September 23, 2004

Debunking Afghanistan Myths

I'm not some Rummy-on-Steroids type of guy who thinks we can walk, chew gum and, to boot, kick a little ass in NoKo and Iran too--before heading to the Taiwan Straits. Still, however, everyone should go read this Peter Bergen piece on Afghanistan in today's NYT--particularly given the constant carping from the Left that Bush has simply installed a Mayor of Kabul and that the rest of Afghanistan is going to hell--all because of his myopic obsession with Iraq (see Richard Clarke for the high-brow version of this meme--and Krugman, MoDo and Co. for the boiler-plate rehashing of it).

Money grafs:

As I toured other parts of the country, the image that I was prepared for - that of a nation wracked by competing warlords and in danger of degenerating into a Colombia-style narcostate - never materialized. Undeniably, the drug trade is a serious concern (it now compromises about a third of the country's gross domestic product) and the slow pace of disarming the warlords is worrisome.

Over the last three years, however, most of the important militia leaders, like Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum of the Uzbek community in the country's north, have shed their battle fatigues for the business attire of the politicians they hope to become. It's also promising that some three million refugees have returned to Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban. Kabul, the capital, is now one of the fastest-growing cities in the world, with spectacular traffic jams and booming construction sites. And urban centers around the country are experiencing similar growth.

While two out of three Afghans cited security as their most pressing concern in a poll taken this summer by the International Republican Institute, four out of five respondents also said things are better than they were two years ago. Despite dire predictions from many Westerners, the presidential election, scheduled for Oct. 9, now looks promising. Ten million Afghans have registered to vote, far more than were anticipated, and almost half of those who have signed up are women. Indeed, one of the 18 candidates for president is a woman. Even in Kandahar, more then 60 percent of the population has registered to vote, while 45 percent have registered in Uruzgan Province, the birthplace of Mullah Omar. With these kinds of numbers registering, it seems possible that turnout will be higher than the one-third of eligible voters who have participated in recent American presidential elections.

Bergen concludes:

What we are seeing in Afghanistan is far from perfect, but it's better than so-so. Disputes that would once have been settled with the barrel of a gun are now increasingly being dealt with politically. The remnants of the Taliban are doing what they can to disrupt the coming election, but their attacks, aimed at election officials, American forces and international aid workers, are sporadic and strategically ineffective.

If the elections are a success, it will send a powerful signal to neighboring countries like Pakistan, Iran, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, none of which can claim to be representative democracies. If so, the democratic domino effect, which was one of the Bush administration's arguments for the Iraq war, may be more realistic in Central Asia than it has proved to be in the Middle East. [my emphasis throughout]

A few quick takes. Bergen says a democratic domino effect might be likelier in Central Asia than the Middle East. Maybe. But some cautionary notes are in order: 1) I'm skeptical of 'domino theories' generally (state-specific factors can often trump region-wide trends); 2) Putin's expedited post-Beslan re-centralization of power is (at least) as important (and likely much more so in the -stans) a harbinger of going forward political trends in Central Asia than whatever happens in Afghanistan; 3) the U.S. is helping to prop up an authoritarian regime in Pakistan (largely, in my view, necessarily given regional and security imperatives); and 4) Iran is a special case (a nationalist backlash in Iran--particularly if Israel or the U.S. engages in military strikes--is at least as likely as an anti-clerical counter-revolutionary re-awakening).

Note too, Bergen says that the "Bush Administration's argument for the Iraq war may be more realistic in Central Asia that it has proved to be in the Middle East." Again, maybe. But let's see what Iraq looks likes in a year (once we've been there about as long as we've been in Afghanistan). "Tenuous stability," after all, may be in the offing (per the NYT's summation of the recently disclosed Iraq NIE). Not Luxembourg, mind you, but still real potential progress. After all, isn't such prospective stability better than living under the yoke of genocidaire-neo-Stalinist thuggery (yes, admitedly, the grim disintegration/civil war scenario would be worse)?

A last note. Will Bergen's piece (Bergen, of course, is no Bush apologist) be honestly appraised (or even mentioned) by a quorum of commentators on the Left? Or will they continue to trot out the tired and convenient shibboleth that Bush bungled Afghanistan because of the Iraq adventure?

True, fair-minded left bloggers have, if perhaps reluctantly, given Bush a 4 out of 10 on Afghanistan in the past. But Bergen's analysis, particularly keeping in mind how the Soviets got bogged down there, would have me scoring it at a more generous 7 out of 10 (Bush mostly loses points on UBL in my book). After all, a 4 out of 10 is a failing grade. Does unseating the regime you aimed to unseat, at lightning speed, constitute a failure? Still, Kevin Drum's a pretty fair-minded guy. More so, it seems, than John Kerry:

In Afghanistan, we have some NATO involvement, but the training of the Afghan Army is insufficient to disarm the warlord militias or to bring the billion dollar drug trade under control. This Administration has all but turned away from Afghanistan.

Er, we haven't "all but turned away" from Afghanistan. That's simply not true. Jamie Rubin and Susan Rice are gonna have to come up with better stuff than this (such untrue and/or hyperbolic criticisms)--at least if they want to persuade people Kerry has serious foreign policy alternatives to bring to the table re: issues like Afghanistan and Iraq.

Posted by Gregory at September 23, 2004 09:59 AM

I don't know why you mark Bush down on UBL. He's dead.

Posted by: Jack at September 23, 2004 01:32 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

If Osama ain't dead, he sure has suffered a severe degradation of his production facilities. All we get is high static audio tapes rehashing his old sermons. Sounds a lot like the organization still pushing Billy Graham sermons, only with no access to remastering.

Oh, it is all a cunning plot to fool us into thinking he is dead. Oh, that is right, I forgot.

Posted by: Donmeaker at September 23, 2004 01:50 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It will be interesting to see what kind of play the MSM gives this story today, especially after Kerry and Edwards recent comments.

My guess is it's buried.

Posted by: RichieD at September 23, 2004 02:05 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Thanks, Sir, for the insight. I sometimes wonder if anyone is really paying attention to anything going on here. You, obviously, have been. And in my not-any-type-of-official-US Army-position-at-all, I think Osama is Vulture-Chow. Donmeaker is correct. Thanks again.

Posted by: Major John at September 23, 2004 02:12 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Dont worry, Kerry wants to send tens of thousands more troops to search for AQ members that arent there. Flawed rhetoric tends to become flawed policy. Another reason to reelect Bush.

Posted by: Mark Buehner at September 23, 2004 02:14 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

...time for you lefties to get real. There has been no more terrorist attacks in the good old US of A since he went into high gear in Iraq..been keeping the bad guys too busy. But then, I wouldn't expect any lefties to utter a decent word about their little safety nests. It would be interesting to hear or read what the lefties would have to say about Bush should there be another attack on the US. For my money, I think the lefties gripe so much because they are afraid of being drafted and being send to SandLand...

Posted by: Jeremy at September 23, 2004 02:45 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The Bush Administration deserves credit for its success in killing al Qaeda's number 3, Muhammed Atef, and for capturing al Qaeda's number 4, Khalid Sheikh Muhammed.

Usama bin Laden is alive, unfortunately -- we've heard audiotapes. Perhaps he doesn't look like himself anymore, since we haven't seen a videotape. (Why do Bush Administration supporters always claim that evil men are dead before they are dead? Saddam Hussein comes to mind.) I believe we've seen a videotape of Ayman al-Zawahiri.

I believe both of these men are alive and uncaptured at the moment, and that both of them will eventually be killed, using current tactics. I'm willing to blame the Bush Administration for a lot of things, but not for the fact that Usama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are alive and uncaptured. These things take time.

Also, it is hard for me to imagine any likely effect of the U.S. election outcome (whatever that outcome may be) on the speed with which the U.S. will succeed in killing Usama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Posted by: Arjun at September 23, 2004 02:52 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

If OBL or either of the al-Zs are killed or captured Bush wins in a walk- unless there is another terrorist attack on U. S. soil in sufficient time before the election for MSM to lay the blame on Bush.

Posted by: Terry Gain at September 23, 2004 03:24 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I believe UBL is dead. He is never seen in videos
anymore and he certainly did like the limelight.
I also believe that the Bush administration probably
believes that UBL is dead but did not speculate such
publicly as it would have given the left a good
arguing point to prematurely stop the war on terror.

Posted by: George at September 23, 2004 03:30 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Osama Bin Laden is Dead
In January of 2002 I wrote an article for the Usenet group alt.religion.islam. In it I speculated that OBL was dead and that Musharraf had killed him. Since that time I have seen nothing to change my mind. I will post the article below.

In the last couple of weeks there have been news reports stating that Al Quida is no longer functioning as a centrally controlled unit, but rather it is operating in diverse groups with no center of power. If Bin Laden were alive, why would this be the case?

Of course since Jan. of 2002 we have had many Bin Laden audio tapes. My contention is that these tapes were phony. One of the tapes was sent to a Swiss audio lab, the Lausanne-based Dalle Molle Institute for Perceptual Artificial Intelligence, in Nov. of 2002 and the result of it's investigation showed a 95% propability that the tapes were fake. One video tape came out showing Bin Laden and Al Zawahiri walking down the mountain side. It was easily established that the tape preceded the invasion of Afghanistan. Why would Al Quida distribute inauthentic tapes if the real Bin Laden were alive to make authentic tapes. I think that there are three reasons. One, much of the money that they were receiving from Islamic charities was going to a Bin Laden run organization. They did not want to stop getting this money because Bin Laden was dead. Two, the Al Quida leadership wanted to continue to use the authority of Bin Laden to encourage Jihadists around the world. Three, Al Quida does not want to give the victory of Bin Laden's death to the US. Considering how important it is for Al Quida to have Bin Laden alive, they could very easily produce a picture of him holding a recent journal. But they don't.

What about the US intelligence agencies. Why do they not know that Bin Laden is dead? I suspect that they have a very good idea that he is dead, but they don't want to take a chance. If they think that the odds are 90% of him being dead, they will still not say so. Imagine the embarressment of making such a statement and then having Bin Laden appear on a new video.

Usnet article from Jan. 2002:
When Gen Mush declared that Bin Ladin was dead it made me wonder why. I thought that it was simply an attempt to diffuse some of the tension in the region and get the US off his back about the possibility of Bin Ladin being in Pakistan.

But then I was struck by a nice Oliver Stone solution. Musharraf's intelligence agencies killed Bin Ladin. Let's look at the argument.

Mush proclaimed that Ladin was dead because he was using dialyzes machines and he thought that these machines would not function in the mountains. But the possibility of a failure in these machines, although possible, is hardly of enough likelihood to make Gen Mush come out and make such a declaration. On the face of things it seems like Mush's report is rather dumb. But Mush is not dumb. I have watched him field questions from reporters before. He chooses his words very carefully and he never paints himself into a corner. Such a bold prediction about the fate of Bin Ladin seems out of line for him. So let's look at another possibility.

First of all, Mush badly needs US and international help in order to rescue his dying economy. He needs US weapons if he wants to keep up with India. With India making very strong threatening noises he doesn't want to be alienated from the people who might intervene for him. So the last thing that he needs is to have Bin Ladin running around his country and have the US find out about it.

But he can't turn Bin Ladin over to the US because then he will alienate the biggest portion of the Muslim world and many of his future voters. Additionally, the radical Mullahs in his country could be expected to go on the rampage. Assassination attempts would be virtually guaranteed.

Mush cares very little about Islam. He is a whiskey drinker who pretends to be a good Muslim because he is ruling a Muslim state. What Mush wants is to be transformed into an elected leader. He may even care enough about Pakistan to try to get it back on it's feet. He knows that the fundamentalists are a threat both to him and to any possible economic development of his country.

What to do?

Plant a lot of intelligence operatives in all of the places where Bin Ladin is likely to move! When Bin Ladin shows up, the operatives kill him and anyone who is with him. Then tell the world that Bin Ladin probably died of his health problems. Mush is then off the hook with the US. And the Muslim community cannot hold Bin Ladin's death against him.

Frankly, I find it difficult to believe that Bin Ladin couldn't get a few extra batteries into those caves, considering the tons and tons of weapons and ammunition he had up there. I also find it difficult to believe that he couldn't slip out if there was a problem with his equipment.

Posted by: thereactionary at September 23, 2004 03:51 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

This is off-subject, but Prime Minister Allawi's speech to the U.S. Congress really rocked my world.

He didn't tell the truth, but honesty is overrated.

Prime Minister Allawi deserves America's support. Does Mr. Kerry agree with me?

If not, I'm a Kerry supporter no more.

Posted by: Arjun at September 23, 2004 04:11 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Like D.L. Hughley said, UBL puts out more tapes than Tupac Shakur, but that doesn't make him any less dead.

Posted by: Rob at September 23, 2004 04:29 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Allow me to make the good (but not necessarily true) case for UBL having died on Dec. 5 2001. First the undeniable recent evidence. UBL gave out audios and videos all the time before 2001. Although some audios and a couple of videos were released after Dec. 5 2001, you could not tell when they were made. Even the ones discusing Iraq could have been made during or shortly after Gulf War I. There are NO new audios or videos because what UBL may have said in 1990's is clearly ilrelevant to AQ's goals today. So number 2 is now making the audios. IF UBL is alive today why isn't he advertising himself as in the past.

Now the harder, but more deniable is that on Dec. 7 people have claimed to have seen UBL's mom, wife and two daughter's in morners clothing. UBL is no longer calling, writing, or talking to his mom (who I believe is still in a hospital in France). HE always found a way to reach her before 2001.

Why no direct evidence? Perhaps he was near the center of one of the Moabs we dropped. The pretty much would do in all the forensic eveidence.

Is UBL dead? I think he is, but I can not prove it, and I suspect that is also Bush's problem.

Posted by: David at September 23, 2004 04:41 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"With these kinds of numbers registering, it seems possible that turnout will be higher than the one-third of eligible voters who have participated in recent American presidential elections."

USA Voter Turnout

Usama's been forgotten because he's off the world stage - either for severe health reasons or because his network/infrastructure is so decentralized and distrusted that he dares not use it or have any public ties.

Afghanistan's problems are less and less military or political, which shifts focus to economics. The drug trade is not going away any time soon I'm afraid. I cannot imagine anything short of a heavy hand, political or religious authoritarianism, to significantly reduce it.

Iraq will likely follow Afghanistan's footsteps from a political/national view, but the worry of balkanization or the Sunni triangle becoming a type of Palestine, or being perceived that way by Arabs, is an important guiding concern.

Thanks for your thoughts and blog!

Posted by: Tim at September 23, 2004 04:41 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You know what gets me? When people point to a civil war in Iraq as the worst of all possible worlds. Now, the Sunnis would get whomped just on numbers, but wasn't that exactly what we tried to encourage the Iraqis to do back in '91?

What's the difference between the populace rising up and booting the Ba'athists and their Sunni clients around then and doing it now?

I realize that a civil war would mean failure of our attempts to prevent one. But beyond that, and barring a better resolution, why is the Sunnis getting their asses kicked good and hard the worst thing that could ever happen?

Posted by: spongeworthy at September 23, 2004 05:19 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Arjun asks,
Prime Minister Allawi deserves America's support. Does Mr. Kerry agree with me?

Maybe yes , maybe no. The answer will depend on when he answers the question. if ever. John Kerry will say whatever he thinks will help him win. If it helps to say this is the wrong war, in the wrong place , at the wrong time ... he will say it even if saying it boosts the morale of the "insurgents" (terrorists) and demoralizes coalition forces. It is not clear to me how Kerry can posssibly finesse this ( supporting Allawi even though Allawi is wrong about whether this was the right war, in the right place, at the right time).

Posted by: Terry Gain at September 23, 2004 05:51 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Two points to consider:

1. How can it be good news that over 10 million Afghanis are registered to vote when there are only about 9 million eligible voters? Can we fear a bit of voting fraud?

2. The US Ambassador is strong-arming the election, undermining the credibility fo the democracy in Afghanistan. U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad tried to pressure candidate Mohammed Mohaqiq to drop out of the race. "He left, and then called my most loyal men, and the most educated people in my party or campaign, to the presidential palace and told them to make me or request me to resign the nomination. And he told my men to ask me what I need in return."

"It is not only me," Mohaqiq said. "They have been doing the same thing with all candidates. That is why all people think that not only Khalilzad is like this, but the whole U.S. government is the same. They all want Karzai and this election is just a show."

The charges were repeated by several other candidates and their senior campaign staff in interviews here. They reflected anger over what many Afghans see as foreign interference that could undermine the shaky foundations of a democracy the U.S. promised to build.

Posted by: Andrew at September 23, 2004 06:54 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It's been clear for some time that things were going well in Afghanistan -- not wonderfully, not clear success, but fairly well. That's if you follow the MilBlogs and the people who might know something, rather than depending on the Ultimate REMFs who opine from their safe perches in New York, London, etc.

A major effort in Afghanistan would be stupid for several reasons, two of them primary:

1. It makes the US look ridiculous. Imagine several armored divisions clanking madly across the desert, with the guy in front yelling "Tally-Ho!" And the world chuckles... a persistent Special Forces effort, which is what's going on, is the maximum needed or usable.

2. The whole "hunt 'em down" idea is dumb to begin with. In the first place, what will we do when we catch them? Put 'em in jail with easy access to the media for further polemic would be about the maximum. In the second place, it would exactly match the revenge cycle typical in tribal societies -- "we're hunting Osama because he hurt our friends." Puts us firmly in the context of their society, which is precisely what we don't want. And in the third place, why would anybody cooperate in the investigation? -- cops from halfway 'round the world asking about your relatives. Would you respond?

So this is good to hear. Fingers crossed for the next development.

Ric Locke

Posted by: Ric Locke at September 23, 2004 07:04 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Here's your answer as quoted by AP (see link in Drudge)

Shortly after Allawi, the interim government's prime minister, gave a rosy portrayal of progress toward peace in Iraq, Kerry said the assessment contradicted reality on the ground.

Perhaps Kerry will support Allawi, if he's elected
President, then again , perhaps not. In the meantime Allawi is to be dismissed because what he's saying hurts Kerry's chances of being elected.

In the AP story
Kerry said he has laid out ``steps to win the war, not to change, not to retreat, steps to win.

"After you Alphonse".

Also,in the AP story
Bush ``missed a huge opportunity'' at the United Nations this week to try to persuade leaders of other nations to join the United States in Iraq and the broader anti-terror war, Kerry said.

According to Kerry, Bush ought to have said "please join me in fighting the wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time- a war which is making the world less safe from terrorism (because liberating Iraq has gotten those terrorists hopping mad)

Kerry's logic is breathtaking . If Islamofascists are this mad at a brutal (to Iraqis) secular regime being deposed how will they react to attacks on Islamofascist targets. The outcome of Kerry's logic : we are safer not to fight Islamofascism than to engage it and destroy it. It's Kerry who doesn't believe the war on Islamofascism can be won.

Posted by: Terry Gain at September 23, 2004 08:07 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Civil war in Iraq would be a disastrous outcome for a number of reasons. First, the outcome would not be so certain. While the Shiites outnumber every other group, the Sunni side would be able to attract large numbers of Sunni fighters from abroad since Sunnis are the majority group throughout the Muslim world (including support through back channels from Sunni dominated governments in the region). Also, the Iraqi Army was dominated by Sunnis - who still have the expertise and in many cases the armaments - which makes them potent beyond their demographic representation.

Beyond these two groups, the Kurds have the largest, best equipped, battle hardened and trained fighting force - the Pesh Merga. So they too would be able to throw their weight around in the North, making incursions into,and seizing, mixed cities like Kirkuk (and its valuable oil fields), which would set off conflict with the Sunnis and Shiites.

An influx of support for the Sunni side could provoke Iran to enter by proxy, and Kurdish moves in the north could provoke Turkish, Iranian and Syrian involvement.

This could create a chaotic and lawless state for years to come with regional forces fueling and perpetuating the conflict for their own purposes - think Lebanon on a grander scale.

Iraq would become the ideal breeding ground and refuge for terrorists. A country that in the past had no history of its populous joining jihads abroad could become one of the leading contributors. Foreign fighters would also take up shop with impunity amidst the continued violence.

It would be utter failure on all fronts - there would be no democracy, there would be massive death and violence for the population, the region would be destabilized, terrorism would find a new home, the threat to the US would be greater. In short, none of the stated justifications for the war would have been met - other than removing Saddam and then only to be replaced by the eventual victor (and history has shown that after bloody internecine conflict, totalitarian strongmen, not democrats, tend to emerge).

Other than that, it would be fine.

Posted by: Eric Martin at September 23, 2004 08:13 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

My personal opinion on OBL/UBL? I think that the audio tapes are a result of Qaeda henchmen doing their best Osama imitation. If Osama isn't dead, he may as well be. The only thing that's been relevant is the idea of Osama, not his leadership.

Posted by: Half Canadian at September 23, 2004 08:17 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


There are two parts to the war against the spread of radical Islamist jihadism, as Gregory has pointed out on more than one occasion in this space.

The first is to neutralize, destroy and annihilate the jihadists currently operating in the world. To this end, Kerry is firmly committed, as is every Democrat, Republican, conservative and liberal. To suggest otherwise is irresponsible, and partisan hackery.

The second component is the battle to win the hearts and minds of the Muslim world. This is akin to the calls for a smarter more "sensitive" approach in some arenas that Arjun made a couple days back. Something like the soft power exerted by the US in order to win the hearts and minds during the Cold War.

This is done to alienate and isolate the hard liners so as to diminish their support and popularity. This reduces their operating capacity, recruitment abilities, and allows for us to destroy them without creating more in their wake. Right now there is a war within the Muslim world for the soul of these people, with Bin Laden on one side and the moderates on the other.

On this point, some have argued that the invasion of Iraq has greatly hindered our efforts as popularity for al-Qaeda has surged, while America's has plummeted. We have also undermined the reformers in the region becuase they have lost credibility by virtue of the fact that their message is associated with America - and at the moment there is no more poisonous a similarity.

As Fareed Zakaria noted: In every Arab country that I have been to in the last two years, the liberals, reformers and businessmen say, "Please don't support us. American support today is the kiss of death."

We must think of this as a counter-insurgency, as Fukuyama and others have argued. This is what he has to say about jihadists:

"It is hard to see how we can deal with them other than by killing, capturing or otherwise militarily neutralizing them.

But the radicals swim in a much larger sea of Muslims-1.2 billion of them, more or less-who are not yet implacable enemies of the United States. If one has any doubts about this, one has only to look at the first of the United Nations Development Program's two Arab Human Development reports, which contained a poll asking whether respondents would like to emigrate to the United States if they had the opportunity. In virtually every Arab country, a majority of respondents said yes. On the other hand, recent Pew surveys of global public opinion show that positive feelings about the United States in Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan and other supposedly friendly Muslim countries has sunk to disastrously low levels. What these data taken as a whole suggest is that for the broad mass of public opinion in Muslim countries, we are disliked or hated not for what we are, but rather for what we do. What they do not like is a familiar list of complaints about our foreign policy that we somehow continue to fail to take seriously: our lack of concern for the plight of the Palestinians, our hypocritical support for dictators in Muslim countries, and now our occupation of Iraq.

The War on Terror is, in other words, a classic counter-insurgency war, except that it is one being played out on a global scale. There are genuine bad guys out there who are much more bitter ideological enemies than the Soviets ever were, but their success depends on the attitudes of the broader populations around them who can be alternatively supportive, hostile or indifferent-depending on how we play our cards. As we are seeing vividly in Iraqi cities like Fallujah and Najaf, counter-insurgency wars are incredibly difficult to fight, because we must somehow destroy the enemy without alienating the broader population and making things worse. Counter-insurgency requires a tricky mixture of precisely targeted force, political judgment and extremely good intelligence: a combination of carrots and sticks."

This is from an article in Foreign Affairs that I think is relevant to this discussion:

"If countries are to win the war on terror, they must eradicate enemies without creating new ones. They also need to deny those militants with whom negotiation is impossible the support of local populations. Such support assists and, in the minds of the militants, morally legitimizes their actions. If Western countries are to succeed, they must marry the hard component of military force to the soft component of cultural appeal. There is nothing weak about this approach. As any senior military officer with experience in counterinsurgency warfare will tell you, it makes good sense. The invasion of Iraq, though entirely justifiable from a humanitarian perspective, has made this task more pressing.

Bin Laden is a propagandist, directing his efforts at attracting those Muslims who have hitherto shunned his extremist message. He knows that only through mass participation in his project will he have any chance of success. His worldview is receiving immeasurably more support around the globe than it was two years ago, let alone 15 years ago when he began serious campaigning. The objective of Western countries is to eliminate the threat of terror, or at least to manage it in a way that does not seriously impinge on the daily lives of its citizens. Bin Laden's aim is to radicalize and mobilize. He is closer to achieving his goals than the West is to deterring him."

So, it is possible to be strong on terrorism without having favored the invasion of Iraq. That point can be debated, but it is not a foregone conclusion, nor can you draw from that the conclusion that Kerry or any other person against the Iraq invasion would not want to confront radical jihadists intent on doing harm to Americans.

Posted by: Eric Martin at September 23, 2004 08:34 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

If giving blood and treasure to liberate 25 million people from a brutal, despotic, murderous, genocidal regime and giving those 25 million people an opportunity to create a civilized society causes the ranks of the Jihadists to swell it will be because America has lost the propaganda war abroad- not because of the intrinsic merits of what it is doing.

Soon after 9/11 Phyllis Bennes claimed that one of the causes was America's support for brutal dictatorships. You yourself refer to" hypocritical support for dictators in Muslim countries." So supporting dictators and removing dictators both cause an increase in anti-American jihadism.

So what is America to do? Fake it like France-pretend to object to undemocratic practices, while supplying arms.

You say that " we are disliked or hated not for what we are, but rather for what we do." I think liberating 25 million people is doing very nicely. What other country has been so good to so many Muslims.

The reality is that the perception of America has nothing to do with the reality of what you do in the world. Speaking for myself I don't know how America wins the propaganda war abroad if she loses it at home.

If Kerry wins and cuts and runs , as he will, and leaves Iraq a mess, America may never recover its place in the world.

Posted by: Terry Gain at September 23, 2004 10:52 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


The issue you raise, of either supporting dictators or deposing them through invasion, is a false choice. We never supported the dictators in Eastern Europe, and for that we were secretly revered by the populations. Yet we never invaded any of those countries either. Instead, we used soft power, intelligence and diplomacy to bring about change.

Before someone gives me a knee-jerk response, I am not suggesting using soft power on the jihadists. Those we must kill. Thus invading Afghanistan (if you can call it an invasion) was the absolute right thing to do. But that is not the debate.

This gets to the larger point about nation building through war. Here is Fukuyama on this subject (yes I read other thinkers but he happens to be on point in our discussion, and since he is a conservative, his opinions lend credence):

"America has been involved in approximately 18 nation-building projects between its conquest of the Philippines in 1899 and the current occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the overall record is not a pretty one. The cases of unambiguous success-Germany, Japan, and South Korea-were all ones in which U.S. forces came and then stayed indefinitely. In the first two cases, we were not nation-building at all, but only re-legitimizing societies that had very powerful states. In all of the other cases, the U.S. either left nothing behind in terms of self-sustaining institutions, or else made things worse by creating, as in the case of Nicaragua, a modern army and police but no lasting rule of law."

In the Middle East, ironically enough, we have the most contentious relationship with the regime in Iran, yet the Iranian people (especially the youth who do not remember the US toppling the democratically elected Mossadegh in favor of the totalitarian Shah) are the most pro-American. They tend to view the anti-American propaganda from their government as just that - propaganda. If we invaded Iran tomorrow, however, nationalism and pride would take over, and we would be despised (not to mention the desire to avenge the innocent dead that would result). See how that works?

So we should not support corrupt regimes as much as we do, and try to hold them to tougher standards. Though if we invade these countries to topple these regimes, and rack up thousand of civilian casualties and appear to be on some neo-crusade, that would be even worse. It is amazing what you can accomplish through soft power, and how many you can alienate through war.

Similarly, in Iraq, the reaction has been one of anger. First, the people we killed in the invasion and their family and friends were never going to be happy with liberation since they were either dead or their lives torn asunder by US military action.

Second, it is wrong to assume that all Iraqis wanted Saddam out. Clearly many thrived under his leadership (the Sunni minority), while others were able to enjoy mostly peaceful, productive lives - as long as they did not speak their mind or make enemies with the State. Saddam's violence, though brutal and vicious, was not arbitrary.

As for the Muslim world in general, Bin Laden has been preaching a narrative of America seeking to take over Muslim lands, control oil and treat Muslims in blasphemous ways. This invasion played right into his hands. We invaded the country with more Muslim holy sites than any other except Saudi Arabia, seemed to show no regard for anything other than the oil ministry, our public justifications (WMDs, links to al-Qaeda) crumbled giving rise to rampant cynacism, Abu Ghraib was a disaster of epic proportions, the siege of Najaf and Fallujah, etc.

Further, the country has been racked by violence, conflict, instability, death, and unrest. If that is liberation, I imagine many Muslims are thinking: no thanks. Or: We can wait to do it on our own. Hopefully it all turns out nicely for Iraq, but it is unclear if we did not "liberate" civil war, which would be no great service to the Iraqi people.

Clearly there is a good amount of anti-Americanism that is irrational, illogical and intractable, but we don't have to change all that. What we have to do is make gains in the middle, and help the moderates to do the rest. It will be easier for countryman to sway countryman, if given the opportunity.

This will require tough choices, diplomatic efforts, a real assessment of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and other choices. No matter what anger there is about our support for corrupt regimes, Israel/Palestine is the most effective tool for radical jihadists to propagandize the youth.

These solutions are not easy ones, and they take time and enormous effort, but when compared to our current course of action, there is at least a light at the end of the tunnel.

Posted by: Eric Martin at September 23, 2004 11:30 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


I also apologize for my wordiness. Sometimes I get carried away.

Posted by: Eric Martin at September 23, 2004 11:31 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

In re Afghanistan, Kerry (like many others) seems to have forgotten that the UN was given control (with the exception that the US and NATO could operate MILITARY ops independently). For months, the UN refused to look past Kabul, at one point saying that they were only going to secure voting sites inside the capital rather than things like build roads or pressure warlords.

Posted by: John Anderson at September 24, 2004 04:26 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You needn't apologize for the length of your post. I enjoyed it. It is 1:15 a.m. here in Ontario and my resonse will be short.

My initial reaction to the idea of invading Iraq was that it would set a bad precedent. However, the more I read about Saddam's history, the continuing breaches of the ceasefire, the defiance of U. N. resolutions, the impact of sanctions and conditions in Iraq the more convinced I became that maintenance of the status quo would set a worse precedent.

I asked a colleague who was against the war: " Suppose, with 200,000 coalition troops deployed on his borders Saddan has destroyed his stockpiles of weapons, when will he start to re-build. When my friend said " the day after the troops leave" I told him that that was a good answer , however the correct answer was " the day of, the moment after, the troops leave".

Eric, you downplay the brutality of Saddam. His violence was without question arbitrary. You also overstate the human cost of the liberation. The liberation has in fact saved lives even as it's being fought. According to Unicef Iraqi children were dying at the rate of 4500 per month because of sanctions. I've read and heard that 300,000 bodies have been discovered in mass graves. ( Are these reports not true)

From what I have been able to detemine the estimated numbers killed during Saddam's 25 year reign of terror range from 600,000 to 2 million. This does not include the numbers killed in his wars.

The number of innocent Iraqis killed during the first year of this war of liberation is between 11,000 and 15,000 according to anti-war organizaions.

I will close by saying I do not dismiss your concerns out of hand , but believe you take a view which is short-sighted. The insurgency too will pass. For the vast majority of Iraqis the liberation will bring tangible benefits- the jihad only ephemeral and ultimately bitter rewards to a small minority. Provided America maintains its resolve and stands with the Iraqi people the logic of the liberation will prevail. Peace would of course be accomplished more quickly if more nations would support this noble effort.

Given that his world was rocked by Allawi and he has by now seen Kerry's pathetic response- again giving aid and comfort to the enemy I look forward to Arjun posting later today that he is voting for Bush.

Posted by: Terry Gain at September 24, 2004 06:40 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


I'm not sure why you say that there are only 9 million eligible voters in Afghanistan (compared to 10 million registered voters). According to the CIA World Factbook, the population of Afghanistan as of July 2004 was estimated at 28.5 million, including over 15 million people over the age of 15 (full age breakdown not available, and I don't know what the voting age is in Afghanistan). So the registered voter population compared to the adult population is not evidence of vote fraud in itself.

Posted by: Joshua at September 24, 2004 04:08 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Thank you for indulging my long-windedness. Bit of a plague for me I'm afraid.

Please understand that I do not like to quibble about numbers of dead resulting from brutal dictatorships, and I do not want to seem callous in our discussion. It is merely the numbers I address, and in no way am apologizing or justifying for his actions.

With that caveat in mind, I proceed:

The mass grave of 300,000 was actually a mistaken report. The British government has retracted the claim, and rights workers investigating the seen put the number under one tenth that amount. Still vile, not as big.

As for the UNICEF numbers, that is plausible (do you have a link?) and the situation was horrible no doubt. I think that problem would have been better addressed through the "smartening" of sanctions to allow for more civilian friendly goods, while maintaining bans on the relevant military materials.

As for Saddam's killings, the numbers are really concentrated around a few significant events, and do not represent as large a pattern as some have suggested. For example, Saddam slaughtered massive numbers of Shiia and Kurds (and to a lesser degree Turkmen) during and as a result of various uprisings. So he killed hundreds of thousands in short periods of time, in certain locations, but it is misleading to take the total number killed and spread it out over his reign to come up with a conclusion that he killed 10,000 a year. That may be the average, but not representative of life under Saddam.

For example, the US government exterminated millions of Native Americans, but that was during a certain historical period. It would be misleading for someone to claim that the US was killing 50,000 Native Americans a year (please note that I understand that our policies toward NA's ended decades ago and that Saddam was still hostile to the various ethnicities - just used to illustrate a point).

As for the "arbitrariness" I think that, as I said, the vast majority killed were slaughtered in uprisings and political purges, which although evil, are not arbitrary.

As for when and under what circumstances Saddam would destroy and rebuild his weapons, I'm not sure what you are saying. Saddam had no WMDs (other than a couple obsolete shells), and the sanctions and inspections were an extremely effective at eliminating his unconventional arsenal, and severely degrading his conventional variety.

Here is an article in Foreign Policy on the sanctions and inspections that expresses my viewpoint if you care to read further:

Posted by: Eric Martin at September 24, 2004 07:21 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Your numbers may be correct, but I was referring to voter fraud that appears to be rampant. And, if the vote is tainted and loses its legitimacy, the results could be poor to disastrous.

According to the Toronto Star:

After voter registration centers closed across Afghanistan on the weekend, election officials acknowledged the number of voting cards issued far exceeded the estimated number of eligible voters and that the illegal practice of multiple registrations is widespread.

Although it will take at least a week to report the final tally of registered voters, United Nations officials overseeing the elections admit that more than 10 million voting cards have been issued surpassing the estimated 9.8 million eligible voters. "Probably there is a lot of multiple registering," U.N. spokesperson Manoel de Almeida e Silva said yesterday.

In a country where the average income is $2 a day, some Afghans who heard that political parties and presidential candidates would pay up to $150 for voting cards, gladly lined up at registration centers several times to get multiple voting cards.

In separate interviews, two Afghans told the Star it was easy to obtain more than one card. One man who registered six times, using his real name and photograph, said U.N. election workers asked him only once if he had previously registered. A woman said her nephew had been approached at school numerous times to sell his laminated voting card and that she knows a woman who obtained 40 cards while cloaked in a burqa.

An Afghanistan expert at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Husain Haqqani, however, warns that if the elections are fraught with illegal vote-rigging activities, the U.S. and Karzai are going to have a battle on their hands.

"Elections must be seen to be fraud-free or their legitimacy, and that of the elected leaders, remains questionable," he said.

"The real issue is: Will the Afghan people, by and large, find the election exercise honest and fair? And that, more than charges and responses to them, will determine whether the elections were a success or not."

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