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Fortunes of war

August 27th, 2008

Things have gone better than expected (certainly better than I expected) in Iraq over the past year[1]. On the other hand, things are going very badly in Afghanistan. For those, like me, who have supported the war in Afghanistan and opposed the war in Iraq, this raises some points to consider.

Most obviously, war is inherently unpredictable and dangerous, and there is no necessary correlation between the justness of a cause and its military success. That means, among other things, that launching a war (or revolution) on the basis of a cause that seems justified to those starting it, but which has little or no hope of success (indeed without strong grounds for expecting a good outcome after the inevitable loss of life on all sides is taken into account), is not glorious but criminally reckless.

Sadly, the typical ‘war of choice’ is launched on the basis of hubristic expectations of success, an illusion which is often bolstered by initial success but usually ends in disaster (I expect this will turn out to be the case for both/all sides in the Georgia conflict).

Supporters of the decision to go to war in Afghanistan can argue that the prospects of success were excellent and would have been realised if it were not for the massive incompetence of the Bush Administration, most obviously in deciding to launch a second war in Iraq for no particular reason (or, if you prefer, for many contradictory reasons). Of course, some supporters of the Iraq war make precisely the same claim. But the Administration’s incompetence was much more evident in 2003 than in 2001, one reason why I and others changed our views. More importantly, Afghanistan was not a war of choice. The US and other countries had been attacked by terrorists operating there with the support of the Taliban, and further attacks were planned.

Perhaps with more competent management the Taleban could have been defeated by now. But they haven’t been and it is time to admit that a military victory over the Taleban insurgency is now unlikely whether or not it might have been achieved in the past. As with the Sunni Awakening in Iraq, it’s time to look harder at offering both a part in the political process and plenty of cash to those willing to abandon the insurgency.

fn1. That doesn’t mean the situation is good by any normal standard. Omagh-scale bomb attacks

still take place every week or so, attracting barely any notice, and both soldiers and civilians are dying every day. More importantly, even if the war ended tomorrow, it would still be a disaster for all concerned. The US has suffered thousands of deaths, tens of thousands of soldiers wounded and spent trillions of dollars while making its own international position far weaker than before. And the suffering of the Iraqi people has been far greater – hundreds of thousands dead, millions forced to flee the country, an economy in ruins and a legacy of bitter division that is unlikely to heal for decades to come.

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  1. August 27th, 2008 at 10:53 | #1

    I find it impossible to think about Afghanistan today without thinking about what might have been… Perhaps that’s a good thing, because we Westerners cannot look to the future of Afghanistan without looking at how things went so wrong, acknowledging our own mistakes, and (dare we hope?) holding the prime architects of those mistakes accountable.

    The Taleban’s behavior before the war was intolerable, of course, and the international community was obliged to do something to help ordinary Afghans. You say “Afghanistan was not a war of choice” but in fact there might have been other more diplomatic ways to achieve change. For example, the Taleban’s offer to hand over Bin Laden is just one more war story that has been buried because it does not fit the script.

    It’s nice to imagine where we might be today if the money wasted on war in Iraq had instead been spent on Afghan schools, roads and other manifestations of Western “soft power”. Such a massive show of altruism might have won the hearts and minds of people across the Middle East, bringing calls for widespread democratic change.

    Ironically, this is exactly what the architects of the Iraq War claim to have desired. But like the Bible says, “by their fruits shall ye know them.” It seems increasingly obvious that their real objective – in both Afghanistan and Iraq – was control of oil by Western corporations.

    This gives away the big lie about “our” concern for the suffering people of Afghanistan. Perhaps ordinary voters in NATO countries like Australia, the UK, Canada and the USA did care about the brutal suffering of Afghans under the Taliban, but our governments obviously did not. They used popular support for the war as a pretext for realising their own geo-political ambitions, and the ordinary citizens of Afghanistan (and Iraq) have suffered miserably as a result.

    With the Cold War now being reignited in Georgia, we Westerners need to go back and look at the tattered remains of the “American Dream”, and the vaunted promises of freedom which were posited for decades in contrast to Communist oppression. Was that all just a PR stunt? It seems that such promises have amounted to very little since the walls came down in 1989/90.

    Again, I would suggest that the reason for this is not that we ordinary citizens of the West do not hold such visions of freedom and equality dear to our hearts, but that our supposedly representative governments – beholden as they are to corporate interests, including the giant US military industrial complex – do not truly share that vision.

    As long as this is the case, there is little we can do for the peasants in Afghanistan, Sudan, Burma, Mozambique or anywhere else. We need to put our own house in order before we can go out and help others. And that process surely starts with some long-overdue accountability.

  2. August 27th, 2008 at 12:46 | #2

    “…launching a war (or revolution) on the basis of a cause that seems justified to those starting it, but which has little or no hope of success (indeed without strong grounds for expecting a good outcome after the inevitable loss of life on all sides is taken into account), is not glorious but criminally reckless”.

    This strikes me as somewhat simplistic, and that a better test would be subtler. For instance, the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto fails this test, yet the quietist alternatives were palpably worse. How, then, to refine the test?

  3. wilful
    August 27th, 2008 at 13:54 | #3

    I dunno PML. I am by no means fully informed about the Warsaw uprising, but wasn’t its failure mostly a matter of the Soviets being complete c*nts? Didn’t they have some better hope of success than they got?

    Alternatively, what if the jews had collectively decided to decamp to the countryside for a bit of partisan action, wouldn’t that have cost less lives?

  4. smiths
    August 27th, 2008 at 15:59 | #4

    someone would do very well to explain how the war on afghanistan was justified

  5. August 27th, 2008 at 16:46 | #5

    Not the Warsaw uprising, which was just before the Russians arrived, the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto by the Jews who were being whittled away piecemeal.

    And there was no way they could have decamped collectively to the countryside without rising up to do it; I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that was what they were actually trying to do. They were locked away in the Ghetto.

  6. jquiggin
    August 27th, 2008 at 17:05 | #6

    #5 I had the Warsaw uprising in mind as an example of an unjustified action. As far as I can tell, the leaders knew they wouldn’t get help from the Soviets and went ahead anyway.

    On the other hand, the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto had no alternative but to fight and more generally, fighting in self-defence seems justified to me with a much smaller chance of success than when there is a choice to fight or not.

  7. August 27th, 2008 at 18:03 | #7

    smiths,
    Country is sheltering an accused terrorist and allowing him to use that country’s territory to train attackers and launch attacks on you. You demand the country puts a stop to it and hand over the accused for trial.
    The attack on you is an act of war. Any reasonable course of action taken to defend yourself is perfectly legal, even without explicit UN sanction.
    Morally I would also consider it justified.

  8. smiths
    August 27th, 2008 at 18:21 | #8

    so let me get this straight,
    a group of hijackers from saudi arabia and egypt, financed from pakistan, fly some planes into american buildings,
    osama bin laden is accused within minutes but never is any evidence produced,
    he allegedly lives in afghanistan and afghanistan is attacked, although, lets be frank,
    its a stopover before the main event

    therefore, for instance, since the US is harbouring and trained Luis Posada Carriles who commited a terrorist attack in venezuala, they would be justified in attacking the us
    right?

    this war on afghanistan was not justified,
    and its about time people really started thinking when they utter the statement, “i supported such and such war because…”

  9. Ian Gould
    August 27th, 2008 at 18:39 | #9

    …but never is any evidence produced,…

    Well for starters there are the multiple unforced public claims of responsibility he’s made since and I’ve never before heard ANYONE say Bin Laden “allegedly” lived in Afghanistan. Certainly the Afghan government of the day never denied it and even went out of their way to insist that he was.

  10. Ian Gould
    August 27th, 2008 at 18:43 | #10

    Several hundred Jews did indeed escape from the Ghetto. Many of them joined up with the AK resistance movement (which had actually launched unsuccessful attacks on the Ghetto from outside during the uprising to try to assist their escape).

    Most of them died subsequently taking part in the Warsaw Uprising.

  11. August 27th, 2008 at 18:45 | #11

    Ian,
    I would also add that the money came from Pakistan for a simple reason – at the time there were no correspondent banks in Afghanistan.
    .
    smiths, you seem to have a reflexive anti-Americanism to go with your reflexive anti-freedom impulses. Is there a reason for them or am I just mis-understanding you?

  12. pablo
    August 27th, 2008 at 20:43 | #12

    The latest incidence of some 90 Afghan civilians, including some 50 children, allegedly killed by a US aircraft strike is simply the latest indictment of failure on the part of the occupation forces. NATO and Australian forces must be wondering what justifies their continuing participation in this collective action. Put yourself in their boots and flakjackets and ask if it makes any coherent sense. The Taliban, like their antecendents, the Mujahideen defeater of the Russians, have the justification of foreign occupation forces, the infidel, invading their soil. We may not like them, we may think them uncivilised, but it is their country, not ours.

  13. August 27th, 2008 at 21:06 | #13

    So, pablo – you would claim that Afghanistan belongs to the Pushtun tribesmen, then? And in particlar those that were trained in the madrassas over the border in Pakistan and not to the rest of the people of Afghanistan.
    Not quite true, I would have thought.

  14. pablo
    August 27th, 2008 at 21:57 | #14

    I haven’t heard Rudd explaining our presence as somehow a means to subjugate the Pushtun in favour of the Hazaris or the Uzbeks – he has more sense. But he and Fitzgibbon must be wondering how to extricate our soldiers from a worsening situation. President Karzai, a Pushtun, knows he can’t allow the US/NATO/Australian forces to inadvertantly kill his non-Pushtun subjects and expect to remain in power.

  15. Adrian
    August 27th, 2008 at 22:41 | #15

    “The US and other countries had been attacked by terrorists operating there…”

    No, they were attacked by terrorists who lived elsewhere and had only passed through Afghanistan.

    “…with the support of the Taliban…”

    There’s nothing to suggest that the Taliban had any knowledge of the 9-11 attacks. They supported Islamic fundamentalists in their struggle to overturn relatively secular governments in predominantly Islamic countries like Egypt, Algeria, and some former Soviet states, but supporting attacks on the US was another thing. Remember, after 9-11 the Taliban offered to give up Osama bin Laden for trial in an Islamic country, but the US insisted this wasn’t good enough.

    “…and further attacks were planned.”

    Oh really?

    There was never a good reason for invading Afghanistan. The number of fundamentalists there who shared the philosophy of attacking the West was estimated to be in the tens rather than the hundreds or thousands. Hardly a reason to invade a country. Of course the situation has changed – the invasion has created the conditions that were falsely used to initially justify it.

  16. Ian Gould
    August 27th, 2008 at 22:43 | #16

    The principal difficulty facing the US and its allies in Afghanistan is exactly the same as the principal difficulty it faced in Iraq up until a year or so back – insufficient troops, insufficient resources and an extrem aversion to risking politically embarassing US casualties which leads to an over-reliance on air power and resultant civilian casualities.

    The US and its allies can win the counter-insurgency in Afghansitan by pursuing the same tacitcs it has been pursuing for the past year or so in Iraq.

    This would involve a commitment of additional ground troops in the south, together with a concerted effort to undermine Pashtun support for the Taliban.

    The first and most obvious step in such a strategy would seem to be an opium purchase program. Outbid the Taliban for the opium crop and you undercut their main source of income and local support.

    Even if such a program is less than 100% effective, every kilo of opium kept out of Taliban hands cuts their funds by several thousand dollars and undercuts their support.

  17. wbb
    August 28th, 2008 at 00:23 | #17

    Supporters of the decision to go to war in Afghanistan can argue that the prospects of success were excellent.

    Well, you can argue anything.

    I’m still interested to know what “success” was meant to look like.

    The reason there wasn’t popular outrage at the US invasion of Afghanistan was that everybody knew that the US had to kick something very hard. It was unstoppable. We were fatalistic. It was just as wrong as the invasion of Iraq however.

    In war people get killed. Lots of real people. It cannot be justified unless in self-defence or to stop imminent genocide. The solution (killing lots of people) must be less bad than the problem (even more people getting killed).

    The 911 hijackers were still dead by the time the US started dropping ordinance on Afghanistan as far as I know. And if they wanted Bin Laden arrested then they could have taken all sorts of routes to that. It may have taken some time – but not as much as has actually ensued.

    No, Afghanistan and Iraq cannot be separated – imperial hubris and greed.

  18. wbb
    August 28th, 2008 at 00:29 | #18

    Outbid the Taliban for the opium crop

    That’s lateral – and just the type of thinking required before we swung in there in 2002 at 40,000 feet.

    Unfortunately that type of strategy was too sophisticated then – and is still too sophisticated now. Apes being apes and all.

  19. August 28th, 2008 at 01:40 | #19

    Adrian / wbb,
    OBL had a continuing record of organising attacks. It is not as if the 9/11 attacks were one offs – as those people around the embassies of the US in Kenya and Tanzania could testify, if they were still alive. As could the victims of the first attack on the World Trade Centre.
    The Taliban knew exactly what he was accused of and were, from published reports at least, more than aware of what he was planning. They were also not the legally recognised government of Afghanistan, although they were in control of most of the land. They were simply the creatures of the Pakistani ISI, trained and supplied by them to become the government of Afghanistan.
    Trial in another Muslim country – interesting. Any suggestions on which one may have had laws that could prosecute them? I am not aware of any that had any standing or extra-territorial legislation that would have allowed for it. In any case, I am not aware of many that would have met appropriate standards of jurisprudence or, if he had been convicted, would have been able to hold him with appropriate security.
    In any case, wbb – you provided the legal grounds: self defence. “Imperial hubris and greed”? That’s opinion. It may or may not be true – but that is irrelevant. I am not aware of any legal scholars anywhere that would not have agreed with the US’s legal right to invade what was, at law, a country without a government and whose de facto rulers were harbouring persons who were not only accused, but claiming to have, carried out such attacks that were so indescriminate as to constitute acts of war.

  20. August 28th, 2008 at 04:23 | #20

    I would suggest that preemptive war is always a war of choice. The real solution is not to choose war, and have recourse to the international criminal court.

    Aside from doubtful questions of jurisprudence, it seems that Osama bin Laden moved across the border, after the Americans had failed to apprehend him for lack of military resources due to other commitments in Iraq. For some strange reason, somebody was even in a greater hurry than was ObL to leave Afghanistan. Of course, it all makes complete sense.

    The logic of righteous vengeance as the hand of justice, so as to kick around the wheel of escalating violence, would suggest that bin Laden should have been followed into his new haven, but for some reasons that did not happen. Now look what is happening in Afghanistan, including more indiscriminate murder of people by aerial bombing.
    Who will now step in to protect the Afghan people from terrorism, or is it simply that they are non-people and don’t count?

  21. August 28th, 2008 at 10:22 | #21

    wmmbb,
    The ICC has many limitations on its performance, not least that it works through recognised governments or needs explicit reference from the UNSC. It also can only deal with issues that occurred since its founding. Ideally, I would agree with you, though, that this is the correct place to deal with these issues.
    The problem is, as in Sudan, where the government does not want to hand anyone over for trial. If the ICC had been around in 2001 then I would not have expected that Mullah Omar would have handed
    OBL over to it.
    In any case, flying several loaded civilian aircraft into buildings is (by most definitions) an act of war. If the Taliban were aware of it they should have stopped it. If not, they should have handed him over. The fact they did not made them complicit.
    In any case, they were not the legal government – what is normally called the “Northern Alliance” was the closest body to it, containing several members of the former, recognised, government. They invited the US and allies in, probably making this, in legal form, not an invasion but assistance to the legal government to regain its status de facto as well as de jure.
    As for the grandstanding in the last paragraph – it does not deserve a response. I would have thought you above that sort of low-balling.

  22. August 28th, 2008 at 10:28 | #22

    Speculating again on what might have been, if the USA had joined the international criminal court and pursued Bin Laden and his supporters through that avenue, a million people would still be alive today, international law would have been radically strengthened rather than weakened, and the USA’s reputation might even have been enhanced considerably, rather than dragged through the mud.

    But of course the problem with courts is that you have to present evidence, and as smiths quite rightly notes, the USA has never produced compelling evidence that Bin Laden was the author of 911. Indeed, given Bin Laden’s former work with the CIA and his family’s close contacts with the Bush’s and Saudis, one can only imagine how embarrassing any testimony from him in an open court might be.

  23. Socrates
    August 28th, 2008 at 12:18 | #23

    JQ

    Your point that wars do not always turn out as expected or deserved is very true. People who suggest more aggressive action in Georgia should remember that. In fact, military pressue and ‘brinkmanship” often don’t turn out very well either. Many times they turn into real wars by accident. I don’t see how Afghanistan can every be solved until the political mess of Pakistan and its many Taliban supporters is fixed first.

  24. August 28th, 2008 at 12:32 | #24

    gandhi,
    One big, fatal, flaw in there. The ICC could not have been used as it cannot touch anything done before 1 July 2002. They are legally bound not to touch it even if they had it referred to them.
    In any case, Bin Laden has accepted responsibility for the attacks, even if he has claimed recently that there is no admissible evidence of it. Perhaps, perhaps not – but until he is in a recognised court we will not know. We can be reasonably certain that the Taliban would not have given him up, though.
    I suspect the ones that would really be embarrased by any testimony he may give would be those who are claiming he may be innocent – but, as you would know, neither of us are in a position to prove anything.

  25. August 28th, 2008 at 14:29 | #25

    Returning to my point, however, how can that overly simplistic test be refined? Merely adjusting it to deal with specific real or hypothetical cases isn’t sufficient, any more than teaching to the test is, not if you want to derive a principle that you hope will cover other situations that you might not have thought of. And, of course, there is the paradox that if quietism is widespread, the payoff for agressive behaviour improves; the gain from a proper approach is bound to spill over on yet others, and conversely the best strategy for individual actors can cause spill over losses elsewhere. Supporting the underdog and maintaining a balance of power worked quite well for Britain for generations, with gains spilling over onto others; that wasn’t pacifist or quietist.

  26. TerjeP
    August 29th, 2008 at 00:31 | #26

    The mistake in Afghanistan was to try and win the peace. The objective should never have been to reform or befriend the nation or even to occupy or control it. The objective should have been simply to punish the leaders that allowed Bin Laden to perpetrate 911. The US should have made clear that it was coming to get Bin Laden and to decapitate those in leadership positions that protected or sanctioned his actions. It should have been a symbolic war to simply say to tinpot leaders around the world “don’t fcuk with the USA”.

    Whilst it was nuts to start a new front in Iraq the real mistake was to try and build a new nation there. They should have hunted down and killed Saddam and his boys and then said “so long”. This notion about staying to build a liberal democracy was simply maddness. In fact if they had left once they had Saddam then rightly or wrongly Donald Rumsfeld would probably be a national hero today.

  27. August 29th, 2008 at 01:31 | #27

    Killing people who cross you, oppose you, or on the supposition that they have acted against you, is the method of gangsters. In essence it is using violence to solve conflicts, which might well be inevitable in themselves, but will not lead to just and sustainable solutions.

    As I understand it, the Taliban Government did ask for the evidence against bin Laden, and given his method of operation , it is just fanciful to suppose that the Taliban could be held accountable for his actions.

    Effectively, through the escalation of violence, in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the occupiers have become players in the civil war and resistance to occupation, and that is not counting the unstated motives of strategic domination and control.

  28. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    August 29th, 2008 at 09:14 | #28

    Killing leaders that cross you, oppose you or who you suppose might act against you is a heck of a lot better than engaging in wars of occupation that expend vast amounts of lives and capital on both sides. Yes it is what gangsters do but the distinction between gangsters and governments is over rated. Although gangsters are perhaps slightly more effective in running an efficient protection racket.

    When the Taliban gave Bin Laden sanctuary in Afghanistan they knew what he had done previously. It is not as if they were unaware of his most wanted status or his previous terrorist attacks on the USA. They sanctioned his actions by giving him sanctuary in the first place. I think it would have been worth while trying harder to get them to give him up but thats a mere technicality.

    The way to deal with state sponsored terrorism is to raise the perceived cost of sponsoring terrorism. That means getting personal and going after the leadership.

    The folly is in thinking that you can then go on and apply military techniques to reshape a society in detail.

  29. August 29th, 2008 at 13:46 | #29

    The mistake in Afghanistan is to be there.

    I suspect the best long term strategy would have been to leave the Taliban alone. Their popularity was already on the wane in 2001. The best cure for an Islamst Govt is probably a good dose of an Islamist government.

    As it is, they can now play the role of opponents to the foreign occupiers, which always goes down well in Afghanistan.

  30. smiths
    August 29th, 2008 at 13:59 | #30

    sorry andrew i am confused,
    you link to a website with some words and a picture,

    what i cant see is a video of OBL admitting he did it?

  31. August 29th, 2008 at 14:09 | #31

    smiths,
    Are you going to play a Graeme Bird style proof game here? Have a read of those words. They may help. If that is too much trouble perhaps a quick search on youtube or elsewhere for a video could be arranged.

  32. smiths
    August 29th, 2008 at 14:10 | #32

    andrew i’ll tell you something,
    when it comes to money, you clearly understand it better than i, even if i still dont agree with some of your prognostications,
    and so i have to respect your opinions,

    but when it comes to geoploitics i think your views are infantile, its like the pentagon has a live feed running into your ear and coming straight out your mouth,

    as it happens though you are correct in your assertation about me being anti-american government,

    i’ll let harold pinter explain why

    “The United States supported and in many cases engendered every right wing military dictatorship in the world after the end of the Second World War. I refer to Indonesia, Greece, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Haiti, Turkey, the Philippines, Guatemala, El Salvador, and, of course, Chile. The horror the United States inflicted upon Chile in 1973 can never be purged and can never be forgiven.

    Hundreds of thousands of deaths took place throughout these countries. Did they take place? And are they in all cases attributable to US foreign policy? The answer is yes they did take place and they are attributable to American foreign policy. But you wouldn’t know it.

    It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.

    I put to you that the United States is without doubt the greatest show on the road. Brutal, indifferent, scornful and ruthless it may be but it is also very clever. As a salesman it is out on its own and its most saleable commodity is self love. It’s a winner.”

  33. smiths
    August 29th, 2008 at 16:32 | #33

    The tape bore a label indicating it was made on November 9. Administration officials wouldn’t reveal exactly how or when they got it, except to say it was found in a house in Jalalabad after anti-Taliban forces moved in. The U.S. Government translated the Arabic conversation and provided subtitles. The tape, which has a home video quality, shows bin Laden sitting on the floor in a bare room in a house in Kandahar. With him are several other men, including two aides and an unidentified cleric, or Sheikh. Bin Laden, identified on screen as UBL, made it clear he planned the September 11 attacks.

    found in a house, on a vhs tape, in a massive city
    complete with confession,

    you gotta laugh eh?

  34. observa
    August 29th, 2008 at 21:34 | #34

    Here’s a pretty succinct summary of the overarching view of one of the ‘guilty’ parties-
    http://www.dlc.org/ndol_ci.cfm?contentid=253880&kaid=128&subid=187
    Work out where you fit in his big scheme of things.

  35. Geoff Honnor
    August 30th, 2008 at 10:46 | #35

    “i’ll let harold pinter explain why”

    But Harold doesn’t explain why. He completely omits any mention of the post-war geopolitical context – the Soviet Union and its imperialist ambitions is the all-important other part of the equation – in a hyperbolically anti-American rant that explains why he is a playwright rather than someone whose geopolitical analysis should be taken seriously.

    It’s wonderfully ironic given his amusingly blinkered insistence that “very few people have actually talked about” Chile, Haiti, El Salvador etc, etc, etc.

    The critical commentary on American foreign policy since 1945 – much of it by Americans – would run to many millions of words and enough newsfilm to circle the globe 10 times over.

  36. Ian Gould
    August 30th, 2008 at 13:32 | #36

    America made plenty of mistakes post Wolrd War II.

    But it needs to be remembered that had either of the other two major powers of that conflict – Germany nd the Soviet Union – achieved a similar position the world would be an almost indescribably worse place.

    We shouldn’t ignore america’s mistakes – indeed we should study them to try and ensure they aren’t repeated.

    However we shouldn’t let those mistakes lead us into blind anti-Americanism.

    My criticism of Aemrican policy in recent years has always been based on the view that the Bush administration was acting to America’s own interests and that true and loyal friends of America should point that out rather than blindly supporting bad policy.

  37. smiths
    August 30th, 2008 at 14:57 | #37

    ok geoff, who’s geopolitical assessments should be taken seriously,
    and ian, justifying a half century empire of control, punishment and manipulation based on the hypothetical concept of what might have eventuated had the others won, seems like a morality quagmire to me,
    its really only a smidge away from thing like the doctrine of pre-emptive war for defence,
    i suppose those mindboggling war profits are just the price the world pays to have the edfenders of freedom astride the entire earth,
    eyes wide shut methinks…

  38. TerjeP
    August 31st, 2008 at 03:18 | #38

    Ian – I presume you meant to say “contrary to America’s own interests”.

  39. August 31st, 2008 at 18:14 | #39

    smiths,
    We saw what happened in the areas that did not fall under US influence. Are you serious that your “geopolitical assessments” do not include even a cursory glance at those that fell under the Soviet influence? If you are going to use body counts as you do (I personally feel it inappropriate) then there is simply no comparison. Perhaps we should look at the economics? Nope, that one fails too.
    The actions of the US government in the period up to and including Guantanamo are far from lily-white, but I have a very good idea which way I would choose if I had to do so.
    Do you know which way you would have chosen?

  40. Katz
    August 31st, 2008 at 18:23 | #40

    Much spittle expended here on rants on the subject of American “evil” or American “good”.

    Of more relevance to a discussion of policy in the real world is the question of American competence — a quality in palpable short supply, especially since the advent of Dubya.

    One of the widely accepted criteria for legitimate exercise of military power:

    there must be serious prospects of success

    Did anyone seriously expect Dubya to achieve success commensurate with the resources mobilised and the innocents harmed?

    If so, please identify yourself.

  41. Ian Gould
    August 31st, 2008 at 19:25 | #41

    Terje – precisely right.

    sorry

  42. Ian Gould
    August 31st, 2008 at 19:46 | #42

    “Of more relevance to a discussion of policy in the real world is the question of American competence — a quality in palpable short supply, especially since the advent of Dubya.”

    My pro-Kerry slogan from 2004: “A vtoe fro Kerry is vote for a return to competent plutocratic oligarchy”.

  43. August 31st, 2008 at 21:08 | #43

    Katz,
    Is that in advance or with the 20/20 hindsight you may be granting yourself?

  44. smiths
    August 31st, 2008 at 22:05 | #44

    there are obviously some sort of rules to this discussion that i havent been told,
    i thought we were talking about the invasion of afghanistan, and the rights and wrongs of it,
    i was critical of the war and of the nation that led it and for the pattern that it fits into for that nation,

    now i discover that a criteria for this assessment is that you have to pick sides between america and russia before you are allowed to pass comment,

    reminds me a bit of my seven year old son playing with his action men, “are you a goodie or a baddie?” they all ask each other

    and andrew you didnt need 20/20 hindsight to understand the problems of an attack on afghanistan, a history book would do,
    failing that, watch the princess bride
    “Ha ha! You fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders!
    The most famous is never get involved in a land war in Asia, but only slightly less well-known is this:
    never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line!”

    oh wait, i remember, dont get geopolitical advice from playwrights or films

    tell that to sophocles by the way, disproving that thought by 2500 years of relevance

  45. Ian Gould
    September 1st, 2008 at 00:19 | #45

    “there are obviously some sort of rules to this discussion that i havent been told,
    i thought we were talking about the invasion of afghanistan, and the rights and wrongs of it,
    i was critical of the war and of the nation that led it and for the pattern that it fits into for that nation,

    now i discover that a criteria for this assessment is that you have to pick sides between america and russia before you are allowed to pass comment,”

    Sorry Smiths, you’re the one who invoked Harold Pinter to priove that Afhanistan was part of a persistent pattern of US misdeeds.

    This isn’t soem irrwelevent side-debate.

    If you genuinely beleive Amwerica is, to borrow from Reagan, an “evil empire”; then your response to a specific incident of american foreign policy you disapporve of is going to be quite different than if your think America is fundamentally benign but screws up on occasion either by accident or through the malign influence of particular groups within the US.

  46. Katz
    September 1st, 2008 at 06:59 | #46

    Take a look AR.

    I’ve been arguing that line since the invasion in 2003. That is since before Chimpo declared “Mission Accomplished”.

    Can I help it if others are lacking in perspicacty?

    Why should people with some insight be forced to join a confederacy of dunces?

  47. September 1st, 2008 at 11:55 | #47

    Katz,
    Did you expect this level of “…resources mobilised and the innocents harmed?” It is that hindsight I was asking about.

  48. jquiggin
    September 1st, 2008 at 12:28 | #48

    I’ll speak for myself, AR. I don’t and didn’t claim great predictive powers, but I and others foresaw the actual outcomes (a long and bloody occupation, a stimulus to terrorism, ethnic & religous strife, millions of refugees) as likely possibilities and copped plenty of flak for saying so.

  49. smiths
    September 1st, 2008 at 13:09 | #49

    the prospects were crap from the start,

    the mountainous regions are borderless and lawless, the fighters will never give up,

    the best that could be expected was an occupation of the biggest cities with permanent acts of terrorism

    and another thing, this ‘incompetence’ line is rubbish, they achieve most of the outcomes they want,
    smash small government that doesnt toe line – check
    install puppet friendly to america and oil interests – check
    put trans-Afghanistan pipeline into action – check
    encircle iran – check
    re-invigorate opium production for world market – check

  50. Katz
    September 1st, 2008 at 13:24 | #50

    Did you expect this level of “…resources mobilised and the innocents harmed?� It is that hindsight I was asking about.

    1. I overestimated the resources, believing that even Rumsfeld would not have been dumb enough to contradict the pessimism of his military advisors.

    2. My predictions about the sheer chaos caused by military incompetence were more or less in line with the reality, as was my prediction that the big winners would be Iran.

    BTW, perhaps it is not widely known that NATO has recently asked Iran to allow the Afghanistan mission to be supplied through Iran. Not surprisingly, the Iranians said “no”.

    Some background.

    90% of materiel must go overland.

    Russia has cut off the Northern route since Georgia.

    The tribal areas of Pakistan are becoming evermore risky as a supply route.

    Tricky, huh?

  51. Hal9000
    September 1st, 2008 at 14:01 | #51

    I note that smiths’ comment (at 8) about Luis Posada Carriles was left high and dry in the subsequent high dudgeon from the war-boosters. Surely it’s a significant point, however. The implicit claim is that terrorism is only a legitimate casus belli when it’s terrorism practised by someone other than the US. Carriles cheerfully admits blowing up a Cuban civilian airliner over Venezuelan airspace and is given, to use the Bush vernacular ‘safe haven’ in the US, where the administration uses the irony-challenged argument that he might be tortured if extradited to Venezuela.

    The US has similarly sponsored (as in the sense of recruiting, arming, training, directing and paying the wages of) terrorists in Nicaragua, as determined by the ICJ, and is at present engaged in doing it in Iran.

    I say all this because the ‘just war’ argument advanced by war-boosters requires American exceptionalism as antecedent proposition. Now, this argument may go down well among Bill O’Rielly’s (or Andrew Bolt’s) dwindling audience, but I just don’t reckon it cuts it out there among the citizenry of countries other than the US. Judging by the applause Obama’s been getting for his lines about restoring the US to international respectability, even US voters have become dimly aware that something is amiss.

    Last, there seems to be some implication in war-boosters’ arguments that the bad things that have happened were unintended consequences and thus forgivable. When the consequences are obvious, inevitable and widely foreseen, the intentionality argument fails. At any event, face to face atrocities in which US forces participated, such as the 2001 Dasht-i-Leili killing of hundreds of Taliban fighters by the unusually cruel technique of locking them in shipping containers, suggest a higher level of criminality.

  52. September 1st, 2008 at 15:03 | #52

    Hal9000 #51 – On your first paragraph it was not the “Administration” that blocked the extradition. It was the courts. If you do not believe that the US has judicial independence, then lets discuss that. If not, you are just guilty of an error. As for the rest – cut the strawman BS, please. If you have a specific charge to lay at anyone’s door, please do so.
    .
    Katz #46 – one thing I missed. The “Mission Accomplished” bit was Iraq. I thought this was on Afghanistan.
    #50 – I do not know what point you are trying to make with the “BTW” and “background” bits. Did you expect all that up front? If so, you are endowed with remarkable prescience.
    .
    smiths #49 – Why not just stick horns and a tail on the US Government and point fingers? You seem to believe they are guilty of just about every evil anyway.
    .
    PrQ #48 – I do not speak for others either (despite what Hal9000 may try to imply). It was fairly clear that this would not be a clean fight, even with the initial turfing out of the Taliban. I agreed with you then and I agree with you now – this was a fight that needed to be done. The pity is, like Iraq, they did not get out earlier. The problem with that is that they probably could not have. Leaving early would just have let the Taliban back in, necessitating another invasion.

  53. Hal9000
    September 1st, 2008 at 16:44 | #53

    AR -

    You said:

    “Country is sheltering an accused terrorist and allowing him to use that country’s territory to train attackers and launch attacks on you. You demand the country puts a stop to it and hand over the accused for trial.
    The attack on you is an act of war. Any reasonable course of action taken to defend yourself is perfectly legal, even without explicit UN sanction.
    Morally I would also consider it justified”.

    You poured scorn on smiths’ entirely correct identification of Venezuela (and I might add Cuba) as having precisely the same rights in respect of Carriles. Please explain how the two cases confer such different moral justifications.

    You are correct to say the US courts rejected the charge against Carriles, however the following facts are relevant: Carriles was charged with minor immigration violations and not terrorist offences despite his boasting in a published autobiography of having committed the bombing; the US administration ignored its own extradition treaties and refused to respond to Venezuela’s petitions for Carriles to be preventively detained and extradited; Carriles’ accomplice – the one who smuggled him into the US – Santiago Alvarez was found in possession of a large cache of arms illegal even in the US but was charged only with the arms violations and not the more serious people smuggling and terrorist offences. The US administration, despite overwhelming evidence against him for terrorist offences, despite the extraterritoriality of US terrorism law, and despite the existence of Patriot Act provisions allowing indefinite detention of anyone even remotely or tangentially connected with terrorism refuses to charge him and is apparently happy for him to be feted by like-minded emigres in Miami as a hero. If that is how an AQ activist apprehended having similarly entering the US on forged documents would be treated I’m the proverbial monkey’s uncle.

  54. smiths
    September 1st, 2008 at 16:50 | #54

    at the end of the day andrew, after all the semantics and game play that you love so much,

    it isnt up to me to defend my position which was proven right in both US wars of aggression,

    it is up to the cheerleaders for aggressive war to explain how those wars can be justified, if they ever can be which i doubt,

    personally it leaves a sick feeling in my stomach to hear westerners pontificating on justified war from the comfort of their australian safe house

  55. smiths
    September 1st, 2008 at 16:53 | #55

    ahhh, too much,
    i just re-read the thread from the start and realised i had also been accused of being anti-freedom…

    honestly andrew, you have some serious issues

  56. Katz
    September 1st, 2008 at 16:56 | #56

    AR, in JQ’s post, Iraq and Afghanistan appear to enjoy more or less equal billing.

    I have said less about Afghanistan because its cause seemed more justified, and its outcome seemed more doubtful. In short, I found that war less interesting.

    Did I ever set down my predictions about the logistical problems faced by invaders of Afghanistan? No.

    Why bother when the historical record is 100% against the invader.

    Eventually, the invaders will do their sums, and like the Soviets (who lost only 15,000 soldiers in Afghanistan) withdraw.

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