely to moderate its behavior. Even if the independent commission proposal is mainly a stunt, it still seems to indicate that the Taliban wants to be viewed as respectful of civilian life and property.
You eat at enough DFACs and you’re going to see some awesomely bad Armed Forces Network commercials. One series that I actually like features MLB players, vets and managers telling the troops how much they appreciate them and want them to get home safe. (Josh Hamilton, Mike Scioscia, Dave Winfield, Rafael Furcal, Phil Hughes, Andy Pettitte, Victor Martinez, etc.) It comes across as a nice, heartfelt message.
Except, unfortunately for Derek Jeter, who looks into the camera and says, “To the troops, wanna thank you for your support…” Fingernails on a chalkboard.
Now we know what we’re fighting for.
I have an article up at Right Web on conservatives and civilian control of the military:
The reaction of right-wing elites to the cashiering of McChrystal represents a genuine improvement over the historical attitude of conservatives toward civ-mil relations. Most importantly, conservatives have affirmed civilian supremacy over the military, even in the context of a Democratic president lacking military credentials.
However, this affirmation carries some warning signs. In the future, conservatives may well use the McChrystal firing as part of a “stab in the back” narrative, explaining how a Democratic president lost an otherwise winnable war by declining to take military advice. While every indication suggests that Obama acceded to all of McChrystal’s requests on doctrine and troop strength in Afghanistan, future attacks may nevertheless use the McChrystal firing as a touchstone in the conservative narrative of the “war on terror.”
Noah Shachtman’s article on USAF targeting procedures in Afghanistan is worth re-reading.
… despite some speculation to the contrary, it appears that David Petraeus will retain the restrictions described in the above article.
It’s true — Time really is using a graphic image of horrible abuse by the Taliban that happened during the U.S. occupation as a reason to stay there forever with, presumably, no cost/benefit analysis whatsoever. One thing that has chacterized both wars is policymakers and analysts who seem to have no idea how difficult effective state-building is; effective authority isn’t something you can establish because you really want to. Staying in Afghanistan out of the belief that if we spend enough money and kill enough people an effective Weberian state will control the whole country and wipe out any Taliban influence is just nuts. And the same inability to understand this leads to further policy errors related to the War (On Some Classes of People Who Use Some) Drugs.