Quick Hits on Afghanistan

by Joshua Foust on 10/7/2009 · 49 comments

Stuff probably not worth a full post, but defo worth highlighting.

  • Hey, remember the time I said, “Democratic elections usually rest on a few basic principles… Afghanistan doesn’t quite qualify for any of these.” Well, the UN knew it all along, too, and Kai Eide is turning out to be a total jerk.
  • The Taliban claim to have raised a flag over Nuristan. Naturally, ISAF disagrees, but it’s tough to dispute that right now.
  • From Kabul, Old Blue asks some poignant questions of the people wanting to whisk us out of Afghanistan.
  • Dear Washington Policy Community: why not read books about Afghanistan to learn about the war in Afghanistan? I mean, hey, just a thought—knowing the place really does help.
  • Dear CATO Institute: you lost me at “Graveyard of Empires.” You made me stop watching when you spoke in the name of all Afghans and their thoughts and opinions. A video based on stereotype and assumption is not analysis, it is propaganda.
  • Pentagon think tank examines Pentagon program, declares it a success and wants more. Hrm. We must have visited different PRTs, for them to have such glowing recommendations. I’ll read this in full and report back sometime later.
  • The Taliban say they’re no threat to the west. Ignoring the obvious (and unfair, and problematic) comparison to a certain European ruler, this is like FEMA saying it’s okay, New Orleans, they’re here to help.

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This post was written by...

– 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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dennis October 7, 2009 at 11:35 pm

1.no threat to the west. yeah a closed fist Islam.
2.raised flag- could have a little flag somewhere.
but for me the tops was” Richard Engel” saying the Afghans are fed up with the US. “so no threat to west” just may fit in nicely.

Mike October 8, 2009 at 7:18 am

Josh, thanks for pointing these out. I think the more interesting point about what Washington’s reading was McCain’s suggestion that there’s a “better comparison” to be made, ie. not Vietnam and Afghanistan but Iraq and Afghanistan. What does that mean, anyway? Just plan silly, methinks.

Ex 18A October 8, 2009 at 11:39 am

Old Blue’s post is mostly guilt tripping moralizing. Tell me Joshua, and all you other Central Asian nation builders, are you going to go to Congress to demand the passage a la European absolute monarchs of a hefty war tax on the American people to fund “doing it right” as you all define it?

There are very good rational, material reasons to oppose your arguments for “doing it right,” all of which assume, overtly or covertly, the Pax Americana. Andrew Bacevich has done a good job of arguing for an end to the false Pax. What I don’t hear from you all are rational and material counter-arguments. Particularly, how are we going to afford it?

I for one am tired of the bullshit cosmopolitan moralizing from the pro-war camp. Perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate Paul Kennedy’s arguments in The Rise and Fall of Great Powers. That’s certainly where we’re headed, if we’re not there already.

Joshua Foust October 8, 2009 at 11:52 am

Ex 18A,

In the grand scheme of things, the Afghan war is not that expensive — it is still, despite all the surging, far less expensive than the on-going Iraq war. Its cost in comparison to most wasteful federal programs (including, my God, all the star trek weapons research) is marginal.

The problem with deriving a strategy from perceived resource constraints is that you tend to downplay the strategic rationale for a given policy. Bacevich has his reasons to oppose the wars, and reasonable people can disagree on whether or not those interests are universally agreed to or even equally weighted. In my other posts about the interests the U.S. has in the region, I have not used “rational” (in the classical economic sense) or material justifications, because those are secondary to the interests at hand.

If protecting or promoting an interest is too expensive with one method, then you need to explore an alternative method to still protect or promote that interest. But cost does not suddenly make an interest disappear. That’s the critical weakness in Bacevich’s, and your, argument here. Just because you think it’s expensive, that doesn’t mean the problem vanishes.

So, is the war in Afghanistan not worth fighting? That discussion is separate from “is the war affordable.”

Old Blue October 8, 2009 at 4:13 pm

Using a Special Forces MOS as a callsign is supposed to grant a special legitimacy to a newfound opposition to “nation building” and war taxes, I suppose. As if all the money spent on training an 18A (detachment commander) is suddenly a social program for the people of the United States and not just Operation Enduring Paycheck for a man who abruptly develops a new set of morals at some point after the subsidy has ended and his mind is freed to recognize the moralizing of others. This is an interesting effect, and you pull it off with very little suggestion of hypocrisy.

Or perhaps it then becomes a wealth of experience, and soul-wrenching lessons learned from claiming the lives of others. Perhaps the guilt is not in my writing or my current experiences in this particular war, but in the horrid experiences of a Special Operations warrior who has renounced such evils and now speaks with the authority of sins repented. I don’t know. I’m just pondering the benefit of using an MOS as a commenter’s label for himself while self-righteously crying out about money spent in stabilizing a country for our own benefit. There was a time when a Special Forces officer would have easily seen where stabilizing a country was more beneficial than a punitive expedition followed by immediately absenting oneself from the scene… the old, “Do unto others, then split” mentality that appeared on t-shirts in the 1970’s. I guess those days of enlightenment are over.

Perhaps you find yourself more in agreement with Mr. Biden because it will increase opportunities in the Special Forces community to create international incidents in a country that does not now, nor is it projected to, welcome a bunch of ground-based operators on their sovereign soil.

While Bacevich is extremely well-spoken, his foreign policy stance appears to have been significantly affected by his personal experiences. While each person is a product of his or her own experiences, to a certain extent, when such events could be reasonably expected to be traumatic and emotionally significant, does the use of excellent argumentative skills really make up for the very personal influence of such traumas? Is this logic untainted by personal loss? I don’t think so, and so find it less than entirely persuasive. I find his logic flawed. I actually find it to be more of an emotional appeal than one that makes a tremendous amount of sense on the ground. It is simply a very well-stated emotional appeal, so much so that it carries the illusion of unemotional logic. I also find your logic flawed, and your reliance on jingoistic terminology to nicely box your opposition without offering any substantive rebuttal to be a flawed technique for argument.

Thanks for your visit to my site. I regret that my argument did not appeal to you, but certainly not enough to actually change my stance. I suppose I may safely assume that you shall not be gracing my pages any further, and shall endeavor to comfort myself by burying myself in my work here in Afghanistan and the fact that while you may state your opposition in writing on such pages as this, you are likely not actually doing any actual work on the issue. I will also assuage myself with the knowledge that you are not in the position of ODA commander here doing work that you do not believe in, as that would be very dangerous to a successful outcome as well. As such, my work will likely outweigh your words quite easily.

I still find your use of a former military position to be fascinating (while thoroughly unpersuasive,). I wish you the best of luck in finding a new way to define yourself, as the “ex” part means that it is over, and time to move on. Thank you for your past service.

Bernard Finel October 8, 2009 at 4:18 pm

>>While Bacevich is extremely well-spoken, his foreign policy stance appears to have been significantly affected by his personal experiences.<<

This is a wholly despicable argument. You should be ashamed of yourself. I'd say more… but I doubt I could keep it in any way civil.

Old Blue October 9, 2009 at 5:59 am

I’m not ashamed at all. No man can claim not to have been affected by his personal experiences. I did not refer to Bacevich as being in any way dishonorable. I believe that he is speaking from the heart and believes in what he is saying. I disagree with him in many respects and recognize that his experiences, and the concerns they could reasonably be expected to have bred, color his evaluations, that’s all. He has been vociferous, however, and has served as a lightning rod for those who would seek a softer, easier path and believe that America can make itself alone in the world. In this respect I do not believe that he has been helpful. The fact that a “conservative” would turn towards a “liberal” based upon his stance on the issue of Iraq alone would indicate that his decisions are pinned to one issue and one issue alone. That suffices to indicate, to me, that his reasoning is disproportionately affected by this single issue. In seeking an explanation for this, I see his experiences as being very relevant. Why it should be shameful to acknowledge this, I have no idea.

I readily admit that my experience here has affected my outlook. I look back to the States and the level of discussion as being at times almost entirely disconnected from reality on the ground over here; that decisions are being discussed with cherry-picked and impressionistic “information” from the field. Is that impression entirely realistic? I’m not sure, but I admit that my experience here is a part of that evaluation. So are the years and years of AirLand Doctrine training that did not prepare me one except in very broad ways for the conflict I found myself involved with here.

Because there has been loss and disillusionment (and the loss was absolutely tremendous personal loss), that makes it somehow heinous to acknowledge out loud that one man’s position is colored by those influences?

I disagree. Andrew Bacevich may be very popular in some circles, but he is only a man, as are we all, and not an icon. There is not an intellectually perfect or pure thinker on this earth. All wear the lenses we, and life, have made for our eyes. He is not flawless, and neither is his reasoning.

Ex 18A October 8, 2009 at 1:13 pm


This is a rhetorical, wonkish response, not a logical or practical one. You want to try again? I myself refuse to compartmentalize the validity of the interest from the costs of pursuing it.

Ex 18A

Joshua Foust October 8, 2009 at 1:18 pm

You can complain all you want. I talk routinely about interests in Afghanistan. Why are we there? Does our end state make sense? And so on. I question many of these routinely.

Now your complaint is, I don’t address the question of costs. On a national level, you’re right, though I think it’s worth noting I’ve specifically argued against any further troop increases, and I’ve even specifically argued the necessity to withdraw from some areas because the cost of managing them exceeds any potential benefits.

So where along your arbitrary spectrum of appropriate discussion do I fall short? I’d appreciate some more details.

Keith October 8, 2009 at 1:26 pm


Bacevich’s opposition to the cost of the war isn’t his main critique–at least in my reading. He argues that the United States has little to no interest in Afghanistan, and the interests the US does have can be managed through intelligence, law enforcement, and homeland defense. Among other places, he discusses these concerns at CNAS’s June conference. (link: http://www.cnas.org/june2009) I guess reasonable people can disagree on that. I lived in Afghanistan for a little over a year and it is hard not to fall in love with the place, but despite that, I agree with Bacevich.

You are right in that the Pentagon’s various weapon systems give-aways are more expensive than the Afghan war. But those weapon systems, as wasteful as they are, aren’t getting Americans killed. So any cost-benefit analysis needs to go beyond dollars and look at lives as well. I know–less than 1000 American soldiers have died in Afghanistan thus far, but COIN requires a lot more risk for soldiers, and possibly or probably a lot more loss of American life. Will the gain in American security be worth the loss of American life, dollars be damned?

Ex 18A October 8, 2009 at 2:55 pm


Another rhetorical response. I can appreciate that–shall I paraphrase William James, “policy is the giving of bad reasons for what we believe on instinct”?

Still, I’d like to think our arguments based on instinct are enhanced by experience, and I don’t see that you take into account the experiences of Americans–real Americans, not corporate shills, policy wonks, active duty soldiers, bureaucrats, and politicians–as they deal with the material consequences of the United States Government’s pursuit of various versions of the Pax Americana. One can make the heretical argument, for example, that our pursuit of the Pax Americana is a contributing factor to 9/11. Cutting out a lot of a very long argument, one can conclude that the only true way to deal with the threats reflected in 9/11 is to abandon the Pax Americana. It is a valid argument, even if the Enlightened don’t like it.

Analogy: what was the impact of the Crusades on European peasants? Do you think they agreed that recovering Jerusalem from the Saracens was a vital interest and worth the taxes imposed upon them to pay for the Crusades, (which, by the way, were mostly enormous and costly failures from the standpoint of rational policy, although the acquisition of wealth was beneficial for some, such as the Knights Templar)? Perhaps a smart French peasant, say, the one portrayed by Gerard Depardieu in the movie Le retour de Martin Guerre, might figure out that the only vital interests involved in foreign wars is the increase of aristocratic wealth, and the people be damned. However, what the imposter posing as Martin Guerre saw as his vital interest was not personal wealth or the honor of the king or church, but having a family and living in the quiet farming community that the real Martin Guerre had abandoned for the life of a soldier and mercenary.

This is why the question of costs is inextricably bound to the discussion of vital national interests–because the interests and their costs of pursuit have very real, material impacts on the lives of real people.

Was Salah ad-Din truly a threat to French peasants? Are the Taliban truly a threat to the American people? You can’t dismiss negative conclusions easily.

If we say robust nation building in Af’stan to offset Islamic fundamentalism is a vital American interest, then we look at the extraordinary cost of it, we might just start rethinking whether it truly is a vital national interest.

Further, I could care less that various policy analysis models demand compartmentalizing establishing a vital interest from the question of how to pay for plursing it. Seeing budgets drive policy, rather than the other way around, used to drive me crazy as a young officer, because that wasn’t what the doctrine of proper planning called for. Soon enough, though, I realized that is how things work.

And your complaining about this state of affairs won’t get you anywhere, just as my complaining about it 20 years ago didn’t get me anywhere (except into the civilian world, where I now complain about politics driving scientific research).

In short, economics is not only important on its own terms, but it’s a springboard to discussing and re-evaluating just exactly what our vital national interests really are. That’s the pragmatics of the problem.

But that’s not a debate we’re really having in this country is it, the arguments of Burkean conservatives, old line leftists, and green communitarians such as myself notwithstanding. You might spend some time there. OK?

Ex 18A

Ex 18A October 8, 2009 at 5:48 pm

To Old Blue

Your attempt to discover various character/personality defects in me for my considered opposition to your policies, not to mention your not so subtle insults regarding my Special Forces service and how I interpret it, is wholly and viciously ad hominem, so as they say in France, going where Bernard Finel won’t go, I say va t’en faire foutre, cochon.

Ex 18A

jeannick October 8, 2009 at 6:35 pm


As for a measurable interest , how about extirpating 90% of the world opium production ?

What is the weekly cost of kids destroyed or degraded ,

……….herbicide the place , totally !


Bart Colleoni October 8, 2009 at 9:27 pm

I dont get it. You say it’s in our national interest to invest more blood and money to fight an indigenous insurrection when, from everything we read, our own people on the ground uniformly consider the local “government” vile, inept and/or corrupt. Even assuming it’s in our national interest, how in the world can we possibly win this? Are we just supposed to hold our nose?

I’m reminded of all the times in the past we were told it was in our vital national interest to support various other vile and corrupt governments. Maybe we’re getting a little smarter, finally.

Old Blue October 9, 2009 at 3:59 am

There is significant corruption in the Afghan government, it’s true. There are good guys and there are bad guys, and sometimes it is very frustrating. Those who have worked on ground here usually know a few of both. There are a number of causes for the corruption, some of which relate directly to a society that has become a “conflict society” over 30 years of warfare.

We have corruption in our own government. What is the answer to that?

Can dedicated Afghans (and there are quite a few) actually make a difference? I believe that the answer is yes. I am seeing behavioral changes on the ground here that are beginning to enable and empower these dedicated people to make that change. Afghanistan has many parallels to Vietnam, but there is one truth; Afghanistan is not Vietnam, any more than it is Iraq. There are huge challenges here, but they are not insurmountable. There are lots of smart, dedicated people who live here, and more who are coming in from outside to assist in making these changes possible. Is that a guarantee? No. But I don’t believe that we should walk away from any job just because it is hard.

Part of that actually depends on not holding our nose, because we need to acknowledge the corruption in order to work to reduce it. Our own government is a prime example of the fact that you can never destroy it; only make it very difficult and punish those who participate in it. But this can be done.

Bart Colleoni October 9, 2009 at 8:40 pm

Nice to hear that from someone actually dealing with the local government. I really think this is a critical issue for those of us back home, the President apparently included, who struggle to decide what is the best course for our country to take. The election reports were not good news at all. Everyone concerned seems to realize this task will not be easy. The question is whether, despite our best efforts and the bravest soldiers, it’s even possible.

Toryalay Shirzay October 8, 2009 at 10:02 pm

EX 18A, something doesn’t jibe here:considering what you did in the military and now you call yourself green communitarian?Also your defense of an evil religion that is proven to be against liberty is odd to say the least.Fifty year ago you may have had a point about Pax Americana but today the reality is different.no longer applicable.I wonder how many still think Iraq war actually constituted war on international terrorism.I wonder if i should be surprised to see some people duped into that nonsense.Now that the real war on international terrorism must be fought,there is blinking and what not.

Old Blue October 9, 2009 at 3:42 am

18A, my “attempt to discover” was an attempt to draw you out into explaining the path from a “young officer” to what you now describe as a “green communitarian.”

The gaping hole in all of your comments is that you simply don’t answer any of the questions you pose, except when you set up what you believe to be straw men, only to knock them down with simple denials that they are of any value. You offer no viable alternatives. You simply declare them unworthy of our “blood and treasure” and decry the costs. In your abject failure to see cause and effect, you bring nothing to the table except personal insult driven by being very impressed with your own background (your pen name indicates that you think others should be, too) and a few snippets of French. You fail to recognize that the world has changed. You have no answer for the threat that non-state actors, incubated inside failing or failed states, have brought to our own shores, other than to make some sweeping indictment of “Pax Americana” and advocate isolationism. With no further thought or proof you declare that the Taliban is not a threat to America or our interests and blithely move on to… what? “Green communitarianism?” What in the hell is that, anyway? You’ve made up a name for yourself and now your comments are some sort of “Green Communitarian” manifesto on foreign policy, quoting a university professor who, having become disillusioned as a young officer in Vietnam, has lost his son in the current conflict and declares the whole thing not worth our treasures because he has lost his and fails to see any value in those sacrifices.

Your argumentative tactic, as I’ve seen above directed at Josh, is dismissive and arrogant. It is also slightly cracked. You are a complainer. You whine about this and that, and you take a genuine interest in the world (as demonstrated by your willingness to read blogs such as Josh’s), but you never get past the whining stage… mixed with an intellectual arrogance I find a bit odd in a man who can whine eloquently but never gets to offering a viable alternative. You will shortly claim that you have, in fact, provided a solution; withdrawal and saving our money… presumably to use it to drive “green communitarian” projects (whatever that would mean). That is not a real solution to the current situation. It is a childish whine that makes no sense in the real world of, “We are where we are. Any good ideas on what to do next?” No, all you have is objections and dismissals of the ideas of others… others who have been on the ground and have seen what is broken. Of course, very few can see things as clearly as you do, because you see what is really REALLY broken.

Where you actually came somewhat close to the point was in your allusion to the movie above; the man who wanted to live in a little community and be left alone. Most Afghans want only this, but they are subjected to the whims of any strongman who has a gun and will wield it in pursuit of his own goals. The rich and mighty you fear (in another crackpot way) are not some American elite, but Central Asian warlords, Taliban, HiG and otherwise (yes, including some in the sitting Afghan government) who would once again demonstrate the old way of the third world, where there are the very poor and the very rich… the line delineating the difference littered with expended casings and bodies. There, Sir, is your “green community,” not in your isolationist utopia of French farmers, apolitically driven scientific research, manicured lawns and malls.

You actually have more in common with Takfiris than you do most people in society, for you don’t accept the premises upon which human interactions are based, and so your solutions are completely impractical unless the basis is changed. Where you are different from the Takfiris is that you appear to eschew violence as a means to change that basis.

Just as when you were a young officer, you fail to see the point that you either contribute or you get the hell out of the way. You are now out of the way of the military (a fact that I am becoming grateful for, as I’ve seen quite a bit of you over the course of my very long career), and on to being a complaining pain in the side of some administrator of a research organization, bemoaning that those with the money to pay for research don’t see things your way. You will never change a thing, for you speak from a position of impotence. You would relate your impotence to money, the rich, the government, et al; but it’s not. Your impotence stems from the fact that you do not offer a damn thing except two hands and a brain that can accomplish tasks, but a complete lack of vision for driving anything significant. Because, for you, everything is broken in its very drivers… budgets driving policy, money driving scientific research… and that is where you depart from sanity. Insanity is the inability or unwillingness to perceive, accept and abide by reality… the truth… and you obviously cannot. The moment you accept reality as it is, you may have something to offer by working through existing frameworks, although you are totally out of practice in offering any solutions to real problems, always going after the unsolvable root cause. Effective people learn to work within the real system and learn what can be changed as they develop the seniority to actually change them. They are doers, not complaining whiners who leave or are driven off to find solace elsewhere, never really finding it due to their inability to be that effective person… which requires an acceptance of reality.

Yes, I have met a lot of you over the course of my life. In conversation, I quickly realize that you are a conspiracy theorist and dreamer, a bit cracked, and I seek an exit to avoid a further waste of my time. In the public forum, you are a noisy diversion. You believe that you know it all as only a select few do.

If this is ad hominem, then so be it. I do feel that your arguments are without value based on a departure from sane thinking that has kept you a sideline player and dissatisfied whiner throughout your various careers. I believe that you are intelligent, but without merit in conversations such as these. There are lots of intelligent, nutty people in the world, and you are one of them. An irritant, but not a player. Ad hominem? You bet; but to dismiss ad hominem as a real reason to disregard foolishness again disregards reality. I disregard your message because of who you are and how you think. I admit it. Now, come back with another pithy French blowoff.

Ex 18A October 9, 2009 at 8:02 am

Up to this point, I’ve not been actively opposing the war. Now I will be.

Good job, old blue.

Old Blue October 9, 2009 at 8:56 am

Pretty easy to break your intellectual bull to where you pout like a five year old… so yeah, it was a good job.

As for the rest, you childish ridiculousness, you either were or you weren’t and you won’t; so your immature attempt at a guilt trip is lying crap. If you were so mature and your mind so powerful, no amount of sussing you out in comments on a blog would change your behavior, because you would already be living your beliefs. If you weren’t, which is what the comment above says, you weren’t really being a man, anyway. So, if I finally got you to grow up and stand up for something that you believe in, other than Smurfs, then that was a good job, too. I guess I would be the first, and to do it from nearly 10,000 miles away is a pretty good trick.

Sheesh… that is the whiniest comment I’ve ever seen.

Ian October 9, 2009 at 10:56 am

I have to say, Old Blue, you don’t do any favors for the argument you’re trying to set forth. At all. And I frequently see some of the points you’re burying in the drone of your own self-righteous voice, which you seem to zone out to nicely.

Surprising would be when Old Blue actually can engage intellectually with someone he disagrees with. Till then, he’s moving in the direction of a typical blogger.

Old Blue October 9, 2009 at 1:38 pm

I can engage someone who disagrees with me, but that man deserved what he got.

I’m in a war over here, Ian. It’s something I see as being vitally important, and I’ve got my personal blood and treasure on the line for that belief. Sometimes I lose my patience with foolishness. There are points of disagreement and then there’s jackassery. He crossed that line. I got ugly with him, but it’s not the ugliest I’ve ever gotten in Afghanistan.

On my blog, I moderate my comments due to spam and at least one idiot. I do approve almost all comments, even those I disagree with or which criticize what I’m saying. Most times I do not engage with them. I just let them say what they will. The best conversations I’ve had, with COL Gian Gentile, for example, have been via email, which is posted on my blog or my blogger profile page. Ex 18A engaged me in the open, and so I deconstructed him in the same forum. Compared to warlike deconstruction, this was civil. It’s a matter of perspective.

If, on the other hand, you feel that my writing on my own blog grates on you, but see or agree with some of my points, perhaps I’m not the writer for you. There are others out there who carry the same message as well. If you’re basing your opinion on what I’ve written here, well, I’ve had a little more time to write these past couple of days, but the chances are that my job will take me away from where I have the time/ability to add my thoughts here. Most times, it’s all I can do to write on my own site. When I do get time to peruse the sites of people such as Josh, to see them getting hell from a goofball just sets me off. In this case, I’ll let Josh be civil. I don’t have time for it. Ex 18A deserved it.

Ian October 9, 2009 at 3:57 pm

Look, Old Blue, I’m just saying: you’re good when you’re talking about your own first-hand experiences. Outside of that, stop taking yourself so seriously.

Keith October 9, 2009 at 9:38 am

Old Blue,

Stop with the Bacevich lost his son and that clouds his thinking stuff. It is demonstratably false. Bacevich has been arguing against Pax Americana since at least 2002, when his book, American Empire, was published. He’s been consistent on this issue before and after his son died. He was against the Iraq War prior to his son being killed. His loss has no bearing on the discussion.

Old Blue October 9, 2009 at 10:03 am

I didn’t say cloud, but if that’s the way you see it, fine. Nor was the loss of his son the only thing that I mentioned as affecting his opinion. Bacevich was raised in a military culture which felt badly burned by Vietnam. The Weinberger and Powell “Doctrines” were the result of Vietnam, are somewhat consistent with Bacevich’s ideas, and are directly correlated to the inability of the military to have coherent doctrine in place to deal with insurgency; we simply weren’t going to fight them any more.

You may agree with Bacevich, and you may agree with Biden; that we should go back to the same behaviors that got us into this mess in the first place. The World Trade Center was bombed twice. Once in the early 90’s with a truck bomb. There were many other overt attacks on the United States and its interests. Failing and failed states, specifically Afghanistan, have been a critical incubator for Takfiri ideology and the training, financing and fielding of terrorists who have performed non-state violence up to and including state actor level. Biden is sadly mistaken, and there is a really good reason why he did poorly in every presidential race where he was a candidate. He is a politician, and not even a presidential caliber one at that. Again, when a “conservative” suddenly latches onto a “liberal” because of a single issue, Iraq, there is a problem. Why the fixation so great that all other issues are ignored?

It’s not all about his son. I’m not the one who needs to get over that; you are. A lot of it is about Vietnam and his early years as an officer. The Vietnam generation of officers buried that experience, destroyed the lessons learned from it and simply decided that the only reason for a military to exist was against obvious existential threats. They were, and are, wrong. Him included.

Ex 18A October 9, 2009 at 10:10 am

Were old blue to come to my country to impose his vision of what my life should be upon me and mine, I’d work at killing him too.

That’s what it comes down to, isn’t it? You can talk all you want about failed nation states and giving Afghanis the blessings of American power and culture, blah, blah, blah, but what it’s really about is imposing yourself upon people who don’t want you.

May God forgive you, because real people won’t.

Old Blue October 9, 2009 at 12:47 pm

Oh wow… really? So now it’s fantasies of killing me, eh? Scenarios in your mind where it would be okay to take a swipe at it. If I came to your house and tried to force my vision on you and yours… feh. If, if, if. State it however you want, you’ve gone ’round the bend, man.

Second, they are AFGHANS. Afghanis are what the money is called. Dork.

I never said anything about the blessings of American power, culture or whatever for Afghans. It’s not about them, it is about us. It just so happens that in order for us to be secure, there needs to be a stable government in Afghanistan that isn’t run by Takfiris. In order for my kids to be safe, little Afghan girls need to be able to go to school. I know that in your cause and effect-challenged mind that doesn’t make sense, but trust me on this one. The Afghans can take care of their own culture and other blessings just fine, and don’t really need for me to rearrange their world for them. Hell, I support them putting their traditional society back together, because it’s been ravaged by three decades of war’s depredations. It’s what works for them, and it’s broken to pieces and one of the biggest problems here… but I didn’t expect for you to be sharp enough to track on that piece. If you think I’m here to Americanize them, it’s just another symptom of your disconnect with reality.

Real people don’t need to forgive me. Many real people thank me, including real Afghans. It’s nutcases like you, who don’t live in the real world, that seem to think that I need to be forgiven. FYSA, my Creator and I are just fine, but thanks for your concern.

Okay, now that we’ve reached the death fantasy and eternal damnation stage, I’m wondering what you’ll come up with next… probably something about space aliens or cavity probes… because I can tell that you just have to have the last word. So I’ll make you this deal; go ahead and say whatever batshit crazy stuff you’re going to say this time and there will be no response. Maybe you can tell me, without peeking, how many sweaters you’re wearing.

Keith October 9, 2009 at 11:04 am

Old Blue,

I ask this question honestly–If the military is for something more than just “existential threats”, what are the other threats the US Military should address?

Old Blue October 9, 2009 at 1:11 pm

The military is under the control of the civilian government. Our job is to accomplish whatever task that the civilian government gives us… and sometimes that is not an existential, climactic threat. Being skilled in only handling the massive, decisive strike types of operations is literally letting our country down because sometimes, like in this instance, we are not being asked to battle another giant. It is the job of the US Military to be able to handle jobs given to it by the civilian masters across the full spectrum of human conflict… and that begins with insurgencies and ends with nuclear war.

The problem with “doctrines” such as Weinberger/Powell is that the military leadership doesn’t establish foreign policy. It was/is a lie in our own heads that kept us unprepared to do the job handed to us. COIN is not sexy. It is hard, confusing, dirty and fraught with pitfalls and dangers. It is not Audie Murphy, John Wayne on Iwo Jima type stuff. Most of it is really mundane. The little boy in every Soldier hates it. He wants the massive, glorious tank battle of Desert Storm with easily identifiable good guys and bad guys. That’s part of our problem, too.

Colonels and Generals will never admit that part.

The foreign policy choices that brought us here are another subject altogether.

Toryalay Shirzay October 9, 2009 at 11:24 am

Old Blue, good job soldier ,you left no stone unturned regarding Ex 18A.Now you love to be real ,admirable,and I hold you at your own word.Since you are already there in Afstan on the ground,it is only reasonable to expect that you will bring the same zeal to bear on Islamic fascists and the pathetic liars and thugs of of the current regime in Afstan.Your writings indicate that you are a real warrior who will never walk away from a tough fight.Now onward and forward with all the power to you,the good soldier!!,the world is watching……….

sayke October 9, 2009 at 12:47 pm

the military is for defending allies, preventing genocide, stopping civil wars, etc – as well as dealing with existential threats. dear lord this isn’t rocket science…

“ex-18a”, i don’t believe you for a second. i don’t think you were ever in the field, let alone the military. your whining and completely lack of complete lack of constructive solutions wouldn’t have lasted a second. and old blue, i agree with you about the vital strategic importance of defeating the taliban and building a viable nation in afghanistan… but keep the moral highground, man!

the alternatives to COIN and nation-building can be dismissed as follows: 1) tribal militias often backfire, resulting in heavily-armed thug gangs, and their weapons often end up being used by the taliban. 2) training the ANSF has been only marginally successful, resulting in a sometimes-decent army and a usually-malignantly-corrupt police. 3) negotiating with the taliban is out because their leadership doesn’t want to negotiate (they’d prefer to conquer, thank you very much), and negotiations over the past 8 years have had about as much success as they’re going to. 4) light-footprint operations were the bush administration’s original plan, and they allowed the taliban to regroup and thrive. 5) choosing convenience over justice/accountability and tolerating afghan government corruption has brought us to our current situation. we are left with 6), which combines COIN and nation-building, and is what we should have been doing all along.

let’s do it!!

Old Blue October 9, 2009 at 12:59 pm

Sayke: We really should have been doing this stuff, if not for the past 8 years, then at least since the doctrine was published. No doubt. We’d have been at it for coming up on three years by this point instead of really just now getting down to trying it.

What we’re up against here is truly a Maoist insurgency. Leave the Communist ideology out of it and it’s true. We’ve even heard Talib commanders using Maoist doctrinal language. These guys are pretty good. The worst part of it is that the guys he was commanding knew what he meant. Reading up on Mao or “A Practical Course for Guerrilla War” by ‘Abd Al-‘Aziz Al-Muqrin (Maoist insurgency doctrine adapted for al Qaeda) is a good idea. These dudes are following the recipe pretty well.

They know their doctrine better than we know ours, on the whole. Tell me that doesn’t suck.

Now we’ve got a General who really gets it, not just mouthing the words. The civilians coming over here are a good, dedicated lot. There are a lot of positive things getting started, including rebuilding and legitimizing the traditional systems that work for Afghans. (Anti-corruption is part of it, too.) There is room for optimism.

dennis October 9, 2009 at 5:04 pm

we hear alot about the civilians,or “up lift” if you will, but here in the states, it’s very rear you find a story about the good we have done. from what i hear the afghans are fedup with the US. with you being there,is there any good work done? power plants, water treatment, utilities? or are we locket in the FOB’s.

Old Blue October 10, 2009 at 1:14 pm

There are successes that are rarely heard about. Recently a civilian asked why all the success stories aren’t written about, or even a few of them. It’s easy; it doesn’t bleed.

As for the last question; yes, in my opinion we are overly FOB-bound. That is more of a security issue. You cannot provide security for local people if you cede the night to the enemy, and in many places, we do. I see that changing. I see a lot of things changing. It appears that GEN McChrystal is no joke, and it’s not just words, but he will enforce his tactical directives. Why have we not seen that so far? Because the General understands change. He issues a directive, gives a method to train to that standard, gives time to train and begin to change, and then begins to enforce his directive through supervision and, if necessary, changes in personnel. That takes time, so when the General hasn’t been here for much over three months, he’s gotten a ton done.

You get the news media perspective of the Afghan perspective. We get the unfiltered Afghan perspective. The majority of Afghans are sick of some of our behaviors, like driving behaviors, but their worst fear is us leaving.

Ex 18A October 9, 2009 at 6:16 pm

I am a DLI graduate in Arabic. My units of service are the 101st, 82nd, 5th SF Group, 10th SF Group, and JFK Special Warfare Center and School. Enlisted MOS 98G, officer MOSs 11 and 18, secondary 35. I’ve been on unclassified missions in Egypt, Sudan, Kenya, Zaire, Saudia Arabia, and Jordon. These missions accomplished nothing positive that I can see. Classified missions elsewhere that also accomplished nothing. I also speak French, which I learned at university and polished on a long trip in Africa while still in college. Hold the SF Tab, Ranger Tab, and Master Parachutist Badge, along with the EIB. Charter member SF Branch (1987).

So much for what you hot shots “know” about me, who are clearly making things up to satisfy your deeply insecure hubris as you attack those of us who know what can be accomplished and not. Leads me to believe that you don’t know what you’re talking about strategicaly, operationally, or tactically.

Shall we now go back to merits of the limits of power argument, or are you too committed to attacking personally everyone who disagrees with you?

The war’s over folks. Deal with it.

Schmedlap October 10, 2009 at 9:06 am

Woah. Registan has become a battle ground for a flame war!

GovIntegrity October 10, 2009 at 9:18 am

I’d let it rest, 18A. It’s pretty apparent to the objective observer who’s the one in dire need of some of that brilliant psychoanalysis Old Blue is dispensing liberally around here.

M SHANNON October 9, 2009 at 8:41 pm

Dennis: There is some good being done but nothing in line with what’s been spent. There are several villains:

1) Force protection. All US gov employees and most US contractors are locked into force protection profiles that are expensive, tend to lead to lock downs in FOBs and alienate the locals. NGOs don’t have this problem and are far more cost effective at small projects/ medical clinics etc. but NGOs lack the resources and highly skilled manpower for large projects.

2) Multiple sub-contracting. Each level takes a cut and relatively little is left for real work. After five or six sub-contracts the people doing the job often take short cuts (they were the low bidder) and the result is shoddy work. In many cases force protection concerns prevent serious, timely oversight by the main contractor or US gov.

3) PRTs were initially designed as a security force. The “Reconstruction” was stuck in the name to get Europeans to sign on. They have since morphed into a very, very expensive way to deliver not much while making it harder for non-military development to occur as they confuse locals and the enemy as to who the NGOs actually work for and who the development corporations actually are.

4) Frequent rotation of expat staff. Most foreign organizations frequently change staff and lose continuity. The military is the worst with most NATO countries only doing 6 month tours including a leave break. Forget about language skills.

What’s some of the answer:

1) Disband the PRTs, replace them with joint Afghan/NATO security units,
2) Increase donations to NGOs and NSPs substantially,
3) Relax FP rules for contractors,
4) Limit sub-contracting and put heavy failure to perform penalties in major contracts

anan October 10, 2009 at 11:13 am

Shannon, you are right that excessive force protection is a big problem. Hopefully McChrystal succeeds in reversing that.

“Multiple subcontracting” is caused by excessive Congressional oversight and regulation; which can only be satisfied by some large companies with lots of lawyers. Ending the regulation designed to limit “corruption” and letting PRTs and GIs spend the money directly with limited Congressional Oversight would help.

Civilian rotations should be handled the way Petraeus is handling military rotations. Designate someone to Afghanistan for many years (4 years or more), and rotate them back and forth between their base and Afghanistan. When not in Afghanistan, they still study Afghanistan.

“1) Disband the PRTs, replace them with joint Afghan/NATO security units,” I disagree. Improve the PRTs. Hire more civilians (including with NGO experience), nonWestern professionals (Chinese, Indonesian, Indian, Malaysian etc.) to work in them. Transfer the PRTs and their reconstruction money to the ANSF chain of command (ANA Corps and brigades initially; Provincial Governor and ANP when they are ready for the responsibility.) Super embed ISAF augmented advisory headquarters and units into ANSF headquarters and units in the short run. {colocated C2 facilities with a shared “Common Operating Picture” comprising shared “Situational and Positional Awareness” between ANA and the ISAF}

“2) Increase donations to NGOs and NSPs substantially,” Hasn’t the over reliance on the NGO industrial complex been one of the problems in Afghanistan. There is anti NGO sentiment among Afghans, including the GIRoA and ANSF. BTW, Shannon, NGOs are viewed negatively by many developing country governments and establishments. I have observed quite a bit of hostility towards NGOs from the Indian government, establishment, and civil society. Indian NGOs don’t call themselves NGOs to avoid the stigma.

Shouldn’t the objective be to increase Afghan capacity, or the capacity of Afghan civilian agencies? In some parts of Afghanistan this means Afghan NGOs even though this causes resentment among other Afghans; but not everywhere.

“3) Relax FP rules for contractors,” What does FP mean?
“4) Limit sub-contracting and put heavy failure to perform penalties in major contracts” How would this be enforced? It might be better to simply empower local PRTs to spend reconstruction money at their own discretion.

Ex 18A 10/9/2009 at 6:16 pm, what does this mean?: “The war’s over folks.” As long as the ANSF gets funding, this war will not be over. The ANSF might yield the South and parts of the East, but would fight hard in the rest of the country. Keep in mind that the ANA is more popular and respected among Pashtu Afghans than the Taliban. Among the 62% of Afghans that are not Pashtu, even you would concede that there is no competition.

Why do you think the ANSF will lose Afghanistan as a whole? Is it because you think the international community will cut off foreign aid to Afghanistan?

Old Blue October 10, 2009 at 1:40 pm

Shannon’s got a pretty good definition of the civil side and some of its major woes. The military isn’t the only one overly focused on force protection over here, and that’s a great point.

#4 can be accomplished by relaxing the FP and getting out to supervise and/or oversee the projects they are paying for. It also means no paying up front; only when a milestone is met, and less if it is not met on time.

He’s not talking about the war that I’m in, and he’s right, because I said he could have the last word and I’m sticking to that and not replying to that line any further. Has nothing to do with Afghanistan.

There are lots of Afghan NGO’s, and some of them are taking lead roles with INGO’s taking supporting roles. I haven’t seen a ton of resentment among the ANSF towards NGO’s and have never heard a civilian complaint about them. That is not definitive; I don’t ask about them a whole lot. But I have seen a large Afghan NGO presence, with plans to increase this.

I don’t see the international community cutting off aid, either.

BTW, my sympathies for the attack on the Indian Embassy. I know that the greatest loss of life was Afghan, but this is the second time in a year that the Indian Embassy has been targeted by an SVBIED, and there was loss of life. The Pakistanis are very concerned that India is the third largest international contributor of aid to Afghanistan, and so things like this happen. I hope that India practices restraint and continues to do good things here in Afghanistan. The contribution is appreciated.

anan October 10, 2009 at 11:01 pm

Old Blue wrote: “I haven’t seen a ton of resentment among the ANSF towards NGO’s and have never heard a civilian complaint about them. That is not definitive; I don’t ask about them a whole lot. But I have seen a large Afghan NGO presence, with plans to increase this.” Very interesting. Are Afghan NGOs perceived more favorably than foreign NGOs? One of Karzai’s and the Afghan Parliament’s main peeves is that too much international aid is distributed through NGOs, and not enough through the GIRoA. Are Karzai and the GIRoA out of sink with the Afghan public on this issue? Would Afghans prefer more international aid through Afghan NGOs versus through the GIRoA? Thanks for sharing Old Blue.

Figured out FP = Force Protection.

“I don’t see the international community cutting off aid, either.” This is not my observation. Recently Congress cut $900 million off of the ANSF aid appropriation that Obama requested. It will probably get added back in conference. But the point is that the Afghans aren’t getting nearly enough in long term aid pledges. China isn’t giving nearly enough, even though they are Afghanistan’s largest trading and investment partner. Why is India not giving more than $1.2 billion to Afghanistan? India has given more aid to Bhutan than to Afghanistan. Japan’s new PM has said he will increase Japan’s aid contribution. Japan needs to be doing far more.

The peace movement in many countries is demanding that foreign aid to Afghanistan be reduced, especially aid to the ANSF. If anyone can persuade the international community to give more foreign aid and civilian advisors to Afghanistan, it is President Obama. He has an hypnotic affect on many non Americans, especially young foreigners. He needs to use his bully pulpit. One example on how he could do this is with respect to Indonesia.

Obama is stunningly popular in Indonesia right now; most Indonesia in the most recent Pew survey wanted Indonesia to do more to fight terrorism than it currently is. Obama should go to Indonesia and ask its parliament and people in public to send ten thousand civilian advisers to Afghanistan over the next decade. {An annual steady state strength of perhaps 3,000 if each civilian adviser spends an average of three years in Afghanistan.}

Big Blue wrote “I hope that India practices restraint and continues to do good things here in Afghanistan. The contribution is appreciated.” How would you define restraint? Specifically what more do you think India should do to assist Afghanistan? I am concerned that India and many other countries are free riding off American blood and treasure. If the US were not so committed to Afghanistan, India (and Russia, China, Iran and the Stans) would be contributing far more to Afghanistan. Why isn’t President Obama publicly calling them out on it? If he did, it would likely result in a more assistance for Afghanistan.

Old Blue October 11, 2009 at 9:42 am

The Chinese have won the contract (about 2 years ago) to develop the Aynak copper mine. That includes a railroad to move the copper to China. That is totally in their self-interest, but it’s still a boon to Afghanistan, both in the near and medium terms. In the long term, Afghanistan may regret the deal… but nothing is free.

The Russians have been helpful in some ways, unhelpful in others… but there are always a few IL-76’s, AN-12’s and sometimes AN-124’s on Afghanistan’s runways, adding to the airlift capability. Afghans do not really trust Russians nor do they speak very highly of them, and NATO isn’t particularly interested in having Russian troops in Afghanistan. The Poles are often referred to as “Russians” where they work, and it’s not helpful to them.

India is a tricky subject because Pakistan is so nervous about Indian assistance to Afghanistan. Afghans and all of the Coalition partners are very grateful for the help, but with the Pakistanis so paranoid about Indian involvement, it’s a fine line to walk. It is my understanding that India is the third largest contributor to Afghan redevelopment efforts.

Out west, Iran actually makes contributions to infrastructure development. Partly because of markets, but I’m sure they are interested in increasing their influence. We have also seen some ill-intentioned Iranian exports. Iran is, again, a somewhat touchy subject. Many are suspicious of their intentions, even the infrastructure projects, but the Iranians have opportunities to make positive contributions.

By restraint, I mean continuing to show restraint in regards to Pakistani (ISI/LeT) attempts to blow them up, both in Afghanistan and with attacks such as Mumbai. The Indian government, while calling the ball as they saw it, refrained from excessive saber rattling against Pakistan as a nation. That is the type of restraint that I am talking about… and it’s a hard thing to remain so when consistently attacked. It is just another example that this is not a discrete war in a single country, but a true Type-3 insurgency, with international and potentially global effects.

dennis October 12, 2009 at 10:32 pm

we hit the civil side in this post. or “uplift.” we see the danger room has a good info post now.

Toryalay Shirzay October 9, 2009 at 10:37 pm

I consider this an urgent message desperately hoping all the blood and treasure are not wasted in Afghanistan.The suggestions put forward by M SHANNON ,Sayke,and Old Blue do have a lot of merit and will yield positive outcomes if implemented by US/NATO.A lot of resources are wasted in Afghanistan and someone got to stop this madness.Yes ,you,US GOV. PERSONNEL in charge of formulating and implementing policies and projects in Afstan,why can’t you do a better job,don’t tell me you can’t,don’t give that s..t,nobody can take such a lousy performance anymore,so all these soldiers and people die for nothing;what a shame,damn shame!!!

dennis October 9, 2009 at 11:37 pm

to shannon.
thanks for clearing a few thing for me.as shirzak said it’s a damn shame. and i’am dang sure Karzai has a big chunk of it. or i’am expecting to much.

dennis October 13, 2009 at 1:41 am

just a side note. on tonight the 13th PBS will be showing.
the Obama’s war. on frontline. when i was at the website, at the bottom there is some older video. boy some good stuff there.

David October 15, 2009 at 4:28 am

On something entirely different, here’s a fascinating piece on the Italian way of war…


I seem to remember a lack of enthusiasm on this site for the fine art of bribery, but perhaps it does have a certain effectiveness after all?

anan October 15, 2009 at 8:37 am

David, if the Italians were bribing the Taliban to not attack them, that would feed into the worst conspiracy theories about ISAF intentions in Afghanistan. Many Afghans would see this as proof that ISAF is backing the Taliban against them, their ANA and ANP.

Were the Taliban that Italy was paying attacking the GIRoA, ANA and ANP? Or were they really organized crime that were calling themselves Taliban?

hotaruSTAR16 October 15, 2009 at 12:27 pm

“Dear Washington Policy Community: why not read books about Afghanistan to learn about the war in Afghanistan? I mean, hey, just a thought—knowing the place really does help.”

I agree with learning about another country before pointing fingers and forming opinions. Thank you for posting these news tidbits. Have you heard of Asia Chronicle News? They’ve been blogging about the situation in Afghanistan as well. Worth a read I think. http://www.asiachroniclenews.com

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