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12 January 2013


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I think that any assessment of the value American forces (in any configuration) will have turns on what our current aim and purpose is. That is obscure. Obama refers to the "mission" To accomplish what? At first it was to unseat the Taliban and expel/crush al-Qaeda. We succeeded.

Beyond that, it was to ensure a stable, pro-Western regime in Afghanistan that would foreclose any possibility, at any future time, of elements hostile to the United States from finding sanctuary. We obviously have failed.

So, what's the point of the exercise? For the White House, it is leaving with suffficient ambiguity as to to be able to spin the outcome. For the Pentagon and CIA, it is to perpetuate the world-wide "war on terror" as presently conducted and also to avoid being stigmatized for having failed. For the country's political class? To perpetuate the make-believe that we are masters of the planet.


Allow me one additional thought.

Our predicament is aggravated, and unresoluable, due to the failure to admit the grievous errors of judgment that led us into Iraq and that escalated the strategic commitment in Afghanistan. We have been unable to do so because the impulses that produced both tragedies stem from sources deep in the American psyche - and, certainly, deeply embedded in our sense of self and of our place in the world.

As a consequence, we are trapped in a situation where we cannot succeed by any reasonable standeard (much less by reference to our exalted self image) but cannot face squarely the reasons why. Operating without accountability political or intellectual, we spare ourselves self scrutiny but pay heavily in the repetition of miscalculations and self contradictory policies.

Paul Krugman wrote something today about this phenonomen in regard to financial thinking which is pertinent:

"What is remarkable is the total absence of either self-reflection or accountability. When you get things this wrong, you’re supposed to ask yourself why, and whether your framework of analysis needs updating. And if you should happen to lack the capacity for self-reflection, there should be some external sanction too; people who get it wrong, keep getting it wrong, and show no sign of learning should pay a price in polite society.

But this doesn’t seem to happen to those who got everything wrong about the macroeconomics of a depressed economy; they remain respectable, and even get praised for their consistency. Of course, it’s not just macro: it remains true, for example, that for the most part you’re not considered serious about national security unless you were wrong about Iraq."



"... it remains true, for example, that for the most part you’re not considered serious about national security unless you were wrong about Iraq." Yes. That is so, but I have come to accept the simple truth that people who were right about both Iraq and Afghanistan are simply dismissed as "not team players." The US/British foreign policy establihment is a giant exercize in "group think." It is, as the Jesuits say, "invincibly ignorant." I prefer at this point to try to point out the practical day to day results of this invincible ignorance. pl


"No experience of the failure of his policy could shake his belief in its essential excellence" - said of Phillip II as quoted by Barbara Tuchman and others.

The defining characteristic of the late Twentieth and early Twenty First century American culture is narcissism.

Hence the belief that Iraqis and Afghans want to "be like us".

What more is there to say?

Will Reks

Pat, you were saying this was inevitable right? I wonder if Obama knows he's being fleeced. He's still afraid of the neocon establishment rather than ending this farce.

Babak Makkinejad

I think it goes back to the 19-th century - must be an English trait.


Will Reks

A COIN campaign in either country was doomed to failure. The idea was based on the belief in the easy malleability of these cultures. This was always a fallacy. COIN failed in Iraq. What caused a temporary improvement in security in Iraq was a combination of the Sunni Arabs against AQ combined with the withering effectiveness of the CT campaign run by JSOC. With us gone this effect has worn off and the Sunni insurrection has resumed. In Afghanistan a similar CT campaign run from a small defended base "footprint" was possible before the Kagan's and others persuaded Petraeus and McChrystal of the COIN doctrine's value and they persuaded Obama. Does Obama now know that he made a terible mistake. I know not. pl


Well, since this whole endeavor has seemed totally misguided and without any objective strategy, I kind of feel like "getting robbed" to leave isn't the worst outcome. Staying would be worse.

Someone in the administration should have read some Kipling.


I doubt that Obama was "fleeced". I suspect that he wishes the USA to become completely disengaged from the Afghani tarbaby. So sometimes you give up a quarter to win a five spot.
President's do know things, they are advised on things. They are able to see the results of inept advice if they are willing to look. But I am a cynic. One should never attribute to superb intelligence planning what can be adequately explained by stupidity


Yes Babak, but the British were outwardly more humble - "Take up the White mans burden" and all that rubbish.

Jim Ticehurst

I appreciate the Truth and Logic of all the comments you made here..Thank You..Well Done..



Sorry but you have seen too many movies about clever people instead of just stupid people. pl


The question of counter-terrorism also remains open - not just the matter of suitable bases. Will CT be restricted to dealing with concrete, serious threats to the United States outside of Afghanistan? Or will it continue to be open season on: a)people who resist our occupation and our targetting them; and b)any Islamic fundamentalist who harbors hostile feelings toward the U.S.?

Current evidence suggests strongly that it will be the latter. Question 1: if so, isn't this a formula for endless combat?
Question 2: how do we simulatenously attack these myriad bad guys while supposedly aiming at some kind modus vivendi? (Or do we still expect to grind them into submission).

Why nobody asks these pretty obvious questions and demands coherent answers is beyond me - even in our dumbed down poitical culture.



Michael. I presume that these are rhetorical questions. The US is now an imperial state committed to perpetual low level combat against those who attract our unfavorable attention. This condition is combined with an attitude on both the left and right that favors the growth of centralized federal authority. On MSNBC (Lean Forward!) today a Black Princeton woman professor led a discussion by her peers on the subject of how the the president could best evade the limitations on his power contained in the "old document" (her phrase) that is the constitution. I presume that she was opposed to John Yoo's formulation of the "unitary presidency." You are worried about CT operations? What you should be worried aout is our next big war. pl

Farmer Don

"Yup, we "wuz" robbed. You have to wonder if POTUS believes tht what he said yesterday is actually true. pl "

You were not robbed, because you chose to waste your money, your men and women, and impair your future when you started and continued this adventure.

The POTUS is just saying what he can to make the best of a sad situation.


> What you should be worried aout is our next big war. pl

Is that a reference to China? China and SCO etc are discussed far too little on these boards. There's enough informed minds here.

Are the divisive lines on China the same as those on the ME. Hagel is reportedly a let's get on with China guy, the neo-cons see only war.

William R. Cumming

PL and MBrenner thanks for this post and wonderful comments!
One factor overlooked is that Americans want to be loved and their politicians want to be loved. So they are willing to drain the USA of its resources, its peoples blood and treasure, and its policies in this futile search and basis of International Relations and foreign policy.

Changing this culture is the real basis for the need for realism in our foreign relations and military operations and not continuing to base them on a need to be loved.

Basically the US has defaulted on leadership and now self-love, self pity, self centeredness, and consuming interest in the "self" lead US to destructive efforts. After all what are persons who become politicians, not leaders, is that they want to know they are loved and therefor view electoral success as evidence of that love for them by others. One reason male politicians also are involved with sexual misconduct-- all must love them!

Very very troubling. And the leading narcissists seem to be those posing as journalists on the MSM!


Remember Sir, Market Garden was declared a success.



This comment about inevitable future wars given our mentality is not directed at any particular situation. pl



Farmer Don's clear enjoyment of the predicaments brought on itself by the US is one of the most unacceptable displays of schadenfreude I have yet seen on SST. Does he imagine that I do not see the substantive truth? Why else would I have written this critique of US policy towards Afghanistan and the ease with which Karzai has made fools of us? pl

Charles I

I'm sorry but as a recovering alcoholic, its not always schadenfreude to point out that current adult difficulties are self-inflicted rather than imposed robbery. In fact,the ability to make such distinctions, and assume responsibility for them is part of the cure.


charles I

I didn't say the robbery was "imposed," but it is still clownlike behavior to let this collection of semi-barbarians from the roof of the world pick our pockets. the same clownishness will lead us to repeat the error. pl

Charles I

The lesson is repeated until it is learned

Babak Makkinejad

I think the idea of "Imperial State" was present even in 1776.

Once the Federalits were freed in 1864, the project started in earnest.

But from 1864 to 1991, there were other global powers that constrained the imperial project - Britain, Germany, Japan, Russia come to mind.

Since 1991, those constrains have been removed and I think until further devolution of power to other states there is not much to constrain US for the foreseeable future.

David Habakkuk

Babak Makkinejad,

Actually, whatever delusions they may have entertained, the belief that the peoples they ruled over wanted to be ‘just like us’ was not a belief common among late imperial British administrators.

Some remarks on the impact of the events of 1857 from a discussion of Kipling by his fellow-poet C.H. Sisson, whose – quite distinguished – civil service career was interrupted by wartime service as an NCO in the Indian Army, may be relevant:

“The proclamation of 1858 accepted the differences of caste and creed in India as something not to be meddled with by the British, who thus admitted that these foreign ways were too difficult for them and that it was better for them not to act according to their own lights. At the same time, Dalhousie’s view that the native states were an anachronism was set aside out of gratitude to the princes who had saved our bacon in 1857-8. The British thus became spectators and manipulators of the wonders of India rather than radical managers and reformers. They presumed to a patriarchal care, on which great energy and seriousness were expended, without inquiring too closely what the children were up to. Although no doubt the resources of official information grew as the years went on, the English consciousness of India shrank, and a sort of earnest frivolity set in.”

The sheer unmitigated frivolity of the neoconservatives who have dominated both Labour and Tory foreign policymaking in recent years is however of a quite different order. It is precisely those in Britain who have some roots in late imperial culture who have been most inclined to regard our country’s adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan as sheer unmitigated folly.

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