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June 23, 2010


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Citizens, politicians, journalists, and commentators have the freedom to publicly speak their minds; active military officers do not. We must require, respect, and even honor this discipline.

Meanwhile, Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld are livin' the life on their adjoining estates out there at the Eastern Shore of Maryland.
We don't hear much about the Afghanistan decision being largely theirs, with Paul Wolfowitz as their delusional compadre. Has this trio acquired a set of Harry Potter's invisibility cloaks . . or have our memories grown painfully short?

Although I agree with you about McChrystal, I'll disagree with TR and the success of counterinsurgency campaigns.

Roosevelt oversaw the subjugation of the Philipines, a successful counterinsurgency campaign. The endless campaigns against Native Americans all successful eventually (even the Seminoles, although never run out of the Florida swamps, were pushed far enough in to not be a bother again). Going back even farther, Julius Caesar in Gaul. Then there is the crushing of the Ukrainian anacharists during the Russian Civil War (1919-1921). More often than not, counterinsurgency campaigns are successful because 1) they are ruthlessly prosecuted (something that will not happen today) and 2) there is no opposing standing army. Insurgency works best when there is an army to back it up with a home base for supply and governance (the American Revolution, Vietnam, Afghanistan, the Bolshevik Revolution, and Mao's Chinese Revolution immediately come to mind).

Truman may have save So. Korea from enslavement, but it was TR who enslaved all of Korea by acquiescing to Japanese demands in 1905.

I see no indication that our appetite for endless war will end until, like the Soviet Union, we collapse economically because of it. And I see no hope for prevailing in Afghanistan through brute force. There's zero chance that we can be as ruthless as the Soviets were, and they didn't succeed.

We cannot rest until Kabul, Qandahar, Herat, Jalalabad, and Mazar-e Sharif all have a Wal-Mart.

Contrasting comments from eclectic dog and CDT were most interesting.

From "The Soviet Withdrawal From Afghanistan" (Amin Saikal, William Maley, Cambridge University Press, 1989):

"According to a Soviet spokeman, by mid-1988, 13,310 Soviet soldiers had died in Afghanistan, amply justifying General Secretary Gorbachev's February 1986 description of Afghanistan as a "bleeding wound" (krovotochashchaia rana).

"However, compared to the casualties in the vulnerable Afghan civilian population, this was a trivial figure: a detailed study in 1988 calculated that roughly 9 percent of the Afghan population, or 1.24 million people, had died as a result of aerial bombing raids, shootings, artillery shellings, antipersonnel mines, exhaustion, and other war-related conditions." (p. 13)

A section of the first chapter, headed The Turning Point (p.15), notes that:

(a) Only a quarter of the Soviet adult urban population approved of Soviet policy in Afghanistan or expressed confidence in the eventual success of Soviet policy;

(b) By early 1988, most of those who had been voting members of the Politburo at the time of the invasion of Afghanistan had either died or retired. (Don't forget, both the Afghan conflict and the East German regime ended under Gorbachev.)

(c) The puppet government in Kabul had neither popularity, legitimacy, or even internal coherence, and was propped up solely by the Soviet occupation forces (suggesting the need for indefinitely extended occupation, conflict, and attrition of Soviet forces).

(d) Soviet stragegy had relied on using helicopter gunships and fighter-bombers to attack the civilian population which the Mujajideen relied upon for support. In the second half of 1986 the rebels received Stinger anti-aircraft missiles from the United States, which were considerably more effective than the SAM-7 missiles they had previously had access to.

"According to one source the USSR lost 512 aircraft and helicopters between January and November 1987, and the Soviet response was not to escalate, but rather to revive diplomatic moves directed at procuring a settlement of the conflict."


Note also that by 1987 CIA covert funding of the rebels through Operation Cyclone amounted to $630 million a year, with a similar amount being supplied by Saudi Arabia.

P.S. I'm no expert (and eclecticdog can correct me if I'm wrong) but I'm not sure how much of a conventional army the Afghan insurgency possessed in its campaign against Soviet occupation. According to a Library of Congress Country Study of Afghanistan:

"Virtually all of its war was waged locally...Olivier Roy estimates that after four years of war there were at least 4,000 bases from which mujahidin units operated. Most of these were affiliated with the seven expatriate parties headquartered in Pakistan which served as sources of supply and varying degrees of supervision. Significant commanders typically led 300 or more men, controlled several bases and dominated a district or a sub-division of a province.

"Hierarchies of organization above the bases were attempted. Their operations varied greatly in scope, the most ambitious being achieved by Ahmad Shah Massoud of the Panjshir valley north of Kabul. He led at least 10,000 trained troops at the end of the Soviet war and had expanded his political control of Tajik dominated areas to Afghanistan's northeastern provinces under the Supervisory Council of the North.

"...In favorable circumstances such formations could quickly reach more than 10,000, as happened when large Soviet assaults were launched in the eastern provinces, or when the mujahidin besieged towns, such as Khost in Paktia Province. But in campaigns of the latter type the traditional explosions of manpower--customarily common immediately after the completion of harvest--proved obsolete when confronted by well dug-in defenders with modern weapons. Lashkar durability was notoriously short; few sieges succeeded."


P.S. Responding to the main point of Mr. Talton's essay, I've said it before but I'll say it again: I don't understand why the United States is still in Afghanistan. As I wrote in an earlier thread:

The conventional explanation is that we're there to deny a safe haven to Al Qaida. Thus far we can't even do that in Afghanistan itself; but even if we could, the premise is belied by the fact that Al Qaida already has "safe havens" in a number of other countries, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, etc., etc., which we either can't invade for political reasons, or can't invade because we simply don't have the money and manpower to attack, occupy, and subdue governments and guerilla fighters in all of these countries.

Al Qaida has long since gone international, and everyone knows it, so why this talk about denying a safe haven to them in Afghanistan, when that hasn't even been possible in that single country?

It isn't as though there is a sophisticated infrastructure for them in Afghanistan anyway. Afghanistan doesn't have nuclear missiles, it doesn't have anything to speak of except mountainous deserts. If by "safe haven" all we mean are a few caves or crude buildings, we'll never be able to "deny Al Qaida safe haven" on a worldwide basis.

I'll add a new gloss as well: I don't understand the concept of targeting geography when the enemy is an organization, not an army.

Al Qaida is not a military. Al Qaida is not a government. Al Qaida is a fairly loosely knit structure of individuals in numerous countries, drawing financial support from numerous countries and sources, with shared ideology and linked (but not hierarchically rigorous) leadership.

Terrorist attacks can be planned by individuals operating from any locality, funded by individuals from other localities, and carried out by individuals from still more localities, unconstrained by international borders.

This does not require political control of land. This does not require a headquarters building or conventional infrastructure such as military bases.

An international terrorist organization is not a government, a military, or even an insurgency. Al Qaida is a distributed network. It cannot be destroyed by military occupation. It has no troops and no centralized infrastructure TO destroy. You cannot attack such an enemy by occupying a single country, much less a country like Afghanistan.


I'm no expert either. Your thoughts on Afghanistan are spot on, but let me elaborate on my thinking about it.

The Afghans don't have much of an army, but have great tribal traditions for leadership and war. Indeed, Afghanistan defies our crude attempts to make it fit our mental framework about governments, countries, militaries, economies, etc. It is a very primitive place, but humans from our past would have no problem recognizing the familiar patterns of tribe and family and immobility.

The inhospitability of the land and the closed nature of Afghan society is a huge plus for them. We cannot control the mountains and we don't get what Afghans want (evidently it is not the "American dream"). The Russian never figured it out, neither did the British, and the Indians thought it better to leave them alone. It could be they have a better democracy than we have as everything is at the local level. A leader that doesn't deliver won't last, justice (or at least punishment) is very swift or is resolved by a blood feud. Thus 4000 bases to operate against the Soviets from (and probably every other invader before and since), plus safe havens in tribal lands in Pakistan (kind of like Cambodia and Laos in another conflict, or Mexico during the Apache Wars).

Tribal leaders that show a knack for
war gain followers much like Native American warchiefs gathered warbands. Modern weaponry and the Afghan devotion to one's tribe, home, and family make them formidible citizen warriors. Ghengis Khan had such an army! The Taliban provides a conduit for money and weapons and something of a government. After reading your last post, Afghanistan is like Al Qaida, only it has an arbitary boundary drawn around it so everyone in the UN knows where it is.

To our (Western/US/modern) way of thinking this should be a cakewalk. No recognizable army, no recognizable government, no money, no jobs, no end to war and strife, unless they just accept our way of doing things. The Afghans have repeatedly told everyone to F*** off or else (because that's the way Afghans have always done it).

But no one in power listens. I wish we would leave too, but that would tarnish the rep of our citizen soldiers and their clueless leadership yet again.

Best Wishes and Peace!

So, my question remains:
How do Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz manage to duck accountability for the wrongheaded decision-making process that got us into Afghanistan? This blog can lapse into scholarly dissertations for which I'm ill equipped; however we may be losing sight of the culprits that put us there.


They didn't do anything illegal, so how will we hold them accountable? Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, et. al. might either be immoral sons of dogs or just poor misguided followers of Ayn Rand and Irving Krystal, but there's no prosecutable crime in that.

Another good read:


Some belated comments about Phoenix area bike trails/paths added here:


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