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What Went Wrong in Afghanistan?

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By Elan Journo from The Ayn Rand Institute Media Releases,cross-posted by MetaBlog

What Went Wrong in Afghanistan?

WASHINGTON, October 20, 2009--In a recent blog for publisher Rowman and Littlefield, Elan Journo, a fellow with the Ayn Rand Center, wrote about the failed war in Afghanistan and his new book: “Winning the Unwinnable War: America’s Self-Crippled Response to Islamic Totalitarianism.”

“After eight years of U.S. military intervention, the fighters of the Islamist movement are not only unbowed, but on the march,” writes Journo. “The Islamists (often misidentified by one of their favored tactics: terrorism) seek to impose the totalitarian rule of Allah’s law worldwide--an ideal that entails smiting down infidels and subjugating others under sharia. And they’re making headway.”

Why, Mr. Journo asks, have we failed to defeat this enemy?

“Our post-9/11 policy--in Afghanistan and across the board--was subverted by a factor that few have thought to examine: the basic moral ideas that animate our foreign policy. In essence, the kind of war that our leaders believed was morally proper to wage entailed placing ‘compassion’ ahead of the proper task of self-defense.

“A point we make in ‘Winning the Unwinnable War’ is that the way out of the Afghanistan morass requires Americans to recognize how certain (allegedly) moral ideas have informed, and crippled, our policy--and to challenge those ideas.”

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Cross-posted from Metablog

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Well, it is really not complicated. Self defence - of a nation's borders, or of its way of life - is not a popularity contest.

It is a war that must be won quickly, using the superior technology ( read: Minds ) of that nation.

Any pretence - that we are seeing with the U.S. - of trying to be "fair", "appropriate", "proportionate", "compassionate," will just play into the hands of the enemy.

And don't they know it !

Israel would have been defeated long ago with this approach; they chose their survival, over popularity.

Win this war, in Afghanistan, then completely pull out, - and ignore those whining critics.

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My info is about 1-2 years out if date, but going off of the situation when I saw it firsthand our priorities are fatally out of whack in Afghanistan. I would have never thought that I would ever hear a general issue a directive that convoys should drive slowly through known dangerous routes because the locals don't like the dust, but I did hear exactly that. That's just the tip of the iceberg. Winning hasn't been in the plan for a long time, Obama has just stated what was the implied policy before. Our government is asleep at the wheel.

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That's just the tip of the iceberg. Winning hasn't been in the plan for a long time, Obama has just stated what was the implied policy before. Our government is asleep at the wheel.

Winning was never the plan. The plan has always been to democratize or liberalize or pacify or reconstruct or any one of a number of useless priorities.

The Taliban/Al Qadea were treated like a tumour to be excized from (to coin a phrase from another lost war) "The peace loving people of Afghanistan" instead of a symptom of the cultural backwardness of the entire country and its people.

We should have blasted them back farther into the stone age while killing as many of the Taliban/terrorists as we could and then left, with the promise that next time we'd nuke them from space if they even thought of threatening us again. And that model should be employed with every member of the Caliphate in Waiting till the whole lot gets the message.

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100 killed in a Peshawar market car-bombing. Women and children the majority.

Where is the outcry from the world of Islam, or from Europe, that was so quick to condemn Israel in the Gaza conflict as a 'disproportionate' response ?

Always those same double standards.....

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...The plan has always been to democratize or liberalize or pacify or reconstruct or any one of a number of useless priorities.

...

We should have blasted them back farther into the stone age while killing as many of the Taliban/terrorists as we could and then left, with the promise that next time we'd nuke them from space if they even thought of threatening us again. And that model should be employed with every member of the Caliphate in Waiting till the whole lot gets the message.

Although I love the energy and spirit of this analysis, Zip, I don't altogether agree with it. America and NATO are not now somehow neutral parties in Afghanistan. We are backers of SLAVERY. We helped create -- and currently prop up -- the shariaist, socialist, tribalist, military dictatorship of Karzai. After the conquest of November of 2001, we should have set up a liberal state. Then the eight-year insurgency would almost certainly never have happened. The local Afghanis would have quickly learned to hate and fight the Taliban, Al Qaida, and all other jihadi groups. This would have been in the Western self-interest -- as well as their own.

But I don't think it's wholly moral or practical to slaughter the insurgents and masses who are now resisting the evil Karzai dictatorship. At the very least, the West should set up low-cost, self-supporting satrapies or puppet-states in Kabul and Khandahar from which to blast and anihilate any organized jihadis of any size or power. But they need to be liberal satrapies.

I think Elan Journo also nelgects to take these issues into account.

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Although I love the energy and spirit of this analysis, Zip, I don't altogether agree with it. America and NATO are not now somehow neutral parties in Afghanistan. We are backers of SLAVERY. We helped create -- and currently prop up -- the shariaist, socialist, tribalist, military dictatorship of Karzai. After the conquest of November of 2001, we should have set up a liberal state. Then the eight-year insurgency would almost certainly never have happened.

The local Afghanis would have quickly learned to hate and fight the Taliban, Al Qaida, and all other jihadi groups. This would have been in the Western self-interest -- as well as their own.

But I don't think it's wholly moral or practical to slaughter the insurgents and masses who are now resisting the evil Karzai dictatorship. At the very least, the West should set up low-cost, self-supporting satrapies or puppet-states in Kabul and Khandahar from which to blast and anihilate any organized jihadis of any size or power. But they need to be liberal satrapies.

I think Elan Journo also nelgects to take these issues into account.

I disagree. Afghani's don't understand western liberal democracy and what's more thay don't trust it or us to keep them safe from the baddies. They are still living a tribal feudal existence and there aren't enough 5.56mm, C4 and/or Preadator strikes in the whole world to change that cultural mindset in anything like a reasonable amount of time or without wasting a massive amount of blood and treasure. You can't force anyone to be free... it's an oxymoron.

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By Elan Journo from The Ayn Rand Institute Media Releases,cross-posted by MetaBlog

“After eight years of U.S. military intervention, the fighters of the Islamist movement are not only unbowed, but on the march,” writes Journo. “The Islamists (often misidentified by one of their favored tactics: terrorism) seek to impose the totalitarian rule of Allah’s law worldwide--an ideal that entails smiting down infidels and subjugating others under sharia. And they’re making headway.”

Another correct assessment by Elan Journo. I can't wait to read the book, and from what I've read in the Objective Standard, it's going to be well worth the purchase.* What I would like to point out from this particular press release though, is something that hasn't been written about yet on this thread: the necessity of properly identifying our enemy. From near day one of Bush's failed war on terror, this essential action has been identified as part of the solution to our problems for the war. Yet, still to this day, maybe even more so now than before, our leaders fail to identify the enemy. Just recently this failure has led some to question whether or not the Taliban is the enemy, and if only Al-Qaeda is our only objective. With policy such as that getting critical attention, it's not hard to see why our actions have been doomed from the beginning, and why they will continue to be.

*I really hope that this book has a dust jacket. Viable Values by Tara Smith, which was published by the same company, didn't have a dust jacket.

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I disagree. Afghani's don't understand western liberal democracy and what's more thay don't trust it or us to keep them safe from the baddies. They are still living a tribal feudal existence and there aren't enough 5.56mm, C4 and/or Preadator strikes in the whole world to change that cultural mindset in anything like a reasonable amount of time or without wasting a massive amount of blood and treasure. You can't force anyone to be free... it's an oxymoron.

I'm with you Zip. We don't have the decades of time or the monetary resources that will be needed to bring this Dark Ages society into the 21st century. We should have killed as many of the Taliban as possible at the beginning, declared victory and left them with a warning of future death and destruction. Now, after having been there for so long, if we leave the country the death worshippers will claim that they have won. It's an extremely sticky situation for Obama and I don't think he has the balls to deal with it properly.

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I disagree. Afghani's don't understand western liberal democracy and what's more thay don't trust it or us to keep them safe from the baddies. They are still living a tribal feudal existence and there aren't enough 5.56mm, C4 and/or Preadator strikes in the whole world to change that cultural mindset in anything like a reasonable amount of time or without wasting a massive amount of blood and treasure. You can't force anyone to be free... it's an oxymoron.

Actually -- you CAN force people to be free. You CAN take liberty and force it down their throats. You just need enough political force. Also enough philosophical knowledge and moral self-confidence that you're right to do so.

America has -- or at least had -- enough power and influence in Iraq and Afghanistan to set up liberal states there. They were in chaos and ready for a change anyway! All we needed to do was impose the US Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights. Maybe also eliminate all drug and prostitution laws, plus anything like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Welfare, etc. Then they would have had a freer country than America!

Now, of course the backward, savage, tribalist, socialist, shariaist Asians might have rebelled -- especially at first. They might have been offended at seeing all the singing, dancing, miniskirts, wine, free trade, unregulated commerce, multinationals, etc. Thus, as individuals or in small groups, they might have committed CRIMES to shut down the observed free people living free lives -- people being so carefree and joyous as to drive any good Dark Age Muslim MAD.

So America would have had to toss a load of them into jail. And I mean based on justice, not cruelty. Based on a genuine, objective violation of rights -- not US "imperialism." Now if half the country ends up in jail anyway, then that IS a huge cost to the US and would constitute an act of impermissible altruism. Thus it wouldn't be a "low-cost, self-funding" liberal regime as I previously argued.

But who says these folks would hate freedom and civilization that much? Are current Iraqis and Afghanis low animals who can't recognize justice, and don't like the good life, even when it's directly in front of them? Yes, it would likely be a shock to the system for a few weeks or months. But maybe then they would adjust. Especially if we EXPLAINED to them during the transition just how good and sweet life really is under freedom and overall liberal culture.

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Actually -- you CAN force people to be free. You CAN take liberty and force it down their throats. You just need enough political force. Also enough philosophical knowledge and moral self-confidence that you're right to do so.

America has -- or at least had -- enough power and influence in Iraq and Afghanistan to set up liberal states there. They were in chaos and ready for a change anyway! All we needed to do was impose the US Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights. Maybe also eliminate all drug and prostitution laws, plus anything like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Welfare, etc. Then they would have had a freer country than America!

Really? Americans, having the benefit of hundreds of years of liberty have managed to screw up their freedom. Just how long do you think it would take for a bunch of people who believe things like women who are raped are guilty of indecency and should be put to death, that their god demands that "infidels" be killed or that anyone who turns from their religion should be stoned, that homosexuality is a death sentence would take to turn a very limited government into either complete anarchy (with the corresponding resurgence of warlords) or the Caliphate of Osama Bin Laden's dreams?

Now, of course the backward, savage, tribalist, socialist, shariaist Asians might have rebelled -- especially at first. They might have been offended at seeing all the singing, dancing, miniskirts, wine, free trade, unregulated commerce, multinationals, etc. Thus, as individuals or in small groups, they might have committed CRIMES to shut down the observed free people living free lives -- people being so carefree and joyous as to drive any good Dark Age Muslim MAD.

So America would have had to toss a load of them into jail. And I mean based on justice, not cruelty. Based on a genuine, objective violation of rights -- not US "imperialism." Now if half the country ends up in jail anyway, then that IS a huge cost to the US and would constitute an act of impermissible altruism. Thus it wouldn't be a "low-cost, self-funding" liberal regime as I previously argued.

But who says these folks would hate freedom and civilization that much? Are current Iraqis and Afghanis low animals who can't recognize justice, and don't like the good life, even when it's directly in front of them? Yes, it would likely be a shock to the system for a few weeks or months. But maybe then they would adjust. Especially if we EXPLAINED to them during the transition just how good and sweet life really is under freedom and overall liberal culture.

I've never been to Afghanistan but I've been to places much more civilized, like Kosovo and Bosnia where the kind of Justice sanctioned from the top to the bottom of their society includes the sentiment "kill at the fucking (fill in the blank)'s" Where the 13 year old girl that beat a Serbian grandmother and then set her on fire (still alive and conscious) never spent a day in jail. Where grown men nailed a baby to a telephone pole to serve as a warning that (in this case) Muslims would not be tolerated. Needless to say Afghanistan makes the Balkan states look like a veritable paradise.

It's not a matter of hating freedom its a matter of not wanting it for anyone, including themselves. Do you really think that if Afghani's were ready and waiting for freedom that so many women would still be covering themselves from head to toe in cloth prisons?

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I think if left alone and allowed to flourish the Afghan people would figure something out, even if it's not as good as we'd like. Although definitely not a model for individual rights or political freedom, Maldives is an Islamic country that is trying to evolve. The problem there is conflict between 3 sets of values: the traditional Maldivian culture (pre-Islamic), imported Islamic political and Arab cultural values and a push for modernization. Having said that, the main problems come from a minority of Islamic political figures with big voices and a lot of power trying to dominate the majority who are more moderate in their religious and political views. And every year their population of foreign-educated professionals increases, further destabilizing the Islamic hold.

This all started because the people of Maldives found that they had some value internationally and were able to develop their tourism industry. So a slow, steady push for modernization started, even while they had a dictator as head of state. It would take a lot of time for Afghanistan to do this, but it has to start with the people, not with outside protectors and foreign armies. I agree with Zip in that the best thing NATO could have and should have done was blast the shit out of the baddies and call it a day, to eliminate the threat to us and to let the Afghan people sort things out themselves. But if you're going to set up some kind of government, ensure it's one based on Western values, and not the same old bullshit they've been doing for the past 3000 years. Anything less will just drag on until the foreigners give up.

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But if you're going to set up some kind of government, ensure it's one based on Western values, and not the same old bullshit they've been doing for the past 3000 years. Anything less will just drag on until the foreigners give up.

Reading this I just realized that the problem is with the values, and of course to the corollary question... to whom?

Our Western values are just that... ours. What do they value? They still value the tribe, the holy man, the strong arm. As long as that is the case there is no hope of imposing western style government (or anything else) without there already being western style values in place.

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I think it could happen, but it would take a generation or two, and only if the "bad guys" are taken out. It could happen faster if the general population were shown just how good the West is, because I don't think they have any idea really how much freedom they could have. Who really knows what they value? After 40(?) years of war, it would be tough to value anything other than the protection and safety provided by your tribe and some tough brute, and the only alternative the holy man offers is death.

Look at something like how Rome dominated European barbarians and tribes. A few wars over a few years, devastate the local armies and then afterwards people grow into Roman values. And then look at when dictatorships start: dictator moves in, kills any opponents, cows the population, and then after 10 or 20 years people are even afraid to have freedom and are violent towards their liberators (ie Iraq).

edit: What I was trying to say is that values can change. Fast for individuals, but very slow for a country, and the person has to know or think of an alternative (or be shown). Even when the leadership is already of that value system it takes time.

Edited by Chris.S
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In braindead terms, we failed to pour in enough troops. And to use them as police.

In absolute terms, we failed to support political liberalism. We created a slave state -- just like in Viet Nam.

I don't think it's as easy as that because you have to look at the Afghan culture, and giving them a constitution to protect individual rights would not work because they would never accept it. You cannot force people to be free, they could easily just get rid of it and establish an Islamic theocracy.

The only way to do it would be to change the culture, just like Peikoff states is necessary in order to establish a laissez-faire society.

If a group of Objectivists took power by force in the U.S now and changed the constitution so it would protect individual rights in full, then they'd have to enforce it by denying free elections because the people would not stand it and vote back in some socialist.

You cannot convert barbarians to civilised people at the drop of a hat through law. They wouldn't recognise the law and soon change it.

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The Afghan people are still quite favorable towards the tribal social structure that they've had for countless generations. The people are much more loyal to their respective tribal societies than the macro government of Afghanistan. Obviously, nation-building in Afghanistan, and patrolling their streets, will do nothing but siphon away money and American lives. As if history doesn't hold enough evidence to show how foolish it is to be engaging in these types of actions in Afghanistan...

We could have sent special-operative forces into Afghanistan the day after the towers were struck, taken out the ruling regime and all Al-Qaeda sympathizers, and then brought all those forces back home, in under a month. Why we had to engage in an 8 year long conflict over an issue that could have been solved in a matter of days, is just unbelievably frustrating, particularly since we actually had the right and obligation to send troops - unlike in Iraq.

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We could have sent special-operative forces into Afghanistan the day after the towers were struck, taken out the ruling regime and all Al-Qaeda sympathizers, and then brought all those forces back home, in under a month. Why we had to engage in an 8 year long conflict over an issue that could have been solved in a matter of days, is just unbelievably frustrating, particularly since we actually had the right and obligation to send troops - unlike in Iraq.

If the Taliban had been taken out and troops had then left days later, who do you think would have taken over? most likely it would have been a similar political force due to Afghan culture.

In fact, there would be a period of time where rivals would fight for power and there would be no government, which would only attract insurgent groups that could use it as a base or try to gain power themselves and use it once more as a launch pad for attacks against the west.

The whole point of nation building is to try to change the culture from the top through the imposition of a new political infrastructure, because the populace would only replace the previous regime with a similar one due to the ideas in the culture.

As far as I am aware, in Afghanistan, there was no movement for the creation of a government from the people for a friendly regime. If the Taliban had been taken out, there would be no radical change and a similar anti-west regime would replace it, providing support for insurgents.

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The Northern alliance were the folks in Afghanistan poised to take over from the Taliban. They were already fighting a rebellion against the Taliban in the north and they were allies to NATO and the USA during the fighting immediately after operations started in Afghanistan.

The Afghan people were already signalling their distaste of the extremists. We should have crushed AQ and the Taliban leadership and left the rest up to the NA. I don't care what government type they chose for themselves and would not dictate any type to them. They would know explicitly however that should they follow AQ and the Taliban down the terrorists road that their time on the planet would be very short.

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After the conquest of November of 2001, we should have set up a liberal state. Then the eight-year insurgency would almost certainly never have happened. The local Afghanis would have quickly learned to hate and fight the Taliban, Al Qaida, and all other jihadi groups. This would have been in the Western self-interest -- as well as their own.

I totally disagree.

By taking it upon ourselves to set up a government "friendly" to us (the current Karzai regime), we have assumed that the Afghan people would unilaterally support this government and take it upon themselves to help us rid the world of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. This bankrupt approach has all but enabled the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

The best approach would have been to look at Afghanistan as an illegitimate government and obvious supporter of the terrorists who staged 9-11, waged an all-out war against this nation, and fought them until they either surrendered or were vanquished. This is the traditional defense of America against the initiation of force against us, and is justifiable as such.

What America has done in Afghanistan thus far is very far removed from that principle.

Sadly, Obama, who promised in his campaign, to focus upon resolving the conflict in Afghanistan, has only followed the blueprint of his predecessor.

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  • 2 months later...
If the Taliban had been taken out and troops had then left days later, who do you think would have taken over? most likely it would have been a similar political force due to Afghan culture.

So what?

In fact, there would be a period of time where rivals would fight for power and there would be no government, which would only attract insurgent groups that could use it as a base or try to gain power themselves and use it once more as a launch pad for attacks against the west.

There is nothing preventing us from parking a fleet off their coast and launching cruise missiles and special operations to kill any knew real threats that may arise.

The whole point of nation building is to try to change the culture from the top through the imposition of a new political infrastructure, because the populace would only replace the previous regime with a similar one due to the ideas in the culture.

As far as I am aware, in Afghanistan, there was no movement for the creation of a government from the people for a friendly regime. If the Taliban had been taken out, there would be no radical change and a similar anti-west regime would replace it, providing support for insurgents.

You can't change a culture by force. This is especially true of barbaric tribalist cultures that have withstood outside influences for hundreds of years. They do not want to change, and we shouldn't waste our time, money or lives trying to make them. They should reap what they sow: death. If they want to embrace philosophies of death, there is no reason we can't provide them with an expeditious one.

Afghanistan in the big scheme of things isn't all that important. Yes, it is a failed state that is a safe haven for terrorists. But who supports those terrorist ideologically and logistically? Iran and Saudi donors. Those are the real threats to our national security.

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In braindead terms, we failed to pour in enough troops. And to use them as police.

In absolute terms, we failed to support political liberalism. We created a slave state -- just like in Viet Nam.

Aside from lacking the will we never had the troop strength necessary to control Afghanistan. The Brits could not do it at the height of their imperials strength and neither can we. What we could do is nuke the place and kill everyone there, but you know as well as I, we will do no such thing.

By and large Islamic domains are very hard to occupy and control. To many suicidal Jihadis are willing to blow themselves up in opposition.

Bob Kolker

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