Afghanistan: what might have been.



BlaiseP is the pseudonym of a peripatetic software contractor whose worldly goods can fit into an elderly Isuzu Rodeo. Bitter and recondite, he favors the long view of life, the chords of Steely Dan and Umphrey's McGee, the writings of William Vollman and Thomas Pynchon, the taste of red ale and his own gumbo. Having escaped after serving seven years of a lifetime sentence to confinement in hotel rooms, he currently resides in the wilds of Eau Claire County and contemplates the intersection of mixed SRID geometries in PostGIS.

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91 Responses

  1. Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

    Very interesting, Blaise, good stuff.  You touch on Pakistan and Afghanistan’s ability to infect it [further].  We’re not just talking about a single hellhole of a country, but a regional/international security problem.

    democracy is a sort of polite anarchy 

    Nice touch, and quite so.  And polite anarchy of the Western type and the impolite anarchy of the Somalian type are the extremes of political systems; never shall the twain meet.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP says:

      The two dovetail quite nicely.   It takes about fifty years of joinery to accomplish the task but we mustn’t forget just how long it took this country to get its act together.    It will take no less than fifty years, but it could be done and must be done.

      America has an evil tendency to leave half-fought wars behind it in what I call the Bay of Pigs Syndrome.  In both Iraq and Afghanistan, we didn’t really solve anything with Gulf War 1 or supporting the mujahidin of Afghanistan.   We sorta-backed the Shiites of Iraq in their revolt against Saddam but that didn’t end up so good.   Our involvement with the Hmong in Laos and the Montagnards in Vietnam also ended up in bitter betrayal.

      Tell you where we did succeed, in Kurdistan with Operation Provide Comfort.   They’ve got a statue of George W Bush up in the town square in Kirkuk, streets named after him, they think he’s just great.   See, with the Kurds, we stuck around long enough to get them on their feet but didn’t interfere with their own leadership.

      Here’s where America really got stupid in Afghanistan:   we didn’t back Karzai when he really needed us most.   He wanted to tell the Taliban “Olly-olly oxen free, come out of the weeds and get serious about governing this country, I can’t do it without you.”    That wouldn’t do.   See, Clinton handled the Kurdish situation brilliantly and Bush43 continued the policies with the Kurds, improved them even, but for some reason, Bush or his advisors just wouldn’t see reason in Afghanistan.

      Hell, Bush43 started off so badly in Iraq, he alienated the Sunnis, but after a while, he saw reason and got the Sunnis into the political process.   Everyone hated Al Qaeda in Iraq, even the Sunnis.

      See, it’s just fundamentally un-American to treat an enemy this way.   Give him his beating, then lift him up to his feet, brush the dust off him and talk sense to him.   He’s going to stay, we’ve can’t govern his country, so we stick to Kabul and educate a cadre of our own literates.   Afghanistan is completely destitute intellectually, everyone with an education is dead.   That society has been razed to the ground, over and over.   They have to start from scratch.

      Fifty years, minimum, before Afghanistan is ready for democracy.Report

  2. Avatar MFarmer says:

    Good lord, what interventionist nonsense! Do you realize this would entail ripping children from their parents and controlling the population at the level of totalitarianism — and even then it wouldn’t work — they would frustrate our plans, as they damn well should. This is the kind of monstrous, tyrannical thinking that Bernard Shaw inflicted on intellectuals decades ago. It makes my skin crawl.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP says:

      Heh, heh.  Do you know how many orphans are in Afghanistan as a result of four decades of warfare?  More than a million Afghan children have died as a result of war and privation over the last 20 years.   That’s out of a population of about 20 million or so.   This is a nation where children are bought and sold, chained to looms to weave carpets.

      I think, somehow, our troops would do a whole lot better tending to a bunch of children than smashing in people’s doors.  Hearts and minds, you know.Report

    • Avatar Lyle says:

      Of course the US did this to native americans with the Indian Schools in the 19th and 20th centuries after we put them on reservations. Nothing new about doing it we have done it before.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        You’re joking, of course.   We’re already recruiting every dullard in Afghanistan and putting him in uniform and slapping a helmet on his head and giving him eight weeks of training and trying to pass him off as an Afghan Army soldier.

        Eight weeks.

        There are about a half million orphans in Afghanistan right now.  I contend we could feed and house and educate those kids and in ten years we’d have a meaningful improvement in Afghan society and it wouldn’t cost us a tenth of what this war has cost us, in American lives.


        • Avatar trizzlor says:

          Feed, house, and educate seems a bit more modest than the Ender’s Game you describe in the post. But if you’re proposing we treat Afghan orphans with no more coercion than we do our own, how is that different from the infrastructure projects we attempted there? My understanding was that new schools were destroyed before we could finish building them and the prospective students terrorized to set an example. Avoiding this would require raising your new Afghan society entirely on military bases, at which point you’ve pretty much severed any link to the community.Report

          • Avatar Murali says:

            How would these children raised and socialised entirely among americans and isolated increches be anything other than pure cultural americans wrapped up in a thin veneer of afghan coating. And given that Afghans are kind of white (down to being fair ffaced and blue eyed) these guys would fit better in the american midwest than in aafghan society proper.

            Edit: i.e. trizzlor is rightReport

            • Avatar BlaiseP says:

              That presumes their only socialization would be with Americans.  That wouldn’t be the case, if I had my druthers.   They’d be brought up with other refugees.   They’d speak their own languages.   But they would be acculturated to English and if I had my way, they’d form their own creole, as Urdu was formed.

              Urdu is another Army Language, spoken as a second language by the soldiery of the Mughal Empire.    The word Urdu forms from the same root as Horde.Report

  3. Avatar Paul Cutlip says:

    Considering that they’re currently killing people because we accidentally burned a few Korans I’d say the odds of them quietly letting us have their kids after we killed their parents (let’s face it that’s what you mean by ‘children to work with’) to put into western style schools being taught by American troops are somewhere between slim and none.  Assuming the Afghans, and rest of the arab world for that matter, tolerated that once they graduate what then? While they might not have been raised with ‘the idocy of tribal warfare’ the tribal warfare is still there and I can’t imagine that someone raised in a Western system of schools is going to have the credibility to do anything about it. At best they would become another faction.

    .. and by the way, even if you have excellent reasons for invading (which I agree we did)  . . . you’re still an invader.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP says:

      They’re not rioting because of the Korans.   They’re sick of us in in their country.   They weren’t always sick of us:  the Afghan refugees I worked with in Jalozai came back to Afghanistan when we overthrew the Taliban regime and they have not gone back.

      True story:  SOCOM put a unit into eastern Afghanistan, worked with the people for a few months, everything was going swimmingly.   81st Airborne comes in, fresh out of Iraq, kicks down doors, fishes up everything.   Not even SOCOM linguists could put that Humpty Dumpty together again.   I know these people, they’re Pashtuns, they never got their own country when the British and Pakistanis and Indians and everyone else put together the Durand Line and it went right through the middle of their territory, cut them in half.   They’re no different than the Kurds, these supposed Horrible Taliban and they used to be our friends and we frishing betrayed them, a people who put honor above everything, people who will sell the shoes off their feet to buy the bullet to shoot you with if you betray them.

      Well, we didn’t betray them, not at first.   The Pakistani Urdu betrayed them, just like they betrayed the Sindhi and the Baluchi within their own borders.   We could have turned the Pashtun into the best mountain fighters in the world if we had played our cards right.   They only protected Osama bin Ladin because their ethos, the Pashtunwali demanded it.   But at the end of the day, it was those wretched Urdu who sheltered OBL, not the Pashtuns.

      We’re just too stupid to stand upright and carry a plate of biscuits in front of us at the same time.   OBL was our enemy and they knew it.   But if we’d played by their rules, they’d be on our side now.    They want their kids to get an education, do you think they’re that alien that they don’t want better things for their children?

      There was no starting point.   We would have to invent one, they’d have to come in from the mountains to work out what they wanted, which is what Karzai was trying to do.   Look, I respect these people.   They’re not stupid.   We’re the stupid ones, over a decade on the ground and maybe one soldier in ten thousand can speak even passable Pashto.   What’s wrong with this picture?   The children are missing from it.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        I’d be more willing to believe that they weren’t rioting over Korans if they didn’t riot over cartoons or novels or rumors of Koran burnings in Florida.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP says:

          Ecch, here’s the deal.   Americans have been there far too long, traipsing around in their back yards.   We’ve behaved abominably by their lights.   We don’t respect their culture, we haven’t learned their language and haven’t taught ours to their kids, so there’s no communication going on.   Most of Afghanistan is functionally illiterate.

          In the absence of that vital communication, the Islamic blowhards can start a rumor and it spreads like wildfire.Report

          • Avatar DensityDuck says:

            So no matter what actually happened, it’s our fault for existing.

            When that gets said in other circumstances, we call the guy a bastard and lock him up for beating on his kids.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP says:

              According to the Islamists, that’s the case, to the letter. The Islamists get to force children (more precisely the boys) to attend their wretched madrassa system, to learn a language they will never speak.

              If we were serious about waging a war on Islamic terror, which we manifestly are not, we’d be able to counter the Islamic propaganda fomented in Afghanistan and far more of it in Pakistan. Because we have disrespected the local people and exhibited no concern for their fates, our enemies can point at us and say it’s our fault for even existing.

              And how are we going to counter those accusations? Well, maybe we could quit behaving like idiots. That’s a start. And we might do something about him chaining his kid to a loom. Little kids have teeny little fingers, they’re perfect for tying carpet knots.Report

  4. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    Thanks for taking the time to respond to me in a long-form essay, Blaise. You raise a lot of points worthy of thought.

    The United States had excellent reasons for deposing the Taliban regime. We have good reasons to be there now.

    I agree with the first sentence here. I’m no longer certain I agree with the second. Perhaps you could remind me of what those good reasons to remain are.

    I’ve agreed with you, 100%, about the purchase of the Afghan opium crop to make medicine and to deny narcoterrorists a source of funding. It was never going to happen, though, and certainly won’t now. In Afghanistan as everywhere else the government attempts to address the issue of drugs, interdiction and punishment are the policy watchwords and no alternative policies are ever given serious consideration nor is there any reason to believe that they ever will be. I’ll join you in wishing for what could have been had we addressed problems intelligently and prospectively; perhaps our leaders can be forgiven to some degree for prospectively lacking the wisdom that seems so apparent in retrospect.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP says:

      I despair of some of these arguments for Alternative Strategies for dealing with the Narco States.   Before we started enforcing drug laws, the USA had huge numbers of morphine and cocaine addicts, it was in everything.    Do we really think legalizing heroin and cocaine will make the problem of drug addiction go away?   We can argue about the methodology for combating drug addiction in this country, but let’s not kid ourselves about the consequences, more precisely, the attendant costs of heroin and cocaine to any society.

      At any rate, Afghanistan will become just another Narco State, far worse than Colombia ever was or Mexico currently is.   The heroin crop is booming, it’s been in operation ever since we arrived in Afghanistan and has become entrenched in the society.   It funds our enemy’s war effort, it corrupts what passes for government both in Afghanistan and Pakistan, it’s doubtless corrupted some elements of our military — don’t think for a minute that isn’t happening, heroin rules Afghanistan and ignoring it will cost us more than the war we’re fighting so ineffectively.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        So is that why you think we should stay, then — to interdict heroin?Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP says:

          Here’s the geopolitics of this situation, from my perspective.   If we leave Afghanistan alone, it will slide right back into the merry hell of the Taliban Wars.   Kabul will be shot to pieces, yet again and the refugees will go right back to Pakistan as they did before.   People think the Afghans fled from the USSR but even more fled from the Taliban Wars which followed the USSR’s retreat.

          That’s what’s going to happen again.   All we need to control is Kabul and the road to the Khyber Pass.   Get our troops to quit running these little Shoot Me Please parades through the canyons of the Hindu Kush, that’s not wise.  We need to get the Taliban to sort things out amongst themselves first, leave Karzai to that.   I’d reduce our troop count to a few thousand, put the rest on the plane back to the USA.   We shouldn’t have anyone in Afghanistan who doesn’t speak Dari or Pashto.   Period.   Everyone else is worse than useless.

          More importantly, we need to do something about Pakistan and I do mean fast.   This Drone War is just an electronic version of Whack-a-Mole.   There are plenty of levers we could pull inside Pakistan and more we could get China to pull.   Nobody seems to realize how sick the PRC has gotten over the fact that the Taliban are also training Uighur terrorists inside Pakistan and they go back into China and raise merry hell.Report

          • Avatar Lyle says:

            Actually your comment leads to my suggestion for Afghanistan, let the Chinese come in and take over. They have fewer scruples than the US and are going to be more likley to bash heads as needed. Since China is a direct neighbor it has an interest.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP says:

              The Chinese are really annoyed.    They built this port for Pakistan, Gwadar, down in Baluchistan.   They’ve poured hundreds of millions into that port and nobody much uses it, because Baluchistan is so unstable.   China would love to terminate some pipelines there, but nothing doing.

              Yeah, I wouldn’t mind seeing China taking Pakistan by the ear and twisting it a while.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        We could have easily hooked up Afghanistan with drug companies and made them the major distributor of raw opium to the Bayers and Pfizers and other major players out there. The drug companies would be happy to get the stuff, they’d pay about as well as the folks who’d want to turn it into heroin, the paychecks would be regular, and everybody could pretend that they were acting according to the will of Allah to make sure that these drugs ended up as Tylenol-3 rather than as black tar.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP says:

          The opium poppies in the fields of Afghanistan aren’t much use for making morphine.   It’s rather like cultivating marijuana, you need a better strain of plants.   But these improved strains grow really well in Afghanistan and if we bought the opium paste, we could turn it into medical grade morphine.

          It would be a first step to other crops, but most importantly it would cut the Taliban thugs out of the picture.   They take their cut, by force.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            While the Taliban may be able to stand up to the military, I doubt that they’d be able to stand up to McDonald’s. Get the corporations in there, get money flowing, the Taliban would be forced to choose between making themselves Joe Kennedy types or making themselves WCTU types.

            The fact that they’re willing to move horse tells me that, deep down? They ain’t WCTU types.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP says:

              I dunno.   Depends on what you mean:  there’s Kabul and everything else.   Kabul might as well be on another planet.   There’s not much worth selling from Afghanistan, the logistics are horrible.   Nobody’s educated.   The government is hyper-corrupt.

              Let’s dispense with this propaganda image of the Taliban.   They’re not one amorphous Blob o’ Evil.   Some fight against Pakistan.  Others fight against a combination of the Americans and the Afghan government and they all fight each other as opportunity allows.   It’s a blood sport.   They don’t mean anything by it, they’d shoot at anyone along those ridges.   Where do you think George Lucas got the idea of the Tusken Raiders from?   The Pashtun of course.    Some of them look like nothing so much as ancient gangs.   They perfected their skills by smuggling through those mountains since time immemorial.   They’ll fight for anyone if you pay them regularly, they’re not very idealistic:  their loyalty can’t be bought but it sure as hell can be rented.


      • Avatar DensityDuck says:

        “Do we really think legalizing heroin and cocaine will make the problem of drug addiction go away?”

        Well, as I’ve said elsewhere, we seem to be accepting (as a society) that the problem of alcohol addiction is something that we can handle by ex post facto activity; we offer treatment programs for addicts and refuse to accept alcoholism as an excuse for behavior. So, no, nobody expects that those addiction problems will go away, but they aren’t going to be new problems.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP says:

          Heh. Trying getting a bottle of booze in Afghanistan. Strict laws about that. I think the answer’s pretty simple: buy it all from the growers and cut the Taliban out of the heroin racket. They know heroin is haram, un-Islamic. We could make the entirely Islamic counter-argument that selling the opium to us would relieve human suffering and not create more of it.Report

  5. Avatar North says:

    Blaise, an interesting angle. As I recall Afghanistan did have an elderly King who commanded a certain respect and who was a symbol of the pre-chaos history of Afghanistan. Do you think the government could have made better progress had they attempted to reimpose the monarchy as some kind of benevolent despot place holder to establish security and lay the groundwork for eventual democracy*? Or do you think that wouldn’t have had any impact either way?

    *A note, I am well aware that this could never have flown with the American domestic audience.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP says:

      That’s hard to say.  Afghanistan needed Ahmed Shah Massoud more than the old Padishah.  Karzai isn’t a patch on Massoud’s britches.   Massoud could have unified Afghanistan.   Osama bin Ladin had him murdered as a parting favor to the Taliban:  Massoud Shir Panjshir was holed up in the north, running a remarkably progressive state within a state, much like the Kurds were doing in Iraq.

      Trouble was, Massoud wasn’t a big player in the Pashtun ecosystem.   Massoud was a modernizer, like the old Padishah.   That sort of strategy only plays well in Kabul, but that’s what Kabul needs.   Outside Kabul, as I’ve said, it’s a completely different country.  Several countries in fact.   Tajik, Hazara, Pashtun clans, it’s not far removed from the Bronze Age out there.

      The Barakzai Padishah got in trouble because he tolerated too much opposition.   The intelligentsia was thinking about the Paradise of a Communist State, very much in vogue during those times.   Zahir Shah didn’t really do much governing, the country slipped from his grasp.   Like the Shah of Iran, he lost touch with the people and the machinations of the Kabul Crowd went unnoticed.

      The Barakzai had governed Afghanistan for far too long.   They lost credibility (and a lot of territory)  over the long decades of the Great Game.  They should have instituted some sort of cantonal system like Switzerland, strong local governments, a nominal federal system centered on Kabul and maybe a few of the larger towns, as a logical response to the outside world’s trampling all over their ground.   Because they didn’t, they became pawns in the larger game, a game they couldn’t win.

      The only guy who ever governed Afghanistan effectively was Babur Padishah and he had plenty of trouble there, too.   One big difference, he had friends outside Kabul.   The Barakzai did not.Report

  6. Avatar MFarmer says:

    If we’re going to do it, let’s do it right — let’s take complete control of the country and send everyone to re-education camps. If we need to be there 50 years, we have plenty of time to fix their thinking. We can train the young ones to mine the minerals, and then we can build like a replica of a midwestern state with manufacturing galore. The ones who can’t be reeducated we can place in a reservation and let them have gambling casinos.Report

  7. Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

    This goes pretty well with Jeremi Suri’s argument that nation-building is a necessary part of any occupation, and if you screw that up, well…you’re in a lot of trouble.

    But let’s not kid ourselves here, there was not an iota of possiblity the US could have done Afghanistan differently. The US public hates the words “nation building”, the bureaucracy hates doing it, whether it’s state or defense. State thinks it takes too much resources and sucks away the oxygen in the room, DoD hates it because it’s not really what it’s good at. and takes away money from sexy new jets and missiles.

    If the US can’t commit to nation building, then the best thing it can do is get out and let someone else handle it. Iran, China, Russia through its central Asian proxies, Pakistan, India, they all have interests there. Let THEM get shot at and blown up for a while and waste billions of dollars pursuing cheap, but ineffective and long-run expensive policies.

    The US lost Afghanistan the moment it chose to go with a low footprint counter force strategy. It cemented that loss through Iraq, then made it irrevocable with eight years of neglect. Obama’s strategy seems to basically have been to clean up what could be cleaned up, then get out. That seems, to me, to be prudent.

    Whether it’s moral, is another question entirely.Report

  8. Avatar BradP says:

    This just sounds horrible.  You can’t just step in and “fix” the people, Rudyard.

    This sounds like a cargo cult of liberal democracy.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:


      I disagree.  The concept of the cargo cult is going through the forms despite lacking any substance.  That’s effectively what we set up in Iraq.  “Look, an election, they’re democratic now!” Except they’re not.

      What Blaise is proposing–and I’m not sure whether I agree or not–is to build the substance that underlies democracy, an educated workforce and white (as opposed to black) markets.  Whether it works or not, I think it’s fundamentally different than cargo cult democracy.Report

      • Avatar scott says:

        Setting aside the valid concern about whether we have the right to do any of this, I’d just question whether we actually have the competence to enact vast, culture-changing reforms in a country whose language and society we don’t understand.  It’s an old stand-by how little Americans understand about other countries, and I’m not sure why we think that we’re suddenly capable of understanding and changing a remote and isolated country like Afghanistan.  And it is more than a little creepy to see serious attention paid to the idea of Soviet-style proposals for forced re-education of millions of children by our troops in another country.Report

      • Avatar BradP says:

        What Blaise is proposing–and I’m not sure whether I agree or not–is to build the substance that underlies democracy, an educated workforce and white (as opposed to black) markets.

        I understand that.  I just don’t buy into the idea that the substance behind democracy is a professional class.  Or, at least if liberal democracy is a byproduct of having a professional class, I don’t buy a professional class and white market as being its own basis.

        The basic assumption of BlaiseP post here seems to be this:  Somewhere along the way, for some reason the Afghani people lost their way, and we should step in and give them the proper nudge.  I get the sentiment, and to an extent I agree that liberal democracy has some universal appeal and benefit, especially over what government has existed in Afghanistan.  But it seems like some extreme arrogance and hubris to think that we can understand the factors that have lead the Afghani to be organized the way they are politically, socially and economically, and even greater arrogance to presume that we know how they should have responded to those factors.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:

          I just don’t buy into the idea that the substance behind democracy is a professional class. 

          It’s debatable, certainly. And it’s possible that it’s a necessary condition, but neither a sufficient condition nor one that inevitably leads to democracy.  But I think England, the U.S., Taiwan, and South Korea are all case studies supporting the value of the idea.Report

      • Avatar MFarmer says:

        “What Blaise is proposing–and I’m not sure whether I agree or not–is to build the substance that underlies democracy, an educated workforce and white (as opposed to black) markets.”

        Not sure, heh? Good God, I give up.Report

  9. Avatar Murali says:

    Question: Why do we want to build a democracy anyway? i.e. if the justificationfor  democracy or any other kind of political system is dependant entirely on how well it delivers justice and that success of democracy indelivering those goods is dependent on the locacl situation, then shouldnt we just be trying to achieve a sovereign and stable nation rather than any kind of democracy?

    i.e. if you told me that I had a disease X and that there was a cure for that disease, but that if I wasnt very healthy, the cure would kill me (at worst) or would not take (at best), I would tell you to take that cure and shove it where the sun doesnt shine. Wouldnt you do the same?Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP says:

      I’m not proposing to build a democracy.   That would be insane.  Democracies cannot be imported, they must arise from the societies they will govern and that only with the will of the people.   I’ve already stipulated to the fact it would take fifty years at least, probably a century before Afghanistan could form up anything resembling a viable republic such as we see in the West.Report

      • Avatar Murali says:

        I thought you were trying to se the foundations of a culture from which democracy would arise. And these foundations would require a particular kind of socialisation which is why you would need those creches.

        But if you weren’t ultimately aiming for democracy, wouldnt there be a better course of action?Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP says:

          Heh.   I don’t care what arises as long as it’s representative of what the people themselves want.   Afghanistan is a gigantic null at present.   Nobody now alive in Afghanistan has ever seen a period of peace.Report

  10. Avatar Kolohe says:

    As usual, Mr. Pascal is interesting, thought-provoking, and wrong 🙂Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP says:

      Yeah.   People get as far as that business about educating children and they just start screaming and shit flinging like so many vervet monkeys when the leopard comes around.

      It’s really pathetic, you know.   America is willing to bomb these people from the air, nothing more than a few hot pixels in a video buffer, but it gets squeamish about the idea of taking in orphans and educating them.Report

      • Avatar BradP says:

        That’s some nonsense there.

        First, I don’t think the folks on here who think you are wrong are more tolerant of democracy through bombs.

        Secondly, it is ridiculous for you to downplay the moral questions you are raising concerning education.  Do you not think that re-education campaigns can be as insidious as bombing campaigns?  Do you think the occupied peoples would accept a plan to give the next generation a western education?  Do you think the orphans of Afghans killed by US bombs would be in any way receptive to a western education?

        You basically proposed a plan that amounts to “bomb the parents, train the orphans”, so you really should have expected some general squeamishness.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP says:

          I’ll tell you what’s ridiculous, is wading around in the shit of the Afghan society and trying to call it Shinola.   Morality my ass, that society chains children to looms and sells children as sex slaves.

          I don’t have to Think.   I know.   I’ve seen.   I know what refugees want and expect.  Security, freedom from roving bands of bandits and rapists.   Clean water.  One in four children dies before the age of five in those parts.

          I’ve made it clear what I want.   I want to rebuild Afghan society from the ground up around the children, not the warlords.   Beats your plan hollow.   How dare you say I want to bomb the parents.   That would be all these morons who have never actually met the Taliban.   Seeing as I have met quite a few of them and find them singularly important to the equation of peace, over and against our current leadership, which views them as nothing more than moving targets in an IR scope, I think my plan’s just a little more nuanced and humane.Report

          • Avatar BradP says:

            I get the motivation.

            I don’t get how molding a society by occupying the country and educating a generation of children to a foreign standard is any more acceptable than bombing them.

            And I just want to point out that you said, “Here’s what we should have done: start with children. Small boys and girls, orphans and the destitute. There are plenty of children to work with after a war.”

            That’s either an incredibly crass aside or a “lost generation” as a result of war is a component of your scheme.



            • Avatar James Hanley says:

              I don’t get how molding a society by occupying the country and educating a generation of children to a foreign standard is any more acceptable than bombing them.

              I find this comment astounding.  I’m curious as to whether I even need to elaborate on why.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP says:

              Okay, let’s take your moral outrage at face value, try to make some sense of it.   In any normal society, picking up orphans and educating them would be a violation of cultural norms.

              Thing is, there’s no norm in Afghanistan.   I can’t quite describe it to you, I guess you’d have to see it for yourself.  There’s nothing there to save.  I’m not proposing running some Indian School, deprogramming these children from their own society and language.  Afghanistan is a completely broken society.   Nobody alive has ever known a time without war.   An entire country so numbed to privation and murder — let’s put it baldly, I’d be for any scheme which might revive an Afghan culture worthy of the name.   But that culture would have to be resurrected from the dead.   It does not exist at present time.

              Here’s what’s crass:  looking at Afghan society and saying that’s just the way things ought to be.

              A ragged urchin, aimless and alone,
              Loitered about that vacancy; a bird
              Flew up to safety from his well-aimed stone:
              That girls are raped, that two boys knife a third,
              Were axioms to him, who’d never heard
              Of any world where promises were kept,
              Or one could weep because another wept.

              We have created this mess.   We can fix it.   We ought to fix it.   No child should be chained to a loom.   No child should be prostituted.   No child should be made to harvest opium.    These are the norms in Afghanistan.    Gin up whatever pejoratives you choose, children deserve better and you know it.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP says:

              A YouTube vid I made some while back about the children of AfghanistanReport

        • Avatar BlaiseP says:

          And what’s more, I’ll thank you to not put words in my mouth.   Quote marks around things I didn’t say and never implied is so fundamentally dishonest I hardly know where to start.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        Here’s a vision:  a military full of atheist lesbians on the pill legally adopting the orphans they create when earning their Combat Action Badges while collecting the married housing allowance.


      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        Fun Fact 1:  The British still use Gurkas and use them in Afghanistan

        Fun Fact 2:  Depending on whose account you read, today is the anniversary of the final closeout of the Phoenix Program

        But those are just trivia.

        The reason why you are wrong is that you underestimate the number of children currently in Afghanistan. The median age is a little over 17 – half the country is ‘children’. The average woman has over 5 kids. And that’s, of course, putting aside the notion that the United States government could create a system ex nihilo of educating the poor and dispossessed – if they could, they should try it in West Baltimore.

        The fall of the Taliban did introduce a cadre of educated people – the expats that had been living in Europe, America, and elsewhere returned. The problem was that for every capable and honest person, you had one that was honest but not capable, and another that was capable but not honest. And all were slightly tinged by being ‘foreign’ – or at least not being in the thick of it when the going was tough, but now collecting the spoils.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP says:

          Expats?   They’re not returning.   Where on earth did you get that idea?   A few returned.   Most have left.

          The only refugees who returned did so within a few months of the American invasion. They returned from Iran and mostly from Pakistan.Report

  11. Avatar Steve S. says:

    “Burt Likko says we have no legitimate claim to Afghanistan,”

    Or North America, now that you mention it.  Where did this notion of ‘legitimacy” come from, anyway?Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP says:

      Ah Jayzus not this tendentious line o’ bollocks wherein we shall re-flagellate America’s backside for its every sin and shame like so many overzealous and masochistic friars.

      Perhaps we should just crawl up our own nether orifices until at last we wink out of existence like those extra dimensions in String Theory.Report

  12. Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

    Failed nation building?  Double down.

    The problem with the hypothesis is that it’s not falsifiable.  We can always double down, at least until there’s nothing left of us, either.

    Some of the ideas here are very smart, and we should have tried them, like shifting agriculture to commercial opium.  Others, like taking the children and educating them for our own purposes, really creep me out.  Even if they don’t  have a functioning society.  Not much further needs to be said to elaborate that objection, which I think still stands.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP says:

      I should have known better than to put that forward.   Everyone’s culture is so much better than ours, I know.   We have nothing to offer those children.Report

      • Avatar BradP says:

        This is evasive.

        It is not about the relative merits of cultures.  You are proposing taking a custodial role over a huge chunk of their population and using them as a tool to shape a society.  You are subjecting children (the orphans of a war the US started) as means to the ends of US foreign policy.

        If things were to go well, and the US maintained your pure intentions, then maybe the plan works out as you predict and in a few generations we have home brewed ourselves a nation.

        If we were to stray from our noble goals and start looking at the situation in a more self-interested manner, as is our wont, we become Invasion of the Body Snatchers monsters.

        I’m not saying you are evil, and I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad plan (its certainly better than what has been tried), but you have to realize that when you have a plan that calls for using people, you are always going to creep a bunch of people out.  Like it or not, while you focus on the consequences, some people are going to focus on the morality of using people as a cultural virus, so to speak.


        • Avatar BlaiseP says:

          I am indeed talking about a custodial role and see no harm in it. I see them as a tool to extirpate a culture which countenances the prostitution of children and chaining them to looms. If we are to indulge in cheap talk about Body Snatchers, that’s going on right now.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP says:

      You know what really creeps me out?    That the USA will pay for a country to be destroyed in the 1970s and 80s, fund a collection of Islamic maniacs to blow up roads and schools the Russians were building, then leave them to further destroy Kabul in their own internecine wars, terrorize that country for two decades, murder all their political opposition, allow them to build up a terrorist infrastructure which would knock down the WTC and the Pentagon.

      Then we knock down their doors, rootle around in their houses, send tens of thousands of soldiers to kill their people and piss on their corpses, not a one of our troops speaking the local languages or respecting the local culture, all to revenge the deaths of 3000-odd Americans murdered by a collection of Saudis, not one Afghan in the bunch….

      And lie about the whole thing.

      But the only part of this which creeps anyone else out is taking in orphans and teaching them English, that’s really awful.  Creepy, eh?   Not much further elaboration is needed?   None has been furnished.

      Well, let’s just back out of Afghanistan and let the darkness fall on them again.   We’ve done it before.   The results of that were 9/11 but hey, Americans don’t learn jack shit from history, not even when it repeats itself every few decades.    We don’t have a responsibility to those Afghans, nossir.   This won’t repeat itself.   Oh no.Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

        I don’t dispute that we have done immense harm to Afghanistan for many years.  All I am saying is that the track record is lousy for the type of intervention you propose.

        When it comes to foreign governments doing cultural surgery on a defeated enemy, I can’t think of a single successful example.  I can think of all kinds of brutality, all kinds of failed experiments, and that’s about it.

        This isn’t libertarian dogma, either.  This is just foreign policy realism.  The fact that we’ve shit the bed doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to piss in it, too.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP says:

          Try Japan and Germany on for size. Worked there.Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

            In both cases, they already had a successful industrial base, a middle class, and indigenous civic institutions. By your own assessment, which I share, Afghanistan has none of these.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP says:

              Nonsense. Macarthur completely changed the system of land deeds in Japan, abolished State Shinto and many things more.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                Hate ta do it Blaise ol’ buddy but I have to agree with Jason here. Japan was certainly a foreign and very different culture with a very different legal tradition but they were also posessed of a population which, if not exactly first world in their mind set, was damn near first world. They had the habits of nationalism ingrained and had a general sense of cultural unity. They were not a sprawling mass of pre-industrial tribes that hated each other almost as much as they hated their occupiers.Report

              • Avatar greginak says:

                The other thing Germany and Japan shared after ww2 was a close powerful neighbour they hated and feared that we were a saviour from. Both countries also had some affinity for and connections to the US.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                You’re joking of course. The Japanese went straight from the age of Feudalism into modern times. They engaged in one of the most ferocious and genocidal wave of invasions and occupations, along with their German buddies, equally convinced of their racial superiority. Don’t let’s put on airs about what this First World business does to humankind: Germany, the land of Freud and Einstein, Jung and Heine degenerated into a pack of wolves overnight. The veneer of civilization is very thin and entirely artificial.

                When MacArthur was through with them, they had no military to speak of, the feudal lords were run off, the farmers owned their lands, he’d abolished their state religion entirely, reducing Shinto to a shadow of its former suzerainty over the people, the Mikado had been declared not-a-god.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                I am perpetually bemused by folks who will heap (entirely deserved) encomiums on a story about child abuse hereabouts but let someone else point to the need to raise up children in an environment where they will be fed and clothed and housed and educated, free from the systematic abuses afflicting a culture so broken its people have never known a moment’s peace, in hopes they will grow up, could have grown up, to build a meaningful society where they could break the cycle of centuries of violence ….

                Lo then do these well-meaning souls rise to their feet to condemn such an approach. You see, whatever the Afghan people do is entirely justified by their cultural norms, we mustn’t interfere in anything of that sort. Someone writes a tremendous account about some maniac putting a gun to his head as a child…. every single child in Afghanistan has PTSD and so do his parents and so do his grandparents. They’ve seen people murdered, everyone there has, times without number.

                Yet somehow, we have no right to change things, even when we’re the ones who created and funded this madness. It’s creepy. Different legal traditions. Legal traditions my ass, this is the nadir of the Hobbesian state, there is no law. The government is asymptotically corrupt. It’s become a narcostate and well, that’s just what they do. We have no right to judge them or how they treat their women and children.

                In short, for all this cheap talk about the rights of man, it’s clear some people around here aren’t quite so sure of their merits when the rubber meets the road.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                BlaiseP, I’m not trying to argue for the morality of the people so much as a much more limited assertion. The Japanese (and the Germans) had already demonstrated the ability to work in large social groups (not merely family units or tribes but towns, cities and entire counties), to participate in organized industrial economic activities and generally get along with themselves. Heck, their ability to behave this way was a large part of what made them so bloody dangerous in the first place. The people of Afghanistan, such as they are (instead of say the people of Pashtun, Tajuk etc), are by your own description not remotely close to that point. They are tribal, have little to no sense of national identity and no past tradition of operating a large orderly functional society.

                My own humble impression is that we’ve done little good by them but they’ve also done little good by themselves. Their country was fabricated at least partially by colonial British meddling. It was then toppled over in the interminable struggles between the ancient regimes and new ideas invading he region. They were then literally invaded by Soviets and then when the Soviets left they were at each other’s throats.

                Personally I feel that the question is incumbent upon us; what do we owe the people of Afghanistan. People can make the “you broke it you buy it” argument but no one can possibly suggest there was much of anything around to break when we invaded. If the country is a dirt poor, illiterate tribal pseudo-state when we leave, well, it was a dirt poor, illiterate tribal pseudo-state when we arrived.

                Do we have a responsibility to help them on humanitarian grounds? I suppose so, but if we’re being humanitarian surely there are many impoverished societies where we could lavish our aid with a better return on the effort. We have plenty of poor and needy in our own country that could probably do with some of those resources and speak a much more similar language than the Afghans do (and are at least marginally less likely to take pot shots at us when we deliver such aid).

                I do think your suggestions for reforming Afghanistan are plausible, the point is that they’re extremely time consuming, paternal and expensive and the question remains; do we owe them this? They played host to a charismatic religious personality who engineered some historic terrorist attacks on our soil. Do we have an obligation to lift them out of their antediluvian ways in return? I just don’t think we do.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Sigh. Look, geopolitically, we know what Afghanistan means to everyone who’s gotten into that landscape. The ones who win there coopt the local people to their side, like Babur and Alexander. The ones who lose, don’t. The Great Game was played on this landscape. I’ve stood on a hillside on the way to Mazar-e-Sharif and seen the detritus of five wars in the same spot.

                Afghanistan has become Pakistan’s junk-filled back yard. We’re tolerating it becoming yet another playground for India’s machinations. India’s got more “embassies” in Afghanistan than anyone else, including the Americans. It’s riddled with Indian spies.

                Shit, you know what, I really just need to write another diary.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                Please do Blaise, I’m not disagreeing with your prescriptions so much as questioning whether the project of bringing the region into this century is an endevor that is A) in our interest or B) our obligation to undertake.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Mr. North, very good pt about Afghanistan never having functioned as a nation, unlike Germany & Japan. Even Just War Theory says there must be some likelihood of success. If we do have an ethical obligation to leave the Afghans at least no worse than we found them, it’s hard to say that we’d be doing that even if we left tomorrow @ noon.

                And if and when Iraq turns out OK and Afghanistan doesn’t, it’ll confound a whole lot of theories and moralisms.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                I’d say anyone who’s counting chickens in Iraq before they’ve hatched is playing a risky game Tom.Report

            • Avatar Chris says:

              Hey, it only took a few decades in the Phillippines.Report