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  • Terrorism’s Heart of Darkness

    Posted by Lexington Green on September 14th, 2009 (All posts by )

    This post, entitled Assessing Counter-Terror Since 9/11 is worth reading. But one line jumped out at me.

    Successful terror attacks require real skills at surveillance, security, and usually explosives manufacture. None of these skills are easy to acquire. Most successful attacks have involved someone with real training, usually acquired in Pakistan. By monitoring movements to and from Pakistan (and other areas that could be training centers) and extensive sharing between national intelligence agencies suspect activity can be identified and monitored.

    (emphasis added) It is axiomatic that terrorism usually requires state sponsorship to be effective, and this post makes a strong case that this axiom has ongoing validity — and that the worst state sponsor is Pakistan. (This is consistent with other things I have read.) In fact, according to this post, it is so bad that you can monitor terrorists generally by monitoring who comes and goes from Pakistan. That, if true, is intolerable.

    I had a good visit this weekend with our colleague Zenpundit. One of the things we talked about was the seeming lack of strategy underlying American policy. It has been spasmodic and reactive. We contrasted the current “three wars” — The Global War on Terror, the war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan, none of which have a goal or an articulated means to reach that goal (i.e. a strategy) which is worthy of the name.

    Contrast this with two very successful strategies. In World War II our strategy was “Germany First”. Two words, and all else flowed from it. In the Cold War our strategy was “Containment” or “Containing Communism”. This over-arching aim held through thick and thin and we eventually succeeded in our aim of containment.

    In the current conflict we seem to be floundering around. The goal in both Iraq and Afghanistan is to arrange things so we can leave. In other words, we are admitting that we should not have invaded either place and that we cannot accomplish much of anything of value by being there. We just don’t want to make things worse by the way we leave. This reminds me of the sort of prestige-based decision-making that kept us in Vietnam. The current vision of population-centric COIN appears to be way too expensive and time consuming to be worth doing on a big scale in Afghanistan. Gen. Krulak’s recent letter to George Will is one example of a proposed different course. As Afghanistan becomes “Obama’s War” I hope we will see some creative thinking.

    In the meantime, I am thinking more and more that the focus should be on state sponsors of terrorism. The main sponsor of terrorism is Pakistan. Of course, there is no “Pakistan” but rather factions within Pakistan. Nonetheless, if we are going to focus our military and political energy anywhere, it should be on ending Pakistan as a source of terrorism.

    I am not yet committed to the idea, but I suggest “Pakistan First” as our strategy. I do not mean conquer and occupy Pakistan. I mean compel the government there, but whatever combination of carrots and sticks, to stop supporting terrorism and to actively work to stop terrorism originating within its borders.

     

    28 Responses to “Terrorism’s Heart of Darkness”

    1. onparkstreet Says:

      Pakistan first policy? Interesting, because the current AfPak strategy seems muddled to me, as a layperson, but I know a lot of non-laypersons think that too! (Reading the Obama Admin strategy paper on AfPak is interesting: we are nation building Pakistan, too! Okay, I kid, but only sort of!)

      I said the following, already, in an Abu Muqawama thread, but a lot of the Indian blogs I read (well, I was born in India, so I’ve got some cultural baggage, I suppose ) are worried that increased aid to Pakistan will fuel corruption and basically ‘freeze’ the corrupt powers in place, much like aid to various African countries. So, the US thinks it is encouraging good governance, but the aid money is fungible and who knows what happens to it?

      I’ve been meaning to do a post for chicagoboyz about Kerry-Lugar, tariffs on cotton, and the Ayesha Siddiqa book ‘Military Inc,’ which argues that

      “The military is entrenched in the corporate sector and controls the country’s largest companies and large tracts of real estate. So Pakistan’s companies and its main assets are in the hands of a tiny minority of senior army officials. Siddiqa examines this military economy and the consequences of merging the military and corporate sectors. Does democracy have a future in the new Pakistan? Will the generals ever withdraw to the barracks. Military Inc. analyzes the internal and external dynamics of this gradual power-building and the impact that it is having on Pakistan’s political and economic development.”*

      http://www.amazon.com/Military-Inc-Inside-Pakistans-Economy/dp/0745325459

      but something always gets in the way…..I’ll keep working on it!

      *this is not from the book, but the Amazon description.

    2. onparkstreet Says:

      Okay, what I really meant is that it seems all carrot in the AfPak paper, Kerry-Lugar triples aid, but maybe that’s not the case.

      Also, sometimes pushing leads to other instabilities, such as Indian consternation about Sharm-el-Sheik.

      “The acid test is the next Pakistan-originated terrorist attack: if there is one, Dr Singh must resign. If there isn’t one, or a major attack is averted with the assistance of the Pakistani government, then he deserves our praise.”

      http://acorn.nationalinterest.in/2009/07/23/manmohan-singhs-costly-lollipop-giveway/

      Of course, I have not a clue what to do about any of this. Just the realization that, boy, is that part of the world complicated….

    3. Mrs. Davis Says:

      We have a strategy: endure.

      You just don’t like it.

    4. Lexington Green Says:

      OPS: “…it seems all carrot …” Yes, it does. I am not an expert either, but like you, I can tell when I am looking at muddle. The current team in Afghanistan is trying to make population-centric COIN work. I don’t see what we get out of the cost in blood and treasure. We should be looking to deny Afghanistan as a base to our enemies, and leave it at that. I hope you will write that post.

      Mrs. Davis: “Endure” is not a strategy. And no, I don’t like it. We did not “endure” the Nazis, we destroyed them. We did not “endure” the Soviets, we contained them and confronted them until they fell apart. I want to seek out and defeat our enemies. The main place our enemies are coming from is Pakistan. We need to formulate a strategy to put an end to Pakistan as a source of terrorism, not merely endure this vicious and irresponsible behavior perpetually.

    5. onparkstreet Says:

      With all due respect, Mrs. Davis, what does that cryptic comment mean? Should we increase aid to Pakistan? Should we decrease it? What should the scope and nature of that aid be, and what conditions should be tied to the aid? What is the acceptable endstate in Afghanistan? How should we achieve that endstate? Does that endstate help us achieve our strategic goals, or not? Will that endstate stabilize or destabilize Pakistan? Make relations between India and Pakistan better, or worse?

      Okay, I’m being unfair, those are enormous questions for which no one has the answer. I don’t mean to be rude, but endure sounds like a slogan, not a strategy. I have no problem with aggressive American action to achieve strategic goals, I just want clearly articulated goals and a decent plan to achieve said goals.

      (Sorry if I kind of got a little ‘ranty’ in this thread :) )

    6. onparkstreet Says:

      Oh, I posted at the same time as Lexington, also I cannot spell.

      [fixed.]

    7. clarisse Says:

      You said:
      “The main sponsor of terrorism is Pakistan.”

      Well, could we say that:
      “The main sponsor of Pakistan Army is USA.”
      then
      “The main sponsor of ISI is Pakistan Army.”
      and
      “The main sponsor of terrorism was(still is?) ISI.”
      so
      “The main (blind?)sponsor of terrorism(via ISI) was USA.”?

    8. Mrs. Davis Says:

      I am not advocating a strategy of endure, I am describing the strategy we seem to be following as endure. It is the next step in the increasing passivity with which we face our enemies. We had an active strategy against the totalitarians of the 30’s. Total War. In the 50’s we adopted the far more passive strategy of containment because it was easy to draw the geographic lines, competing economic systems made it easy to erect trade and cultural barriers, and no one had the energy for Total War again. All we had to do was outlast them. And we did. Barely.

      LG says, I want to seek out and defeat our enemies. The main place our enemies are coming from is Pakistan. But he doesn’t identify who our enemies are and this is critical information if we are to defeat them. And defeating them does not necessarily involve destroying the place they are currently located. Saudi Arabia financed our enemies in Afghanistan, it is financing them in Pakistan and it will finance them in Somalia. Striking the Sauds would be a much more effective means of disabling our enemies. But no one is interested in signing on for that one. And no one is interested in the effort Total War would require. So we’ll muddle on unsatisfactorily (endure) until either our enemies grow old and their children choose to live in peace with us or there is some provocation so great that we willingly unsheath the terrible swift sword.

    9. Lexington Green Says:

      Clarisse, what you say probably has a large element of truth, as perverse as it may seem.

      Mrs. Davis, the enemies I refer to are the ones referenced in the article I linked to: Terrorists trained in Pakistan. So the enemy I want to defeat is those terrorists and the people who train them.

      Saudi Arabia is a big part of the problem, agreed. But just as we had Germany first, though Japan had attacked us, it seems that the terrorists and their trainers need to be the first target — and the source for both is Pakistan. With the Pakistani “terrorist factory” shut down, we will have a big impact on our security. In the meantime, we should be putting pressure on Saudi Arabia to stop financing terrorism. Because of our dependence on Saudi oil, a direct attack on them fails the cost/risk/benefit calculus.

    10. Casca Says:

      Ah Clarisse, life is not formulaic.

      Merely my perception, but the Army seems to be the last bastion of reason in Pak. Perhaps we should differentiate Waziristan, and make our start there. Sans Paki participation of course. One may make the case, that we have. There were strikes into Waziristan during the Bush years, and as the valiant boobette heading the Senate Intelligence Committee pointed out; “Pakistan? But we have bases there.”

      WWII with OSS coopting what media there was, was an anomaly. The war-fighters inherently don’t trust the media, and with good cause. They can’t be trusted. The media generally are clueless about how the war is being prosecuted, again with good cause. Advertising that which needs to be covert, sources and methods, is a recipe for failure.

      So here we are, with no articulated strategy. Sounds like a political problem. Stand by for the wheels to fall off the administration’s Afghan efforts after this health care mess blows over. El Presidente will REALLY be needing a win by that time. I can see his LBJ moment just around the corner. Ah, guns and butter, something you econ types can sink your collective teeth into.

    11. Mrs. Davis Says:

      the enemies I refer to are the ones referenced in the article I linked to: Terrorists trained in Pakistan.

      So the “enemy” is individual terrorists? It is hard for nations to combat individuals; that is one of the terrorists’ advantages in asymmetrical warfare. The default is either the law enforcement paradigm or the assassination paradigm. Thus far Obama appears willing to pursue the later as was demonstrated recently in Somalia and numerous times in Pakistan.

      As to the Pakistan first strategy, I believe it would be a lot easier for the terrs to find a replacement for Pakistan, think Somalia, than to find a replacement for the Sauds. An indication that we are willing to accept the strategy of endure is that you propose to attack the weaker enemy because you fear the repercussions of striking the stronger. Had that same risk/reward calculus been in effect in 1941, we would have made the strategy Japan first.

      Casca is right. Obama painted himself into a corner defending the “good war” while attacking the Iraq war. Now he’s on schedule to lose both.

    12. onparkstreet Says:

      “Obama painted himself into a corner defending the “good war” while attacking the Iraq war.”

      Well, I agree with that, certainly, and it is causing problems in his party because he promised to ‘properly’ resource the Afghanistan war, and now the more progressive elements of his party doesn’t much care for that campaign promise in reality.

      Also, I see what you mean more clearly now that you have fleshed it out for me. Perhaps we can only muddle because it’s all we in the West will allow ourselves to do?

      I still think Kerry-Lugar seems good money thrown after bad….

      It’s sad, really: a troublesome ‘ally’ like Pakistan gets more and more aid, and a true ally like the UK just gets to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq to preserve the Atlantic Alliance, or whatever else the UK perceives it is getting from our relationship by fighting abroad. I don’t know the answers, but I still think the current strategic muddle could be sharpened up.

    13. Casca Says:

      “Muddle”? Let me get this straight. If you don’t know what the facts are, then it’s a muddle? The word offends me. At the administration level, it is probably apt. Once beyond the limits of DC though, I doubt that it applies.

      The folks who do the hard work of freedom are very deliberate, and even now as I pound this keyboard, several thousand of them slept in the dirt last night, drank a cup of instant coffee for breakfast, gagged down part of an MRE, put on their PPE, shouldered a pack, took up their weapons, and are now hunting our enemies.

      The men who lead them are very deliberate too. CentCom under Petreaus, and the field level CIA folks matter. They have a strategy, and that is the one that counts. That we give money to the Pakis to keep them sweet is one of the simple necessities of war.

      That war is inefficient is given. Enduring is not muddling. It is doing what can be done, until aims are achieved, not perfectly, but acceptably.

      Short of pulling out, the administration has no choice but to ride the horse they bought.

    14. onparkstreet Says:

      “Muddle”? Let me get this straight. If you don’t know what the facts are, then it’s a muddle? The word offends me. At the administration level, it is probably apt. Once beyond the limits of DC though, I doubt that it applies.”

      Oh come on. I’m *explicitly* talking about the administration level! Do you think I have anything other than the utmost respect for the men and women serving?

      If it’s so wrong to talk about strategic issues, then why does this sort of conversation take place, explicitly, and *all the time*, at blogs where people who are currently in the military gather? They talk about it all the time at places like Small Wars Journal, etc, and in fact, I get a lot of the overall confusion about strategy from those sites. Do they have a right to use the word muddle?

      None of you have answered my original question, by the way, which is: do you think aid to Pakistan will help our strategic interests or not? Okay, I’m done with this thread, only because I don’t want to pollute Lexington Green’s nice post! I’ve learned from the discussion, though, thank all of you.

    15. onparkstreet Says:

      “That we give money to the Pakis to keep them sweet is one of the simple necessities of war.”

      Oops, didn’t see this. Yes, that’s what I think Kerry Lugar is, essentially. Now I’ll stop.

    16. Casca Says:

      Anyone who would post on a blog isn’t plugged into the over-arching strategy. Not only would it be wrong in so many ways, they don’t have time for that sort of thing. Short of those in the orbit of Petreaus, it is a bunch of wind.

    17. Lexington Green Says:

      Casca, have a cool glass of water.

      The muddle is precisely at the strategic level, the big questions like “why are we in Afghanistan at all?”

      I don’t need to explain to you how much respect I have for our soldiers. They deserve only praise, and I am not criticizing them.

      I will tell you that a friend of mine who has served in combat in Afghanistan described the situation this way: holding our own tactically, and in operational and strategic free fall. That was a year ago.

      Right now, we have all seen McChrystal’s recent directive to the troops. It is popoulation-centric COIN.

      The question remains: Why?

      Why are investing lives and treasure to make Afghanistan a safer, better-governed place (assuming that is achievable) at our expense?

      It is up to Obama to articulate that answer.

      There is nothing obvious about it.

      Gen. Krulak proposes a less costly alternative scenario.

      That would allow us to shift the focus to the actual source of the trained terrorists who threaten us.

      You are irate about something, but you did not read very carefully.

      If I misunderstand you, help me out.

    18. Casca Says:

      “Casca, have a cool glass of water.”

      My reply? Think Dick Cheney.

      “The muddle is precisely at the strategic level, the big questions like ‘why are we in Afghanistan at all?'”

      Because that’s a great place with lots of open country to identify and kill our enemies.

      “I will tell you that a friend of mine who has served in combat in Afghanistan described the situation this way: holding our own tactically, and in operational and strategic free fall. That was a year ago.”

      My point is that I don’t believe that there is no over-arching strategy in the theater from the CentCom level down. That your friend observes otherwise is not unusual in war. The operators tend to be most isolated from the decision making process, and that is the nature of the beast.

      “Right now, we have all seen McChrystal’s recent directive to the troops. It is popoulation-centric COIN. The question remains: Why?”

      To destroy the enemy requires that we deny them sanctuary, wherever it may be. We do this by seperating them from the population. Ultimately, we’ll see something like the Civil Action Progam teams from the Vietnam era, which were successful. The first step is to secure the larger population areas, and work out from there.

      As for the administration, I’m sure they’d just as soon cut and run, but don’t dare because of the political taint it would leave on them. The left is always searching for the next Vietnam. Here they have it. The problems and solutions are very similar, and Petreaus, McChrystal, et al. know this.

      “Why are investing lives and treasure to make Afghanistan a safer, better-governed place (assuming that is achievable) at our expense?”

      Because it helps us seperate our enemies from those who don’t wish us harm. Short of nuking the place, it serves our purpose. As for Krulak, he has a tremendous grasp of the obvious, but runs off the tracks at point 4. The Taliban, Al Queda, and your odd militant islamist are our enemies. They need to be killed. As for the costs, I’ll trust the man who knows the most about executing this war, Petreaus, to make the call. He knows better than Krulak.

      If the administration grinds up a few thousand Marines and soldiers in order to stoke anti-war sentiment, then orders a pullout. There will be hell to pay. I pray the generals are smart enough not to let that happen again.

    19. Lexington Green Says:

      Hmmm.

      That is a clear response.

      I don’t agree with you, but I understand you, which is progress.

      For example, you say Afghanistan is “a great place with lots of open country to identify and kill our enemies.” Except, that is not what we are doing. We are protecting the population, and only secondarily “killing our enemies”.

      Further, we do not have many enemies in Afghanistan. The Pashtuns never bothered us until we went there. If we left, they’d stay home. As to the Taliban, they were a local problem, too, and one that was created and financed and maintained by the Pakistani ISI. Al Qaeda was there, and may still be, and if so we should try to kill them. But most of the people shooting at us there are shooting at us because we are there, not because they hate us for other reasons. David Kilcullen’s book is pretty convincing on this. If our real enemies are a small number of ruthless jihadis, why not just quietly pay local people to rat them out and kill them for us, or set them up to be killed by a much smaller force which is solely focused on that task?

      It may be the case that Obama / Gates / Mullen / Petraeus / McChrystal are on the right track.

      I have a lot respect for all of those guys, except Obama. But there is no reason to defer to them or assume that they must know what they are doing, so don’t question them. Generals who looked good have often been wrong in American history. These guys could be wrong, too. Even Petreaus, who was right about Iraq, could be wrong here. None of these people are above being questioned, especially the commander in chief.

      Most importantly, it is still up to the commander in chief to explain to the people what the strategy is and why we are doing it that way. Bush never did on Afghanistan. Afghanistan is now Obama’s war. He needs to do that. At some point he had better go on TV and lay it out.

      A consensus is growing, Left, Right and Middle, that whatever we are trying to achieve in Afghanistan is not worth the price. Obama has a real problem. His own party is against any war, and is barely able to stomach our continued involvement in either of them. And the strongest supporters of the Afghanistan effort are people who otherwise neither like, nor trust, nor support him. Further, a lot of people on the Right are Jacksonians who believe in pulverizing our enemies, but will not be happy with protracted, expensive, inconclusive engagements that cost a lot of lives and look like “armed social work”. Obama will have a tough time maintaining support.

      And what I say here may be “wind” (really more the clatter of a keyboard) but if enough voters start thinking it and saying it, the wind will blow very strongly, maybe enough to blow our troops out of Afghanistan.

    20. Casca Says:

      “We are protecting the population, and only secondarily ‘killing our enemies’.”

      How can you not see that both elements are required to defeat the enemy?

      “Further, we do not have many enemies in Afghanistan. The Pashtuns never bothered us until we went there. If we left, they’d stay home. As to the Taliban, they were a local problem, too, and one that was created and financed and maintained by the Pakistani ISI. Al Qaeda was there, and may still be, and if so we should try to kill them. But most of the people shooting at us there are shooting at us because we are there, not because they hate us for other reasons. David Kilcullen’s book is pretty convincing on this. If our real enemies are a small number of ruthless jihadis, why not just quietly pay local people to rat them out and kill them for us, or set them up to be killed by a much smaller force which is solely focused on that task?”

      I’m biting my tongue here. Ours is not a black and white choice. We will do all of the above. Remember Petreaus’ methods in Iraq? It is classic unconventional low-intensity warfare. There is nothing complicated here, except perhaps shedding our NATO ISAF allies, so that we can get down to business.

      “It may be the case that Obama / Gates / Mullen / Petraeus / McChrystal are on the right track.”

      I don’t think that Obama is on any track. He simply found it expedient to politically position himself as not being a reflexive appeaser. It’s up to the rest of those folks you’ve listed to lead him in the right direction.

      “I have a lot respect for all of those guys, except Obama. But there is no reason to defer to them or assume that they must know what they are doing, so don’t question them. Generals who looked good have often been wrong in American history. These guys could be wrong, too. Even Petreaus, who was right about Iraq, could be wrong here. None of these people are above being questioned, especially the commander in chief.”

      I don’t have any problem with questioning. I have a problem with second-guessing. Krulak’s comments were unhelpful, and self-serving. For those of us who have endured the man, this is not a surprise. Krulak was a politician in uniform. Petreaus is the real deal.

      “And what I say here may be “wind” (really more the clatter of a keyboard) but if enough voters start thinking it and saying it, the wind will blow very strongly, maybe enough to blow our troops out of Afghanistan.”

      Unless you’re advocating a return to isolationism, I don’t see how withdrawal benefits our interests.

    21. Casca Says:

      OK, Ralph Peters says there is no strategy. He is one who would know.

    22. Lexington Green Says:

      McChrystal says ISI is helping the Taliban.

      “I have a problem with second-guessing.”

      In a democracy, the public gets to second-guess, and third-guess, etc.

      Looks like McChrystal is saying he needs a lot more troops, and that the Pakistani ISI is supporting the enemy. Pakistan is the main problem, apparently.

      As to an Iraq-style COIN in a much larger country with a more backward and dispersed population, what is the cost/risk/benefit tradeoff? Iraq has oil. We need to get it stabilized. All we need from Afghanistan is that Al Qaeda not be based there. Why spend that much money and those lives on the place?

      As I said, maybe there is a case for the current strategy, if there is such a strategy, but that case has not been made to the voting public yet. It is apparently a case Obama is unwilling to make. It will be interesting to see what he finally does, and what he tells us he is doing.

      As to Ralph Peters, what has he got to do with anything?

    23. onparkstreet Says:

      Lexington Green – Ralph Peters has been consistently saying we have the wrong strategy in Afghanistan for some time, now. Perhaps Casca is just restating that, can’t speak for him/her :)

      Did you see the following comment at Abu Muqawama? Interesting, and troubling.

      I can’t link the exact comment, but it is by Mike U, right before a comment by me.

      http://www.cnas.org/blogs/abumuqawama/2009/09/praise-sobriety.html#comments

    24. Lexington Green Says:

      OPS — I have seen Peters’ articles. I used to like Ralph Peters when he was writing very smart articles for Parameters. Now he does journalism, has to meet deadlines, and goes off half-cocked. However, I was not referring to Peters, was not thinking of Peters, and Peters’ version things has nothing to do with what I am saying. If Casca wants to talk about Peters, he is free to do so somewhere else. Ordinarily I would ignore it, but Casca is taking an adversarial tone, which he is free to do since he is being fairly civil about it, so I am parrying that move. If I wanted to cite, quote, or rely on Peters I would do so by name.

      (I assume Casca is male, and named after the Roman tyrannicide, the first to strike Caesar with his dagger — who spoke little and struck hard — as Shakespeare has him say: “speak, hands, for me!”)

      I read the comment you referred to. It sounds pretty sensible to me.

      McChrystal want more troops and thinks he can accomplish something worth having if he gets them — and that we will have “mission failure” if he does not get them. I not only don’t know the right answer, I know I don’t have enough information to have the right answer. I do know that McClellan and Westmoreland wanted more troops, too, and Obama should be careful. But I think the country is open to what McChrystal is asking. But we need to see Obama adopt it and make the political case for it, if we are going to go that route — or reject it and explain that decision and accept the consequences. Either way.

    25. onparkstreet Says:

      I can’t argue with your last sentence. At some point, someone has to make a decision, stick to it, and see what happens. And that someone is the President.

    26. Jonathan Says:

      We should continue to control Afghanistan for the same reason that Israel should have continued to control South Lebanon and Gaza: our departure from such areas cedes them to the enemy, who then uses them as training and staging areas for further attacks on us. Afghanistan is also convenient to Iran and to the parts of Pakistan controlled by our enemies.

      The logistical and political dynamics are important. If we leave Afghanistan we cannot readily return in force short of invasion, and we’re not likely to invade again. Once we leave, the terrain and cultural features which currently make Afghanistan a difficult place for us to operate seem likely to make it an even more difficult place to return to or even to raid from afar if we need to.

      Some of the comments made and cited above, such as Gen. Krulak’s letter, make good points (certainly far beyond my very limited military knowledge) about Afghanistan but avoid the big picture. I think that we should focus more on who our enemies are than on where we are fighting them. IOW, we should pursue our enemies as necessary rather than limiting ourselves based on characteristics of any particular theater of battle. I suggest that a large part of the problem comes from our failure clearly to define our enemies. Who are they? I suggest: radical Islam generally and Iran, Al Qaeda and the Taleban, Pakistani factions and Saudi factions in particular. (There are also Syria, Hamas, Hezbollah and Venezuela, but these are Iranian proxies.) Our failure to define our enemies and to define the nature of the war is a failure of national policy and cannot be adequately offset by the use of shrewd tactics in Afghanistan or elsewhere. The conflict will probably fester until either 1) we suffer another terrible attack and go Jacksonian against the sponsors, their allies and proxies, or 2) we come to grips with the fact that Iran has been at war with us for thirty years, that the Saudis have corrupted our political establishment, and that we may at some point have to take action to secure Pakistan’s nukes.

    27. Lexington Green Says:

      We don’t come close to having “control” of Afghanistan. Nor can we hope to “control” the many places that might serve as havens for our enemies.

      Iran being involved in Afghanistan is the order of nature. The Afghans speak Persian, among other things. Various Persian-speaking empires have ruled Afghanistan over the centuries. Normally, it does not matter.

      They can only kill Americans there — if Americans are there.

      “I suggest that a large part of the problem comes from our failure clearly to define our enemies. Who are they? I suggest: radical Islam generally and Iran, Al Qaeda and the Taleban, Pakistani factions and Saudi factions in particular.”

      I would change the order: 1. Al Qaeda and similar/related groups, 2. Pakistan’s ISI and related factions, 3. Saudi factions and/or government funding for propaganda and madrassas.

      I am not seeing how doing COIN in Afghanistan attacks these primary enemies.

      The Taliban are irrelevant to us, unless they provide havens to our enemies. If they run Afghanistan and do awful things there, it is sad, but irrelevant to us.

      However, I am open to the idea that a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan is a serious enough threat that we need to try to stop it. But the main enemy there seems to be Pakistan, or factions in Pakistan, that support the Taliban. So, again, I don’t see how doing COIN in Afghanistan gets us a win, if their next-door neighbor, whom we are funding, is propping them up.

      “Radical Islam generally” is too amorphous to be considered an enemy in any kind of military way, or probably even as a target for law enforcement.

    28. Jonathan Says:

      -Afghanistan controlled by any of our enemies is a serious threat, and is a likely outcome if we leave. That’s reason enough for us to stay. That’s not to say we should continue doing things the way we’ve been doing them. That’s a tactical question. The strategic question is what level of involvement to maintain in that part of the world. I think that the strategic question is primary.

      -You either elided my point about Iran or implied that Iran is not our enemy. One of the reasons to maintain a significant presence in Afghanistan is so that we can pursue our enemies into Iran and Pakistan if necessary. Aside from committing numerous acts of terrorism against us over the years, Iran has been directly and indirectly (via arms shipments) killing our people in Iraq and Afghanistan. For reasons that I don’t understand, we have avoided making incursions into Iran to suppress these attacks. I think that we should reexamine this policy, as well as our policy of not making ground incursions into Pakistan.

      -Afghanistan isn’t the only battleground but it’s an important one. It’s unfortunate that we can’t always choose where to engage our enemies but that’s the way it is. We may have to pursue them in Somalia, Yemen, Latin America, etc.