Quote of the Day

by Joshua Foust on 4/3/2007 · 4 comments

“It was not intelligence failure, it was political failure.”

—Ahmed Shah Massoud, after a botched attack on Derunta, a training camp run by Osama bin Laden that was rumored to be the site of chemical weapons testing, in 1999. The attack was a failure in part because of the plan—transporting katyusha rockets on mules to a firing position—and mostly because of a conflict within Clinton’s Osama policy, which demanded non-lethal action, non-interference in the Afghan civil war, and the capture of Osama, while authorizing lethal force if it is in self-defense.

In other words, everyone assigned to work with Afghanistan in the late 90’s was hamstrung by incoherent policy guidelines streaming from the White House. Kind of like today.

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– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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jonst April 4, 2007 at 3:55 am

One could plausibly argue that the “incoherent…guidelines” of the 90s came out of the criminal policies of the preceding decades that were brought to light, and, somewhat, dealt with in the Church Hearings and subsequent bills that came out of those hearings. In any event I would argue most emphatically the policies of the Clinton admin,differ from the “incoherent” policies and actions of today. If for no other other reason than the simple fact that the previous admin, however naively, or not, as the case may be, thought they were accomplishing something in terms of ‘soft power/influence’ in the world by avoiding ‘heavy-handed’ actions that could, at a minimum, be portrayed as Imperialist actions. One could rightly throw up their hands at this equation and shout ‘ah, we should have got the MF and its that simple….’. However this present admin, with their never ending unique blend of gross, indeed, criminal incompetence, and supreme arrogance, gives the nation the worst of both worlds. Soft power or hard, the result is the same. It will take decades to recover if, indeed, we ever do recover.

Joshua Foust April 4, 2007 at 4:01 am

That’s certainly fair. However, even after the embassy bombings, Clinton underplayed the threat of UBL and AQ—to the point of causing several of the higher-ranking members of the Osama bin Laden tracking unit at the Counterterrorism Center to become risably angry when the subject came up. You’re right that there were legal and soft power issues that are admirable for his attention, but I think they were taken to an extreme—Clinton had been made hypersensitive to public opinion by the impeachment and the Sudan bombing, so he was afraid to act decisively if there was a chance it was wrong.

Anyway, the parallel I was drawing was merely structural. I think Bush’s policies in Afghanistan are incoherent as well, just in different ways. And I fear they will end with the same result.

jonst April 4, 2007 at 5:38 am

Sadly, I think you are correct re the outcome in Afghanistan. Although, given the historical dynamics of the place, I’m not sure how far a well run operation would take us. But in any event….

You are also correct re Clinton’s hypersensitivity. Though, personally, I find it more in their (both Clinton’s) nature than I do any reaction to the impeachment et al. I think they both are disinclined to act decisively on anything, other that is, than their own aspirations. Further, I think, lurking in the deep background to decisions taken and not taken, lurked negotiations on pipelines. Just a hunch there.

In the end I think Zbigniew Brzezinski basically has it correct here (its not that I am a giant supporter of his)…..the historical context of these wars is all wrong for the US. These kinds of wars….wars of occupation like circumstances have passed us by. It is time for something new. And our political system, right now, is at its worst when it has to come up with anything new. That’s what happens, I would argue, late into Empires.

Joshua Foust April 4, 2007 at 3:12 pm

I certainly agree with you on that. In fact, on my other blog, I’m trying to puzzle out what I call ‘moving from grand strategy to actual strategy.’ The big problem with that, though (and this is moving way beyond the confines of this topic, but whatever), is that the world is too chaotic to be generalized and too big to be ad hoc.

I’m not certain there needs to be something new, however, or just different. But we are behaving like a dying Empire, at least if you put stock in things like Kondratieff cycles.

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