Friday, January 07, 2005

Dave Schuyler's list of predictions prompted some extended discussion from Peter Rice a.k.a. -Dr. Demarche on the counterfactual wisdom of having eschewed invading Iraq in favor of a massive military campaign in Afghanistan. The latter was raised by Eric of TIA but it is an alternative reality favored by Juan Cole and a number of prominent Democrats in criticizing President Bush's handling of the GWOT.

Dave thinks such a course of action would have invited disaster. I agree. Dr. Demarche had this to say, among other things:

"I believe that the biggest problems were the USA to have used massive force to invade Afghanistan would be two:

1.Logistics, and the ease of Afghans and others to cut the supply lines.

2. The love of fighting and the hatred of outsiders by the Afghans, and that this would be directed at a large American force.

I believe what we have is about all that we could have in Afghanistan, several thousand troops (many NATO) in and around Kabul (protecting the Afghan Govt.), troops at a small number of other locations for logistic support and aircraft (attack and transport), and a very small number of SAS/special forces/CIA personnel who work with Afghan forces to seek out and attack al Qaeda and Taliban forces in Afghanistan."

As for the Pakistani reaction:

" The Pakistani masses know that their country is run by the elite, and that the elite of the elite are the commissioned officers of the Pakistani Army (the Navy & Air Force are less relevant). What these commissioned officers think is very important, and they are VERY dissimilar from the Pakistani masses. The commissioned officers are based on the Indian Army model (the Indian Army was split in August 1947 and the Indian and Pakistani armies for the most part are very similar) with English being the language of the Army (ditto for the Navy and Air Force) and most having grown up speaking English and thinking in many regards like an Englishman (of 1947). If these officers oppose an American invasion, then the Pakistani Govt. would oppose it. These officers believe that their prime directive is to protect Pakistan from invaders, mainly the Indians. If we were to invade Afghanistan via Pakistan with the permission of the Pakistani Army, there ought to be few problems with the masses and the Muslim leaders. And the few problems would be resolved by having the police be a bit strong armed with those causing problems. "

My comments are as follows:

Most of the criticism of of the variety that Peter and Dave are responding to is simply partisan B.S. Many of the same characters offering the retrospective advice to plunk down 200,000 GI's in Afghanistan were the ones making ominous warnings about " quagmires" in the pages of the NYT. Had Bush gone in to Afghanistan as they now suggest he should have and a struggle ensued like we are seeing in Iraq as Pushtuns rallied to calls for a jihad, these critics would be saying he should have gone in stealthly in a limited engagement.

The rest of the critics are probably sincere but their arguments are poorly reasoned or uninformed.

First of all, in a large scale-operation there would be no way to deal decisively with the Taliban-al Qaida alliance without invading the NW provinces of Pakistan. The Taliban was a Pushtun phenomenon as much as an Islamist one and outside of Pushtunistan - which exists on both sides of the border - the writ of Mullah Omar only extended as far as the immediate reach of his forces. In the north and east the Taliban had to co-opt local Dari-speaking ethnic warlords by letting them retain their profitable local sway in order to fight the Northern Alliance. The same warlords who switched sides later on during our invasion and who would switch again if Karzai looked doomed. Tribalism, not central authority, is the rule in Afghanistan's governmental history though there were a few exceptions.

The border is relatively meaningless. Historically, the Pushtuns consider themselves to be " the Afghans" and Pakistan's NW territory was part of historical Afghanistan until the British empire was forced to patrol it regularly to prevent raids into India. Talibs and al Qaida terrorists are as much " at home" in Waziristan as in Paktia. To occupy Afghanistan en masse, as the critics argue but stop at the Khyber Pass is to accept the same strategic situation that prevails today in Afghanistan except with vastly higher costs and more troops. This assumes that the presence of so many foreigners would not provoke an insurgency of course. We have gotten by without one mainly because most Afghans do not see too many Americans on any given day.

What exactly is the strategic gain these critics are looking for ?

As far as the Afghan-Pakistan border goes this might be a good time to point out that Paki-stan is an acronym:


P-A-K-I. Tells you all you need to know, doesn't it? Including about the waggish British map-drawers.

I think Eric Martin of TIA described pretty well the objectives that would be sought from a more decisive victory in Afghanistan: remove the Taliban, capture bin Laden, establish a liberal democracy in Afghanistan, create a functioning, thriving economy there (essentially ex nihilo) and gain the admiration of the whole world.

In comments left at my site Eric Martin has suggested that he didn't mean we should put a massive force into Afghanistan but that we should accomplish more with a sub-Desert Storm sized force. I think that's fanciful. We've accomplished what could reasonably be expected (maybe more) with a force whose size and presence in the region wouldn't destabilize the region.

Other than believing that these objectives are at least impractical if not impossible without destabilizing the entire region and the price of destabilizing Pakistan is loss of control of their nuclear arsenal my main problem with this plan is that, unfortunately for the Afghans, nobody cares about them. Afghanistan per se is of no strategic significance. Nobody would be impressed by such an outcome. Possibly not even the Afghans.

If you're looking for an exemplar it must be an Arab nation. Nothing else will suffice. The ethnic politics of the Arab world demands it. So from that standpoint Iraq was a great candidate. But, as I've said before here, Mark, I remain skeptical of a favorable outcome there.
Hi Dave,

Well said Dave.

In Afghanistan, we have very, very long supplies lines from our " homeland" which made it economical to maximize the amount of military force we could bring to bear per unit of American personnel. The traditional, large support base American armies normally field would be a disadvantage in terms of expense, strain on our logistical capability and vulnerability. Unlike in Iraq, there is hardly anything to reconstruct and no reason to occupy, say, Hazara-Ismaili mountain villages as they hated the Taliban anyway.

The thesis of Kabul as a shining city on a hill that must be created before the next phase of the GWOT is an attempt to set an impossible bar to delay military operations elsewhere. If the Karzai government can simply maintain a trucial state/cooperative relationship with the warlords that allows commerce and agriculture to reemerge in Afghanistan and keep Kabul open to the outside world then the Afghans are better off than at any time before the fall of Daoud.

As for Iraq, I originally assumed a timeline of around five years to see real progress to market democracy. The Bush administration squandered so many opporunities during the CPA regime that the " modest success and stability" phase is a good decade to fifteen years away, if it happens at all now.
Greetings! Not sure if the "from Peter Rice a.k.a. -Dr. Demarche " is supposed to mean that I (Dr. Demarche) am Peter Rice, but it aint so. Sorry! My identity remains a secret to all but Smiley and Mrs. Dr. Demarche...

Good blog anyway, though!
Ha ! I am sorry, my apologies Doctor. You have a fine blog as well.
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