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Neither A nor F Friday

So here are a few of the things I’ve been reading on Afghanistan lately.  A few of the titles pretty much say it all, though you should certainly—as we say on blogs—read the whole things.

Paul Rogers, “AfPak: The Unwinnable War,” openDemocracy

A. J. Rossmiller, “Stalemate,” The New Republic

Todd Gitlin, “Getting Out of Afghanistan,” Dissent

William R. Polk, “Open Letter to President Obama,” The Nation

A few older items, a bit more equivocal:

Stephen Biddle, “Is It Worth It?”, The American Interest

Conor Foley, “Afghanistan,” Crooked Timber

And from last week, a truly edifying reading experience, Scott Horton’s interview with Medea Benjamin, “Is Medea Benjamin Naive or Just Confused?”, Antiwar.com.

No, it’s not edifying because Medea Benjamin is naive or confused.  On the contrary, Ms. Benjamin is knowledgeable and clearheaded, really quite wonderful throughout.  It’s edifying because Horton (shorter Horton: “c’mon, Medea, the Christian Scientist Monitor totally lied, right?  you don’t care about Afghan women any more than I do, right?”) pursues a line of questioning that leads to this climactic moment:

Benjamin: But you do have the Taliban in Afghanistan and you have…

Horton: Yeah, but what did the Taliban ever do?

Benjamin: Well the Taliban…

Horton: To us.

Benjamin: Huh?

Best.  Huh.  Ever.  For the record, I think the proper form of this world-historically stupid question is “what has the Taliban done to us lately.” Anyway, Benjamin quickly rallies, and proceeds to try to educate Horton about this “Taliban.”

Benjamin: Well see, if your perspective is just from the United States. My perspective is also from what they did to the women of Afghanistan. But if your perspective is truly from the United States, what people say is that if we allow the Taliban to take over Afghanistan then that will be a safe haven for Al Qaeda.

Horton: Yeah, but that’s no different is it than the National Review saying, you know, Saddam Hussein was really bad to the people in Iraq.

Like I say, truly edifying.  Finally, the al-Qaeda/ Iraq link we’ve all been waiting for!

OK, so I’ll be talking at Northwestern today and tomorrow.  Feel free to map out a plausible and humane Afghanistan exit strategy in comments, and I’ll pass the thread along to Obama and McChrystal when we’re all done.  Oh, and don’t forget to stabilize Pakistan!  Extra extra bonus points for keeping the baying neocons marginalized on Iran.  Thanks.

Posted by on 10/16 at 10:19 AM
  1. Sorry to be such a DFH on these questions, but I think the burden should be on those who see American military power as the solution to any particular problem to prove that said problem is at all amenable to being solved by American military power (and that the externalities created by that use of American military power won’t create greater problems).

    Take Gitlin’s argument about Iraq in the article linked above: 

    Since the United States was instrumental to stirring up the hive and stoking up sectarian fighting between Shia and Sunni (as well as other tribal fights), I think it is obliged, for some reasonable period of time, to maintain forces nearby that an Iraqi government could invite to intervene if they think it necessary to prevent carnage.

    After saying this he immediately admits that…

    When I say this, I am presupposing answers to a set of hard questions.  Who is responsible after a state commits a blunder? Can those who opposed it wash their hands—our hands—of the consequences? Can the blunderers bind the opposition—and for how long? Are the inheritors of a debt stupidly incurred responsible for the debt—and, again, for how long?  In other words, is there a statute of limitations on debts incurred by an awful regime?

    Note that all of these questions involve moral responsibility, not the actual consequences--for the US, Iraq, and the world--of a continued US military presence in Iraq.  Moral responsibility is kind of the liberals’ equivalent of the neoconservatives’ obsession with national will.  And the problem with arguing for US military power purely in terms of moral responsibility is very like the problem with arguing for it in terms of will: it runs the danger of sidestepping the practical consideration of what US military power actually does.

    Medea Benjamin is, of course, right about the Taliban.  But by itself the horror of the Taliban does not constitute an argument for a continued US military presence in Afghanistan.

    So in addition to not being a military expert (and thus not really being in a position to map out a plausible exit strategy from Afghanistan), I think the real burden is on advocates of continued (or increased) American military presence in that country to explain how that military presence will improve things.

    And unless they do, my response to “how do we plausibly and humanely bring our troops home from Afghanistan?” is (to borrow a Vietnam era quip quoted Gitlin) really pretty simple:  “On planes.”

    Posted by Ben Alpers  on  10/16  at  12:11 PM
  2. Paul Rogers? I always wondered what he did after The Firm.

    But what’ is Jimmy Page’s position on Maoist rebels in India?

    Posted by  on  10/16  at  12:20 PM
  3. Ben @ 1: so when you hear this—“in the current situation of terrorism, we cannot say troops should be withdrawn,” Shinkai Karokhail, an Afghan member of Parliament and woman activist, told them. “International troop presence here is a guarantee for my safety”—your response is ... that considering a moral responsibility to such a woman is just the liberals’ version of neocons’ will?

    And I ask this as an advocate of withdrawal.

    Jon @ 2:  for an update on Maoism I think you have to ask Anita Dunn.

    Posted by  on  10/16  at  12:23 PM
  4. Ben:

    Medea Benjamin is, of course, right about the Taliban.  But by itself the horror of the Taliban does not constitute an argument for a continued US military presence in Afghanistan.

    From the interview it seems she agrees. You’re sounding a bit like Horton (who I didn’t realize was a jerk before this). She says literally “we want a responsible pulling out of U.S. troops”—and the entire disagreement seems to boil down to her emphasis on the word “responsible”.

    Captcha: face, the thing that can no longer be saved.

    Posted by Vance Maverick  on  10/16  at  12:39 PM
  5. Michael,

    WIthout in anyway drawing any conclusions about the merits of Shinkai Karokhail’s argument, she’s not making an argument on the basis of moral responsibility but rather on the basis of an empirical claim about the efficacy of our (or at least some foreign) military presence in Afghanistan:  she is arguing that international troops guarantee her safety.

    And it’s precisely that sort of empirical claim (and of course a convincing case to back it up) that is missing from arguments that leap from positing US moral responsibility to the conclusion that a continuing US military presence is necessary.

    Moral responsibility is important (and so, frankly, is will). But neither should get advocates of the use of military force out of dealing with reality in all its messiness.

    Posted by Ben Alpers  on  10/16  at  12:40 PM
  6. Vance:

    I really didn’t mean to suggest that Medea Benjamin was arguing for a continued military presence in Afghanistan; I agree that she sounds totally reasonable in that interview.  I was pissed off at Gitlin’s piece (i/r/t Iraq especially) and annoyed by what I (perhaps incorrectly) took to be Michael’s suggestion that the burden of proof lies with advocates of withdrawal from Afghanistan not with supporters of continuing (or expanding) our military presence there.

    Posted by Ben Alpers  on  10/16  at  12:49 PM
  7. Oh dear. Michael @3, we could make a list of women in Afghanistan who want withdrawal, and those who don’t, and then we could argue about who we have a “moral responsibility” towards. So? Either way it wouldn’t prove a thing. Our moral responsibility all along was not to bomb, invade, and occupy the place. We blew that one with enthusiastic liberal support, and imo it would behoove us to get off the moral high horse.

    All this is of course missing the point that the Taliban actually were very unpopular in Afghanistan - before we made them popular. And the longer they stay the more popular they will become. It’s also missing the point that the vast majority of women in Afghanistan are no better off now than in 2001, and many are worse off - being dead and all. 

    As for mapping out a “plausible and humane exit strategy”, sorry, no deal. There isn’t any. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t withdraw, given one won’t appear magically if we stay and kill more people. Sometimes mistakes made can’t be corrected. I’d draw the lesson that we should be more careful about avoiding them in the future.

    As for “stabilizing Pakistan”, it was the supporters of the war who claimed it served to do exactly that. It didn’t quite work out that way. Personally, I’d say withdrawing from Afghanistan alone is going to go a long way towards weakening popular support for the Pakistani Taliban, but obviously there’s no guarantee. If you want to be less tasteful, withdrawal would also likely allow many Taliban fighter to return to Afghanistan, further undermining the strength of those remaining in Pakistan.

    Posted by  on  10/16  at  12:56 PM
  8. By the way, I understand Horton’s problem with the word “responsible”. You would have to have been asleep for decades not to know what “responsible withdrawal” means more often than not: namely, no withdrawal. I’m happy to believe that’s not what Benjamin means by it, but it is entirely reasonable to take it that way.

    As for Gitlin, how anyone can still read that guy who’s long made a career out of denouncing those to his left, only in a slightly less shrill manner than D-Ho, is beyond me. Certainly the hilariously misnamed “Dissent” magazine is where he belongs (and yes I know they do publish good guys like Michael, too).

    Posted by  on  10/16  at  01:03 PM
  9. How about taking a page from the Italian government’s (rumored) playbook?  No, not the sexual shenanigans or the games with total immunity from criminal prosecution; we’ve already got those down.  I’m talking about the supposed “bribery” Italy has engaged in to keep violence low in their chunk of Afghanistan.  How about just buying off everyone who can be bought?  This was actually government policy towards Pakistan, except we just focused on millions of dollars every month for Musharraf and top military figures.  How about relatively obscene amounts of aid for everyone?  It won’t work particularly well on the fanatical core, but it would have a chance of peeling off those who are disaffected primarily due to material circumstances.*

    Then perhaps we could offer our own senior citizens a bribe in exchange for them shutting their pig-ignorant pieholes about evil socialist guvmint health care.**

    Meanwhile, I do wish there were more focus on the global state of women’s rights, as opposed to “G-20” or whatever.  But invading Saudi Arabia, the Sudan, or Japan would be unlikely to help this cause, just as it’s not exactly clear it’s been a net plus for Afghanistan.

    *Yes, this reinforces capitalism just when it should be on the defensive.  But looking at Goldman Sachs’ latest profits and the current electoral climate in Europe, it’s probably already too late for that anyway.

    **Yes, I’m generalizing somewhat from my own family.  But we’ve all seen “Keep government’s hands off my Medicare” recently, and it wasn’t in The Onion.

    Posted by  on  10/16  at  01:23 PM
  10. Reading down, prior to mds’ comments, i was already thinking the same lines.  One of the first things Bushco did was issue bounty warrants to the Afghan people, hoping that the people would be greedy enough (Taliban had, up to that point reduced the poppy trade), to turn al Qaeda types over to the US forces.  Sadly, they did this with little regard for whom they gave up; literally handing over hundreds of quite innocent folk (you think the Taliban and al Qaeda would turn themselves in??) for the money. 

    Al Qaeda grew from US$ and resources being distributed to various interests by the CIA, in pursuit of keeping the Soviet Union from asserting full control.  We propped up the Pakistan government, aided and abetted the Saudis and Iraqis (and Hawk missiles to Iran even) all to create some vague stability in the region (well we kept everybody in a state of war actually) at least for ourselves. 

    So distribution of large sums of cash has proven to be effective and could continue to be so.  Likewise developing some infrastructure without connecting it to the known governments themselves (Karzai doesn’t deserve any credit for being a US puppet) would prove beneficial in the long run.  Pakistan is in similar dire straits, with increasing poverty, crushing corruption, and a military-puppet regime oppressing the population (trying to more than succeeding).  We need to HELP there as well, rather than continue the authoritarian militarized responses (they must love those drone missiles, now more than ever).

    If i were Obama, and the Joint Chiefs, i might think about trading off the NATO commitment for Chinese military investment in the region.  Hell, so far everyone from the Mongols through the US has failed in containing any form of harmony and unity.  Give China a chance to add to the abject failure and suffer along with the rest of us.

    Posted by  on  10/16  at  08:20 PM
  11. Not necessarily an exit strategy but perhaps a vital change in tactics on the ground would include two things:  maximizing our installed solar capacity on the ground and reviving the memory of local non-violence based upon the Islamic principle of sadr, patience, and the Pashtunwali tradition of melmastia, hospitality.

    There are over 700,000 solar and hand crank am/fm/sw radios US and NATO forces have distributed throughout Afghanistan since before the invasion. The solar and hand cranks charge only the internal, hard-wired, dedicated radio battery sealed inside the case.  With a simple modification, a modification that could provide employment to Afghanis, the solar and hand cranks could charge AA and other standard size batteries.  This would allow villagers to have a reliable source of low voltage DC power day and night, by sunlight and muscle power.

    I’ve tried to promote this idea myself but have met only silence.  With my own and other Congresscriters, with Senatorial staffs and spouses, with NATO headquarters, with US headquarters in Bagram, with humanitarian organizations.  More information is available at http://www.dailykos.com/story/2009/7/1/738633/-Under-Utilized-Installed-Solar-Capacity-in-Afghanistan
    including a video (with cheesy James Bond music) that shows how the modification is made.

    Fool that I am, I see this as a possible solar swadeshi, hand-made electricity, local production as an expression of Gandhian economics.  It would fit perfectly with the kind of Islamic non-violence that motivated the world’s first non-violent army, the Khudai Khidmatgar or Servants of God, who grew to 100,000 primarily Pashtun troops from 1930 to 1947 when they were crushed by the emerging Pakistani state.  I believe that the Taliban studied and learned something about how to organize from this history and wonder why we don’t bother to study and learn ourselves too.  More at http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2008/6/27/23370/2751

    Posted by gmoke  on  10/16  at  09:07 PM
  12. Drain the sea of potential terrorists by bringing them over the US, where they can be seduced by network TV and Walmart! Afghans in every town and village! They will become Americanized and pre-Afghan-influx Americans will discover the delights of naan and Bollywood movies.

    Posted by  on  10/17  at  12:43 AM
  13. To go with gmoke’s suggestion of solar energy projects, we can also help deploy Fab Labs, that can manufacture infrastructure needs from recycled refuse and waste products.

    Posted by  on  10/17  at  07:47 AM
  14. Christian @ 7-8:  Our moral responsibility all along was not to bomb, invade, and occupy the place. We blew that one with enthusiastic liberal support

    Well, of course I would have gone about things quite differently, Christian.  But you truly would have left the Taliban and Tora Bora in place?  And you would call this a moral responsibility?  So be it.  But it’s not clear why my side is the only one that has to account for the consequences of its positions.  What follows from the “no military response” position?  All I’ve heard, all these years, is “police response instead.” But no one has explained to me how that would have been possible in Afghanistan—or how the “policing” would have taken place absent something that would have looked very much like an invasion.

    As for Gitlin, how anyone can still read that guy who’s long made a career out of denouncing those to his left, only in a slightly less shrill manner than D-Ho, is beyond me.

    Ah, ye olde “no enemies to Todd Gitlin’s left” response.  Good to see the sun rising in the east.  You knew I threw that one in there just for you, right?  But of course Gitlin’s career is much more interesting than that (after all, here he’s substantially agreeing with Medea Benjamin), and Dissent publishes lots of good guys.  But here we’re on safe, familiar ground, doing the usual drills.

    Ben @ 5-6:  what I (perhaps incorrectly) took to be Michael’s suggestion that the burden of proof lies with advocates of withdrawal from Afghanistan not with supporters of continuing (or expanding) our military presence there

    Yep, that was incorrect.  I’m merely thinking out loud on this here blog, and asking for some help.  One of the things one might have to say in order to answer Shinkai Karokhail, for example (as opposed to dismissing her by calling up a hypothetical equal-and-opposite Afghan woman), is to point out that in order for the US to provide the kind of security that would “justify” their presence, the COIN handbook suggests that we should be talking about roughly 660,000 troops.  That would almost certainly be politically unpossible, and it would almost certainly be perceived by many, many Afghans as a hostile occupation force.  And even with the best of intentions and COIN policies, it would, therefore, not stabilize the country.

    Massive bribery is beginning to sound preferable to me. 

    Vance @ 4:  Horton (who I didn’t realize was a jerk before this)

    Just to be clear, this is not the Scott Horton who writes for Harper’s. It’s the other Scott Horton.

    Posted by Michael  on  10/17  at  10:42 AM
  15. The “equal-and-opposite Afghan wom[en]” are, of course, not hypothetical at all. Maybe the women in groups like RAWA don’t count for Michael - they are communists after all.

    What is completely hypothetical is Michael’s imagined future resulting from not invading Afghanistan. I believe it is quite likely the Taliban could have been persuaded to hand over bin Laden (where is he, btw?). This course of action was not seriously attempted. War was, in other words, once again the first resort.

    But let’s assume this was not possible - it still doesn’t make a case for war. That’s because the assertion that Al Qaeda could only plan the 9/11 attacks, and get them done, because it enjoyed a “safe haven” in Afghanistan is, and always was, bollocks. I haven’t seen an explanation yet how such a “safe haven” was necessary for the planning or execution of these attacks - and in fact, many other large, well-coordinated terror attacks have been successfully pulled off by groups without any safe haven: groups whose base is in occupied Chechnya, for example, as well as Al Qaeda after the invasion of Afghanistan.

    A safe haven is useful for armed guerilla groups who actually fight battles. But for a lose terror network, any hotel room will do.

    In other words, the case for war reduced itself to two points: (a) the Taliban are bad people and (b) bin Laden must be punished. If you find that either suddenly became convincing on 9/12/2001, and applies uniquely to the Taliban, Afghanistan and bin Laden, I have a bridge to sell you.

    Michael seems to suggest that failing to bomb and invade would have led to… what? He doesn’t say. Presumably because he’s well aware there’s no reason to believe it would have led to anything.

    Posted by  on  10/17  at  11:51 AM
  16. As for Dissent, one of its editors has repeatedly excused and justified the large-scale murder of Palestinians and Lebanese people, using blatantly racist arguments (dressed up as dispassionate “just war” discourse). This would suffice to put me off wanting anything published there.

    Putting that aside, there’s lots of interesting stuff in the magazine, but as an institution it isn’t “dissenting” at all - unless you believe that mainstream liberalism in combination with regular attacks on the radical Left is a form of “dissent”.  Which is why I’m saying it’s been misnamed.

    Posted by  on  10/17  at  03:08 PM
  17. "U.S. rejects Taliban offer to try bin Laden
    October 7, 2001 Posted: 11:48 AM EDT (1548 GMT)
    WASHINGTON (CNN)—The White House on Sunday rejected an offer from Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban to try suspected terrorist leader Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan under Islamic law.”

    Posted by gmoke  on  10/17  at  05:26 PM
  18. you were in Chicago and didn’t call? What kind of a blogger are you?

    captcha “low” as in....

    oh yeah Afghanistan....bad place to fight a land war to be sure. I tend to agree with Christian’s analysis. I am not convinced that the use of military power can improve the lot of women anywhere. Which in my mind is the only plausible moral imperative to be engaged there. Oh yeah and the opium. Well if we can grow tobacco as a cash crop, why can’t they grow opium. I imagine the health consequences of using tobacco may be equal to or greater than than using opiates. Of course that is just wildly arrogant speculation on my part but I’m just in that kind of mood today....

    e.

    Posted by  on  10/18  at  11:00 AM
  19. Christian @ 15:  yes, terrorist networks can operate out of hotel rooms.  But that’s no reason to allow them to have a hand-in-glove relation to a rogue government in a failed state, or, for that matter, a cozy relationship with an intelligence service in a nuclear state.  As for these remarks:

    I believe it is quite likely the Taliban could have been persuaded to hand over bin Laden

    Michael seems to suggest that failing to bomb and invade would have led to… what? He doesn’t say. Presumably because he’s well aware there’s no reason to believe it would have led to anything.

    I believe neither of these things.  If that means that I trust the Taliban and its allies far less than you do, so be it.  I’m going to go with Richard Clarke here, because I think he knows what he’s talking about.

    And I do hope the Dodgers make this a series.

    Posted by Michael  on  10/19  at  11:52 AM
  20. The White House on Sunday rejected an offer from Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban to try suspected terrorist leader Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan under Islamic law.

    Sweden on Sunday rejected an offer from Governor Rick Perry to try suspected murderer Lars Lindskold in Texas under Biblical law.

    I’m not suggesting this is an objectively fair comparison, but I can tentatively see that it might have been perceived that way in the West.

    A more effective wedge might have been to offer ObL up to a third party--I dunno, Norway?--for trial.  The US still wouldn’t have bought it, naturally, but it might have split off a lot of European support.  Whereupon the Bush Administration could resume its original plan to invade Iraq instead, and we’d be looking at one quagmire today instead of two.  Unless President McCain had gone ahead and invaded Spain and North Korea.

    Posted by  on  10/19  at  12:33 PM
  21. wow mds, then we could have invaded Norway and headed off the Obama peace prize debacle.

    Posted by  on  10/19  at  12:41 PM
  22. But the problem with invading Norway is how to get out again.  I know, I know, the antiwar left will say, “on SUPERTRAINS.” But it’s not that simple.

    Srsly, thanks, mds, for reminding me that I meant to reply to gmoke @ 17 by saying “and rightly so.” There is much about the antiwar-in-Afghanistan position I understand, and much I agree with:  the genocidal fulminations of the right in the fall of 2001 were almost enough to convince me of the virtues of pacifism, and of course I agree that the events of 9/11 didn’t give the US the right to kill a single civilian anywhere on the globe.  I also agree that after the assault on Tora Bora and the removal of the Taliban, the proper followup response should have been international police action rather than war in Iraq.  But I do not, to this day, understand the idea that if only we’d agreed to the Taliban’s proposals, all would be well.

    Posted by  on  10/19  at  12:53 PM
  23. If that means that I trust the Taliban and its allies far less than you do, so be it.

    Well, I guess you did trust the US government, though. Too bad. Of course, it wasn’t necessary to trust the Taliban at all beyond trusting their concern for their own regime survival. Unless, that is, you believe that waiting a bit before bombing and invading - actions that were inevitably going to lead to civilian casualties - would have endowed them with the magical power to vanish into thin air or acquire the means to defend themselves against the US military.

    But that’s no reason to allow them to have a hand-in-glove relation to a rogue government in a failed state, or, for that matter, a cozy relationship with an intelligence service in a nuclear state.

    So you do agree, then, that Iran has every right to invade the US now? Or does your argument reduce to American exceptionalism, as so many pro-war arguments do? Oh I see, our government isn’t “rogue” and the state not “failed” so it’s all right then to support terrorism, especially against “evil” targets.

    And what about the Austro-Hungarian empire in 1914? Fully justified in invading Serbia? 

    In any event, the result of the policies you advocated (yeah I know you would have done everything much better, but you weren’t president, a fact we all were aware of at the time) are that the nuclear-armed state is now completely destabilized, the terrorists are still missing, we more than likely created many more people willing to kill us (and who can blame them), etc. pp. We also, btw, managed to reinforce the connection between women’s rights and imperial occupation first introduced in Afghanistan by the Red Army, ensuring long-term damage to the prospects of women in Afghanistan,. Heckuva job, really.

    I’m going to go with Richard Clarke here, because I think he knows what he’s talking about.

    He well may. That doesn’t mean that’s what he is telling us. I for one don’t trust the intelligence community any more than the Taliban, an attitude that is justified by experience.

    Sweden on Sunday rejected an offer from Governor Rick Perry to try suspected murderer Lars Lindskold in Texas under Biblical law.

    Oh bollocks, mds. Are you seriously suggesting the Bush administration was concerned with bin Laden’s civil rights?

    But I do not, to this day, understand the idea that if only we’d agreed to the Taliban’s proposals, all would be well.

    Straw man alert! Please point out who claims “all would be well”. The people who advocate bombing and invading, and hence, inevitably, the killing of civilians, are the ones who have to point out how it improves things enough to justify the killing. I haven’t seen that done beyond vague assertions about unspecified hypothetical consequences of non-invasion. Be concrete: what exactly do you believe a failure to invade would have led to? More terrorism (more than London, Madrid, Indonesia, Morocco...)? Nuclear terrorism?

    Posted by  on  10/19  at  01:37 PM
  24. And what about the Austro-Hungarian empire in 1914? Fully justified in invading Serbia?

    Yup.  It was seething with anarchists.

    Oh bollocks, mds. Are you seriously suggesting the Bush administration was concerned with bin Laden’s civil rights?

    Um, I’m willing to accept that I didn’t craft the analogy clearly enough, given that it was more at the level of “perceived likelihood that justice would be served” than “the United States is concerned about due process for accused terrorists.” But there was a little bit more exposition after that which could be helpful in figuring out what I was actually seriously suggesting.

    Meanwhile, some of the logic used to justify full-scale invasion and deposing the existing government could unfortunately have applied at least as well to Pakistan, aka “nuclear technology peddlers to the world, and safe haven for radical insurgents.” It really does seem sometimes that Afghanistan gets beaten up because it can be, even if the aggressors would rather be beating up another country.  It’s too bad the UN isn’t actually able to step up and deal more effectively with rogue states wherever they may be found.  Or get tougher with nations that curtail women’s rights.  Though I’d suspect some resistance from the nation that brought us Carhart, Ledbetter, the Hyde Amendment, and global gag orders.

    But that’s no reason to allow them to have a hand-in-glove relation to a rogue government in a failed state, or, for that matter, a cozy relationship with an intelligence service in a nuclear state.

    So you do agree, then, that Iran has every right to invade the US now?

    Yes, but only to root out the safe haven on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

    Posted by  on  10/19  at  02:59 PM
  25. Sorry mds, I couldn’t manage to imagine Rick Perry not prosecuting anyone wink Maybe you should have gone with Rhode Island instead…

    Posted by  on  10/19  at  04:26 PM
  26. So you do agree, then, that Iran has every right to invade the US now?

    This is some serious shark-jumping, Christian.  One step away from Bush=Hitler and the little Eichmanns who deserved their fate.

    Straw man alert! Please point out who claims “all would be well”.

    Ah, I stand corrected.  You are suggesting that if we had only listened to the Taliban, things would be better.  My mistake.

    Be concrete:  what exactly do you believe a failure to invade would have led to? More terrorism (more than London, Madrid, Indonesia, Morocco...)?

    Yes.  And, as I suggested above, I believe that a “police action” in Afghanistan would also have involved invasion.  Be concrete:  how precisely was the US to carry out this police action?  I still haven’t heard anything from anyone on this, nor have I heard any praise, from that wing of the left, for the legal, nonviolent police actions that resulted in the convictions of 25 Islamist terrorists in the Southern District of New York between 1993 and 2001—in open court, with the right to petition for writs of habeas corpus, without waterboarding or indefinite detention.  So I’m still wondering what kind of police action we’re talking about.

    Nuclear terrorism?

    Perhaps.  And yes, you’re right, diverting the war to Iraq left Afghanistan and Pakistan in the precarious state they’re in now.  Hence the question, “what is to be done now.”

    Posted by  on  10/19  at  05:36 PM
  27. I never called for “police action” in Afghanistan. So I don’t have to be concrete about it. However, there were any number of possible points at which the 9/11 attacks could have been prevented by good (or even just not-majorly-sloppy) police work, entirely outside of Afghanistan.

    nor have I heard any praise, from that wing of the left, for the legal, nonviolent police actions that resulted in the convictions of 25 Islamist terrorists in the Southern District of New York between 1993 and 2001—in open court, with the right to petition for writs of habeas corpus, without waterboarding or indefinite detention.

    I can see why you like Gitlin. This is also his usual m.o. Seriously, you’ve never seen any praise? What the hell is that supposed to prove? Is the US state a grade school kid who needs to be praised from time to time, or what?

    Ah, I stand corrected.  You are suggesting that if we had only listened to the Taliban, things would be better.  My mistake.

    You’re usually good at this kind of dismissive argument, but this is pathetic. As I explained “listening to the Taliban” (as opposed to calling their bluff, if it was one) was never required. Just like not invading Iraq didn’t require “listening to Saddam Hussein” and not killing all Americans doesn’t require “listening to G. W. Bush”. 

    This is some serious shark-jumping, Christian.  One step away from Bush=Hitler and the little Eichmanns who deserved their fate.<i>

    And I see that, yes, it is American exceptionalism your argument relies on. Iran is evil (one step from Hitler, according to you), so sponsoring terrorism against it is somehow different from sponsoring terrorism against the US, which is fundamentally a good country. I never claimed anyone deserved their fate. US-sponsored terrorists are, and have been, murdering people in Iran (to take but one example). Do you say those people “deserved their fate”? What do you suggest Iran be allowed to do about it, and why should it be different from what the US can do?

    <i>And yes, you’re right, diverting the war to Iraq left Afghanistan and Pakistan in the precarious state they’re in now.

    Nice try. The “diversion” had nothing to do with it. There is absolutely not the tiniest reason to believe that fully concentrating on killing more Afghans (or Pakistanis) would have made much of a difference - beyond killing more Afghans, that is. Who presumably don’t “deserve their fate” any more than the people in the WTC on 9/11.

    Posted by  on  10/19  at  06:27 PM
  28. Crappy html tagging - sorry.

    Posted by  on  10/19  at  06:28 PM
  29. Wow.

    I frequently disagree with a number of your political positions, Michael, but I’ve almost always found you to argue them in a dignified way (i.e. without resorting to cheap or debasing tricks).

    This, however, really is beneath you:

    This is some serious shark-jumping, Christian.  One step away from Bush=Hitler and the little Eichmanns who deserved their fate.

    I’d expect to see something like this on Glenn Beck’s show, not on your blog. As far as I can see, christian h has written nothing that merits your hyperbolic linking of his arguments with the claims of Ward Churchill.

    Posted by  on  10/19  at  10:14 PM
  30. Eric, thanks but I don’t really mind - heated debates can get, well, heated.

    Also, I have already retaliated by comparing Michael to Gitlin…

    Posted by  on  10/19  at  10:25 PM
  31. Christian,

    From where I stand, that comparison would really sting, but I know Michael holds Gitlin in more respect so I doubt he’ll be much bothered by your riposte.

    And yes, heated debates can get heated, but this seemed to emerge from nowhere rather than to arise as the result of a steady increase in temperature.

    But I’ll stay out of it and simply say that your point (which, as I understand it, was simply to remind us all to consider that many of the terms that we in the U.S. freely apply to other states [i.e. rogue government, nuclear state] and offer as justifications for our military interventions, police actions, etc., can justly and reasonably be applied to us as well--especially if one considers the totality of our history) deserves more than facile dismissal through bogus guilt-by-association tricks.

    Posted by  on  10/19  at  11:03 PM
  32. As far as I can see, christian h has written nothing that merits your hyperbolic linking of his arguments with the claims of Ward Churchill.

    OK, so you missed it.  Eric, look closely at this exchange @ 23:

    [Me:] But that’s no reason to allow them to have a hand-in-glove relation to a rogue government in a failed state, or, for that matter, a cozy relationship with an intelligence service in a nuclear state.

    [Christian:] So you do agree, then, that Iran has every right to invade the US now?

    And direct your “wow” @ 29 elsewhere, please.  Because this is a bullshit moral equivalence par excellence, in which the US is to al-Qaeda/Taliban (in fall 2001) as Iran is to the US (in fall 2009); on this logic, Iran (!) gets to invade the US to disrupt its “terrorist networks.” This is precisely one step away, as I said, from the worst of far-left self-parodies, and I’m genuinely surprised that Christian went there.  As for your comparison of me to Glenn Beck:  well played, sir!  And nicely followed by your appeal to civility @ 31, disavowing “bogus guilt-by-association tricks.” Just for the record, though, your comment makes you way worser than Hitler.

    Posted by Michael  on  10/20  at  12:19 AM
  33. And what’s depressing about this turn in the thread is how by-the-Chomsky-playbook it all is.  Somehow, if I don’t happen to agree that the US = Iran or Sudan or the Taliban, I’m engaging in some kind of “American exceptionalism” whereby I’m exempting the US from the moral accounting I apply to the rest of the world.  Sigh.  I’ve read dozens of variations on this move over the past few years, and I am a-weary of it.  It’s almost as bad as the “yeah, well then, wouldn’t the UK have been entitled to bomb Boston for harboring supporters of the IRA” arguments of yesteryear.

    I’m beginning to wonder what this thread would have been like if I’d argued for continued US troop presence in Afghanistan.

    Posted by Michael  on  10/20  at  12:27 AM
  34. This is exactly the sort of comment thread we used to see on Father Coughlin’s blog.

    And given my interview track record in the region, I could get behind the UK bombing Boston right now.  It probably wouldn’t be any worse than what Harvard has done to Allston.

    Anyway, when it comes to military intervention against the bad guys, it might be useful to contrast, say, the Entebbe operation* with the occupation of southern Lebanon.  Getting the nod to go in and (attempt to) scrape al Qaeda out with a melon scoop could be considered more defensible than deposing the government of Afghanistan and then declaring Miller Time.  Of course, you’d have to settle for snagging “a bunch” of bad guys, and demonstrating that the safe haven isn’t safe, since trying to get everyone would lead to perpetual occupation.  And the Taliban would still be in power, and perhaps even more firmly ensconced as a result.  Which would be lamentable, but no more so than Myanmar, which we haven’t invaded yet.

    Oh, I dunno.  My skepticism about military adventurism keeps wrestling with my urge to do something.  Guess I’m too much in the middle of the left-liberal continuum for comfort.

    *Yes, Entebbe was about hostage retrieval, which is more morally defensible.  I’m looking at the light footprint, whereby Israel didn’t invade Uganda and depose Idi Amin for providing safe harbor to terrorists.  Then again, Idi Amin used the operation as an excuse to massacre a bunch of Kenyans, so the law of unintended consequences still had its say.  Then again again, it probably hastened the collapse of his regime.  Then again again again, Uganda ended up with Obote back.  Sheesh, this is all very complicated.

    Posted by  on  10/20  at  10:01 AM
  35. Ah, “moral equivalence”. Can we get any more cold war liberal than that? I doubt it. We are back to the old dance: US violence counts for less than violence directed at the US. Nobody is allowed to defend themselves against it, because the US is GOOD. (Michael will claim he doesn’t argue this, but in practice, he does. Those who resist US occupations are unworthy: Islamists, fundamentalists and totalitarians of various stripes. Not ‘democrats’ like we are.)

    God, I hate this. That a reasonable person is actually making these kinds of arguments is, indeed, depressing.

    By the way, just thought I’d mention it, but by my logic, nobody gets to invade anyone. It’s Michael’s logic that allows for the mass killing of civilians to “disrupt terrorist networks”. It’s also Michael’s logic that implies Iranians murdered by US-sponsored terror “deserve their fate”. Their problem living in an oppressive country. 

    If you want to read something from 2001 by somebody who actually knows Afghanistan try this.

    Posted by  on  10/20  at  11:00 AM
  36. Michael,

    Glad you enjoyed the Beck comparison. I had originally thought to take it out for precisely the reasons you identify (i.e. its ironic function in the context of my appeal to civility), but ultimately decided against it because I enjoy irony way too much (even when it works against me).

    As for your point re: the alleged lacuna in my reading. Nope. I read what Christian wrote, and it is was precisely to this exchange that I was referring.

    I think what is going on here involves a question of how we are each reading. You read (into) Christian’s question an implied moral equivalence claim about the U.S. v Al-Qaeda/Taliban. You read this into Christian’s question (in my view) because the sentence strikes you as resembling instances of moral equivalence claims familiar to you from your previous reading elsewhere. As you make clear in your post, you’ve read “dozens of variations on this move” and are tired of them. I suggest (tentatively) that the combination of this familiarity and weariness actually leads you to read into Christian’s question a moral equivalence claim that is not there.

    Or at least, that is not there as I read it. On my reading, Christian’s question contains only a suggestion that there might be structural and/or factual resemblances between the two that might reasonably be used by one party as justification for a preemptive strike against the other (in this case the US). But there is considerable difference between arguing on the basis of “structural and/or factual resemblances” that could give rise to justifications for a particular action and arguing for moral equivalence, wouldn’t you agree?  Christian’s question may contain more than this (i.e. a moral equivalence claim) or it may not. You’d have to ask him. All I am saying is that it isn’t obvious that it does contain such a claim based on the words you have cited.

    So that’s why (from my standpoint) Christian’s question doesn’t lose its force simply by your denial of a moral equivalency between the US and Al-Qaeda/the Taliban. The whole moral equivalency thing seems to me like a red herring.

    Posted by  on  10/20  at  12:22 PM
  37. Oil pipeline.

    Oh, yes, and oil pipeline.

    And let us not forget: oil pipeline.

    Posted by Bob In Pacifica  on  10/21  at  09:45 AM
  38. Ah, “moral equivalence”. Can we get any more cold war liberal than that? I doubt it. We are back to the old dance: US violence counts for less than violence directed at the US. Nobody is allowed to defend themselves against it, because the US is GOOD.

    See “by-the-Chomskyan-playbook,” comment 33 above.  Dang, when I nail it, I nail it.

    God, I hate this. That a reasonable person is actually making these kinds of arguments is, indeed, depressing.

    Finally, something to agree on. Except that I’m not so sure about the reasonableness of someone who’d place as much trust in the Taliban as in Richard Clarke.  That seems really ... what is the word?  Pathetic.

    But I’m sorry that I thought you’d called for police action in Afghanistan.  I didn’t think you would actually go so far as to say

    I never called for “police action” in Afghanistan. So I don’t have to be concrete about it.

    OK, understood.  So you don’t have to specify anything about anything.  That has its advantages, to be sure.  Not least of which is the fact that you don’t have to explain anything about the US response to the 1993 WTC bombing or the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing or the 2000 USS Cole bombing.  The question, of course, is not whether the US is “a grade school kid who needs to be praised from time to time” (ye gods, Christian, you are really off your game).  The question you’re skirting is:  what should the US have done?  Clearly, “start an 8-year occupation and prop up an election-fixing bunch of warlords” is not the right answer.  But then there’s

    (a) doing nothing at all, as in the cases of the Khobar Towers and the USS Cole, which didn’t seem to work, and

    (b) engaging in international police work, as in the case of the 1993 WTC bombing and the 1998 bombings of the Kenyan and Tanzanian embassies.

    And I just haven’t seen anything from the Chomskyan left on this, not even a discussion of whether getting the nod to go in and (attempt to) scrape al Qaeda out with a melon scoop would be considered more defensible than deposing the government of Afghanistan and then declaring Miller Time.  Nothing.

    It’s Michael’s logic that allows for the mass killing of civilians to “disrupt terrorist networks”. It’s also Michael’s logic that implies Iranians murdered by US-sponsored terror “deserve their fate”. Their problem living in an oppressive country.

    You know, at this point I could say “it’s Christian’s logic that allows for the mass killing of civilians by terrorist networks,” but that would be playing rhetorical tit for tat, now, wouldn’t it.  And that would be wrong.

    Instead, I turn you over to Johann Hari, and will leave matters at that.

    Posted by Michael  on  10/21  at  10:26 AM
  39. For the record, I think the proper form of this world-historically stupid question is “what has the Taliban done to us lately.”

    I must be misreading this somehow because it sounds as though Michael thinks that 9/11 was carried out by the Taliban, which would be a silly thing to think.

    Posted by  on  10/21  at  12:06 PM
  40. You’re probably just misreading the little “what have you done for me lately” joke, ajay.  Ms. Benjamin had the proper response.

    Posted by  on  10/21  at  12:17 PM
  41. OK, understood.  So you don’t have to specify anything about anything.  That has its advantages, to be sure.

    Cut the crap. If I don’t support invading Afghanistan, I don’t have to be specific about how to do it. I am happy to be specific about how I believe terror attacks are best reduced (you won’t eliminate them completely, I’d say).

    1. Change US policy in the region. This is by far the most important issue, unless you believe the “they hate us for our freedoms” nonsense. Islamist terrorism, like all terrorism, is inspired by very concrete US policies. Invading and occupying more countries reinforces those policies and insofar, it is counter-productive.

    2. Take reasonable steps to secure vulnerable targets, and in particular those that can also be used as weapon - like airplanes, chemical plants, nuclear sites etc. Also, change US policies in the region.

    3. Take intelligence you receive seriously. And change US policies in the region. 

    4. Any terrorist operation inside the US (say) will have to happen… inside the US. Where the police can work without any invasions at all - it’s like magic! And…

    5. Stop supporting terrorists ourselves. They might turn on us. Just a thought.

    6. If a country “harbours terrorists”, put consistent pressure on them to change this. As a rule of thumb, there are no “suicidal” governments - and once a government becomes entrenched, the economic interests of its main supporters become more and more important over any ideological fervour that may have originally inspired it. This has been shown to work (take Libya). Invasions are known to not work (Afghanistan, Chechnya, any number of examples).

    7. Finally, accept that sometimes there is no good option. This is something America’s targets (sorry, moral equivalence again - I mean the
    targets of America’s sometimes rough affection, of course) have long had to learn.

    8. Change US policies in the Middle East.

    Finally, for a guy who has written a book about “the left”, it’s a bit surprising you don’t know that these are things that have long been suggested - for example, by Chomsky. You may not agree with the efficacy of them, but that’s a different issue.

    Posted by  on  10/21  at  12:25 PM
  42. By the way, Michael, maybe you could stop peddling the lie that I “trust the Taliban”. I simply don’t think that they are some mystical force of highly concentrated evil who act completely irrationally without regard for their own survival.

    Posted by  on  10/21  at  12:31 PM
  43. I simply don’t think that they are some mystical force of highly concentrated evil who act completely irrationally without regard for their own survival.

    On the other hand, they have mystical elements which lead them into evil and somewhat irrational acts, as well as a slightly-lowered survival instinct relative to the baseline (The Iranian leadership, which is largely rational, seemed to view the Taliban as kooky as well as heretical).  They’re just not particularly lonely in this.  And as Professor h. notes, a different selection of carrots and sticks can work with apparent kooks, as well.  Or should President Clinton have invaded North Korea rather than going with the Agreed Framework?  And that leadership deserves its own chapter in the DSM IV.

    Still, I’m not sure how tested the melon scoop has been in the field.  Almost everyone seems to jump straight to massive invasion or massive airstrikes.  I’m trying to leave some room for liberal interventionism, however constrained, since as I noted above I understand the impulse.

    Of course, even the melon scoop could turn in the hand that first took it up.  How would the US feel if foreign paratrooper squads made surgical strikes to seize Kissinger, Bush, and Cheney in order to drag them before the ICC?  I mean, I’d open a bottle of sparkling grape juice, but I suspect we’d hear a lot of talk about sovereignty all of a sudden.  Again, we need stronger supranational norms to allow a better framework for these sorts of things.  Though Larry Niven’s ARMs of the UN might be going a bit far.

    Posted by  on  10/21  at  01:00 PM
  44. I’m sorry, was someone trying to lecture me after opening by telling me to “cut the crap”?  That usually doesn’t work with me.  Oh, yes, right, the US should change its policies.  Quite true, that.  But here’s the problem.  Radical Islamists actually don’t like secular liberal democracies.  Were the US to act more like one for a change, there’s no guarantee that this would deter the kind of terrorists we’re talking about.  So yes, of course the US should change its policies.  But it’s foolishness to think that this will mollify hardcore Islamist radicals.

    As for the unhinged charge that I am “peddling lies”:  I did not say that you trusted the Taliban.  I merely referred to the fact that in response to my citation of Richard Clarke, you said

    I for one don’t trust the intelligence community any more than the Taliban, an attitude that is justified by experience.

    So between Clarke and the Taliban, it’s a wash.  According to you.

    It is now time for you to back away from the keyboard, Christian, take a deep breath, and get a grip.  Go outside.  I hear the weather is nice out there.

    Posted by  on  10/21  at  01:28 PM
  45. And mds, I do believe you’re right to suggest that Christian may be overestimating the rationality of the Taliban and its allies.

    Posted by  on  10/21  at  01:32 PM
  46. Wait, the Taliban?  I thought we were talking about the GOP.

    [LEAPS FOR BUNKER HATCH]

    [REMEMBERS THAT MONEY TO BUILD BUNKER RAN OUT]

    Anyway, since I obviously have no idea whose side I’m on, I could foresee a problem with “rationality” as a criterion, since that would be an easily-greased slope leading to the “unhinged” Shoah-denying Iranian regime, which provides material support to terrorists.  So I worry that this sort of argument wouldn’t be as likely to keep the baying neocons marginalized on Iran as we might wish.

    [LEAPS FOR BUNKER HATCH]

    Posted by  on  10/21  at  02:24 PM
  47. So much for those extra extra bonus points!

    But I think point 6 from comment 41 has Iran covered, at least as far as baying neocons are concerned.

    Posted by  on  10/21  at  02:29 PM
  48. Don’t worry mds, this is Michael’s blog, and he’s made it very clear he wants this fruitless discussion to end. So I’ll shut up about it for now.

    Posted by  on  10/21  at  02:31 PM
  49. Don’t worry mds, this is Michael’s blog, and he’s made it very clear he wants this fruitless discussion to end.

    Oh, it’s borne fruit, all right… bitter fruit.

    [CLOUDS READERS’ MINDS, THEN STROLLS TO BUNKER HATCH]

    Posted by  on  10/21  at  04:28 PM
  50. This is some serious shark-jumping, Christian.  One step away from Bush=Hitler and the little Eichmanns who deserved their fate.

    Really, Chomskieaque moral equivalencies.  No, that would be: How many actual indigenous, first nations, american (north and south) people died on 9/11, including all of those of various reservation-based issues such as malnutrition, diabetes, neglect, abuse, etc.?
    Now that would be a serious challenge to the discourse; but of course, we citizens of this nation can no longer really ask such questions because it wouldn’t further any positive notes whatsoever.  Yet somewhere, at the core, isn’t this what Ward was about?

    Posted by  on  10/22  at  11:17 PM
  51. John Trudell, October 22, 2009

    thats the annihilation

    the predators are erasing the memory
    of human being being human being
    with an imposed distorted perception

    human being surviving at the expense of being
    human forgetting the being part of human being
    creating believable make believe victim identities
    gender race class religious nationalistic paternalistic

    in a humanoid manufacturing refinement process
    within a consumption of the being part of human
    the feeling of being is distorted into human emotion
    the emotion of fear implanted to replicate as memory

    life lived in fear is a way of diminishing the being
    love lived in fear is a way of distorting the caring
    in an imprinting of humanoidal belief tendencies
    altering the memory of human being life and living
    this distortion of perception thats the annihilation

    (captcha) power, as in who has the power???

    Posted by  on  10/22  at  11:52 PM
  52. uno mas por favor....

    On opium and the future of Afghanistan, or why bribery may be the only sufficient long term option?

    Posted by  on  10/24  at  04:01 PM
  53. Yes, it’s a dead thread, but someday the Internet archaeologists will thank me.

    From Comment 9 above:

    How about just buying off everyone who can be bought?

    From the BBC yesterday:

    French President Nicolas Sarkozy has come under fire over a shower built at taxpayers’ expense but never used.

    Whoops, wrong link.  Here:

    The US military in Afghanistan is to be allowed to pay Taliban fighters who renounce violence against the government in Kabul.

    Ha-HA-ha-ha-haaaaah!  Take that, er… someone!

    Posted by  on  10/28  at  12:50 PM
  54. For internet archaeological purposes --

    Malalai Joya: “Today, people are being killed [including by our bombs]--many, many war crimes. The longer the foreign troops stay in Afghanistan doing what they are doing, the worse the eventual civil war will be for the Afghan people.”

    Further discussion here.

    capcha: <i>stop

    Posted by Nell  on  10/29  at  04:08 PM
  55. Nell:  thanks!

    Posted by Michael  on  11/01  at  12:54 PM

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