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"Let's admit the obvious: Afghanistan War is unwinnable" Topic

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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP27 Mar 2017 9:20 p.m. PST

"The Afghanistan War is unwinnable. Partnered with a corrupt and ineffective Afghan government, U.S. forces confront a robust and growing insurgency, substantively funded by skimmed American contracts. After 15 years of dysfunctional U.S. development schemes costing over $100 USD billion, Afghans remain near the bottom of most human development indices.

Beyond the counterinsurgency failures, many Afghans remain resistant to ideas imposed by foreigners. One Kentucky sergeant, frustrated by his team's failed development mission, drawled to me, "The Afghans ain't buyin' what we're sellin'."

There is no good way forward. The systemic failure of the 21st-century American way of war and development cannot easily be reformed. The many entrenched beneficiaries, both Afghan and American, have perverse incentives to continue the futile war. "It's the perfect war," one intelligence officer told me. "Everyone is making money."…"
Main page

So sorry to said that… but imho 2017 is going to be the year where the war will expand everywhere and to a level not seen since 2001, and the hard decisions on what to do next will finally start to be made….


Personal logo piper909 Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member27 Mar 2017 10:00 p.m. PST

Whoever the "enemy" is, the Taliban, the "insurgents," the remnants of Al_Qaeda, ISIL, corrupt Afghan government troops, shady contractors, our own military operating out of their depth -- whoever is the official troublemaker du jour, it does seem manifestly apparent that there is no "winning" there (there isn't even any obvious agreement over what winning would look like). And as noted, the longer we stay, the more enemies we seem to make and the more capable these enemies become. Playing wack-a-mole with Afghans in their own country is a sucker's game. They aren't going anywhere and they aren't going to be reconstructed into obedient little puppets, so how long are we going to stay in their country being targets and feeling good about blowing up occasional guerrillas and also civilians with air power?

I am reminded of Lycurgus' dictum to the Spartans, one of his laws that the Spartan state ran on for centuries -- not to make war upon the same enemy too frequently, lest you become his teacher. When Sparta failed to obey this, they got Epaminondas and the rise of Thebes and the breaking of Spartan power (and King Agesilaus was reminded by critics that he could blame himself for making the Thebans better fighters by going to war against them so often).

Time again to do what has been suggested in the past about other unwinnable conflicts -- declare victory, and go home.

I would note something odd -- the article mentions over a MILLION vets with disabilities/brain injuries, and that just can't be accurate, there haven't been a million service members in these wars. Those figures have got to be some sort of total for ALL vets, going back to who knows when. That's very misleading in this limited context. Doesn't anyone fact check stories before publication anymore? (Yeah, I know, that's a hopelessly naive and anachronistic concept.)

Rod I Robertson Inactive Member28 Mar 2017 1:58 a.m. PST

Wax Americana, Pax Americana, Tax Americana, Lax Americana, Max-Tax Americana, Wane Americana, Post Americana.

foxweasel28 Mar 2017 2:25 a.m. PST

We could easily win. But the cost in human life, our troops and the Afghans, and financial costs would be unpalatable. It would also mean the reintroduction of conscription, also unpalatable. And for what, to say we brought western values and civilization to another backward hole. Better to let them fight it out and we can go back to bombing their training camps.

DrSkull Supporting Member of TMP28 Mar 2017 3:34 a.m. PST

Well, gosh, you'd never win with an attitude like that.

Tired Mammal28 Mar 2017 4:10 a.m. PST

Leave them to it and offer aid to the winners on condition that they allow certain minimum human rights. A lot cheaper than what we are doing. Nobody likes being threatened never mind attacked and like all domestics disputes they always unite against an outsider "helping".

Its not a game there never is a winner just a cost.

Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP28 Mar 2017 4:24 a.m. PST

Nationbuilding 101 :

Concept #1 : Democratic capital. Western nations have acquired a very high democratic capital for centuries. A strong middle class (and working class if you have proper unions) is something you need to pay attention to because they can be a powerful force. It was the middle classes that introduced modern banking and trade, kickstarted the industrial revolution and still provides your brain pool for scientific research, management etc. Even if you have episodes of dictatorship or autocracy (Japan and Germany in the 1930's) these nations had a very high democratic capital and were able to transition very quickly to democratic rule. Take a nation like Congo (formerly Zaire) which has almost no democratic capital to speak of, you'll find that autocratic regimes are pretty much the default power system and it's extremely hard to build up any form of democratic capital (it can happen, but it takes time and effort)

Concept #2 : Traditional autocracies run on money. Everything runs on money you say, but autocracies really need to keep an eye on the buck. Ideally as the autocrat you are in a position to line your own pockets with a crapton of money, but you need to keep your base happy by giving them money too. Your base are the people who keep you in power, the army and police who keep the rest of the population from walking up to your palace and loot the place, to all the various officials and the people who generate the wealth in the country (think oil, mines, plantations, factories etc) Many autocrats have a party or a tribe to keep happy. The rest can live off the scraps. The trick is not to overpay everyone (less money for you, or the really important ones) it's much more interesting to reward your base with money generating opportunities (see also corruption) and let them work for their own money (this is also a good way to deal with the opposition, pay them off to keep them happy and look the other way when you're busy filling your pockets.

Concept #3 : Ideology and religion can make a mess of everything. Ideologies are a great way to make extra money. If you are the autocrat, rich nations will give you money in the form of "foreign aid", these are mainly bribes to you and your base. The rich nations may pretend it's meant to help feed the poor, build new houses etc, but essentially it's free goods that you can sell to the people at premium prices. Nevermind their constant suggestions of going "more democratic" it's all a pretend game. The high-point of the foreign-aid racket was the Cold War, where aligning yourself with one of the two major players was free money in the bank as long as you promised to keep the other side at bay and kept the flow of raw materials going. The best autocrats were able to play both sides by switching sides at convenient moments and then returning to the fold with more money at the end to ensure your continued support for the cause. A good autocrat is therefore only bound to one ideology, making money.
Things get nasty when an autocrat follows an ideology or a religion. Autocrats + ideology/religion = trouble. Autocrats start to believe in things like manifest destiny, crusades, waging active war on opposing factions rather than buy them off.
Autocracies by definition are not very good at war, you're paying soldiers to keep you in power, if you send them to war, they are not happy, they are in the business of getting your money and steal the rest by regularly shaking down the population. If you're lucky they will find some plunder, but if the enemy fights back hard, they tend to fold.

How does this apply to places like Afghanistan and Iraq ?

Both nations have not much democratic capital, so an autocratic regime where the leaders are there to suck as much money into their and their base's pockets is pretty much the default system. Any foreign and military aid you send goes off to pay off people, it doesn't matter if you give them muskets or powered armour with plasma cannons, the soldiers are only there to stuff their pockets and keep the population under control and maybe scare off neighbors.

Don't try to push democracy onto them unless it's in the autocrat's own interests to expand his base to include the wider population, the threat in Afghanistan or Iraq is not the population, so autocrats can safely ignore them. The threat comes from religion and ideology. Ideally you simply bribe the religious zealots or pretend you share their beliefs, but as they are funded by external factions (and plunder in the case of daesh) bribing doesn't work, because they want to take your place. You have to fight them, but since classic autocracies don't really fight very well …

Yep there's your problem. Incidentally once daesh or the taliban are in charge it's business as usual, reward your base with plunder, make sure the population is too scared to try anything, the difference is that they have a whole bunch of crazy ideas on top like forcing all women to wear unpractical clothing, everybody must grow a beard, no fun is allowed, everyone must praise the religious nuts etc … Note this is only enforced on the general population, much less so to the base who are free to explore pornography, booze, drugs at leisure because they do need people who are ready to fight and kill so anything that helps them fight a little harder is permitted. So hypocrisy or pragmatism if you prefer to call it is the order of the day. Strict rules are only to be used against the weak, the base can safely ignore them (unless the system is unstable in which case it's everyone for themselves and god against all.

Dealing with religions and ideology is tough, technically the best method is to reduce the threat to zero. This worked with Germany in WWII because everyone except a tiny minority gave up on the ideology and there was a huge democratic capital that ensured an easy transition. In the case of daesh and the taliban is that you can reduce the threat locally, but there is an inexhaustible supply right across the border with tons of money to fund another generation of jihadis.

As bad as it may sound, the money that is pumped into Iraq and Afghanistan is lost mostly on corruption going to a small minority, it doesn't strengthen their military, it doesn't remove the religious problem, there is no democratic capital in sight. It's a political tyre fire that won't go out …

Lion in the Stars28 Mar 2017 4:27 a.m. PST

It might help if we actually defined the victory conditions.

"teaching the Afghans to leave their fights inside the country" didn't work for the Brits, back when Pakistan was the Northwest Frontier. The Brits had one or two divisions stomping through the tribal areas in the name of pacification pretty much every year from about 1800 to 1947.

"make sure that no Afghan ever threatens the US again" is doable, at the cost of a whole lot of relatively innocent lives (basically all Afghan females. I can't consider the males noncombatants once they're big enough to hold an AK.)

Pan Marek Supporting Member of TMP28 Mar 2017 8:42 a.m. PST

The graveyard of Empires.

28mm Fanatik28 Mar 2017 8:56 a.m. PST

There are winners even in unwinnable wars. War profiteers in the world's oldest profession, and corrupt politicians who line their pockets and offshore bank accounts with American aid.

Steve Wilcox28 Mar 2017 9:40 a.m. PST

I would note something odd -- the article mentions over a MILLION vets with disabilities/brain injuries, and that just can't be accurate, there haven't been a million service members in these wars. Those figures have got to be some sort of total for ALL vets, going back to who knows when. That's very misleading in this limited context. Doesn't anyone fact check stories before publication anymore? (Yeah, I know, that's a hopelessly naive and anachronistic concept.)

Apparently 2.7 million have served in Afghanistan and Iraq:
"2.7 million service members have been to the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001, and over half of them have deployed more than once."

Just up until 2009, it was apparently more than 1.9 million:
"Since the beginning of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in 2001, over 1.9 million US military personnel have been deployed in 3 million tours of duty lasting more than 30 days as part of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) or Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) (Table 2.1)." Table 2.1 is as of April 30, 2009.

Over a million veterans with disabilities/brain injuries would seem plausible:
"Things to consider:
 About 56% of individuals who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan will be
returning as individuals with disabilities.
 Per the 2008 Rand estimates, 54% of these veterans will have mental health
conditions and Traumatic Brain Injuries.
 Due to the improvements and advancements in medical care, there are more
survivors of war trauma and injuries than any other war, making the numbers of
returning vets with disabilities higher.
 Many veterans will begin their higher education experience with the community
 Most injuries are the result of IEDs and explosions. Common disabilities of
veterans of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, in no particular order and not limited to:
o Traumatic Brain Injury
o Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
o Loss of limb(s)
o Severe burns
o Deafness
o Vision disabilities
o And learning disabilities"
PDF link

Fatman Inactive Member28 Mar 2017 10:16 a.m. PST

Win War and Afghanistan do not belong in the same sentence unless can never are also there.


FatherOfAllLogic28 Mar 2017 1:00 p.m. PST

No, no; as the Generals say, just a few thousand more troops will do the trick…..

Personal logo piper909 Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member28 Mar 2017 3:02 p.m. PST

Steve Wilcox,
Oy! Those are astonishing figures. Those are not the sort of casualty totals you typically hear about in the MSM or in policy debates. Even given the large logistical "tail" of American forces (and contractors), that's way more involvement than most people (including me) suspected.

foxweasel28 Mar 2017 3:26 p.m. PST

Steve, those figures are nonsense. Over half of the people who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have disabilities?! That's possibly true for the troops that operated outside the wire during the peak of the fighting, 07-11 for Afghanistan, but even that would be seriously pessimistic. I did 5 tours as an infantry soldier in Afghanistan, those figures are someone's attempt at I'm not sure what.

shirleylyn Inactive Member28 Mar 2017 4:20 p.m. PST

My husband served 18 months in Afghanistan.

He said it took him 4 days to ask himself why good americans were dying in that dump.

He is proud of his service.

Dn Jackson28 Mar 2017 6:39 p.m. PST

Funny, when I was a young man I heard the same complaints made about the Central American countries; they're corrupt, the armies are incompetent, our enemies are better motivated, etc, etc.

Now those countries are functioning democracies and the Soviet Union is gone. Give it time and trust that most humans want to be free.

Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP29 Mar 2017 3:17 a.m. PST

South American nations had acquired quite a bit of democratic capital over the years prior to the rise of the military dictatorships, they had parliaments, a growing middle-class and the military officers who took over were often unwilling to let the system break down as in the African kleptocracies, where a Mobutu said to his colleague that the new road he had built would lead his opponents directly to his presidential palace, while Mobutu boasted he hadn't built a single inch of road since the independence. The other president was deposed as predicted and Mobutu was ousted because of the one inevitable fate of all dictators, he was dying, leaving the game to those who would grab power behind him, but they never drove up to his palace to oust him …

The South American generals did little to destroy the democratic capital of their nations easing a transition to democratic rule. They were able to live high on the hog for a while as foreign aid poured in with the implicit agreement that they would keep Moscow out of the country in every possible way.

Without a Soviet threat the money dried up and the need for "strong men" became increasingly a burden because autocracies by definition foster an inefficient system where corruption, extortion and stealing is the default way for the essentials to make good money without having to wait for handouts from the autocrat.

But you can tell the army to simply shoot the people and stay in power ? This doesn't usually work because the military are not automatons who exist outside of society. If anyone from the grocers and butchers to the factory owners are in the streets to demand more democracy, ie to see more money flow their way and help the economy grow, you the autocrat, can give them what they want and still make plenty of money before it's time to retire. By shooting the people you're not only telling your soldiers to shoot relatives and people they may know, you're saying : "I don't give a damn about the country and the economy." Smart soldiers would know the flow of money might stall because the autocrat has gone kleptocrat. Mobutu was notorious in "forgetting" to pay his soldiers, leading to all kinds of initiatives to rake in cash by any means possible, roadblocks and endless controls where a bit of money meant you would pass without a lengthy control where illegal activities might be discovered. But in South American nation you're more likely to get a putsch to oust you before it gets that far.

The slide down does not only affect the government or its ancillaries but reaches everyone in the nation. Expats living in Africa quickly learn to be fully autarchic at every possible level, if you are stupid enough to rent a house without a generator and a water supply, the odds are that you'll find your water and electricity cut at inconvenient times and you always need to fork out cash to the landlord to get it going again. Guards and extra security are vital because if you show too many signs of opulence, the landlord will drop hints to local gangs as how to get into your place and strip it down to the bare walls.

There are still major disruptive elements in South America, the drug trade being the most important one where so much money is involved that the drug lords become a state within the state and have so much money they become autocrats within nominally democratic nations, they can afford to pay off officials and build up their own base among the poor by being benefactors, paying for new houses, cars, refrigerators and televisions and thus ensuring a wide popular support who usually turn against their own government especially when they get a cut in the drug game and see a major source of revenue under threat …

Freedom has nothing to do with this game, it's all about your relationship with the guys in charge, do they cost you money or do they help you get a bit of money and nice things ahead of others ? That's why autocracies usually end up costing you money while democracies at least try to keep the general population happy and see themselves accountable to those who vote. (Results may vary according to your personal situation)

28mm Fanatik29 Mar 2017 9:18 a.m. PST

As Patrick R said, the ME and SA/LA are apples and oranges. The former had little democratic tradition/capital while the latter was a Cold War battleground whose combatants were supplied and financed by the superpowers.

Attempts to establish democracies (Arab Spring) failed in Egypt, Libya and Syria. Afghanistan's chances are far worse.

Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP29 Mar 2017 11:04 a.m. PST

The Middle East is a textbook example of successful autocrats who reward a small base of essentials and keep the rest of the economy in a semi-permanent slump.

If you get a middle-class, it's mostly tied to the ruling elite, while the lower classes are left to fend for themselves.

The Arab spring happened because conditions were reaching boiling point. There had been some progress in the 20th century, but all this had stalled in the 21st with less money streaming in for political support and the autocrat's base taking an increasingly larger share of the cake, leaving less for ordinary people.

In Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood was talking about the coming revolution from their basement hideout when somebody said there was an actual revolution under way, they then rushed to the front of the stage to claim they had done all the hard work and then proceeded to do exactly the same as Mubarak and Sadat before him, grab the money and distribute it to their supporters AND add a bunch of religious rules on top of it.

The reason the revolution worked this time is that Mubarak was deathly ill and the army almost never backs an autocrat who is weak and possibly dying. But the army and other opposition figures realized that if the Brotherhood took over it would be much worse, so the military turned against the Brotherhood and swept them from power. As of now Egypt has made a few steps forward in democracy, but they still have a long way to go.

Libya is a textbook example of the autocracy that failed to keep the people under control. A proper autocracy knows how to keep the people afraid and too concerned with daily survival to try a revolution. And if a revolution breaks out, you have to nip it in the bud as quickly as possible. In Libya this didn't happen fast enough, the regime's military support crumbled and the mercenaries remained only loyal until the easily accessible money dried up. Once the mercs left, Khadhaffi's days were numbered.

Syria is probably the most brutal of the lot when it comes to controlling the people and the wealth disparity between the autocrat's base and the people was among the widest. The tension in Syria reached boiling point when several harvests failed in a row and Assad refused to give a single penny in relief, except to those loyal to the regime. What started as a minor protest grew into a revolt which spread to a part of the army who deserted Assad who managed to stay in power by the tips of his fingers. Suddenly Assad's army faced similarly trained soldiers rather than the usual rabble. They seized arsenals and the situation in Syria and Iraq was so unstable that former Iraqi Baathists, former Al Quaeda and other insurgents forged an alliance and launched a blitzkrieg that stunned the world, carving out the first Islamic terrorist state and inspiring a world-wide Jihad movement drawing thousands to Syria and Iraq.

Assad went as far as using chemical weapons and drew the ire of the West who were long interested in getting rid of Assad, whose Syria was a long-time Soviet/Russian satellite in the Middle East with strong ties to Shi'a Iran … Unlike Khaddhaffi, Assad quickly received foreign aid and an influx of various militias from Lebanon and Iran to help prop up his regime. Expect a Syrian civil war for quite a while yet.

The good news is that democratization in the wake of the Arab Spring has worked in countries like Tunisia. The leaders either left of allowed more freedom and improved conditions, the main problem now remains a growing radical Islamic movement with ambitions to control the whole Middle East and then have the ultimate apocalyptic showdown with the West.

foxweasel29 Mar 2017 5:33 p.m. PST

That may or may not be true, but it has nothing to do with Afghanistan.

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