Friday, December 26, 2008

Fighting an Insurgency

I don't envy Obama in trying to figure out what's best for the Afghanistan campaign. (Among many other problems of course.) We've been dug in there for seven years. It's impossible to declare a clear victory. Fred Kaplan takes a look at some of the issues as it stands now in Slate magazine:

The biggest problem is that the country's fate ultimately lies outside its borders. As long as Pakistan's northwest territories remain a lawless free-for-all, with Taliban and al-Qaida fighters crossing the border at will, Afghanistan will never be stable. And as long as Pakistan faces a threat from India to the east, its leaders will never deploy enough troops to quash the insurgents in the northwest territories.

In short, we could do everything perfectly in Afghanistan, but it wouldn't matter unless the region-wide conflicts could be brought under some control.

Again, the good news is that all the relevant players—President-elect Obama, Adm. Mullen, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Gen. David Petraeus, and their top aides—understand this. But knowing the dimensions of a problem is only the first step to solving it. And each one of this problem's aspects—countering the insurgency in Afghanistan, stabilizing Pakistan, and calming tensions between Pakistan and India—is very difficult.


But three caveats are worth noting. First, as Dexter Filkins reports in his excellent book "The Forever War", Afghan militias are notorious opportunists; they switch sides at the slightest shift—in who's winning or who's paying more—or sometimes just at whim. They might be won over, but maybe not for long.


One possible way to short-circuit this cycle is to demonstrate a few quick and easy successes. For instance, rush a flood of troops to a town that is not under grave threat from the Taliban at the moment and provide it with lots of services—roads, electricity, food, whatever aid is needed. At the same time, rush another flood of troops to an area of marginal Taliban control and crush them. And do all this without killing any civilians.

Kaplan does a great job of describing that there are many intelligent solutions for fighting this battle, but the bottom line is that it might not be worth it. Read the last paragraph I cited from the article above. What a dog's breakfast. You spend most of your time doing a song and dance for the whimsical locals, hoping they will like you. You try not to kill civilians but you are fighting guerrillas who look like them.

Do I have a solution to offer? Pull out. You can try to make it look better, by slowly withdrawing or making flimsy "peace with honor" pledges, but that just prolongs the inevitable. Take a hit to the pride. As Marcellus Wallace says: "...that's pride fuckin' wit ya. Fuck pride! Pride only hurts, it never helps."

Sometimes you just have to admit that the situation is has run its course. Good old American know-how cannot prevail over every circumstance.

UPDATE: Putting lives on the line so every bigamist war lord can get their Viagra.


  1. The Viagra thing is hilarious - and actually quite brilliant from a CIA perspective.

    The operatives notice that the uncooperative 60-year-old Afghan warlord and clan leader has four young wives. They explain how Viagra works, give him four pills, and return four days later.

    The old fart comes running up beaming from ear-to-ear and calling them great men! After that he's their puppet as long as the Viagra pipeline stays open.

    Viva Viagra! (though I’m guessing the four young wives are less than thrilled to have the old fucker climbing back into their beds again!)

  2. Also - ewwwwwww! All Viagra commercials have a bit of an 'ew' factor to them, but the image of an old horny middle-eastern man climbing into bed smiling sleazily at his teenaged wife just makes my skin crawl.

    And on that note, depending on the age of the wives, the CIA could be accused of supporting statutory rape. Maybe conspiracy theorist and self-proclaimed CIA expert Tim Flemming would like to chime in on this issue.

  3. kaelsu, your thinking in North American terms. Women in those types of countries live a life worse then a dog. In fact you can`t treat a dog that way, because the dog would bite you. The women in these places just quietly suffer a terrible life. These people don`t even know what toilet paper is used for.

  4. Of course I'm thinking in North American terms - and in North American terms: 1) it was supposed to be funny and 2) I creeped myself out a bit by imagining the scenario too graphically - hence the "ew" factor.

    Eg, picture a Viagra commercial: but instead of the older yet still arguably semi-okay-looking well dressed couple sneaking out of a party, and giggling all the way back to their hotel room; instead it's a CIA guy holding out his hand with four blue pills to a filthy toothless old Afghan leader. Flash to subtitle "four days later", the old Afghan is exhuberant, bowing to the CIA operatives, shouting 'you are great man' in broken English, and gesturing enthusiastically from himself to the four young women, to depict what he means.

    It brings a new perspective to the "Me so horny, me love you long time" line from the Da Nang hooker in Full Metal Jacket.

  5. The CIA 'stat rape' remark was really just a shot at Tim Fleming who got fired up in the comments section after Sea Salt posted a quote from Allen Dulles a few weeks ago (Dec 9). I thought Mr. Fleming might want to share some more of his conspiracy theories with us.

  6. "Me so horny, me love you long time" - Here's the link to the YouTube (good soundtrack)

  7. Viagra jokes were old five years ago. I suggest you try some new material. And don`t give up your day job.

  8. I'm not going to have any commenters left if it turns into a flame war every time.