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  • Why Afghanistan is the wrong war

    How Dangerous Are the Taliban?

    Why Afghanistan Is the Wrong War


    JOHN MUELLER is Professor of Political Science at Ohio State University.

    President Barack Obama insists [1] that the U.S. mission in Afghanistan is about "making sure that al Qaeda cannot attack the U.S. homeland and U.S. interests and our allies" or "project violence against" American citizens. The reasoning is that if the Taliban win in Afghanistan, al Qaeda will once again be able to set up shop there to carry out its dirty work. As the president puts it [2], Afghanistan would "again be a base for terrorists who want to kill as many of our people as they possibly can." This argument is constantly repeated but rarely examined; given the costs and risks associated with the Obama administrationís plans for the region, it is time such statements be given the scrutiny they deserve.

    Multiple sources, including Lawrence Wright's book The Looming Tower, make clear that the Taliban was a reluctant host to al Qaeda in the 1990s and felt betrayed when the terrorist group repeatedly violated agreements to refrain from issuing inflammatory statements and fomenting violence abroad. Then the al Qaeda-sponsored 9/11 attacks -- which the Taliban had nothing to do with -- led to the toppling of the Talibanís regime. Given the Talibanís limited interest in issues outside the "AfPak" region, if they came to power again now, they would be highly unlikely to host provocative terrorist groups whose actions could lead to another outside intervention. And even if al Qaeda were able to relocate to Afghanistan after a Taliban victory there, it would still have to operate under the same siege situation it presently enjoys in what Obama calls its "safe haven" in Pakistan.

    The very notion that al Qaeda needs a secure geographic base to carry out its terrorist operations, moreover, is questionable. After all, the operational base for 9/11 was in Hamburg, Germany. Conspiracies involving small numbers of people require communication, money, and planning -- but not a major protected base camp.

    At present, al Qaeda consists [3] of a few hundred people running around in Pakistan, seeking to avoid detection and helping the Taliban when possible. It also has a disjointed network of fellow travelers around the globe who communicate over the Internet. Over the last decade, the group has almost completely discredited [4] itself in the Muslim world due to the fallout from the 9/11 attacks and subsequent counterproductive terrorism, much of it directed against Muslims. No convincing evidence has been offered publicly to show that al Qaeda Central has put together a single full operation anywhere in the world since 9/11. And, outside of war zones, the violence perpetrated by al Qaeda affiliates, wannabes, and lookalikes combined has resulted [5] in the deaths of some 200 to 300 people per year, and may be declining [6]. That is 200 to 300 too many, of course, but it scarcely suggests that "the safety of people around the world is at stake," as Obama dramatically puts it.

    In addition, al Qaeda has yet to establish a significant presence in the United States. In 2002, U.S. intelligence reports asserted that the number of trained al Qaeda operatives in the United States was between 2,000 and 5,000, and FBI Director Robert Mueller assured [7] a Senate committee that al Qaeda had "developed a support infrastructure" in the country and achieved both "the ability and the intent to inflict significant casualties in the U.S. with little warning." However, after years of well funded sleuthing, the FBI and other investigative agencies have been unable [8] to uncover a single true al Qaeda sleeper cell or operative within the country. Mueller's rallying cry has now been reduced [9] to a comparatively bland formulation: "We believe al Qaeda is still seeking to infiltrate operatives into the U.S. from overseas."

    Even that may not be true. Since 9/11, some two million foreigners have been admitted to the United States legally and many others, of course, have entered illegally. Even if border security has been so effective that 90 percent of al Qaedaís operatives have been turned away or deterred from entering the United States, some should have made it in -- and some of those, it seems reasonable to suggest, would have been picked up by law enforcement by now. The lack of attacks inside the United States combined with the inability of the FBI to find any potential attackers suggests that the terrorists are either not trying very hard or are far less clever and capable than usually depicted.

    Policymakers and the public at large should keep in mind the words [10] of Glenn Carle, a 23 year veteran of the CIA who served as deputy national intelligence officer for transnational threats: "We must see jihadists for the small, lethal, disjointed and miserable opponents that they are." Al Qaeda "has only a handful of individuals capable of planning, organizing and leading a terrorist operation," Carle notes, and "its capabilities are far inferior to its desires."

    President Obama has said that there is also a humanitarian element to the Afghanistan mission. A return of the Taliban, he points out, would condemn the Afghan people "to brutal governance, international isolation, a paralyzed economy, and the denial of basic human rights." This concern is legitimate -- the Afghan people appear to be quite strongly opposed to a return of the Taliban, and they are surely entitled to some peace after 30 years of almost continual warfare, much of it imposed on them from outside.

    The problem, as Obama is doubtlessly well aware, is that Americans are far less willing to sacrifice lives for missions that are essentially humanitarian than for those that seek to deal with a threat directed at the United States itself. People who embrace the idea of a humanitarian mission will continue to support Obama's policy in Afghanistan -- at least if they think it has a chance of success -- but many Americans (and Europeans) will increasingly start to question how many lives such a mission is worth.

    This questioning, in fact, is well under way. Because of its ties to 9/11, the war in Afghanistan has enjoyed considerably greater public support [11] than the war in Iraq did (or, for that matter, the wars in Korea or Vietnam). However, there has been a considerable dropoff in that support of late. If Obama's national security justification for his war in Afghanistan comes to seem as spurious as Bush's national security justification for his war in Iraq, he, like Bush, will increasingly have only the humanitarian argument to fall back on. And that is likely to be a weak reed.
    How Dangerous Are the Taliban? | Foreign Affairs

    What if we left Afghanistan overnight? Would it change anything at all?

  • #2
    Wow. I didn't expect to see history re-written so fast.
    In the realm of spirit, seek clarity; in the material world, seek utility.

    Leibniz

    Comment


    • #3
      Oscar Reply

      Mueller has a penchant for novel ideas and is best known for his book "Retreat from Doomsday: the Obsolescence of Major War." As an undergrad, we spent a grand total of 15 min on him, and only then for a good laugh. If we abandon Afghanistan and allow Pakistan to hold the line, do you suppose the resulting calamity would finally lead Mueller to reconsider his position?

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by WaltzingMatilda View Post
        If we abandon Afghanistan and allow Pakistan to hold the line, do you suppose the resulting calamity would finally lead Mueller to reconsider his position?
        Of course not. Proper academic hedging absolves him from that.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by WaltzingMatilda View Post
          If we abandon Afghanistan and allow Pakistan to hold the line, do you suppose the resulting calamity would finally lead Mueller to reconsider his position?
          Well before 9/11 Afghanistan was a mess and nobody really cared about. Somalia is a mess with fundamentalist militias in the fight too btw...

          The Taliban took control of Kabul in 1996 and no one barely noticed. It may arrange the Pakistanis that Afghanistan may be a weak country, since it considers it like its own backyard.

          But I quite agree with the author that its not because the US invaded Afghanistan that Al Qaeda could no longer strike, its because Intelligence agencies started to take the threats seriously.

          You don't foil a terrorist attack directed at Europe in the Afghan mountains but in the suburbs of Paris, in London or Hamburg.

          Kadahfi funded every possible terrorist organization in the world and we dealt with them, and finally he abandoned this policy without being obliged to invade Libya.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Oscar View Post
            Well before 9/11 Afghanistan was a mess and nobody really cared about.
            9/11 demonstrated the folly of ignoring Afghanistan.
            In the realm of spirit, seek clarity; in the material world, seek utility.

            Leibniz

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by Oscar View Post
              But I quite agree with the author that its not because the US invaded Afghanistan that Al Qaeda could no longer strike, its because Intelligence agencies started to take the threats seriously.
              Their training camps were destroyed, their lines of supply were disrupted and their leaders became the hunted rather than the hunters. It has directly impeded their ability to attack the west.
              In the realm of spirit, seek clarity; in the material world, seek utility.

              Leibniz

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by Oscar View Post
                You don't foil a terrorist attack directed at Europe in the Afghan mountains but in the suburbs of Paris, in London or Hamburg.
                Yes you do. He's now no longer capable of planning and mounting further attacks.
                In the realm of spirit, seek clarity; in the material world, seek utility.

                Leibniz

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Oscar View Post
                  Kadahfi funded every possible terrorist organization in the world and we dealt with them, and finally he abandoned this policy without being obliged to invade Libya.
                  Ghadafi folded because he was terrified of what happened to Hussein.
                  In the realm of spirit, seek clarity; in the material world, seek utility.

                  Leibniz

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Parihaka View Post
                    9/11 demonstrated the folly of ignoring Afghanistan.
                    9/11 demonstrated the folly of disengaging from the world like the US did after the collapse of the USSR. Different.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Parihaka View Post
                      Their training camps were destroyed, their lines of supply were disrupted and their leaders became the hunted rather than the hunters. It has directly impeded their ability to attack the west.
                      You don't "disrupt the supply lines" of a terrorist living in London. Ideological education and how to make a bomb can be done virtually everywhere, no need to go to Afghanistan anymore. ;)

                      Madrid, Bali and London happened after the invasion of Afghanistan.
                      Last edited by Oscar; 12 May 09,, 09:37.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Afghanistan is the right war with the wrong policy to fight it IMO.

                        For far too long the US has blindly trusted Pakistan to help in the war, given it truck loads of money without accountability.

                        For eight years, Pakistan has taken money from the US to fight the Taliban, and lent back hand support to the Taliban.

                        Unless the US stops getting swayed by the cosmetic action taken by Pakistan, the war is in Af-Pak is going to be a stalemate.
                        There is no way that the US can leave Af-Pak right now. It will be seen as a victory for the terrorists.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Parihaka View Post
                          Yes you do. He's now no longer capable of planning and mounting further attacks.
                          Of course it can but no longer from Afghanistan. Terrorists for the Madrid bombing planned their attack from Morocco. Should the US invade the Morocco safe haven?

                          And your link tells me the story of an AQ operative killed and by now, I'm quite certain of that, long replaced. Result is moot.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Parihaka View Post
                            Ghadafi folded because he was terrified of what happened to Hussein.
                            Kadhafi stopped funding terrorism after the collapse of the USSR....

                            Iraq was a war of choice. It had sh!t to do with AQ and produced no result on this front if it didn't make it worse.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              The war in Astan has long moved over from the hunt for OBL and his coterie to a fight against Taliban from taking over both Astan and Pakistan.

                              The primary aim now is to rid Pakistan of the Taliban and stop any scenario of the Taliban takeover of Pakistans nukes.

                              Terror attacks the world over will not stop as the Al Qaeda has become more of a movement and a kind of terrorist ideology more than a terrorist organization. Any terror outfit carrying out a terror attack in any part of the world claims is lineage to the AQ though it may never have been in any contact with the top leadership like OBL or Zawahiri or had its blessings or funds.

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