Rants and Raves

Opinion, commentary, reviews of books, movies, cultural trends, and raising kids in this day and age.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

I have a very bad feeling about Afghanistan

It looks like President Obama wants his very own war, and I have a very bad feeling about it.

Long time readers may remember I was cautiously supportive of the Iraq occupation for a couple of reasons. Though recognizing it could go horribly wrong, as it almost did and may yet, my view is that Iraq is a strategically important theater in the Long War against jihadism.

Arguing "Iraq is not Vietnam," I said at the time:

In terms of geopolitics, the situation in Iraq is far different from Vietnam. Vietnam was a minor client state of a rival superpower that the U.S. could not afford to confront directly. Iraq was a major player among hostile Arab nations who resent and fear American world hegemony but cannot confront it directly and can only work covertly against American interests. Vietnam’s patron superpower had less interest in outright victory than they had in keeping the United States engaged in a protracted and expensive war that sapped its strength, created domestic chaos and distracted it from their main interest in Europe.

Iraq is in the geographical center of the struggle against Jihadism. The patrons of fanatical Jihadism are vitally concerned with Iraq and rightfully fearful that a stable, even semi-democratic Iraq would be the beginning of the end of their tyranny and autocracy throughout the Middle East.

That alone should explain my misgivings, but to elaborate...

Iraq is an ancient civilization which at this point in history is in the geopolitical center of Islam. Iraq is rich in resources, and in the hands of a hostile power capable of supplying money and materiel to the jihadist campaign against the West.

(Saddam for example, was with Saudi Arabia a source of payments to families of suicide bombers in Israel. Taking him out possibly reduced by as much as half the substantial bounties paid to families who successfully encouraged one of their own to take one for the team. Unless of course the Saudis are taking up the slack.)

Afghanistan has always been peripheral to the ancient civilizations of the region. It's importance to the jihadists is basically, that it's a great place to hide.

And for students of military science, the first difference that strikes one is the strategically important part of Iraq is pretty flat. Afghanistan... isn't.

A punitive expedition to Afghanistan after 9/11 was entirely justified. The planners of the attack were there, the local government said "Nyah, nyah you can't have them" when we asked, so we went in and killed and captured as many of them as we could find.

Comb the history of civilization and find me one which would deny a legitimate cassus belli existed in this case.

I say if the jihadists base themselves in Afghanistan, play whack-a-mole with them every time they stick their heads up.

Nor do I have moral objections to the nation building efforts afterwards - I just wonder if it's, A. possible, and B. worth the effort.

Thomas Sowell once pointed out how civilization can spread across plains, oceans, and along great rivers - and stop dead at 50 meters of mountain.*

I feel for Afghanis who have to live with the Taliban, especially women who aspire to a life as something more than domestic chattels. But our resources are not infinite, and we have every reason to believe this new kind of war is going to be a long one.

But at the risk of sounding heartless, what's in it for us? What do we gain by the enormous expense in the long term? And might those resources be better applied elsewhere?

And vis-a-vis the point I raised about Iraq, are we sure the jihadists don't want us in Afghanistan, i.e. have we allowed the enemy to choose the time and place of battle?

Steven Vincent, who was murdered in Basra while trying to find answers for the strategic questions raised by the Long War, said victory in Iraq would come when women could go shopping without fear of being kidnapped.**

Is there the same longing in the majority of Afghanis? Answer that question and we'll be better able to answer the others.

* Some of my ancestors were Scots Highlanders, and a pretty uncivilized bunch in spite of 19th century romanticism. Rather more like Afghani tribesmen than we'd like to admit in fact. We did eventually come to appreciate the benefits of civilization. All it took to accomplish this was to locate a civilized nation with 10 times the population and many times the resources next door.

But before that civilizing process was quite complete, Highlanders did good service for civilization all over the world when recruited into the British Army. One wonders.

** I was in email contact with Steven Vincent a week before the day I turned on CNN in the morning and saw he'd been murdered. It was like waking up from a pleasant dream to find a nightmare at the foot of your bed. I'd been hoping to meet him some day and it is one of the consuming regrets of my life I never shall.

Note: My posts on Iraq a few years back can be found here:




  • At 8:06 PM, Blogger Ted Amadeus said…

    I have a very bad feeling about American government's ongoing infatuation with interventionist police-actions it is neither committed to, nor capable of winning...especially in light of our burgeoning national debt!

  • At 4:55 PM, Blogger dchamil said…

    -- Thank you for the Kipling, sir, may I have another?
    -- Why yes, you may:

    As wounded you lie on Afghanistan's plains
    And the women come out to cut up your remains,
    Just turn on your rifle and blow out your brains,
    And go to your God like a soldier!

  • At 5:46 PM, Blogger Schmedlap said…

    According to the strategists, we seek to make Afghanistan hostile to al-Qaeda and to prevent Afghanistan from destabilizing Pakistan. The biggest problem with that, as I see it, is that we only looked seriously at two courses of action to accomplish this: counter-terror operations or population-centric counterinsurgency. I'm a bit skeptical that those are the only two feasible options.

    I think a more feasible option would include some politically uncomfortable moves, such as supporting Taliban elements that are not affiliates with al-Qaeda. To the best of my knowledge, such an idea was never seriously considered. I think that is unfortunate - definitely for us and possibly for the Afghan people.


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