Robert Kaplan agrees with me on Afghanistan

Today, Robert Kaplan wrote a piece in the New York Times saying we need to get out of Afghanistan.

The decision by President Trump to withdraw 7,000 of the roughly 14,000 American troops left in Afghanistan, possibly by summer, has raised new concerns about his impulsive behavior, especially given his nearly simultaneous decision to pull out all American forces from Syria against the advice of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. But the downsizing of the Afghan mission was probably inevitable. Indeed, it may soon be time for the United States to get out of the country altogether.

Naturally, the anti-Trump lines are obligatory in the NY Times. He has the right decision and, of course, it is the one Trump announced but Trump hatred is a necessary ingredient in anything an author expects the Times to publish.

I have been saying this since 2009.

During Afghanistan’s golden age which consisted of the last king’s rule, the country consisted of a small civilized center in Kabul while the rest of the country existed much as it did in the time of Alexander the Great. I have reviewed Kilcullen’s Accidental Guerilla, which explains much of the Afghan war. He is not optimistic about it and neither am I. Aside from the fact that Obama is a reluctant, very reluctant, warrior here, Pakistan is a serious obstacle to success.

Today, Andy McCarthy calls our attention to an explosive editorial in Investors’ Business Daily on the links between the Taliban and Pakistan’s army and intelligence services.

it’s an open secret the Taliban are headquartered across the border in the city of Quetta, Pakistan, where they operate openly under the aegis of Pakistani intelligence — and the financial sponsorship of the Saudis.

Of course, Osama bin Laden was living in Pakistan and sheltered by them. Kaplan does have a few crazy ideas.

It did not have to be like this. Had the United States not become diverted from rebuilding the country by its invasion of Iraq in 2003 (which I mistakenly supported), or had different military and development policies been tried, these forces of division might have been overcome. According to the Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid, there was simply too much emphasis on the electoral process in Kabul and not nearly enough on bread-and-butter nation building — in particular, bringing basic infrastructure and agriculture up to the standards that Afghans enjoyed from the 1950s until the Soviet invasion of 1979.

This is insanity. There is no “nation” to build. Afghanistan was never a nation. The King was called “The Mayor of Kabul” and had no rule outside its limits.

The CIA seems to have done no better in Afghanistan than the military.

The movie “Zero Dark Thirty” described the maneuvers of the CIA and the incident of the suicide attack.

The one reliable reporter, Michael Yon, was kicked out of the country in 2010.

Michael Yon: The disembed from McChrytal’s top staff (meaning from McChrystal himself) is a very bad sign. Sends chills that McChrystal himself thinks we are losing the war. McChrystal has a history of covering up. This causes concern that McChrystal might be misleading SecDef and President. Are they getting the facts?

McChrystal has recently been criticizing Trump. I wonder if he has political ambitions ? He is a Democrat.

The United States’ special adviser to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, is trying to broker a diplomatic solution that allows the United States to draw down its forces without the political foundation in Kabul disintegrating immediately.

That may be the real reason the United States keeps spending so heavily in Afghanistan. The Pentagon is terrified of a repeat of 1975, when panicked South Vietnamese fled Saigon as Americans pulled out and North Vietnamese forces advanced on the city. The United States military did not truly begin to recover from that humiliation until its victory in the Persian Gulf war of 1991. An abrupt withdrawal from Afghanistan could conceivably provide a new symbol of the decline in American hard power.

I think Kaplan has a good point here. Evacuation from Afghanistan will have to be by air and may be chaotic, especially as the last troops leave. Pakistan is no friend. It is going to be a mess but the sooner ewe get at it, the better

20 thoughts on “Robert Kaplan agrees with me on Afghanistan”

  1. I’m not quite sure what the Dem plan is on foreign policy. At this point anyone who has been paying attention at all can see that by 2020 we will be out of Syria, out of Afghanistan, possibly out (again) of Iraq, with some sort of “deal” with North Korea, and the Dems are going to run on the idea that this was all done recklessly or something? No matter how complete their control is of the MSM, how do they think they’re going to sell that garbage position, even to their base?

  2. Brain, I think their policy its Trump hate and not much else.

    This Jonathan Turley column says it.

    The remaking of the Democratic Party was evident last week with the reaction to the decision to withdraw troops from Syria. There was a time when a sizable number of Democrats opposed undeclared wars and unending military campaigns. Now, they are appalled that Trump would not continue a war in one of the myriad countries with American troops engaged in combat operations. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called the withdrawal a “Christmas gift to Vladimir Putin,” while Tim Kaine, David Cicilline, and other Democrats called it “irresponsible” or “hasty.”

    There is no policy but to oppose whatever Trump does. I wonder if they will continue this insanity two more years ?

    Also, with Romney now attacking him, will the GOPe be any better ?

  3. Mike K – I’m pretty sure they will continue it. The Dems haven’t had a foreign policy since at least Reagan. They just enlist non-American allies to fight their real enemies, the Republicans.

  4. It’s becoming clear that the US forces leaving will be replaced, just not by Americans.

    Our sources can now reveal the nature of that presence and the process afoot for the gradual US withdrawal. In the last few days, Egyptian and UAE military officers visited the contested north Syrian town of Manbij. They toured the town and its outskirts, checked out the locations of US and Kurdish YPG militia positions, and took notes on how to deploy their own troops as replacements. On the diplomatic side, the White House is in continuous conversation with the UAE Crown Prince Sheikh Muhammed Bin Ziyad (MbZ) and Egyptian President Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisi. The deal Trump is offering, is that they take over US positions in Manbij, where the Kurds have sought protection against a Turkish invasion, and American air cover will be assured against Russian, Syrian or Turkish attack.

    Furthermore, they have been there for a while.

    The vehicle in the AFP video has a BGM-71 TOW antitank guided missile launcher. The American AGMS isn’t armed with TOW missile launchers. As Americans moved around in Syria, our Arab allies tagged along, hidden in plain sight.

    Here’s another AFP video posted a few hours ago.

    The Gulf Arabs have been there for a while but nobody talked about it.

  5. Sure, their lefty base hates Trump so much they will contort themselves into the position that Trump just withdrew forces the wrong way or something, but they can’t delude themselves that that’s going to work with a majority of the population. At a debate in 2020, Trump will say that he fulfilled his promise to bring the troops home, and Kamala Harris is going to say what? Presidents are usually re-elected, and none of the talking points about Trump being a reckless outsider are going to work when deployed against an incumbent who has not in fact caused the world to end. And they’ll work even less when they follow the inevitable impeachment that is going to happen by early next year. The Dems are going to look crazy.

  6. Afghanistan should never have become what it has, to be honest. The real problem there, and the real enemy, is the Pakistani ISI. They’ve been the primary supporters and enablers of the Taliban and others, all the while taking our money to “fight terrorism”. Pakistan isn’t really a country–It’s a collection of tribes and “interests” like the ISI that are held together only by the vaguest ties, and an overall “We’re not India” idea.

    What should have happened in Afghanistan was that we should have turned every identifiable ISI office and base into smoking craters as soon as the facts from 9/11 were known, demanded that Pakistan hand over every single member of that criminal organization, and then faced the likely consequences: Pakistan nukes India as a distraction. Bush didn’t want to do that, and now we have the final denouement, which is the Afghanistan of today. We didn’t even engage the ISI directly, and because of that, they’ve managed to make us pay several times over for the occupation of Afghanistan, which was never anything other than a game-piece in the Great Game.

    We screwed up the response to the whole 9/11 attack. We knew days afterwards that the Pakistanis and Saudis were up to their necks with involvement, and let them slide, choosing to make an “indirect” approach. We should have just torn the Band-aid off, and let the bodies tumble. Granted, everyone reliant on Saudi oil would have likely starved, the Russians would have had a huge windfall, and we’d only now be getting the Saudi oil fields back into operation for them to pay reparations with, but we would have at least confirmed Westphalia, and delivered the lesson that striking at the US through proxy cut-outs wasn’t going to be tolerated.

    I remain convinced that the number one historical legacy of the Bush Administration will come to be seen as his fundamental weakening of the Westphalian system of responsibility for the actions of your citizens. Members of the Pakistani and Saudi governments gave crucial aid and support to the 9/11 hijackers, and not a damn thing was done to directly respond to that. Believe me, the appropriate lessons have been taken by those seeking to subvert the existing world order, which rests on a far shakier foundation today than it did before Bush’s term in office.

    I don’t doubt but that the people who will eventually use weapons of mass destruction on major cities haven’t looked at 9/11 and thought “Why not? The only people that suffered from that were some peasants in Iraq and Afghanistan… The people who paid for it and organized it didn’t suffer a bit of accountability…”. And, instead of having their throats slashed by their fellows the moment they suggest using a nuke or other weapon on a major city, they’re going to go ahead and do it. Had we left Riyadh smoking as a lesson on what happens when factions in a US ally chose to make an attack on us, that would likely not happen, and the lives of those living in whatever city we eventually lose are going to be laid directly at Bush’s door. He had the opportunity to reinforce Westphalia, and emphasize that nation-states have a responsibility for the actions of their citizens. Not taking that opportunity will come to be seen as his major mistake as President, and his unwillingness to do the hard thing will be seen not as indicative of his essential decency, but as a sign of feckless weakness and inability to make hard decisions.

    We knew who the real enemies were, and chose not to confront them directly. This was a huge mistake, and the current situation in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria are direct by-products of that feckless “humanitarian” decision. In the long run, despite the billions that that path might have killed directly and indirectly, I believe that the one we chose is the more dangerous one, in the long term.

  7. Well, I agree with you too. Last Sunday the LA Times published a so-called exit interview with General Kelly where he was bragging that he convinced Trump to stay in Afghanistan and that is one of the accomplishments he should be lauded for. I was thinking, why on earth should we be thankful he sustained another year of a losing effort with no strategy for winning? His goal was basically to fight just for the sake of fighting.

    We screwed up the response to the whole 9/11 attack

    You can say that again. The 9/11 attacks were planned and staged from Hamburg, Germany. Without that cell and base they never would’ve hit us. At the time we had 80,000 troops in Germany, yet the worst attack on our nation in history was pulled off right under our nose. Inexplicably, 17 years later our politicians and generals are still clamoring for the same force arrays and alliances that left us so badly exposed.

  8. Good points, both of you. I’m not sure flattening Riyadh was the answer but the Saudis had conspirators among the royal family and they should have had something like “Munich” done to them.

    Our own security services, the ones trying to overthrow Trump, were the fundamental failure. Mohammed Atta had his visa renewed months after the attack. Some of the border wall opponents complain that thousands overstay visas and the wall won’t help. We have laws that are not being enforced.
    Let’s prosecute some visa overstayers.

    I have read that E-Verify has been written to be evaded. The employer cannot check the employee status until they are hired, then, if they fall the verification, they can’t be fired. I am not involved in this area and might be wrong but it sure has not been effective.

  9. Kaplan: “An enterprising American diplomat, backed by a coherent administration, could try to organize an international peace conference involving Afghanistan and its neighbors …”

    We all have to bow down and kiss Kaplan’s feet in our astonishment at his unmatched perspicacity! An international peace conference!!! Why didn’t we think of that?

    Now, let’s pick a suitable location — it will be too late for Davos by the time we get the thing organized, so let’s do it in the Bahamas. Maybe we could invite the Anthropogenic Global Warming crowd along too — get two birds with one stone, and get Afghanistan’s economy humming with some of those great Green taxes. Private jets, Five Star hotels, and Ivy League staff are expensive, so we are going to need a budget for this conference — call Nancy Pelosi right now! But we will be responsible and economical — no need for any Pashtun or Uzbek translators; we don’t need any ethnics at our Peace Conference. Those people can be so unreasonable!

    Perhaps Kaplan would be taken more seriously if he did not waste so many words mindlessly mouthing the shibboleths of the Extreme Left.

  10. “get Afghanistan’s economy humming with some of those great Green taxes”
    That’s a great idea. Let’s put Ocasio-Cortez or whatever her name is in charge of Afghanistan, her “Green New Deal” should be just what they need…

  11. “Evacuation from Afghanistan will have to be by air and may be chaotic, especially as the last troops leave.”

    That would certainly have been the case under the last Administration — but it need not be that way. Depending on where troops are distributed in Afghanistan (which can gradually be changed), it is about 200 miles as the crow flies from Kabul to the border with Tajikistan or Uzbekistan, and about 300 miles from southern Afghanistan through Pakistan to the Gulf of Oman. If the Tajiks or Uzbeks won’t play ball, a hard-nosed Administration could let the Pakistani rulers know that the alternative to their full cooperation is a fighting withdrawal through their territory, with as much (or as little) bombing of Islamabad as is strictly necessary.

    As General Smith said in the Korean War — ‘Retreat, Hell! We are attacking in a different direction’.

    The US military has again been left holding the bag for incompetent politicians. Back in Roman times, the guilty parties would probably have been made to run point on the withdrawal convoy. Which would have had the beneficial effect of making the next generation of politicians and bureaucrats much more circumspect.

  12. “Evacuation from Afghanistan will have to be by air and may be chaotic, especially as the last troops leave.”
    This is a stupid and unserious argument. Was the evacuation from Iraq the same as the fall of Saigon? No. And neither would withdrawal from Afghanistan. Because neither would be in the face of an incoming army. Why would the Taliban fight the withdrawal at all? It makes zero sense.

  13. My point about evacuation is that Afghanistan is landlocked and Pakistan is hostile, or at least potentially so.

    Iraq was a draw down and it has a port plus Kuwait as a staging area.

    I think it is bit of a stretch to call the matter ” a stupid and unserious argument. “

  14. I noted in the past, that Kaplan wrote a book about Afghanistan, that showed the influence of the afghan arabs, under the likes of raisul Sayyaf and hekmatyar, they were the isi and general intelligence’s favored recipients of us aid, and subsequently, the ranks of al queda, just as with younis khalis and the senior haqquani, for the Taliban, re a munich type situation, if one credits Gerald posner’s accounts of the zubeydah interrogation, there was a squaring of accounts, among some of the funders, some others like ghezzawi in western florida, certainly were allowed to exit the country, ahead of the bloodhounds, the funders of the golden chain network, included many of the players who lost out in the power shuffle, re prince talal, bin Mahfouz, alamoudi, prince talal, the lesser,

    about 10 years ago, Kaplan was more sanguine, this was before the counterinsurgency strategy that Obama abruptly cancelled and general macrystal, was very silent in defending himself even after the ig report, and that of his program, as a result biden’s brain trust was put in charge,

  15. Mike: OK, I admit that was uncharitable and unnecessary. As a tiny bit of explanation, I actually thought that line was from Kaplan. I have no problem being dismissive of him, and basically all establishment commentators at this point.

  16. “that point of egress is closed to us now

    One of the great features of President Trump is his starting assumption that everything is negotiable. Uzbekistan and Tajikistan probably don’t like having US forces prowling around to their south, especially now that predictably wimpy Soetero is no longer in the mix. The smart guys like Kaplan keep telling us that everyone in the region wants the US out of there. So why would anyone be uncooperative or get in the way of a withdrawal? Especially if the Rules of Engagement for the withdrawal are very publicly to destroy with overwhelming force anything or anyone that gets in the way.

  17. Perhaps not the about face happened during the karimov regime and the reaction to the protests at andujar by the Bush adminiztration

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