In Which the Terrorists Win

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

In his thorough history of 9/11 The Looming Towers, Lawrence Wright makes a pretty persuasive case that Osama bin Laden’s goal in planning out terrorist attacks throughout the 1990s was to suck the U.S. into a Soviet-style war in Afghanistan. Bin Laden had no delusions about turning the U.S. into a Muslim country. Instead, he wanted to pull America into an expensive, dispiriting, unwinnable war—the sort of war nearly every power that has invaded Afghanistan has had to extract itself from, tail between legs. Wright writes that bin Laden was initially dispirited at the ease with which U.S. forces removed the Taliban from power.

Of course, we then let bin Laden escape. And then came Iraq. We’ve since given bin Laden more than he ever could have thought possible, and more. Two protracted wars. And our war in Afghanistan is looking more and more like the Soviet war bin Laden was hoping to emulate.

We’re now well into our ninth year in Afghanistan. The Soviets pulled out after 10. With Obama’s surge, we’ll be close to 100,000 U.S. troops in the country next year. That’s about the number the Soviets had deployed at the height of their own war. About the only difference between the two wars is that technology has shifted more of our war casualties from the killed column to the maimed. I guess that’s something.

Here’s a question for the politicians who support Obama’s plan, as well as those to the right of him who think it isn’t warmongery enough: What exactly does “victory” in Afghanistan look like? Certainly no one in his right mind thinks the country is going to look like, say, Iowa in 20 years. Same for Iraq. Are we expending what in the end will be a few trillion dollars and likely the lives of 6,ooo-7,000 troops to create another . . . Saudi Arabia? Another Egypt?

We do  have a pretty good idea how bin Laden pictured victory. It looks a lot like what we’re seeing now. He wanted a holy war. We gave him two. We’ve compromised our values, rolled back civil liberties, and let our politicians generally scare the crap out of us whenever they want new powers. Oh, and we’ve let the bastard live to gloat about it all.

This war should have been over the moment we disposed of the Taliban. The military doesn’t build liberal societies. They destroy illiberal ones (and they do it very well). I’ll wager we have at least 50,000 troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan by the end of Obama’s first term. In fact, I’ll bet it’s closer to 75,000. Lovely that this was the anti-war candidate.

There’s no easy way out of either of these wars.

Which is a pretty damned good reason to excercise more discretion about when to get into them.

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74 Responses to “In Which the Terrorists Win”

  1. #1 |  Sean L. | 

    “I’ll wager we have at least 50,000 troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan by the end of Obama’s first term. In fact, I’ll bet it’s closer to 75,000.”

    … but who’d bet against you?

  2. #2 |  BamBam | 

    Oh, and we’ve let the bastard live to gloat about it all.

    Don’t be so sure the guy hasn’t been dead for some time. I wouldn’t be so quick to believe any government, especially the USA, telling me that bin Laden is alive and has been causing all of this mischief, and providing tapes as “proof”. There is much incentive in getting people to believe that the boogey man is out there — a healthy dose of skepticism does a body and mind good.

  3. #3 |  Marty | 

    add this to Panama, Vietnam, Korea, WWI, etc… that, as a country, we’re complete dumbasses. WWI had clear-cut objectives, but the rest were just pointless bloodbaths. depressing as hell.

  4. #4 |  Henry Bowman | 

    Marty writes

    WWI had clear-cut objectives…

    I agree, but perhaps my view of them is different from yours: the objective was to keep the Brits from losing the war (which they were doing nicely) and thus prevent our bankers, who had loaned a great deal of money to the Brits, from going broke.

    The only way to “win” a war in Afghanistan is to ruthlessly destroy a large fraction of the population (which I am not advocating). I think we should get out of the place, declare war on the Taliban, and then periodically decapitate its leadership if it continues its role as a haven for terrorists.

  5. #5 |  Stephen | 

    I think that the purpose of our military should be to destroy any enemy’s ability to make war on us. They do this by killing people and breaking things. Bullets and bombs they can do well.

    The military is NOT for nation building. For that you better plan on staying for a couple of generations. Our military is just not designed for that.

    If we are planning on leaving in a couple of years then we should just save the money and blood and leave now except for maybe some spies and predator drones to play whack-a-mole with Al-Qaeda.

  6. #6 |  dtom | 

    “They destroy illiberal ones (and they do it very well).”

    And, they’re way better at destroying liberal ones.

  7. #7 |  hexag1 | 

    We certainly are in a bind..
    As for liberal societies, I think maybe your mistaken there. Didn’t the US military build up two liberal societies, West Germany and Japan? True that Germany had been liberal before WWII, and had neighboring countries with liberal values, but Japan? S Korea? Isn’t that the kind of liberal society built up under US military occupation?

    What does victory look like? Well the larger picture is that large segments of the population in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, N. Africa have become infected with the totalitarian ideologies of Wahhabbism and Salafism. they have sibling movements in Baathism and Iranian Shiism. These movements are fascistic in the old European sense, and are hare-brained and hell-bent on destroying liberal civilization. Can they do it? Barring nuclear warfare, no. How much damage can they do until these movements do until they die out? scary to think about.

  8. #8 |  Moe | 

    Radley, thank you so much. This is the exact question I have been asking the people who support the wars.

    What are the conditions for the mission to be successful? To date, I have never received a reply that was attainable or even made sense. Most people just ignore the question.

  9. #9 |  Rob | 

    What exactly would beating the snot out of the Taliban have accomplished. Once we chased them out and left – then what? What prevents their return and return of the status quo?

  10. #10 |  Bernard | 

    It’s worth noting that there’s no obvious win for him here.

    In weakening the USA he hasn’t strengthened anyone in particular in the short term and in fact Russia and China have felt they had a freer hand to opress their muslim minorities (irrespective of whether those minorities did anything to deserve it).

    From a muslim perspective I see no obvious win either.

    In terms of the future the middle east only stands to lose from instability because it’s a uniquely one-trick pony with nothing to offer except oil (which, in a conflict scenario, could be exctracted without the vast revenues that currently go to saudi, kuwait etc.).

    I see the loss for the US in the afghan conflict, but where is the win for Bin Laden?

  11. #11 |  Wayne | 

    Nah, I watched the second tower fall live on TV and didn’t think it looked right even back then. Given everything I’ve read from reputable organizations like the AIA and some pilot associations, along with a document called “Collateral Damage” that I can’t put a link to right now, I’ll probably go to my grave believing 9/11 was an inside job. Bin Laden is lounging in the sun on some private resort in the Indian Ocean right now sipping drinks with Dick Cheney.

  12. #12 |  BamBam | 

    I think that the purpose of our military should be to destroy any enemy’s ability to make war on us.

    That means infinitely destroying monsters across the planet. The ability to “make war on us” is a vague term, and can be defined as anything you “feel threatened by”. Did you mean to say “anyone that attacks our country”, as in the USA soil, or do you mean USA “interests”, which goes back to monitoring the planet as “interests” is a vague term?

    Anything other than “we will defend our soil” is going down the path of searching for monsters to destroy across the planet, which is an infinite task and leads to empire and nation building.

  13. #13 |  Sydney Carton | 

    With all due respect, I think you’re wrong in your analysis of the wars. You said: “He wanted a holy war. We gave him two.”

    We did? Holy wars? Iraq is basically won, thanks to the surge. The terrorists from Iraq are either dead or have relocated to Afghanistan.

    As for victory in Afghanistan, I don’t think it’s a holy war either. The war is really in the regions of Pakistan, in which we are not permitted to go because of Pakistani sensitivities. Because of that operational restriction, we’re forced to basically defend land instead of going on an offensive. This, by the way, was the same problem in Vietnam, in which Cambodia was acting as a conduit and supply station for the Viet-Cong. Unless the Pakistanis do more to engage the Taliban on their own front, we’ll be restricted in what we can do. And what we can do is move enough troops in so that when the Taliban does attack again, their losses will be so disproportionate that it will destroy them. Of course, that assumes they don’t wait out Obama’s stupid artificial deadline of 2011.

    If you have an ideological opposition to attacking the people who perpetuated 9/11, understand that the public will never agree with you. And no politician will be elected that promises to let bin Laden off the hook.

  14. #14 |  SamK | 

    Sydney, I’ll betcha everything in my IRA at the end of ten years that you’ll be eating the “won” part of Iraq.

    But I’ll try to cut you some slack since the statement is well ordered (though I disagree) and some of it smacks of “I don’t come around here often”…thought I’d seen you around before though…

  15. #15 |  SamK | 

    Oh, and Pakistan is pretty close to open warfare on the border and we haven’t been pretending we don’t fight cross border anywhere except for the most superficial press releases. It’s just damned hard to fight in the mountains and our regular military’s not all that hot at anything that doesn’t smack of “mobility”.

  16. #16 |  Fritz | 

    Can’t….resist….urge…to feed…trolls…..

    #11 | Wayne, are you making an argument that the organization who couldn’t get ice to New Orleans was the same one that pulled off 9/11?

  17. #17 |  Robert | 

    “but the rest were just pointless bloodbaths. depressing as hell.”

    Oh, I suppose saving millions of lives that would have been lost in Korea if the Norks and Chicoms had succeeded in conquering the entire country, and trying to save the estimated 4 million that *did* die after we left Vietnam, was pointless?

  18. #18 |  UCrawford | 

    I guess the lesson to take away is that when you wage a war, you need to know what it is, specifically, that you want to accomplish (“know your desired political end-state” to use the technical phrase). Bush never defined one and probably never even bothered to envision one because it would have limited him from doing whatever he wanted to do whenever he wanted to do it…without having to explain or defend it to the American public or Congress (so he could avoid oversight, which was usually his top priority anyway). Obama’s been no different. He’s had almost a year and he’s yet to define what it is he thinks we should be accomplishing over there in terms of our national interest and I doubt he’ll ever come up with such a goal, or a strategy to achieve it. Probably because he hates scrutiny just as much as Bush does, which is why he’s caved and followed the Bush line on so many tangential issues to the war.

    To hell with both of them and their useless parties.

  19. #19 |  Mattocracy | 

    Jesus Radley, when you put it that kind of perspective…I mean…fuck man. Damn. Just Damn.

  20. #20 |  Stephen | 

    “That means infinitely destroying monsters across the planet. The ability to “make war on us” is a vague term, and can be defined as anything you “feel threatened by”.”

    I’m good with defining it as anyone who attacks us or congress actually declares war on. I don’t really like the president being able to start the ruckus on their own. There should also be a time limit before congress needs to update their declaration of war. Technically we are still at war with North Korea, should a president be able to start the fighting again if they feel like it? I think no.

    I think we should have left when Bush did the “mission accomplished” thing. It would have been a LOT cheaper and the results the same as if we leave in a couple more years. Then we could have afforded to rinse and repeat as needed.

  21. #21 |  Bill | 

    Don’t blame me, I voted for Ron Paul.

  22. #22 |  BamBam | 

    I’m good with defining it as anyone who attacks us or congress actually declares war on.

    What does “us” mean? Our soil? Our “interests”? You would trust a Congressional declaration of war, the same Congress that can’t do much right? Without clear definitions, it’s “kill anyone that besmirches Team USA”. Only bloodthirsty jackals would behave in such a manner.

  23. #23 |  lunchstealer | 

    Of course, we then let bin Laden escape. And then came Iraq. We’ve since given bin Laden more than he ever could have thought possible, and more.

    This is where I think that Bush, far from being tough on terror, got himself played like a two-dollar whore, and then he just went rushing in for … well, this metaphor isn’t really working, but anyway even if you leave aside whether there was any justification for Iraq, it was just a blunder, strategically. Afghanistan was probably unwise, but Iraq was just fucking stupid.

  24. #24 |  Big Chief | 

    Balko you Republican shill!!! Why didn’t you complain about Afghanistan when Bush was in office!!

    /sarcasm – Sorry, I couldn’t resist. : p

  25. #25 |  anonymous | 

    > What exactly does “victory” in Afghanistan look like?
    > Certainly no one in his right mind thinks the country
    > is going to look like, say, Iowa in 20 years.

    Given what’s going on in the U.S.A., maybe Iowa will look like Afghanistan.

    Same difference.

  26. #26 |  Stephen | 

    “What does “us” mean? Our soil? Our “interests”? You would trust a Congressional declaration of war, the same Congress that can’t do much right?”

    Our soil, ships, embassies, and citizens who are abroad. Just because they want too much money for their oil isn’t good enough.

    The proper response to a bully is to punch them in the nose really hard so they don’t mess with you anymore. The other part is don’t be a bully or you will eventually get punched in the nose.

    Relying on congress doesn’t sound too good at first but it was the best the framers of the constitution could come up with and from what I have read, they were pretty smart people.

    If not congress, then who?

  27. #27 |  Bill P. | 

    “Here’s a question for the politicians who support Obama’s plan, as well as those to the right of him who think it isn’t warmongery enough: What exactly does “victory” in Afghanistan look like? …”

    They don’t care about that. Their intent is to jack up the profits of the military-industrual complex.

  28. #28 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    Victory looks like getting re-elected while getting rich. Silly question.

  29. #29 |  Chance | 

    “What exactly does “victory” in Afghanistan look like? …”

    A government that has effective control of the majority of the country, “effective control” here meaning Taliban and Al-Qa’ida forces are unable to set up protected training camps, exercise de facto control of villages and other areas, and a large enough and adequately trained Afghan Army and Police force.

    Now, I am highly skeptical that we can actually meet any two of those goals, much less all three, but it isn’t impossible. I have the same issue with this surge as I did the last one: 30K troops are about 1/15th the number you’d actually need for a true counterinsurgency program. The surge in Iraq was ineffective, and only the coincidence of the Sunni awakening and the bribery of our former enemies made it seem as if it accomplished anything. I just don’t think lightening is going to strike twice is all.

  30. #30 |  Ahcuah | 

    You know, when we first invaded Afghanistan, we had no trouble at all taking them out. Not all that expensive, not that many casualties.

    Why not just leave? After the Taliban get back in control (and after they’ve built up enough to become a threat, such allow ing terrorist training camps), we just invade again. And this time we will know exactly where they are and we’ll know exactly where the training camps are, because with them in control, they won’t hide them as well. When they are back in control, they are now concentrated in specific areas and exposed. Much easier targets for us.

    I bet a cycle of invade/leave/invade/leave would be cheaper, in both lives and money, than the long term occupation that we are currently doing.

  31. #31 |  InMD | 

    I’m generally with Chance on this. I think victory, generally, would look like a country that probably still has loads of problems but at least has a strong enough government in Kabul to keep al-Quaeda training camps from operating and that is unwilling to play host to their leadership. Again, whether that is possible or worth the commitment of resources is another debate entirely. Just to bring the war on drugs into it, if heroin were legal the difficulties in Afghanistan would be considerably lessened. All the poppy farmers would be businessmen creating jobs, the government would grow stronger and less corrupt on legitimate revenue, and we’d have one less chaos sewing faction in the country to deal with since the narco-warlords would be part of the legal economy.

    Also at #16

    That’s an excellent example of why the people who think 9/11 was staged by the government blow my mind. It isn’t hard to imagine factions within the government desiring to do something like that. However, the whole thing is based on an assuming a level of competence in the government that, in my opinion, no rational person could make.

  32. #32 |  Wayne | 

    Fritz, you are confusing trolling with having an opposing view point. Also, I come to this site a couple times a day. What blows my mind is that “karma” is removed for presenting opposing view points even in the absence of ad hominem attacks.

    And yes, I don’t think they “pulled off” 9/11 any more than they pull off any of their other scams (i.e., endless wars, trashed economies, the need to “change” climate, etc.). Personally, I don’t believe that cave dwellers with laptops living on the other side of the planet “hate us for our freedom” enough to be able to hijack planes without some inside help.

  33. #33 |  Ed Dunkle | 

    The US spends a trillion dollars a year on “defense” and whatever current war it is fighting. It’s just good business for the myriad contractors and manufacturers, and I don’t see it changing.

    It’s beside the point that the military strategies make no sense. The point is for someone to make money.

  34. #34 |  Wayne | 

    I don’t think it takes a lot of competence to blow shit up. If I had to choose between what architects in an NGO say and what the government tells me through main stream media, I’ll pick the architects. And no, I don’t follow Alex Jones, and I have never seen “Loose Change.”

  35. #35 |  Mike T | 

    Someone needs to come out and just say the truth about these countries in one of the elections,

    “My fellow Americans, some will accuse me of being soft on terrorism, of not supporting American ideals abroad, of letting tyrants enslave peoples and of not supporting the troops. These accusations are all rubbish. The reason that I support withdrawing American troops from these countries is that I am sick of seeing America’s servicemen die for third world peasants who wouldn’t know civic virtue if it bit them in the ass. I’m tried of seeing America’s future generations’ earnings leveraged in wars financed on credit for countries so backward that if we stopped trading with them tomorrow they would go back to the way of life they knew over 1,000 years ago without skipping a step. America has gotten nothing out of this. No won-over hearts and minds, no free societies to call kindred civilizations, no return on investment. Hell, we can’t even get a drop of oil out of it without feeling like we’ve stolen candy from a million and one babies, even if we pay them fair market value.”

    “My fellow Americans, I say to hell with these countries. They’re so primitive that the US Navy and Air Force could blow them out of the water or air 1,000 miles before they reach our shores. Talk of terrorist threats are cheap; they can’t get over here without a ‘by your leave’ from the State Department letting them get here. They can only ‘threaten us’ because we allow them to come here in the first place!”

    “Enough is enough. No more foreign wars, no more credit which will only end up in some warlord’s foreign bank accounts, and no more visas so we can train the next generation of Mohammed Attas and 9/11 hijackers in our own university system on our soil. Fuck them all, and fuck the 7th century culture that spawned them.”

  36. #36 |  Mike T | 

    Imagine Ron Paul delivering that speech during the RNC debates, minus the f-bombs… He might actually be President right now.

  37. #37 |  HumanTeam | 

    Mike I think that he said those thing that you said. People just didnt want to listen to him.

    But I like the train of thought

  38. #38 |  ktc2 | 

    Getting rid of the need for oil would resolve all these issues. Then these places would almost instantly be indistinguishable from Somalia and other wastelands.

    Of course, sadly, that’s not going to happen in our lifetimes.

  39. #39 |  Sydney Carton | 

    Wayne: “What blows my mind is that “karma” is removed for presenting opposing view points even in the absence of ad hominem attacks.”

    Heh. Well, that’s to be expected. I notice that my prior post is well into the negatives, yet people really aren’t responding to it, except for SamK’s polite response.

    The fact remains that the American people are highly unlikely to let al Qaeda off the hook. Hell, there were Americans who distrusted the Germans and the Japanese well into the 1960s and 1970, even AFTER we bombed the hell out of both of them and after they were our proud allies. Americans aren’t going to have any mercy for al Qaeda at all anytime soon.

  40. #40 |  Sydney Carton | 

    Oh, and Wayne, as for the opposing view that 9/11 was an inside job or something…. I can’t believe people still are into that conspiracy-type stuff nowadays. Honestly, I’m sure you’re a very nice person and all, but that idea is completely idiotic. It’s the mark of a moron. You’d do best to disabuse yourself of the notion. A reasonably smart person can do enormous damage, and the 9/11 plot was reasonably smart, given the suicide tactics. No evil conspiracy by the government was necessary.

  41. #41 |  Cynical in CA | 

    “Of course, we then let bin Laden escape.”

    This being the official version of events. Aren’t we all just a bit skeptical of the official version of any event by now?

    Truth is, no one knows where Bin Laden is or if he is even alive, which, given his advanced kidney disease as of 2001, is very unlikely.

  42. #42 |  Cynical in CA | 

    “Oh, and we’ve let the bastard live to gloat about it all.”

    Question: if there is never any official acknowledgment of Bin Laden’s death, now or 50 years hence, does that mean he’s immortal?

    At what point is it accepted that he’s dead if there’s never any proof? When the authorities tell us?

    No thanks.

  43. #43 |  Cynical in CA | 

    Re: the War in Afghanistan

    If something doesn’t make sense, check your premises.

    /rand

    Afghanistan is about something else. What that something else is — whether oil pipelines, a regional base, a message to the Chinese, a convenient means of dumping excess treasure as Orwell explained, a full employment act for the military, a means of funneling trillions of dollars through favored corporations, etc. — is for historians to conclude.

  44. #44 |  JS | 

    Oceania is at war with Eurasia. Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia.

  45. #45 |  Rick H. | 

    @#35 Mike T: Except for the “no visas” part, I’d agree. Military withdrawal from stupid conflicts shouldn’t be packaged with arbitrary punishment of immigrants, restricting industry and banning international travel. Incidentally, this is my main problem with Ron Paul.

  46. #46 |  Mike T | 

    Incidentally, this is my main problem with Ron Paul.

    Incidentally, that’s the reason why he’s one of the only libertarians taken seriously on foreign policy and military matters. The standard libertarian prescription would be to let an unlimited number of Muslims move here, and have the state only intervene when they declare one of our states to be under Shariah and begin killing unveiled women and homosexuals.

  47. #47 |  Mike T | 

    Funny thing about the standard libertarian view on immigration is that most libertarians stammer like idiots when you ask how they’d react to a state like China paying its unmarriageable men and undesirables to move to the United States once its immigration laws are repealed.

  48. #48 |  Mike T | 

    If you think that that’s unlikely, then consider the fact that it’s far cheaper for China to load them, en masse onto a boat, give them $5k in cash or in a bank account, and dump them on us than to deal with all of the social costs (from employment needs, to health care, to police presence) of dealing with them.

  49. #49 |  Pablo | 

    Attention! Your attention please!
    Our forces in south India have won a glorious victory!
    I am authorized to say that the action we are now reporting may well bring the war to within measurable distance of its end!

  50. #50 |  Danny | 

    I think Radley has fallen into the “what-serious-people-say” trap on Afghanistan, to wit:

    “WHAT WOULD VICTORY LOOK LIKE FOR AMERICA???”

    Every pablum-puking headshot on cable news who opposes the war asks this question with smug conviction, then turns his chin up half a degree,confident that they have stopped the debate cold with an unanswerable rhetorical query.

    All victory looks the same: everyone who was shooting at you is now dead.

    But the real question about this war is: “What would victory look like for the Taliban?”

    We may get tired of the ground war, but we will never tire of carpet-bombing these scumbags from 30 thousand feet. Even if the Taliban roars to victory over opposing ground forces, every time they try to hoist their flag over Kabul or any other major population center, we will rain down bunker-busters and cluster munitions on their heads. They will never be able to govern with an unceasing cloud of fire and shrapnel exploding over any building, road or ditch they try to stand near.

    If Radley or any other 9/11 “Dove” wants to be taken seriously, he or she should answer the real, above-noted, question.

  51. #51 |  Wavemancali | 

    #10

    “I see the loss for the US in the afghan conflict, but where is the win for Bin Laden?”

    The win for Bin Laden, is to show that in a conflict where you are up against the most powerful nation in the world, you can make them lose.

    The enemy’s loss is the important thing here. While you may be suffering and down, you are surviving and when the enemy is sick of losing they’ll go away. If you are outnumbered by a superior force and make them go away even if it takes 12 years, that’s a win.

  52. #52 |  Dan Brown | 

    Aside from removing them as the de facto government, we never “disposed of” the Taliban; they just went underground to continue their fight in guerrilla fashion. Still, had we left after dislodging them, they probably would have lost support in the country, because the people would have blamed them for bringing disaster upon them by giving the “camels” (their derogatory name for Arabs) free rein.

  53. #53 |  Mike T | 

    #52 is exactly correct about how we should have handled this.

  54. #54 |  Phelps | 

    The military doesn’t build liberal societies. They destroy illiberal ones (and they do it very well).

    I think this is the first statement in a long time from Radley on war in general that I agree enthusiastically and 100% with. (My main disagreement is that I think we should be destroying illiberal ones at a much higher rate.)

  55. #55 |  Elliot | 

    It is a mistake to assume their ultimate goal is to hurt the United States. Rather, their goal is to use attacks on the US and the West to intimidate and impress the Muslim world. Their ultimate goal of taking control of as much of that region of the world as possible. Terrorist attacks in the West are just a means to an end. They drive out Western influence, they intimidate local leaders who don’t match their idea of fundamentalist Muslim leadership, and they rally young people to join them.

    Yes, many of the blunders of the Bush the Younger played right into the hands of al Qaeda, the Taliban, similar groups, and their often overlooked sponsors in places like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. (Many of their benefactors hold high positions in governments, pretending to be our allies one minute, and sending millions in cash to the bad guys the next. That’s something which can’t be solved by any surge.)

    But I think we need to be careful not to give al Qaeda and the Taliban too much credit for long-range strategy. I seriously doubt they predicted how much they would lose at the outset. They had control of Afghanistan and I have a hard time believing they would have wanted that, even if they saw a long-range victory.

  56. #56 |  Barry | 

    #14 | SamK | December 2nd, 2009 at 9:46 pm
    “Sydney, I’ll betcha everything in my IRA at the end of ten years that you’ll be eating the “won” part of Iraq. ”

    I wouldn’t make that bet, SamK – remember what the neocons were promising back in ’02-’03? And how that got worked slowly down until the present mess in Iraq (several years of war, ~$1 trillion+ in costs, a PR/political disaster, a nasty-*ss theo-/kleptocracy in charge) is now considered success?

  57. #57 |  Barry | 

    #54 | | December 3rd, 2009 at 3:53 pm
    Radley: “The military doesn’t build liberal societies. They destroy illiberal ones (and they do it very well).”

    Phelps: “I think this is the first statement in a long time from Radley on war in general that I agree enthusiastically and 100% with. (My main disagreement is that I think we should be destroying illiberal ones at a much higher rate.)”

    Actually, you’re both wrong, and Radley’s wrong in a stunningly odd way. For example, in Iraq, the US military didn’t *destroy* an illiberal *society”; it destroyed an illiberal *government*. The society got more illiberal, due to trashing the government, and smashing the normal reorganization that people tried to do (those who succeeded were the nasty people who thrived under that trashing, and then those of that group who successfully became Our SOB’s in Iraq).

    Societies and governments are two different things.

  58. #58 |  Alexander Goristal | 

    RB: “…an expensive, dispiriting, unwinnable war—the sort of war nearly every power that has invaded Afghanistan has had to extract itself from, tail between legs.”
    “Nearly” implies that there were exceptions. Was that your intention?

    RB: “What exactly does “victory” in Afghanistan look like?”
    Didn’t Obama tell you Tuesday night? He told you he was going to tell you that. When I used to attend IBM seminars, the instructor would often preface the lesson scheme this way: “We will tell you what we are going to show you; then we will show it to you; finally we will tell you what you were shown.” Obama seems to have adopted that mantra, except for the small detail of omitting the middle step.

    hexag1: “Didn’t the US military build up two liberal societies, West Germany and Japan?”
    I don’t really think that Japan is a comparable. We didn’t transform their culture, we completely annihilated it right down to their rational for having a culture. We used nuclear weapons on people who lived in bamboo and rice paper houses and for the most part probably had no clue such things as atomic bombs existed or were even possible. Twice. Think about that. The feeble remnant of the Japanese people mindlessly copied our culture (subject to their ability to understand and interpret it), the way your dog will try to copy some of your behavior, within the limits of paws versus hands. It appears to me as if the Japanese may to a large extent still be trapped in that paradigm.

    Actually there is an accomplishment that probably lies within our grasp by means of Obama’s Afghanistan strategy. We can finish the job of destabilizing Pakistan. Which I somehow suspect, without being able to articulate any specific rational for it, might be part of the real agenda.

    AleG

  59. #59 |  Billy | 

    All this is just like a Twilight Zone episode I saw as a kid, but still remember, even (and, especially..) now.

    A bright light streaks across the sky, followed by a flash as something apparently hits the ground. The townspeople get a little rattled. Then, a car won’t start, or it starts by itself. Lights go off, and on. A witch hunt ensues. Finally, people are thoroughly freaking out.

    Then, as the show ends, we see a couple space men have landed, and one of them is pushing buttons on a small box which controls the cars, lights, and so forth. He says to the other, “See how easy it is? You just have get them started, then they’ll do themselves in.”

    Sound familiar ??

  60. #60 |  What Job? « Just Above Sunset | 

    [...] Of course that drives some folks crazy, like at the aptly named Agitator, where Radley Balko says we played right into bin Laden’s hands: [...]

  61. #61 |  glory | 

    #50 | Danny | December 3rd, 2009 at 2:29 pm

    ‘”But the real question about this war is: “What would victory look like for the Taliban?”’

    Good to see we’ve dispensed of the illusory question of what would victory look like for the Afghans living under an oppressive regime.

  62. #62 |  SHQ | 

    Can’t….resist….urge…to feed…trolls…..

    #16 | Fritz | “Wayne, are you making an argument that the organization who couldn’t get ice to New Orleans was the same one that pulled off 9/11?”

    Fritz, are you making an argument that the organization who couldn’t get ice to New Orleans was the same one that would pull off Iraq and Afghanistan?

  63. #63 |  teezecrost | 

    The taliban are not gone, and Obama never said anything about ending the war in Afghanistan in his campaign. Still, he’s put a time limit on this thing, and started a withdrawal from Iraq as promised. Everybody’s always gotta complain about something! Even if the order was given to end the whole mission now, it would take a long time to get all those troops and equipment out of there, and you’d probably be complaining about THAT.

  64. #64 |  Historyscoper | 

    Maybe the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan were about oil, but not they’re about nukes.
    When confronting resurgent Islamic extremists, most Westerners are clueless about their 7th cent. mindset and are Islam history ignoramuses. Instead of being constantly surprised at what they do, spend some time studying the history of Islam’s rise, spread and core beliefs free with the Historyscoper, just click the url to get started.

  65. #65 |  ShortWoman» Blog Archive » The Shorties Saga: New Moon | 

    [...] goodbye to all this, and hello to oblivion: (obligatory) Escalation in Afghanistan is teh win… for the bin Laden anyway. Heaven forbid we should learn from those who tried to fight “the good war” there [...]

  66. #66 |  TJ Wiggins | 

    What does victory in Afghanistan look like?

    Answer: a couple of cities connected by road, warehousing local serfs constructing a pipeline to run oil towards Israel.

  67. #67 |  rachel | 

    3 objectives with Afghanistan:

    1. secure poppy farming for cocaine production. Blame it on Taliban. (Who had nearly obliterated poppy farming prior to 9/11 because it’s against Muslim Law. Thus those farmers were beheaded.) Mission Accomplished.

    2. secure Asia-euro oil pipeline. Not accomplished.

    3. Distract Americans with another “Vietnam” type war. Mission Accomplished.

    2 of the 3 have been accomplished. Securing the pipeline is still in the works. Need Iran under thumb to do that.

    As strange as the news may seem at times nothing happens without someone with a checkbook making deals. The wars are all part of the military industrial machine:

    The banks make money from financing the wars, military industry makes money from supplying equipment, computers, ect, and our economy is transforming from a peaceful industrial complex which made textiles, auto and home appliances to a economy where the good jobs are military based…Thus avoiding a draft (for now.)

    However, if Iran doesn’t fall in line and allow us to steal their share of the pipeline we will allow Israel to attack them under the pretense of preemptive strike for unproven nuclear weapons which will suck us into another front and most likely into a draft.

    That is providing we don’t actually go into another civil war ourselves.

  68. #68 |  Abhishek | 

    But the war makes certain people very rich. And thats reason enough for them to influence such decisions, no?

  69. #69 |  mk | 

    As much as I enjoy this site, the post led me to read the Wright book (which is excellent). I found only one paragraph in the book that speaks to the Balko’s argument, that “Osama bin Laden’s goal in planning out terrorist attacks throughout the 1990s was to suck the U.S. into a Soviet-style war in Afghanistan.” This simply isn’t a line of argumentation that Wright pursues.

    The source for that one paragraph (p. 331) is Ali Soufan, one of the few FBI agents fluent in Arabic. He was part of the intelligence debacle that lead to 9/11 (along with a lot of people in the CIA and NSA; Soufan seems to be the least culpable of the bunch). According to Wright’s index, Soufan now works for the Giuliani partners in New York (although I don’t see him on their website). In the book, Soufan seems like a really decent man, but you’ve got to question his choice of employers.

    But this argument makes no sense. The Taliban were barely in control over Kabul at the time of 9/11; they had only killed the leader of the Northern Alliance (Massoud) two days before 9/11. If I understand the argument correctly, Bin Laden was trying to lead us to war with a country he had no control over, and in which he largely wasn’t wanted (nor, for that matter, did he want to be there). The group he was allied with, the Taliban, barely controlled parts of the country; moreover, according to Wright’s book, there were powerful factions within the Taliban that seriously considered turning bin Laden over to the Saudis (it was a standing offer for them). Moreover, bin Laden was running out of money (and his money was the one thing that probably kept him alive in Afghanistan). Why in god’s name would he think that he’d have the support of the Afghans in this war? He didn’t have the CIA and the Saudi’s financing him this time.

    Moreover, Balko writes, “Wright writes that bin Laden was initially dispirited at the ease with which U.S. forces removed the Taliban from power.” But this is inaccurate. The book says (p. 371) “Bin Laden felt betrayed by the Muslims who had failed to join him [in the fight for Tora Bora] . . .’only a few remained steadfast,’ [bin Laden] complained. ‘The rest surrendered or fled before they encountered the enemy.”’ Bin Laden was dispirited with his own people. But this is posturing. He knew from his experience against the Soviets that he couldn’t trust Afghans to join his cause (again, read the book), and he had maybe a few hundred hard-core Arab fighters. He hardly wanted to draw us into a war there.

    Look, I hate this damn war. I hate the war in Iraq even more. One damn phone call between the FBI and CIA could have stopped 9/11 (again, read the book); we would have read the second-page news report about the disrupted plot and dismissed the whole thing as impossible. But it happened, and the more we repeat this clash of civilizations bs, the more we fight on bin Laden’s ideological turf. Bin Laden’s reading of Somalia and Lebanon was that we couldn’t sustain casualties; after 9/11, he probably thought we’d stay here and fire missiles, and he’d rally public support for the innocent dead (Saddam Hussein, up to the moment he was pulled from his spider hole, thought there was no way the US would invade either). I’m not saying it was right to go into Afghanistan — in fact, the book suggests that the Taliban were more open to deal-making for bin Laden than I had ever suspected — but let’s not add to the mythologizing of bin Laden.

  70. #70 |  Lifewish | 

    In his thorough history of 9/11 The Looming Towers, Lawrence Wright makes a pretty persuasive case that Osama bin Laden’s goal in planning out terrorist attacks throughout the 1990s was to suck the U.S. into a Soviet-style war in Afghanistan.

    As per usual, I disagree with the premise. I haven’t actually read the book, so I can’t be sure, but my guess would be that most actions of terrorist leaders are mostly intended to influence terrorist followers. The rest of the world can go hang as long as Bin Laden feels he has enough worshippers.

    From that point of view, the whole thing looks like a colossal SNAFU. “Hmm, the troops are getting restless,” says Osama, “they don’t think we’re sticking it to the infidel hard enough and are starting to defect to other groups.” He ponders. “I know, let’s throw a scare into the Americans. That’ll remind people I’m still here.”

    A few months later and Osama is basking in the adoration of his followers. Then the first bombers start soaring overhead…

    If I’m right, the whole thing is reminiscent of Japan in WWII, where a big reason why the generals couldn’t surrender until after Hiroshima/Nagasaki was because the middle-level officers would have gone crazy over the insult to Japan’s honour.

  71. #71 |  Afghanistan « working title | 

    [...] 12, 2010 · Leave a Comment Radley Balko of The Agitator sums up my feelings quite well this post on [...]

  72. #72 |  In Which the Terrorists Win | The Agitator « Zachary Lin Zhao | 

    [...] In Which the Terrorists Win [...]

  73. #73 |  fighter | 

    Obama does his biggest mistake by sending more soldiers in afghanistan. He continues a war he can never win, but that’s a problem of the soldiers and the American civilians ..

  74. #74 |  Considering Afghanistan | 

    [...] see what we really gain from propping up Karzai’s government. More to the point, as Radley Balko asks, “What exactly does ‘victory’ in Afghanistan look like?” The same question [...]

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