Posted by Peter Lawler
I’m not saying I know the answer, but, with the help of the always provocative Ralph Peters, I am asking. Could it be that a surge was the only real alternative in Iraq, but a very imprudent alternative in Afghanistan?
I don't know about the big picture, and I haven't formed an opinion based on LtCol. Peter's (Ret.) article. He certainly has different points, which are worth thinking about.
It seems to me, though, that exterminating the Taliban is a worthy goal, and not for reasons of retribution. Another worthy goal in Afghanistan would be eliminating the drug market, which is much more achievable than back here in the States. Of course it would be exceptionally difficult. While eliminating the drug market, we would have to put in place some sort of viable economy. Unfortunately, this is near to impossible for a region such as Afghanistan, which is so backwards and feudal.
Eliminating the Taliban and eliminating the drug market are two noble goals, although both are exceptionally difficult and the latter is nearly impossible.
When weighing the difficulty with chance of success of achieving these goals, is it worth staying in Afghanistan? Like I said, I don't know. I see parts of the big picture, but the whole is still out of sight.
What I do know, however, is that Afghanistan (like it or not) is where the action is right now. Marines are least content when not occupied in action. Send us where the trouble is, and you will have a lot more Marines who feel like they are doing something worthwhile. Sitting around while others do the work does not make for a happy Marine.
Thanks for the thoughtful response. I wish there had been more. The country needs to be discussing this, along with health care, "the life issues," and the real cases for and against government stimulation.
I would say that the surge could be successful in Afghanistan if we realize that the Afghan problem is not the same as the Iraq problem, and our reasons for being in Afghanistan are different than for being in Iraq. The occupation of Iraq for the past few years was predominantly a nation-building endeavor. I maintain that the military exists primarily to destroy foreign entities, not construct them, and that should be our goal in Afghanistan.
We are there to kill off the Taliban and bring as many members of al-Qaeda to justice as possible. Yes, in the long term, stability in Afghanistan is the only path to success against the extremists, but it is far too difficult a problem for us to be dealing with right now; I agree with Peters in saying let Afghanistan's neighbors deal with it for now. In the mean time, send in a surge of troops to sweep through and wipe out the resurgent Taliban.
I'd also say forget about the whining of Pakistan. That 'government' no longer controls its border with Afghanistan; those mountains are where the enemy is. The Pakistani government is not just unwilling to cooperate further with us, but it is unable to as well. Send troops into the lawless region where al-Qaeda is growing in strength and wipe them out. If we're lucky we may finally nab bin Laden there too.
Otherwise, I agree with Peters in saying that we should not let this slowly slip into another Vietnam. We need to focus on eliminating the enemy rather than building a nation; the latter is a noble cause, but too difficult to deal with right now with such a backwards, feudal society of difficult tribes.
No more of an expert than marine Schramm, but I am not sure eliminating the drug market in Afghanistan is possible. Dr. Lawler poked fun at Chu who suggested that water would become a big problem for california agriculture...one reason why such predictions fall flat is that water becomes more expensive and folks substitute out of water intensive crops if the margins aren't high enough....Northern California agriculture has discovered pot...and while I am sure that the housing crisis and all sorts of other pressures have eroded viable economic alternatives, nevertheless it seems ridiculous to even compare Northern California with Afghanistan. There is no way to provide as many viable economic opportunities in Afghanistan as currently exist in Northern California(unless this country really goes to hell). I noticed the curious link/article about a man in California selling his daughter for beverages(substitutes for water? Certainly in the Ben Franklin sense), in afghanistan farmers who have borrowed against future opium crops must give up daughters when the crops they grow are burnt in eradication efforts.
You know this gets ridiculous quick, the most profitable course of action for young men in afghanistan involves growing opium...albeit getting in with a warlord and buying and smuggling it is probably even more profitable/powerfull. Conversely if they feel drawn by honor(manly?) they might end up either fighting ethnic battles over land with Pakistan, or putting in with radical islamic sects like the Taliban. If the war is framed in terms of the war on drugs this was something partially under wraps under the firm hand of sharia and Taliban rule...if it is about eradicating the Taliban in a way that doesn't stir up Pakistan...this is important because of ethnic differences between the two nations, Afghanistan and Pakistan have unresolved (in the minds of the people, not the UN or legal maps) borders in pashto speaking northwestern Pakistan(where the Taliban has refuge?)...
In some sense keeping the Taliban in Pakistan stirring up pashto speaking ethnic resentments in combination with radical islamic identities mudies the waters and prevents Pakistan from uniting with Afghanistan on the basis of islamic identity against the america infidels...
The reference to the mouse that roared and the idea of declaring war on america and then surrendering sounds like a clever Phd thesis in Economic Developement...In some sense the war on drugs does this as well... we go into Columbia and subsidize coffee, chocolate, and banannas in the hopes of providing viable alternatives to cocaine....
Viewed from a broad perspective all of Obama's problems both in Afghanistan and the United States revolve around unemployed young men. Restless marines like young schramm are itching to fight the taliban, and young afghans are itching to find greatness or glory or economic self-sufficiency/prosperity/riches. Growing opium is profitable, transporting and smuggling it is more profitable and involves playing with weapons and danger...and joining up with the taliban provides a religious vision/purpose and some level of sustenance. You get rid of the taliban and some other group will replace them...you burn crops or destroy a warlord and his smuggling opperation...all you do is increase the competitive advantage of his competition.
In some way americans fall in to the trap of nation building because we want to provide outlets/alternatives/substitutes...there is a sense in which not doing so is like pumping water from the gulf of mexico all the way up to St. Louis only to discharge it into the mississippi and have nature reverse course.
Of course I do agree that in Afghanistan and the war on drugs you are probably best off simply by making it expensive...so you kill the bad guys and burn the crops...you make the risk and punishment of being caught large enough that the behavior is discouraged...(is this that far from what the Taliban did/does in imposing Sharia?)...You demand submission. But when you are demanding submission from young men in afghanistan why should they submit to american/law prefferences rather than a muslim submission? Or why submission altogether? So the meek/prudent follow the americans and the Taliban and submit because of force/law/religion...
You know in this regard I am almost willing to challenge the idea that our ennemies hate us because they find us effeminate. I have always understood this to be true to an extent...in so far as we are always trying to use both sticks and carrots...that we offer concessions and try nation building, that we are isothymic...that we fix the cleft palates of Iraqi children...that we succumb to the notion that we have a responsibility to do nation building...but in many regards our ennemies hate us because we are not effeminate, because we are manly. Because we not only bring new modes and orders, but also displace and destroy muslim submission or manliness. We bring rights for women which threaten to destroy the submission that muslim men have grown to expect as a right over women. The west obliterates and mocks muslim submission, and we not only demand submission of our own, but have the military capacity to dictate it on muslim lands. The west is in a position of power over the muslim world...the crisis of Islam is complete total and irreversible. That we can afford to be effiminate/isothymic/liberal is only a sign of our power. We have a God who can be mocked in newspapers...
In other words by dictating, diverting and redirecting isothymic and megalothymic outlets and embarking upon nation building...we are dictating to the men of the muslim world that which must be submited to...thus while they are free to be manly and rugged in the mountains of afghanistan, and mock our softer and spoiled way of life...they are not really free in that capacity to enjoy warmth, good food, medical care. It is a really stubborn freedom they are left with...a backwardness not unlike what Afghanistan really is. Our supposed effiminacy for which we are hated, is basically a necessary conviction, and probably a necessary conviction of which they are all too well aware. This is less a truth than an acommodation necessary for justifying the considerable demands for submission placed upon them by Islam and environment. But in the glory days of Islam the wealth, prosperity and learning of its culture dictated to Europe...back when the fertile crescent was fertile and Aristotle and Plato were preserved by people of the book...it was the mediterranian muslim who was effeminate while the barbarian nord, and terrorist viking suffered cold and privation. The Afghans manly stoicism against the backdrop of which we westerners are effiminate is all too easily synonymous with failure to aquire riches and prosperity. When the riches and prosperity are added to the sheer military power of the West the cave dwellers can't even maintain Spartan like parity with our Athens. If anything then those who hate us would like nothing more than to believe that they hate us for our effiminate ways, but they hate us more closely for our manly and impious dominion over the dominion they would under islam immagine to have as covenant right, including the luxury to enjoy riches, prosperity and a degree of effiminacy, and liberal magnanimity, not unlike what they extended to christians and jews in better/enlightened times.
Sadly, I have heard that the marines are guarding said poppy fields. The war on drugs is an interesting thing. What does one do with drug money, its a substantial sum. If they put it in the banks, are we going to declare war on the banks?(oh how i long for that day) The controversy around Pat Tillman related to this problem. At best, we have to guard the poppy fields for the stability of the nation. At worst we are gaurding them to keep the drug money coming in to keep the banks going. I think it is the one industry still turning profits. Its an awful way to look at things, but it has precident. Just go back to the Opium wars and how the blue bloods in Britian and America used opium as a cash crop in china to enable the spice and silk trade. I think those early cartels actually took over islands off the coast to ensure delivery. While we are on the drug topic, look at what is going on in Mexico. The place is falling appart because the mexican military has joined with the large cartels to put the smaller ones out of business.
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