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20 October 2005


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To early to tell if Iraq was really a success or a bigger mistake than removing Mohammed Mosaddeq in Iran.

Right now it looks like a success, but so did Operation Ajax.

Always remember, Generals always prepare for the last war, remember Hader v Von Mannstein.

Logical thinkers should come to grips with the idea that France won in Algeria and America won in Vietnam employing this doctrine only to have public opinion at home and resulting political decision turn away from the fruits of victory.

The extent of my total sum of knowledge of the events in Algeria comes from watching The Battle of Algeria on TCM, but when I read what you write, it seems to me that this short-changes the planning, strategy and foresight of the insurgents, and places excess blame on politicians by treating them as if they are acting in a void of public opinion.

It is my understanding that the ultimate strategic goal by the Algerian insurgents was never in any way to physically defeat the French, but rather from the beginning to attrit public support in France métropolitaine. I certainly feel silly and inadequate trying in any respect to contradict you with regards to Vietnam, but I would ask you if you really think it would have been possible for the politicians to have acted any other way without being removed from office?

If you achieve a victory by accident, is that less of a victory? I don’t know if the insurgents in Vietnam realized they could win by waging a PR campaign, but in fact it seems to me that this is what they did. Is that really so different than some of the basic ‘hearts and minds’ tenants of COIN? And would you describe a victory achieved mostly through ‘hearts and minds’ as anything but a genuine victory?

Perhaps this is just meaningless semantics, but it does seem important to me.

Patrick Lang

"The question's a good one, but the answer, it seems to me, can only be approached by answering the fundamental question of the strategic objective in Afghanistan. I see two logical candidates for a statement of the objective. One would read something like this, The United States will, using all appropriate resources, establish a viable government in the contiguous territory of Afghanistan. The other is, The United States, using necessary and appropriate means, will prevent Al Quaeda and associated organizations from establishing bases of operations in Afghanistan.

If the first statement defines our objective. then a counter-insugency campaign makes sense and, indeed, may be the only way achieve it. However, is that what we really want, or need, to do. The question is not only one of the required resources of men, money, and political will. Afghanistan isn't Algeria nor is it Viet Nam in the sense of having a history, traditions, and institutions of central authority. In fact, quite the opposite.

If the objective is defined as in the second statement , would it not be achievable without a campaign of pacification? The COIN effort would not be required, since we wouldn't be attempting to control the country, indeed there wouldn't be insurgents as far as the United States is concerned. Afghanistan would continue to be fractured along tribal and geographic lines. The denial of bases would be accomplished by good intelligence (we must have assets and contacts in abundance), alliances, bribes, and, when necessary, targeted operations.

Final thought, if we're not shrewd about this chapter in "the great game" , I foresee 20 or 30 battalions of soldiers and marines plus civic action teams, advisors, allied forces, DoD contractors, and all the "ash and trash" that accompanies American armies at war humping around Afghanistan for years to come.

I'm on a borrowed computer, which woudn't send this via the SST website e-mail function, so I hope this works.


Charles I


Unconquerable by Western democracies.

A authoritarian US, with a suitably rabid - as opposed to cowed - population at WWII-scale full bore might be able to raze the country in a few years, but that's it.

Nothing but trouble ever coming outta there and both sides of the Durrand Line for the U.S. now, Best leave them to have at each other as they will.

Curious is absolutely right that the "enemy' is dictating the timing and pace of combat, and it seems to me that unless Pakistan is disappeared, that will remain so indefinitely, literally ad infintum. What if they all just stayed home for one year, sat our counterinsurgency out? Its like the opium crop, huge stockpiles were amassed and withheld from the market several years running for both market/price control and general rainy day purposes.

I'll leave the problem of securing Pakistan's nukes to wiser counsel than I.

Do real practicable security at home, as opposed to porky security theatre, stop unnecessarily pissing clever determined people off, defeat your current owners, that'd be useful, less futile, work.

Not to worry though. you'll always have the War on Drugs! I was going to say until the Latinos ruled, but I suppose they'll like the current more profitable and militarized state of affairs that currently obtains, and it'd be racist too. Works just fine for the white man for now, though.


I always thought the objective in afghanistan is very clear and non negotiable. Prevent al qaeda version 2.0 to emerge. The big question is how to go about doing it, because it turns out to be far more complex than chasing bunch of terrorists in the mountain.

The big question is what do we want in Pakistan!

We are in schizophrenic mode. And the incoherency simply destroys everything. We are running in circile.

Pakistan-FATA is what drives afghanistan problem. There are about 6 million peoples in fata area, right next to fundamentalists going over drive supported by wacky pakistan politics.

The situation in Pakistan is not sustainable. They cannot keep pulling "death by thousand cuts" strategy employed during soviet era against India and trying to create buffer/friendly regime in Afghanistan.

THAT is the big question we have to answer: WHAT DO WE WANT in Pakistan?

Unless there is change in Pakistan policy, fixing afghanistan will be nearly impossible and very expensive. (look at the map folks, Aghanistan is practically split in 2. west of mountain, persian speaking and relatively calm. central/eastern part are in turmoil, pasthun speaking.) WHY IS THAT?

Creating stable and viable afghanistan central government will never happen as long as Pakistan-Fata is supporting talibanism strategy. It's that simple.

I mean, this is everything: the cultural drive, the inteligence support, the money flow, the opium trade, weapon manufacturing, flow of refugees and people,lawlessness,...

The Pakistan problem is serious. Observe how everybody next to pakistan is panicking (Iran, India, China) They all hedging bets, doing all sort of plans anticipating pakistan imploding. (logistic/trade route, alliance, etc)

talibanism is Pakistan creation. You can't change a thing in afghanistan as long as Pakistan going full force with that strategy. And this strategy will lead to continuous long term instability in afghanistan and ultimately destruction of pakistan.

Pakistan has to understand, the strategy and path they are heading is going to destroy everything. They are not in control of their strategy anymore.


Col Lang - While I cannot address your express topic, I can relate a story about my late husband (US Marine).

In December, 2002, we were watching the evening news and Bush's decisions. He began passionately talking about his experiences in Korea, and how politicians won't let the generals do their job. He brought up examples from Vietnam, and the more we talked, the angrier he became.

Unfortunately, he got so upset that he suffered a major heart attack, mid-conversation, and could not be revived.

He was much older than I (Korea is only in text books for me) but his upset opened my eyes as to how our military is often compromised by politicians who care only about their continued careers.

I suspect most in the military share his feelings.

Babak Makkinejad

FB Ali:

Do you think Dr. Najibulah could have survived if he had political support? Say, hupothetically speaking, from Iran, US, India, and China?

Would (Could) Mr. Karazi survive with political support from US, China, Russia, India, and Iran?

Babak Makkinejad


Iran, unlike Israel, does not posesses nuclear weapons. You are, perhaps negligently, conflating two distinct situations. Your statements only further obfuscates the reality of the situation.

The fact remains that US & EU have severly damaged, over the last 30 years, two major international instruments of disarmaments: The Chemical Weapons Treaty and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. And their collective response to any criticism is this: "We will bomb you.".

Perhaps with a lot of effort and money they can reverse the damage that their instrumentalist abuses of these andother treaties have caused - but I am not optimistic.

Babak Makkinejad


The NWFP has been militarized over last 25 years. There are a lot of men over there who know of no other way of life except war.

Without the demilitarization of NWFP there will be war on both sides of the border for a generation; in my opinion.


John Howley wrote:

“…hampered cooperation with the limp-wristed Old Europeans who thought human rights mattered.” times have certainly changed when the principles upon which this nation was founded, - here are a couple: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,… That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,…” are no longer respected by many who share your view that only ‘limp wristed Old Europeans think human rights matter.

I believe the Europeans also remember the other fact that Thomas Paine wrote two hundred years ago – that an army of principles can go where an army of soldiers can not. Politicians who have never served seem neither to understand nor respect that principle.

Al Queda is the most recognized ‘brand’ name on earth now thanks not to Osama Bin Laden’s leadership but to the incompetence of the neo-cons and the leadership of George W. Bush which took America into Iraq.

FB Ali’s points should be taken to heart. John Howley’s question – what is our political strategy – is exactly what the administration needs to explain in clear language, I certainly haven’t heard it yet.


Corruption, guns, drugs, ineffective government and misused military training. Same stories everywhere.

with bad economy hitting everywhere, unemployment, corruption, etc are going to explode


About 6,600 Mexicans were killed in fighting involving drug gangs last year, and alarms are going off in this country. The U.S. Joint Forces Command, former drug czar Barry R. McCaffrey, former CIA director Michael V. Hayden, former House speaker Newt Gingrich and any number of analysts have speculated that Mexico is crumbling under pressure from drug gangs.

But "failed state" is the sort of shorthand that Washington has a way of turning into its own reality, the facts be damned. The Mexican government isn't on the verge of losing physical control of its territory, stopping public services or collapsing. But it is under tremendous pressure and has only nominal control in some places, including border cities such as Tijuana, near San Diego, and Juarez, which sits cheek-by-jowl with El Paso. Army troops patrol the streets, but the police, courts, journalists and citizenry are cowed by the less-visible but more-ruthless drug cartels.



Most news footage of Afghanistan shows collapsed buildings, barren deserts, and dusty wastelands. But Afghanistan also has a long agricultural history of growing wheat, corn, almonds, and fresh vegetables. Much of what grows well in California grows well in Afghanistan, and many of these crops � including melons, apples, pistachios, peaches, and over 60 varieties of almonds � actually originated there. Before war broke out in the late 70s, Afghanistan was agriculturally self sufficient, and was known for its excellent fruit, especially table grapes.

For the past 20 years, Afghanistan hasn't produced much of anything in the way of agriculture. Civil war and rule by the Taliban destroyed much of the country�s farming industry. Unexploded land mines make it difficult to reclaim farmland, irrigation systems have been destroyed, and much of the country�s agricultural knowledge died with the farmers and researchers who perished in war. The experts from UCD are working with the people of Afghanistan to rebuild that country's agriculture by training people in basic farming techniques and introducing new technology in irrigation, production, and marketing of crops.



Did you ever read historian Gabriel Kolko's book on Vietnam, and if so, did you like it? He writes from the perspective of the Vietnamese.

Book: "Anatomy of a War: Vietnam, the United States, and the Modern Historical Experience"


Very important comments above; these should be and are hopefully read by people in the US government. However, I consider past several and the current government to be progressively disfunctional - because of lack of national coherence and common will , too many interest groups pulling on the fabric of our society - this is the slow unraveling of the great American Democratic Experiment. Please, tell me it is not so.

David Habakkuk

Babak Makkinejad,

Re the NPT: What would be required to reverse the current degenerative dynamics would be a change in thinking on the part of the Western powers -- an adequate appreciation that fairness is relevant to international relations, as well as power.

Some evidence given to a House of Commons Select Committee by Michael MccGwire -- the most intellectually significant post-war British intelligence analyst, as well as one of the few in this country who still thinks seriously about strategy -- is to the point:

'At the time of the Treaty's inception in 1968 and for the next 25 years, the NPT was immensely important and unexpectedly successful. This was largely due to the nature of the Cold War world with its two camps, client states and the superpowers' common interest. The Treaty was, however, inherently discriminatory, and would remain effective only as long as the non-nuclear states believed it was, on balance, fair and that it served their long-term interests. Fairness is important because its correlate—resentment—is a powerful and destructive motivator.

'Come the end of the Cold War, the nuclear-weapon states sought the indefinite extension of the NPT. There was significant opposition to this proposal from the non-nuclear states, but, in return for a range of inducements, the indefinite extension was agreed at the 1995 Treaty Review Conference. This was subject to a pledge by the nuclear-weapon states that the five-yearly Conferences would provide an engine for progress towards the goal of nuclear elimination, as set out in Article 6 of the Treaty.

'That promise was explicitly reaffirmed in the final statement of the 2000 Review Conference but, by then, the nuclear-weapons states were already walking back on their earlier promises. In 2001, the incoming Bush administration made clear its disdain for these and other arms control negotiations, and the 2005 Review Conference could not even agree a final statement.

'Meanwhile, the tacit pledge that the nuclear states would avoid the resort to nuclear weapons has been replaced by the increasing normalisation of such weapons. Washington talks about using them in response to biological and chemical attack and is developing small warheads that can be used more readily ("useable nukes"). Britain and France talk in general terms of "sub-strategic" systems. In other words, having achieved the indefinite extension of the NPT, the nuclear-weapon states are not observing their side of the bargain, and America (which determines the nuclear "weather") has explicitly woven the nuclear option into its operational doctrine.

'These double standards contribute to the post 9/11 image of the "West against the Rest", and a cynical view is that the NPT (and the associated Nuclear Weapon Free Zones) is now a convenient instrument of US foreign policy. It ensures that US conventional forces will not be deterred or hampered by the threat of a nuclear response, and can be used to justify punitive action against any "rogue state" that might be seeking such a capability.

'This perception conflates dissatisfaction over the implementation of the NPT with the wider dissatisfactions arising from the rich/poor and North/South divides, from the socio-economic circumstances that have nourished fundamentalism, and from the polarising effect of Bush's "war on terrorism", with its simplistic slogan that "you are either with us or against us". These different dissatisfactions each have their own fault lines, but in all cases the NATO nuclear states find themselves on one side and the "dissatisfied" on the other, and the NPT is increasingly seen as part of a larger Western conspiracy. It is failing the crucial test of being seen as "fair".

'More importantly, increasing numbers of states are beginning to question whether the treaty still serves their long-term interests; the post-Gulf War dictum—that if you take on America, you need a nuclear capability—was seemingly borne out in 2003, when the US attacked Iraq, but not North Korea.'

(See http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200607/cmselect/cmdfence/225/225we34.htm.)



America’s most successful colonial war, led by veterans of the Indian Wars, pacified the Philippines, unlike Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan. Even so, during the Great Depression the Philippines was promised its independence in 1946 because the cost of managing the colony in corruption and treasury was too great.

Our battalion pacified our valley in Vietnam. We could drive safely anywhere during the day. But, as soon as the last American troops the Communists regained control in the 1972 offensive. America never had a chance in Vietnam once we were tagged as colonial occupiers. The war was simply unsustainable. Besides the money spent on fighting a war on the other side of the world, there were huge costs for those who served. Although only one soldier was killed in a fire fight, no one in my company stayed out in the field the whole year. Most were medevaced out, sick or wounded, never to return. The Draft assured endless supply of bodies.

Each generation has to learn the same lessons all over again. Colonial Wars fought on the cheap cost too much in lives and money and are never resolved until the occupier departs. Pakistan is failing; pushed by the Predator bombing campaign. Human beings innately resist a foreign attacker.

With Bank of America and Citibank, the two largest banks, both are about to go belly up. America doesn’t have the treasury to continue fighting two religious colonial wars.

Hillary Clinton in Beijing:

"I appreciate greatly the Chinese government's continuing confidence in United States treasuries. I think that's a well-grounded confidence."

Babak Makkinejad


In regards to Afghanistan, the best choice for US & EU is to treat Afghanistan as a Muslim issue and withdraw.

US & EU cannot usefully puruse an imperial polciy in Central Asia - Russia, China, and Iran are opposed to their presence and their aims. Moreover, they are an alien people with an alien value system among Muslim populations that are still living in a largely pre-capitalist economy.

The Muslim states always bitch & moan about the superpowers and assorted more powerful states messing up their polities.

This is a perfect opportunity for these states to put their money where their mouths are and try to resolve the Afghan problem. Fundamentally, only Muslims will have any traction with the Muslim population of Afghanistan.

Let Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Turkey deal with the Afghan problem. US, EU, China, Russia, and India can provide political or financial support but they do not need to be directly involved in Afghanistan.

Babak Makkinejad

David Habakkuk:

Thank you for your fine points.

In addition to those points, there is also an apparent attempt to restrict the rights of states - under NPT - to fissile material production and re-processing. Without it, in my opinion, NAM states will leave NPT. And there are too many of them to be bombed, bribed, or intimidated.

FB Ali

Babak Makkinejad

“Political” support by outside powers is essentially irrelevant to the longevity of a government in that part of the world. Internal political support would, in theory, matter, but is meaningless in Afghanistan. It is generally forgotten that the Taliban ruled the country for over 5 years with the acquiescence, and even support, of the bulk of the population because they brought peace and order to a land that had suffered terribly (after the Soviet withdrawal) from civil war, banditry and the depredations of assorted warlords. The system they imposed was a medieval religious one, but it was accepted easily by a deeply conservative, largely tribal society. That is why the Taliban still have so much support: because they provide hope of a way out of the current state of warfare, turmoil, corruption and misrule to the previous state of peace and order. This support will continue to increase as the current war is prolonged.


You have it upside down when you say: fix Pakistan in order to fix Afghanistan (Feb 21, 0725 PM). See below.


There have been a lot of excellent comments in this thread. Many of them highlight the pointlessness and/or futility of continuing the war in Afghanistan (777Guy’s hit the nail exactly on the head – Feb 21, 0330 PM). But it seems to me that the key, critical point in this situation is still not sufficiently appreciated, and that is: unless the Afghan war is ended soon Pakistan will be lost to religious fundamentalism. The one exception was Grego’s quote from Andrew Bacevich : "No country poses a greater potential threat to US national security than does Pakistan. To risk the stability of that nuclear-armed state in the vain hope of salvaging Afghanistan would be a terrible mistake." (Feb 20, 0202 PM).

But it’s not Pakistan’s stability that is at risk. Pakistan is not going to implode (a la Somalia, etc). The prospect is much worse. The current misrule, corruption and economic hardship are causing more and more people to give up on this entire system of modern (Westernized) governance; this is the fertile soil in which religious fundamentalism establishes itself. (Note that I don’t use the term “Taliban”. Nothing so vitiates discourse on the subject as the stupid lumping together of al-Qaeda, the Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban, and sundry other extremist movements. It makes one want to tear one’s hair out to hear Richard Holbrooke prattling on about “the bad guys” etc).

Pakistan can still be saved. But the absolute, unavoidable pre-requisite is to end the war in Afghanistan.

David Habakkuk

Thank you for that quote from Michael McGwire. He is exactly right. Much of Pakistani thinking on the nuclear issue conforms to his analysis. There exists a strong suspicion, even inside the military, that the US is pushing Pakistan into fighting its war against "terror" in order to destabilize it and take over its nuclear weapons.


unless the Afghan war is ended soon Pakistan will be lost to religious fundamentalism.
Posted by: FB Ali | 22 February 2009 at 05:05 PM

One can stabilize Afghanistan using brute military force and various social engineering. But that is only 2-3 yrs solution, and very expensive.

while one doing that, a functioning afghanistan has to be created. A government that is able to more or less, create law/regulation, able to somewhat enforce it (police/national arm force), civil services, and more importantly able to define and generate the idea of "nation state", function as the source of nationalism.

I don't suggest the condition above can only happen if reform happens in Pakistan. But the situation in Pakistan plays major role in sustaining the biggest threat to creation and sustaining afghanistan central government.

things like RPG, huge administrative freedom in FATA, weapons, drug money, and more importantly ISI techniques to generate and maintain public supports using religious populism are detrimental.

The product of those mix is an organisation that is much stronger than afghanistan central government.

I don't suggest changing Pakistan condition will happen in 3-5 yrs. But it has to happen in less than a decade. Or else eastern afghanistan will fall into fata gravity. The amount of RPG and opium alone will devour the new and very weak afghanistan national army. I also know the refugee and drug flow from afghanistan is putting serious stress on Pakistan.

But Pakistan also adding huge uncertainty to its own condition.

Kashmir problem between India and Pakistan has to be resolved. It is not possible for Pakistan to use the strategy in kashmir without people in fata learning the trade. The two areas are only half a day driving distance.

The problem with trying to win popular vote using religious populism, one has to play harder and harder each round. And it will finally explode in some sort of ethnic religious violence.

Fata has to be reformed over time, definitely under 10 yrs.

Pakistan economy has to improve, Pakistan politics has to move beyond what is happening right now, etc, etc...

Otherwise, next economic crisis, Pakistan will be gone. Currency, national debt, etc. With that, things will cascade fast. Next thing we know, It's a small group of desperate rogue military men running big narco warlord operation taking over the country.

and that's how Pakistan will collapse. It runs out of money and nobody cares.


The Muslim states always bitch & moan about the superpowers and assorted more powerful states messing up their polities.

This is a perfect opportunity for these states to put their money where their mouths are and try to resolve the Afghan problem. Fundamentally, only Muslims will have any traction with the Muslim population of Afghanistan.

Posted by: Babak Makkinejad | 22 February 2009 at 03:49 PM

The world is waiting. It's show me time.


Iran, unlike Israel, does not posesses nuclear weapons. You are, perhaps negligently, conflating two distinct situations. Your statements only further obfuscates the reality of the situation.

Posted by: Babak Makkinejad | 21 February 2009 at 09:22 PM

Once capability to enrich uranium pass through certain threshold, the next biggest problem is electronic fuse. And I think Iran is more than capable to create such device.

granted there is a difference between enrichment threshold vs Israel 200 nuke heads, but that's a question of manufacturing speed.

Babak Makkinejad


That argument scurrilous.

All women have equipment to be prostitutes; that does not make them so.

Babak Makkinejad


You argued: “Once capability to enrich uranium pass through certain threshold, the next biggest problem is electronic fuse. And I think Iran is more than capable to create such device.
granted there is a difference between enrichment threshold vs Israel 200 nuke heads, but that's a question of manufacturing speed.”

That argument is scurrilous.

All women have equipment to be prostitutes; that does not make them so.

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