Forever wars and frozen conflicts

by John Quiggin on August 16, 2021

The chaotic scenes now playing out as the Taliban take over Afghanistan have unsurprisingly drawn comparisons to the collapse of the South Vietnamese government in 1975. But there have been many similar instances, though most were a little slower: the end of Indonesian rule in East Timor (now Timor L’Este), the French withdrawal from Algeria, and the earlier Russian withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The common feature in all these cases is the attempt by an external (sometimes neighbouring) power to impose and then sustain a government of its choosing, usually in the hope that it will ultimately secure the support of the majority of the population along with international acceptance. The usual outcome is a long period of relatively low-level conflict, during which it can be made to appear that a successful outcome is just around the corner. In some cases, actual fighting ceases and is replaced by a ‘frozen conflict’, in which life proceeds more or less normally most of the time, but without any final resolution.

Very occasionally, these attempts succeed (the US invasion of Grenada is one example, and I expect commenters can come up with more). But far more commonly, the external power eventually tires of the struggle and goes away. Alternatively, frozen conflicts can continue more or less indefinitely, as with Israel-Palestine.
If successful interventions are the exception rather than the rule, it’s natural to ask why they are so popular? Certainly, the military-industrial complex benefits from war and lobbies for it, but the same is true of any activity that involves spending a lot of public money. Then there are psychological biases which seem to favor both starting wars in the expectation of an easy win and persisting when the conflict drags on.

But learning takes place eventually. After taking part in centuries of bloody conflict, all around the world, Europeans seem mostly to have tired of war. And in the US, weariness with ‘forever wars’ seems finally to be eroding the belief that armies can solve complex problems in other countries

{ 123 comments }

1

Chetan Murthy 08.16.21 at 4:26 am

It’s worth noting, that the Taliban are creatures of the Pakistani ISI, and [IIUC] are funded by the Saudis. So …. it’s not like the US are the only ones doing the “meddle in other countries’ affairs” thing.

2

John Quiggin 08.16.21 at 5:28 am

Yes, it is the rule rather than the exception, despite the disastrous history of these attempts.

3

John Quiggin 08.16.21 at 5:30 am

Though I doubt that ISI will find the Taliban to be the useful tool they expect

4

Tim Worstall 08.16.21 at 8:23 am

“If successful interventions are the exception rather than the rule”

Well, there’s the rub.

“The common feature in all these cases is the attempt by an external (sometimes neighbouring) power to impose and then sustain a government of its choosing, usually in the hope that it will ultimately secure the support of the majority of the population along with international acceptance.”

The prize is large enough that history is littered with the attempts and enough of them have succeeded to make the attempt at the brass ring seem worthwhile. Just to start early, the Assyrians enjoyed their coming down out of the hills, the Hyksos would have claimed success in Egypt for at least a couple of centuries. The Normans did win and we still complain – OK, some do – about Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax with his 3,000 acres of Dorset but largely accept what happened. Ruthenia isn’t going to be part of Czechia or Slovakia again anytime soon. Poland’s not getting the eastern 400 miles back.

We might even claim that the current political geography is entirely the result of such interventions that did succeed. Making a claim of their rarity a little too strong perhaps.

5

J-D 08.16.21 at 8:39 am

If successful interventions are the exception rather than the rule, it’s natural to ask why they are so popular?

From ‘The Unknown Citizen’, by WH Auden:

Our researchers into Public Opinion are content
That he held the proper opinions for the time of year;
When there was peace, he was for peace: when there was war, he went.

6

MFB 08.16.21 at 9:35 am

I see no signs that the French are pulling out of Mali. I’d like to believe that Europeans are more sensible than Americans, but I suspect that they’re perfectly willing to send other people’s sons off to die for Uncle Sam.

Incidentally, a more recent example of a successful invasion which didn’t lead to a frozen conflict, albeit a rather more strategically sensible one than Grenada, was the Russian seizure of Crimea. (You can argue that the Donbass war is a frozen conflict, but I really doubt that it was part of the original Russian game-plan.)

7

John Quiggin 08.16.21 at 9:39 am

@4 My vague recollection is that the Assyrians, despite their purple and gold, came to a bad end, but whether or not that’s true I don’t think this episode has much of use to tell us

Let’s stick to examples within living memory (say, after 1945).

8

oldster 08.16.21 at 10:28 am

“After taking part in centuries of bloody conflict, all around the world, Europeans seem mostly to have tired of war.”

Didn’t Macron take the lead in deposing Qaddafi? My info in this was bad to begin with, and worsened by memory, but I thought that the US was a junior partner on that, and initially a reluctant one.
Corrections more or less welcome, inevitable in any case.

9

Peter T 08.16.21 at 11:21 am

Since modern states rely on the more or less willing cooperation of most of the population to function, successful conquest has become rather hard. If you can’t push the locals out (Palestine, Western Sahara) or swamp them with colonists (West Papua, West Bank), then it’s a losing proposition. The only way the US could have held Afghanistan is sending most of Texas to live there.

10

William Meyer 08.16.21 at 12:35 pm

Armies only settle questions for more than a brief moment if the issue that the victors fight for are politically significant enough to keep mobilizing its armies and sending them into battle to enforce. The history of the post-Civil War American South pretty clearly illustrates how limited the reach of military “solutions” really are. Northern armies did put any further attempts at Southern secession off the table, because the Southern resistance realized that if they tried it again, Northern armies would be raised and would march again. An outright return to formal chattel slavery probably would be met by re-invasion as well, as it would imply that the South was still dis-respecting the tokens of Northern domination. On the other hand, political and economic disenfranchisement for former slaves would not be met by re-invasion, so Jim Crow was adopted and perfected over time. In other words, the fear of repeat military activity by the dominant power is limited to a very small number of issues and interests.

Obviously the Taliban were aware of the limited nature of US goals in Afghanistan–which, from the halfassed American program for re-making the country into a stable democracy never included a commitment to as much military force on the ground to enforce desirable but not essential social changes (e.g., liberation of Afghan women, raising the abysmal literary rate of the population). Assuming the Taliban are smart enough to not be seen visibly supporting violent terrorism aimed at US territory, they will no doubt enjoy quiet freedom from American arms in the years to come.

American foreign policy elites and journalists would be well advised to realize, in real time, the actual priorities that are fight-worthy, and to stop bloviating and spending trillions on priorities that are “nice but not really worth fighting over” when the going gets tough. And they should certainly not encourage military “goals” that mostly create welfare for arms manufacturers, who are the only Americans who are emerging from this 20-year debacle with their spoils intact.

11

Bob 08.16.21 at 1:14 pm

“Very occasionally, these attempts succeed (the US invasion of Grenada is one example, and I expect commenters can come up with more).”

Surely the two greatest examples of success in recent history are Germany and Japan after the Second World War. Unfortunately these successes have raised false hopes that future interventions will have the same result.

12

LFC 08.16.21 at 1:25 pm

(Haven’t read most of the comments, pressed for time.)

C. Murthy @1
As someone who has followed this off and on for a while, w/o claims to deep regional expertise, I think it’s too strong to say the Taliban are creatures of the ISI, even if the latter were in some sense responsible for their creation (or of groups that became the Taliban) in the days of mujahideen fighting against the Soviets in Afghanistan (when the U.S. also supported some of the groups fighting the Russians). The ISI continued to support the Taliban, no doubt (though perhaps not so much the Pakistani branch of the Taliban, the TTP if I recall correctly), but again, I think “creature” is a bit too strong.

Peter T @9
Except that territorial conquest of Afghanistan in the conventional meaning of the phrase “territorial conquest” was not the U.S.’s aim, nor was it in Vietnam. Rather the aim was to support a government that in neither case managed to secure the deep loyalty of enough of its population to survive a fight by determined, motivated opponents once the external military support was largely withdrawn.

13

Seekonk 08.16.21 at 2:12 pm

@ 9: ‘The only way the US could have held Afghanistan is sending most of Texas to live there.’

Yes. Rather than establishing a settler state, the US goal has been to prop up a regional client government.

The US military strategy has been counter-insurgency, which seeks to win the ‘hearts-and-minds’ of the population and requires a ‘good guys vs bad guys’ dynamic.

Violent religious extremists are good candidates for the ‘bad guy’ role, but the ‘good guy’ role was not available to the US military.

Given that the US military are armed ambassadors for a foreign and economic policy which is in the interests of the global 1%, not the locals; that the client government was dominated by corrupt warlords; that US society is so Islamophobic that it will not readily accept asylees from Afghanistan; and that US soldiers and mercs are often themselves Islamophobes; it was highly unlikely that most of the locals would have perceived them as good guys.

14

Aardvark Cheeselog 08.16.21 at 2:55 pm

And in the US, weariness with ‘forever wars’ seems finally to be eroding the belief that armies can solve complex problems in other countries

This seems an overly-0ptimistic interpretation to this US person. Let’s see if the US can go 50 years without one of these adventures before we conclude that.

@4: Way to pick utterly irrelevant examples. The sifting out of consequences of a great general war or series of wars (Poland’s border, Ruthenia/Czechia/Slovakia) are by definition not the same as an interventionist expedition, and bringing the Norman invasion of England into it is just silly.

15

SamChevre 08.16.21 at 3:00 pm

It’s been a while since I thought about the purple and gold banners, but I think in the Assyrian history that was a minor defeat.

But I think the major counter-example here would be all the post-WW2 settlements except Israel: German is not getting Pomerania or East Prussia back, Poland isn’t getting Lwow back, Japan is still using the Constitution they agreed to as part of the surrender…British India won’t re-unite any time soon.

16

Omega Centauri 08.16.21 at 3:06 pm

Peter T. You can add Euro-Americans versus native Americans and Euro-Americans versus native Australians to the list of success via demographics. Han Chinese versus Tibetans and other unwilling border peoples are still in progress, but China is willing to play the long game.

Now Afghanistan is less a case of classic colonialism, which is mainly about the capture of resources and trade, but was instead about solving or at least containing a security problem. As were the post conflict occupations of Germany and Japan. The later show that under the right circumstances the project to reform former enemies can sometimes have a happy ending.

One condition that makes a happy resolution unlikely is if the occupying power is seen either as an unapologetic exploiter, or as an unholy infidel. Then even if the “reforms” are welcomed by the majority of the population, the resentment builds, and the end result is often a hard swing of the pendulum in the opposite direction.

17

Jonathan 08.16.21 at 3:26 pm

@ 8 Oldster – yes, except it was Sarkozy not Macron. Egged on by noted philosopher BHL amongst others. The British and French govts saw an opportunity to take the lead with the US having something of a backseat role.
I am not an expert on French public opinion but a quick search indicates it was relatively popular at the time. IN general though the Iraq war in particular was unpopular throughout Europe

18

Tim Worstall 08.16.21 at 5:20 pm

I think Peter T has the nub of it:

“Since modern states rely on the more or less willing cooperation of most of the population to function”

It’s as with conquering an economy these days. It’s not really a matter of just replacing the folks on horses who shout at the peasants on the land any more. Say someone did conquer California. Other than the almond trees what part of that economy would anyone actually retain?

So, fair enough, post- the acreage of land itself being important – roughly coincident with the modern fertiliser industry say, Haber Process really only being properly used for that post 1945 – there aren’t that many examples. 1989 showed that the Soviet thing in Central Europe – heck, in many more places than that – didn’t work long term.

Successful interventions to actually take a place seem thin on the ground since then. How much of this is due to not wanting to bother and how much the meagre rewards of trying it I’m not sure. For, what do you actually get if you do conquer a modern economy?

I do have a soft spot for the Sierra Leone/Liberia thing. But then that was in, get the bad guys, leave. There was actually a withdrawal plan all along.

19

lurker 08.16.21 at 5:48 pm

‘If successful interventions are the exception rather than the rule, it’s natural to ask why they are so popular?’
They succeed often enough, and there are seldom consequences for failure. Suez may have been a big deal for Britain, but France and Israel got over it just fine (AFAIK).
‘Let’s stick to examples within living memory (say, after 1945).’
I find the Allied (and other) interventions in the Russian Civil War such a magnificent tapestry of wishful thinking, mission creep, reckless overreach, utter ignorance and so on, that I’d want to include them in any discussion. There’s a British memo on North Russia (brief and to the point) recapitulating the irresistible slide from landing a couple of hundred marines to guard military stores to waging land war with tanks and poison gas that I will try to find if I can.

20

engels 08.16.21 at 5:49 pm

If successful interventions are the exception rather than the rule, it’s natural to ask why they are so popular?

An illuminating contemporary overview of the arguments for going to war:
https://seis.bristol.ac.uk/~plcdib/imprints/bertram.html

21

Cola Vaughan 08.16.21 at 5:51 pm

@ 1: Yes and they succeeded in insuring that the Persians continue to be constrained by a more or less Wahabist oriented polity in Afghanistan. Not so sure the US isn’t ‘down’ with that result as well and wasn’t to some degree a contractor in the whole affair. Meantime things are going to suck for all females and a probable majority of all others not fundamentalist Pashtun. And now just like in the ISIS sphere we’ll be the ones with a target on our backs. Obviously I just don’t understand.

22

notGoodenough 08.16.21 at 6:02 pm

Peter T @ 9

“The only way the US could have held Afghanistan is sending most of Texas to live there.”

I’m not sure that would be the only way – but I am sure there are a non-zero number of USians who would be more than happy to send most of Texas to Afghanistan, regardless of whether that led to the US holding it or not…

23

DCA 08.16.21 at 6:13 pm

All the “sucessful” examples being given seem more like (a) “move your border and take over some land, so you run the place” than (b) “intervene to get a sovereign nation to remain so but have a different government that you like better”. The end of the Vietnam war was type (a), by N Vietnam.

24

J-D 08.16.21 at 10:49 pm

The only way the US could have held Afghanistan is sending most of Texas to live there.

Win-win!

25

J-D 08.16.21 at 10:57 pm

Let’s stick to examples within living memory (say, after 1945).

Do you include examples where the intervening power incorporates the territory under its own government (or attempts or purports to do so), as opposed to establishing a separate government (or attempting or purporting to do so)? If so, do Goa, Hyderabad, Sikkim, and Tibet count as examples?

26

Alex SL 08.16.21 at 11:37 pm

Why were conquests often more successful in the past? Because conquering powers had no qualms killing large parts of the civilian population, through a mixture of massacres, disease and starvation, until the remaining survivors finally resigned. I read an estimate that the Roman conquest of Gaul reduced the population to a fourth; when the Frankish empire conquered the Saxon tribe in northern Germany, they massacred pretty much all the nobility; and I don’t really need to make the same argument about colonial empires, I think.

That approach isn’t feasible today, so all those Twitterati who now say “should have stayed until the Taliban are defeated” are deluding themselves. Yes, the Taliban could have been defeated, if the USA were ready to kill several millions of people. But even to a hypothetical leader who has no qualms about genocide that would not have been worth the reputational damage and blow-back.

So, why are “interventions” still so popular? Because the opinion makers and leaders are thinking like the aforementioned Twitterati. They see the successes of the past, have swallowed their own nations’ myth-making about how those were achieved by just being strong instead of woke, and don’t realise that they were achieved through unspeakable atrocities, because the atrocities were swept under the carpet and aren’t mentioned in polite conversation.

Another aspect already mentioned above is to what degree forever wars are caused by external interference. A civil war left to itself is decided within a few years at most. But a civil war where each side is supported by a larger, external power can go on for decades, because neither side will run out of resources. The thirty years war in Germany is the classic historical example, with Denmark, the Hapsburg empire, France, and Sweden variously using Germany as a chess board until an estimated half to two-thirds of the population were dead and everything was in ruins. That may have some relevance to Syria and Afghanistan today.

27

LFC 08.17.21 at 12:59 am

28

EnckeGap 08.17.21 at 2:10 am

What are we calling the NATO intervention in the Balkans?

29

Patrick 08.17.21 at 2:18 am

I think most of the commentary here is pretty ridiculous and ahistorical, and a bit… self fluffing. I guess I always think that of the kind of historical just-so storytelling that is popular around here.

We wanted to kill Osama bin Laden, because of 9/11. Invading Afghanistan seemed like a good way to do it.

It didn’t work though.

A bunch of decisions were made to deal with the fallout of it not working (can we establish a non-Taliban Afghan government that won’t let him come back?), and then to deal with the fallout of how we dealt with the original fallout (ok he’s dead but we’re enemies with the Taliban now and we invested a lot in making this new government, can we make this work?).

That’s what happened. You shouldn’t try to blow it up into some sort of grand historical meta-narrative.

Pick a specific, actual decision. Inquire about that.

30

Fake Dave 08.17.21 at 2:34 am

I’m seeing a lot of people (including Biden today) expressing some form of the argument that, because this occupation ended in abject failure, it must have been doomed from the start. Rather than proving the disastrous wrongness of abandoning our allies, this sudden collapse should be seen as a vindication of the withdrawal because the NATO mission had obviously not built a stable government after twenty years and a trillion dollars so there was no point in continuing. In other words, we tried our best, but some people are just beyond helping. That this completely contradicts what the administration had been saying all summer about believing in/supporting the Afghan government is apparently irrelevant. The point is to save face by leveraging American apathy and prejudice about third world Muslims and the general ambivalence we all feel about a war even the neo-cons stopped caring about sixteen years ago.

These arguments that successful interventions are improbable even in theory seem of a piece with that logic. For those of us who have long opposed the war and desired an end to US imperialism, this is a tempting argument, but I can’t accept it. It is entirely too convenient to claim that because the US failed in its mission (and was almost certainly wrong to take it on in the first place), then it must have been impossible. Or if it is possible, it requires a level of wanton cruelty that we’re simply too moral/squeamish to go through with (never mind the midnight kidnappings, torture, and flying death robots). This obviously appeals to those of us who oppose military intervention and imperial “nation building” on principle, but it also ignores the various and manifest ways in which the US and allies sabotaged their own efforts and thwarted the self-determination of the Afghan people through corruption, incompetence, inconsistency, and a persistent willingness to accept easy answers and indefinitely postpone difficult but necessary reforms. Afghanistan can tell us nothing about whether a competent and committed occupation (“humanitarian” or otherwise) can rebuild a nation in its own image simply because we never were competent or committed and we hardly cared about the “new” Afghanistan we were building.

31

nastywoman 08.17.21 at 6:27 am

my fellow Americans just haven’t understood yet that you can’t win such (‘cultural’) wars anymore with stupid weapons.

Europeans win them much easier with Tourism -(and Bikinis – Flip-Flops and T-Shirts which say: I went to Kabul and changed Afghanistan)

So –
in other words –
and if it sounds terribly cynical – remember I’m a ‘nasty’ woman –
KABUL should have been made THE MAIN American destination for Spring Break
and ‘the problem’ would have been solved a long time ago.

32

Adam Roberts 08.17.21 at 7:37 am

History is inertial. Armies, and the military establishment accreted around them, are not just random assemblages of men (and women); they are cultures, societies, they pass down their tribal rites and beliefs. For most of human history the kind of war we’re talking about here—invading another country and achieving a quick military victory—had a straightforward rationale: plunder. The English marched all over France during the Hundred Years War and carried enormous amounts of wealth back home: Windsor Castle was built with French loot and ransom money. At some point this changed, and the question is, when exactly?

I concede we still talk as if war was a simple loot grab, with oil (let’s say) replacing the neighbouring kingdom’s cattle, or gold, or whatnot. But ‘loot’ in the modern sense is a much more complicated and , and in many cases has been replaced by a series of imponderables that—we could argue—stand-in for the inertial belief that ‘we’ have to profit from our invasion. There’s no oil in Afghanistan and the war there has not profited the US and the UK; on the contrary it has left us trillions out of pocket. Imponderables include things like international standing, the balance of power, opinion poll upticks and the US election cycle and so on; but with each of these the deal now is ‘how much are you prepared to pay for this or that perceived benefit?’ I can imagine future nations doing the hard sums and deciding: $X trillion and a 40% chance it’ll influence Y and Z in a way we consider positive? Not worth it. (Of course there are other entities—the arms industry, most notably—that do profit directly from war, but they’re a small sector in absolute terms.)

I’m not sure when the logic of war changed after this manner. The Boer War started out of a situation in which Rhodes used South African gold straightforwardly to pay the British State for military support—but, significantly, it soon spiralled out of the scope of this simple cost-benefit model and ended up costing the British far more than they gained in loot. World War 1 may be too late to mark the shift; it’s probably earlier.

33

MFB 08.17.21 at 9:31 am

Were conquests really more successful in the past? Britain is not running North America, nor is Spain running Latin America, even though the settlers they sent over managed to exterminate a lot of the locals. Nor are Britain or Holland running South Africa, to mention my own sordid demesne. Nor is Russia running Uzbekistan any more. Nor is Rome running Carthage.

It seems to me that to have a sustainable conquest you have to have a sustainable policy of winning the public over. It seems, for instance, that in Britain the conquest of large parts of England became more or less sustainable, and Wales (despite major hiccups) has become pretty much so, whereas Ireland was never sustainable and Scotland is very much up for grabs these days.

It seems probable that you can win by sheer force, provided that you can pursue either genocide or — if your force is so overwhelming that reversing the policy appears impossible — ethnic cleansing, as in occupied Palestine. However, even there the practice seems dodgy. I wouldn’t be certain that Ramallah or even Hebron will be Jewish in a hundred years. But it could be.

34

Peter T 08.17.21 at 10:41 am

Peter Liberman, in Does Conquest Pay? argued that many modern states have managed to extract considerable resources through conquest, citing German, French, Japanese and Soviet cases. In the immediate term, he is probably right. But the term is very short – a few years in most cases, two decades at most. Whatever the impetus, it does not arise from national cost-benefit analysis.

35

nastywoman 08.17.21 at 11:21 am

and none of you guys have thought or written –
yet –
of the:
GOOD INTENTIONS?
as for example the German Soldiers – only were in Afghanistan BE-cause of their
‘Good Intentions’ –
like when America once taught Germany – that WE just shouldn’t march into other countries anymore – or only by protecting the people of these other countries from their
Right-Wing Fascistic Racist and Science Denying Authoritarian Leaders!

36

LFC 08.17.21 at 1:36 pm

My link to Logevall’s NYT review of the Malkasian and Whitlock books apparently didn’t get through moderation, so I’m repeating it without the actual link.

37

LFC 08.17.21 at 1:50 pm

A good deal of this thread seems to be blurring the distinction between wars of conquest, on the one hand, and other kinds of conflicts on the other. The U.S./NATO/ISAF intervention/invasion in Afghanistan was not a war of conquest because conquest was not its aim. It’s true that some similar problems may face the external forces in both cases, but I would suggest that if you don’t start out making some basic conceptual distinctions that could well have implications for the analysis, the analysis is probably going to be less accurate and insightful than it could be.

38

tom 08.17.21 at 2:15 pm

Why even mention Granada? Our military encountered a handful of security guards and still managed to get a bunch of Navy Seals drowned by dropping them in high tide.

39

Gorgonzola Petrovna 08.17.21 at 4:38 pm

@28 “…it soon spiralled out of the scope of this simple cost-benefit model and ended up costing the British far more than they gained in loot…”

Was this when Piet Joubert wrote “…when an Englishman once has your property in his hand, then is he like a monkey that has its hands full of pumpkin-seeds — if you don’t beat him to death, he will never let go“?

40

roger gathmann 08.17.21 at 5:36 pm

America has long practiced sloppy imperialism – unlike colonies, like India or, for the French, Indochina, where a committed group from the homeland went and founded enterprises that were intertwined with the colonizing power, America has relied on the policy of overthrowing whoever it disliked and installing very corrupt client governments -think Iran, think Guatamala, think the Dominican Republic, think Brazil, etc. etc. – to make sure that American predators – oil companies, coffee and fruit companies, etc. – are safe to make money and that’s about it. Sloppy imperialism was a bad fit for Afghanistan, cause the only folks making money, there, were defense industries. Which really didn’t need Afghanistan – I suppose the military did to legitimize spending a trillion or so. But other elements of sloppy imperialism were present – a government devoted to peculation and corruption, a laughable education network in which, after twenty years, America’s client had succeeded in reducing female illiteracy to a mere 72 percent – twice the illiteracy of Sudan – and bringing fifty percent of Afghanis over the poverty line – with 48 percent languishing below. These stats are very like the U.S.’s Central American client states. What the U.S. lacked was a ruthless Afghan dictator, perhaps because there was no incentive – you didn’t need to steal through excessive main force when you could steal a little here and there and it would mount up. I suppose the lack of a ruthless dictator is about the end of the cold war. Too much of a bad look, and creating one from scratch is hard. So here we are.

41

hix 08.17.21 at 5:46 pm

(Sub)cultural change is slow, just not THAT slow. Today’s stupid behaviour can’t possibly be explained by it used to be rational 300 years ago (independent of it is true for past times or just a cultural construction of that subculture). A tenth of that timeframe should do for difficult cultural change. The Afghanistan occupation already took as through 2/3 of that timeframe in a situation with lots of adaption pressure.

42

PatinIowa 08.17.21 at 7:12 pm

“Meantime things are going to suck for all females” @21

They already do. While steadily declining since 2000, the maternal mortality rate in Afghanistan 2017 was 638 deaths per 100,000 live births. Afghanistan wasn’t the worst, of course, they were 177th out of 186 countries reported. Look at any other metric, and you’ll find the idea that we’re the “good guys,” vis a vis women and the Taliban are the “bad guys,” pretty difficult to maintain.

I’m pretty sure that “females” don’t like watching their children and other family members rousted, detained and killed by an occupying army. That’s just a guess, of course.

Tariq Ali has an excellent take, notable because it refers to an Afghan feminist:

“As for the status of women, nothing much has changed. There has been little social progress outside the NGO-infested Green Zone. One of the country’s leading feminists in exile remarked that Afghan women had three enemies: the Western occupation, the Taliban and the Northern Alliance. With the departure of the United States, she said, they will have two.”

There are some links in the blogpost you can follow up on: https://newleftreview.org/sidecar/posts/debacle-in-afghanistan.

43

Trader Joe 08.17.21 at 8:35 pm

One wonders how the US occupation of Afghanistan would have progressed had they managed to find Bin Laden say in 10 months rather than the 10 years that it actually took.

Finding him, rounding up his network and punishing any enabling cronies was the original mission and had it been fulfilled quickly perhaps W would have turned his attention more rapidly to Iraq or even North Korea to address each of his 3 main ‘axis of evil’ points in quick succession.

When the entire weight and force of the U.S. military spends 10 years bombing wedding parties and leveling mountains to look for one dude, its not surprising that some mission creep leaked into the equation.

The exit has been abysmal, but it was always meant to be that way – hence why Obama hot-potatoed it to Trump who dragged his feet just long enough to hot-potato it to Biden. Indeed the Afghan exit will make the Iraq exit look like a success….unless some “J.V. team” emerges from the mountains and goes all ISIS on the people. Any odds on that?

44

LFC 08.17.21 at 9:23 pm

Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman et al. get big Pentagon contracts pretty much irrespective of the armed conflicts the U.S. is or is not engaged in (that’s my impression, at least), so I doubt they needed the war in Afghanistan for their bottom lines.

45

Alex SL 08.17.21 at 10:17 pm

MFB,

If your measure for successful conquest or occupation is that it lasts for at least thousands of years, then of course there is never a successful conquest or occupation. That doesn’t seem like a reasonable criterion, though.

46

J-D 08.17.21 at 10:43 pm

Nor is Rome running Carthage.

If something which lasts half a millennium counts as a failure, then how long does something have to last to count as a success?

It seems, for instance, that in Britain the conquest of large parts of England became more or less sustainable, and Wales (despite major hiccups) has become pretty much so, whereas Ireland was never sustainable and Scotland is very much up for grabs these days.

So, is the rule supposed to be that lasting half a millennium is not enough to count as a success, but lasting three-quarters of a millennium is enough to count as a success? That would be a weirdly specific rule. The American Revolution, has that succeeded yet? Oh, too soon to tell.

47

J-D 08.17.21 at 10:45 pm

… I would suggest that if you don’t start out making some basic conceptual distinctions that could well have implications for the analysis, the analysis is probably going to be less accurate and insightful than it could be.

Well, you’re no fun.

(You’re right, but you’re no fun.)

48

John Quiggin 08.18.21 at 10:01 am

Peter T @34 I read a review of Liberman and if it’s accurate I think he cheats. Roughly speaking he argues, that since the Nazis were occupying France, Poland etc anyway, there’s no need to count the cost of the armed forces, including the diversion of much of the German labour force. against the resources extracted.

The right way to look at the question is to ask what happened to German living standards when the Nazis ruled Europe. AFAICT, the extraction of resources was initially sufficient to stave off rationing, but not enough to yield any material improvement. As soon as the war started going badly, things went downhill.

49

nastywoman 08.18.21 at 10:35 am

@48
The right way to look at the question is to ask what happened to German living standards when the Nazis ruled Europe. AFAICT, the extraction of resources was initially sufficient to stave off rationing, but not enough to yield any material improvement. As soon as the war started going badly, things went downhill’.

which could bring US back again to the point that ‘war’ is really a very ineffective and old-fashioned way of ‘conquering’ -(as anybody knows who drives a German Luxury Car)

Or as the old German Saying says:

Heute gehört uns Deutschland
und
Morgen
die ganze Welt!

50

MFB 08.18.21 at 11:21 am

J-D, you of course have a point, and perhaps I shouldn’t have presented opportunities for rather trivial nitpicking by making sarcastic remarks. My point, as I think you actually know, was that some invasions are accepted eventually, others not. The collapse of the Roman empire was not, of course, simply caused by uprisings of the locals. (It was, however, in part caused because the locals ceased to be willing to defend the regime, which is not too dissimilar.) The British departure from southern Ireland, however, was.

Thing is, it’s very unlikely that southern Ireland is going back to England. Or Libya or Tunis back to Italy. Or Afghanistan back to the United States. So even if you stay there a thousand years, if over those thousand years you comprehensively fail to win the hearts and minds of the locals, you will eventually be booted out and when you are booted out, that’s a failure.

A success would be something much more like, say, the French conquest of Aquitaine. As far as I can make out, there are no plans to break up France into its constituent parts. Jury’s still out on Spain, though. I suppose the point would be to see whether a country fragments when it’s attacked externally, like Yugoslavia, or goes through a severe crisis, like Czechoslovakia.

51

MFB 08.18.21 at 11:28 am

nastywoman (who may be being sarcastic, it’s always hard to tell) and LFC both appear to be saying the same thing, namely that if you invade a country, destroy its government, take control of its administration and kill large numbers of its inhabitants over a long period of time, that’s OK so long as you mean well.

International law disagrees.

Also, everybody throughout history has claimed that their invasion was a humanitarian intervention intended to make everything better. In the 1960s Chomsky made some interesting parallels between the puffery coming out of the Pentagon Papers and the reports of Japanese military administrators in occupied Manchukuo in the 1930s and 1940s.

I would say that armed imperialist aggression should be treated like armed imperialist aggression unless an overwhelming majority of the recipients thereof declare themselves perfectly happy about it. Like Uganda when Tanzania invaded.

52

tm 08.18.21 at 6:30 pm

“The right way to look at the question is to ask what happened to German living standards when the Nazis ruled Europe.”

What an odd way to measure success, by comparing general living standards ;-)
Most wars in history have probably caused the living standards of the general populations on both sides to decline, though I wonder whether anybody has attempted to measure this systematically. It is more conceivable that in some cases, the living standards of the ruling class significantly improved as a result of successful warfare, at least short term, but even that was hardly a foregone conclusion, and peaceful economic development seems a far safer bet. But then, in the history of capitalism, it is really hard to distinguish the “peaceful economic development” from violent oppression and colonialist/imperialist enterprises.

@JQ Comments in moderation at https://crookedtimber.org/2021/08/14/twigs-and-branches-13/

53

John Quiggin 08.19.21 at 12:02 am

TM @52 It would be odd if it weren’t so widely believed that wars can be economically beneficial to the winners. I was responding to mention of a book making precisely this claim as regards the Nazis. And lots of people thought that the economic gains from controlling Iraqi oil might make the war profitable for the US (both supporters who welcomed the idea and opponents of “War for Oil”).

54

J-D 08.19.21 at 12:56 am

My point, as I think you actually know, was that some invasions are accepted eventually, others not.

If you think I know what your actual point is, you think wrong. I don’t know what your actual point is.

Nothing lasts forever. If your definition of a success requires that it be something that does not eventually come to an end, then nothing can be a success. To take an example you mentioned, France has controlled Aquitaine for a long time, but that is not something that will continue to be true forever.

55

J-D 08.19.21 at 1:02 am

Most wars in history have probably caused the living standards of the general populations on both sides to decline, though I wonder whether anybody has attempted to measure this systematically. It is more conceivable that in some cases, the living standards of the ruling class significantly improved as a result of successful warfare, at least short term, but even that was hardly a foregone conclusion, and peaceful economic development seems a far safer bet.

The distinction between ‘effect on general population’ and ‘effect on ruling class’ is key (as should not be surprising). There must be many examples in history where the people who made the decision to launch a war got what they wanted out of it, even though there was no benefit to the general population (or benefits which were outweighed by the losses suffered waging the war). Frederick the Great got what he wanted out of the Silesian Wars, while other people died for it. (In case there is doubt about my position, that doesn’t justify him. Sending other people to their deaths for your own benefit is not something I approve of; brigandage isn’t justified by success, and Frederick the Great was a brigand.)

56

Fake Dave 08.19.21 at 6:59 am

I think J-D has it right. slogans like “no blood for oil” hint at a conceptual understanding of foreign wars as a form of internal class warfare. Not only are the human costs largely bourn by the working class for the political benefit of the elite but the public funds expended are disproportionately recouped in profits for the wealthy. I’m not entirely convinced that the defense industry “needs” these wars to justify itself as much as people sometimes allege — not when peacetime military spending remains high — rather I think spending in war mostly constitutes a tremendous waste from which nobody benefits.

However, the rich history of war profiteering suggests that there’s still ways to make a fortune skimming off the top. That’s not because war is profitable, but rather because it involves the transfers of huge amounts of wealth moving through dark channels in chaotic circumstances where no one is held accountable. Governments don’t usually make a profit on plunder, nor does the general public, but people who steal from them certainly can. The insinuation then (sometimes but not always vindicated) is that that’s who we’re really fighting for.

57

Tm 08.19.21 at 7:05 am

MFb 50: I have to agree with J-D but I would say that the problem goes even deeper. The territory that we now recognize as France has existed as a political entity for many centuries, but not as the same entity. The French Republic is not the absolutist kingdom France even if it has the same borders. Likewise, and a forteriori, it is hopelessly anachronistic to interpret the modern state of Italy as a continuation of the Roman Empire just because it is geographically situated on the same peninsula. By the third century BC, the city state of Rome had conquered most of the Italian peninsula and thus comprised about the same territory that Italy does today. In the meantime of course quite a few things have happened.

58

Tm 08.19.21 at 7:10 am

MFb 50: I have to agree with J-D but I would say that the problem goes even deeper. The territory that we now recognize as France has existed as a political entity for many centuries, but not as the same entity. The French Republic is not the absolutist kingdom France even if it has the same borders. Likewise, and a forteriori, it is hopelessly anachronistic to interpret the modern state of Italy as a continuation of the Roman Empire just because its Capital city is geographically situated at the same place and has the same name. By the third century BC, the city state of Rome had conquered most of the Italian peninsula and thus comprised about the same territory that Italy does today. In the meantime of course quite a few things have happened. One can of course try to narrate a continuous history of the Italian peninsula but that narrative doesn’t refer to the same people, the same culture and the same political entities.

59

tm 08.19.21 at 7:10 am

[sorry that is a correction not double posting]

60

MisterMr 08.19.21 at 7:57 am

So, did the USA get some advantage in winning WW2? Did the USSR?

France and the UK didn’t get great advantages from winning but it is argueable that while they nominally won, they were so debilitated by the end of the conflict that practically they lost.

The USSR as far as I do understand did really have economic benefits after the war, though perhaps those benefits didn’t equate the cost (both human and economic) of the war itself.

The USA did in fact have a very good economic period after the war, but so did the defeated countries (the axis and, in my book, France and the UK).

In a parallel universe where the axis won, would Germany, Italy and Japan be richer than they are in our world? I think not, because I envision this as the axis powers having just another version of the usual european colonial empires, but then if say Germany could get the same level of dominance the USA got in the real world (eg. controlling the whole northern eurasia), who knows?

It is difficult to say because it depends very much on the explanation we give for the very fast economic growth of the postwar years.

61

MisterMr 08.19.21 at 8:07 am

Addendum to my previous comment: the USA believes that it can defeat axis of evil countries and export democracy and the deafeated countries will be grateful to boot because this is what happened with the axis powers in WW2.

Even after the collapse of the Soviets the mindset was the same IMHO, people just expected everything to turn out well on the same logic.
But Russia and other eastern countries didn’t have the same kind of economic boom that former axis powers had, that is reasonably what made USA egemony justified in their eyes.

So what changed? Why didn’t Afghanistan have an economic boom during the occupation, nor did Iraq?
Or perhaps the correct question is why did the former axis powers had that economic boom?

62

nastywoman 08.19.21 at 8:33 am

@51
‘nastywoman (who may be being sarcastic, it’s always hard to tell) and LFC both appear to be saying the same thing, namely that if you invade a country, destroy its government, take control of its administration and kill large numbers of its inhabitants over a long period of time, that’s OK so long as you mean well’.

Now? –
how in the world??
can somebody??? –
anybody???? –
write something like that after having read:
‘my fellow Americans just haven’t understood yet that you can’t win such (‘cultural’) wars anymore with stupid weapons.
Europeans win them much easier with Tourism -(and Bikinis – Flip-Flops and T-Shirts which say: I went to Kabul and changed Afghanistan)
So –
in other words –
and if it sounds terribly cynical – remember I’m a ‘nasty’ woman –
KABUL should have been made THE MAIN American destination for Spring Break
and ‘the problem’ would have been solved a long time ago.

AND:
‘which could bring US back again to the point that ‘war’ is really a very ineffective and old-fashioned way of ‘conquering’ -(as anybody knows who drives a German Luxury Car)
Or as the old German Saying says:
Heute gehört uns Deutschland
und
Morgen
die ganze Welt!

with very PEACEFUL – BIKINIS – FLIP-FLOPS – T-SHIRTS and FERRARI’S
and
NOT with
stupid weapons!

Understood – MFB?
(and ‘PEACE’ – out)

63

Peter T 08.19.21 at 8:36 am

The point about the difference between conquest and intervention is well-taken. How recently did conquest become unprofitable? The US certainly gained from its conquest of Mexican lands (Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, 1848), Lorraine was a prosperous part of the Second Reich from 1870 to 1918 (and presumably would be still if they had not started World War I). The various re-arrangements in Europe post World War II perhaps fall into a different category,and perhaps the initial founding of Israel does too, but if it can digest the West Bank it will have gained. Some of these are recent enough to still be shaping ideas.

As for interventions, some interests in the US have definitely gained from repeated interventions in Central America, as recently as Panama (1989). Iraq may have been a loss for Iraq and the US as a whole, but it was certainly a gain for Halliburton. As always, total estimates of cost and benefit obscure the local gains (and losses): a robbery is a net loss, but a gain to the robber. Germany and Japan are always cited, but a lot of the advocates seem to be looking further back (much longer back, in the case of Donald Kagan). Cultural memes can outlast reality by a century and more – see cowboys, kilts and stockmen.

64

nastywoman 08.19.21 at 11:39 am

AND if you guys don’t believe me:
Let’s built a luxury resort in the middle of Kabul – and let’s have the next birthday of Obama with ALL of his 500 invited guests there –

And then let’s see if the Taliban –
from then on – would dare to stop a George Clooney
or
a freed Britney in their Aldiletten!

65

nastywoman 08.19.21 at 1:05 pm

BUT on the other hand –
there hasn’t been anything worst than this…
this ‘discussion’ –
for any clarity about: ‘Whats What’.

As mainly Right-Wing Internet Idiots blame the Man who finally ended the War
pretending that THEIR Right-Wing Idiot would have done it ‘mucho better’ –
month before –
and then the Right-Wing Internet Idiots come to the solution. that it would have been better to stay and fight the Taliban until some kind of win?

And even the oldest enemies of this stupid war – just can’t stop attacking the Man who finally stopped it –
like some king of ConfusedGreenWald.

66

Scott P. 08.19.21 at 2:46 pm

If successful interventions are the exception rather than the rule, it’s natural to ask why they are so popular?

Everyone here seems to be equating ‘intervention’ with ‘indefinite occupation’ but that’s hardly required. The Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956, Gulf War I in 1991, Haiti in 1994, Kosovo in 1999, Libya in 2013 did not result in long-term occupation by foreigners.

67

Stephen 08.19.21 at 6:27 pm

Scott P. @ 66: “The Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956… did not result in long-term occupation by foreigners.”

Well, when I was there in the late 1980s there were still substantial Soviet garrisons, and Soviet control (except on the margins) of the government. I suppose it depends on what you mean by “long-term”; after the collapse of the Soviet Union their garrisons did of course leave.

68

Seekonk 08.20.21 at 1:04 am

Dude, where’s my country?’ was the cry of Arafat and the Mid East nationalists.

The US and Israel contrived to replace them with Islamic fundamentalists such as Hamas and the Taliban who now ask, ‘Dude, where’s my kingdom of God on earth?’

This passes for progress in our faith-based era.

69

LFC 08.20.21 at 2:54 am

MFB @ 51

I didn’t say that, or anything close to it.

70

Alan White 08.20.21 at 4:11 am

nastywoman @ 65–right on in every sense–Trump set this stage for player Biden and now wants to portray him as producer and director–no actor can take all the blame for a bad show he’s cast in from the start.

71

Tm 08.20.21 at 9:44 am

Scott P: which of these interventions were successful, and by what standards?

72

roger gathmann 08.20.21 at 10:47 am

That’s an empirical question. Where did the big defense industry lobbying money flow? Did their profit line, in the Clinton years, soar? did the GWOT, which includes Afghanistan and Iraq, both part of the package, end up profiting them or not? Did Halliburton in particular, with the best lobbying presence in D.C., end up recovering from its asbestos disaster? This article helps on the latter, and I’m going to leave it to the reader to discover whether the defense industries profited or not from Afghan and Iraq. https://archive.fortune.com/magazines/fortune/fortune_archive/2005/04/18/8257012/index.htm I will hazard a guess that if you were an exec at Lockheed pushing the – oh, we’ll profit whether we do Afghan or not – in Dec. 2001, I’m guessing you’d be shoved out.

73

JimV 08.20.21 at 5:58 pm

https://www.sarahchayes.org/post/the-ides-of-august

An interesting view from someone who has been involved since the USA invasion as a reporter, then as a government official, and lastly with a humanitarian organization. In her opinion, … well, I will let people read that for themselves, but corruption on the USA side was a key factor. As one tribal leader told, her (paraphrasing), “the Taliban hits us on one cheek and the government you put in place hits us on the other.”

It implies to me that what worked in Japan and West Germany could have worked in Afghanistan–if we had the dedicated people in power to apply it, which of course we don’t, and if we had recognized the Pakistan government was opposing us and supporting the Taliban and infiltrating the new government.

Which is not to say it was a good idea to try, given those conditions.

I have remarked before how different my first engineering and plant managers, who fought in WWII, were from the next generations. In peace time it seems to me the sociopaths float to the top, in all large organizations. (I don’t have any solution for this.)

74

Alex SL 08.21.21 at 12:10 am

It makes little sense to compare US occupation of Germany or Japan with Afghanistan. In the former cases, there were deep-rooted liberal and democratic traditions that could be called upon after the fascist elite had been shown that going on with fascism wouldn’t work out. One may have to distinguish different scenarios:

A Western(ised) nation state is occupied by a rival nation state that clearly wants to extract resources for its own benefit or otherwise damage the former. Probably won’t work in the long run without a level brutality that is currently unacceptable.
A Western(ised) nation state is occupied by a rival nation state that merely swaps out one narrowly-on-top elite against another, narrowly-suppressed elite-in-waiting, then takes its hands off again (fascists out, liberals and social democrats from 12 years before back in). High chance of success.
An empire conquers nation states and/or tribal areas and integrates them into its power structure while letting people keep their local traditions, customs, and economic structures, only slowly prodding them towards assimilation with stick-and-carrot. Learn our dominant language, that makes it easier for you to trade; align your interests with ours, and you too can have a career as an officer or bureaucrat; convert to our dominant religion, and you pay less taxes; etc. High chance of success without genocide, although still needs more brutality to establish than currently acceptable; and if the local peoples are not sufficiently assimilated, it will all fall apart again a few hundred years later if the empire shows weakness. Roman empire in Greece, Muslim conquests, Ottoman empire, Austro-Hungary, USSR.
A tribal area is occupied by a colonial power that wants to hand over the land to its own settlers who are coming in in numbers and/or extract resources at the cost of and by destroying the established economic structure of the local population. Probably won’t work in the long run without at least cultural-genocide-level brutality and has, in the past, only worked like that. The model here is the colonial conquest of the Americas, Australia, and much of Africa, but also applies to Roman conquests north of the Alps and perhaps the expansion of the Inca empire, which tried to turn everybody into Quechua and mostly succeeded except with the Aymara.
An area is occupied by a colonial power that is happy to merely swap local leaders who resist them against local leaders who are willing to accept that they will be beholden to the colonial power’s will in foreign policy and have to trade with them as opposed to some other rival colonial power, but otherwise local social structures and traditions remain unchanged. Any threat of future colonial intervention is towards the new local ruler if he doesn’t do as told, but not explicitly towards his rivals or the population, who he is expected to manage himself given perhaps some financial and weapons support. High chance of success if you can find a strong enough local partner, and that approach is what worked for the British Empire in Afghanistan 1880-1919. I would also argue that this is how British meddling in India at least started out, and if one were so inclined one could see the arrangements of the Cold War in a similar light.

The question is, even if none of these scenarios match perfectly, to which of these is the attempt to turn Afghanistan into a “Western” democracy most similar?

MrMister,

WW2 was not a war of conquest from the perspective of the UK, France, USSR, it was a struggle of survival against a conqueror, so it is besides the point to ask if it was economically advantageous for them to win.

75

LFC 08.21.21 at 12:40 am

@ JimV

Thanks for that link.

76

Robert Weston 08.21.21 at 2:18 am

As far as I can tell, the relationship between Biden and a large part of the foreign policy community is now broken, perhaps irreparably. The backlash the White House is currently experiencing may end up it much harder for the U.S. to admit defeat and disengage from any conflict on the Eurasian land mass.

77

David J. Littleboy 08.21.21 at 5:42 am

Hey, guys! Guess who said this:

“The idea that we’re able to deal with the rights of women around the world by military force is not rational. Not rational.”

@76: IMHO that “large part of the foreign policy community” should be fired. Put out to pasture. Given early retirement. We kicked 20% of the Iraqi population (the Sunni) off Hussein’s gravy train and were surprised when they became terrorists (and then complained that the Shia (the 60% of the population our dictator had been horrifically suppressing for decades) weren’t being nice enough to them). We killed a higher percentage of Vietnamese farmers than we lost soldiers (yes, it was safer to be a US draftee than to be a Vietnamese farmer) and talked about “hearts and minds”. We (the CIA) created the Taliban and then complain that they aren’t nice. Etc. etc. etc. That “foreign policy community” comprises some of the stupidest people in human history.

78

Gorgonzola Petrovna 08.21.21 at 7:46 am

@Alex SL “Learn our dominant language, that makes it easier for you to trade; align your interests with ours, and you too can have a career as an officer or bureaucrat; convert to our dominant religion, and you pay less taxes; etc. High chance of success without genocide,…”

This reminds me of a typical (or relatively typical) Soviet official in Central Asia. Communist and atheist during his working years, he would immediately turn into a faithful mosque-going traditional Muslim upon retirement. Maskirovka.

Culture tends to reproduce itself for a long time, even after becomes seemingly disadvantageous. Especially when it’s perceived to be victimized. Irreversible mass-assimilation may take centuries. Anathematized in the 17th century, there are, apparently, still millions of Old Believers in Russia.

79

MisterMr 08.21.21 at 7:53 am

@ Axel Sl 74

“WW2 was not a war of conquest from the perspective of the UK, France, USSR, it was a struggle of survival against a conqueror, so it is besides the point to ask if it was economically advantageous for them to win”

Even if the allies didn’t want a war of conquest, at the end of the day USA and the USSR did end up with very large areas of influence, so that later leaders might look back and believe that future aggressive wars could be positives.

Also, I think that USSR interference with its satellite states was much bigger than USA influence with its satellite states, but this is because German, Japanese and Italian (why is everyone leaving out Italy from the Axis in this thread) populations on the whole were quite happy with the USA influence.
In an alternate universe where they wanted to exit from USA influence and switch to the USSR side the USA already left on the ground hidden repressive structures, see Gladio:
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Gladio#First_publicly_revealed_in_Italy
(the article says that Gladio was supposed to stop a Varsaw Pact invasion but if you go on reading it is evident that Gladio’s purpose was to prevent local commies to take power, even in the event this happened democratically).

Also neither Germany, nor Japan, nor Italy had an Independent military after WW2, which in practice means that their foreign policy has to follow the USA one. I don’t see this as a particularly bad thing as an italian citizen, but still the idea that the USA went in and then swiftly went out is a bit of an exaggeration.
I mean, the USA also forced the Japanese emperor to say that he wasn’t a living God, that sounds silly today but it was a religious belief of many Japanese at the time.
Next force the Pope to admit that he isn’t infallibile!

However due to many reasons, largely the cold war, other countries that weren’t defeated in WW2 like Uk, France, or also Spain and others ultimately ended up in the USA orbit anyway, so that the USA control of the defeated axis powers seems to disappear.

But if we look at why the USA intervention worked well in this case, I think it is on the one hand the cold war (there were many people who disliked the communists and dreaded the Varsaw Pact in the former axis powers), but also that in the postwar era there was a big economic boom including in the former axis powers so that everyone was happy, and the postwar keynesian economies the USA built also more or less were acceptable to many lefties (so that today that model passes as vaguely socialist).

In the USSR area of influence I can’t tell, there were clearly more overt control on the satellite states, but perhaps because there was more opposition to begin with?
Also the economy in general sucked much more, which is the actual cause of the brackup of the USSR and of the Varsaw Pact, nationalism only kicked in later because, as the soviet economy was disintegrating, every group wanted a chunk of the pie.

As an aside, even in the case of the dissolution of Yugoslavia, the most coerent explanation I heard (by a Croat lady short after the war) was that originally the economy was very statist and centralized, but as the Yugoslav government tried to decentralize control and turn the economy more towards a free market one (Yugoslavia had a sort of market socialist economy where the government only controlled some industries but the rest were worked controlled coops IIRC) there was a clash of interest between the poorer inland areas (Serbia, that as the seat of the central government used to call the shots) and the richer peripherical areas (Bosnia, Croatia and Slovenia, that wanted more decentralization).
This fundamentally economic problem then broke down into ethnic divides and culminated into an ethnic war, but before the war ethnic divides weren’t very strong (there was a super high rate of intermarriage).
I say this because it seems to me people in this thread are taking ethnic and cultural differences a bit too seriously, wait another tens or so comment and we will be speaking of a war of civilisations (that is the most BS concept of all IMO).

80

alfredlordbleep 08.21.21 at 5:09 pm

Could there be a more damning indictment of that whole bloated idol termed “modern civilization” than this amounts to? Civilization is, then, the big, hollow, resounding, corrupting, sophisticating, confusing of mere brutal momentum and irrationality that brings forth fruits like this! It is safe to say that one Christian missionary, whether primitive, Protestant or Catholic, of the original missionary type, one Buddhist or Mohammedan of a genuine saintly sort, one ethical reformer or philanthropist, or one disciple of Tolstoi would do more real good in these islands than our whole army and navy can possibly effect with our whole civilization at their back. He could build up realities, in however small a degree; we can only destroy the inner realities; and indeed destroy in a year more of them than a generation can make good.
The Philippine Tangle
by William James
Boston Evening Transcript (March 1, 1899)

81

alfredlordbleep 08.21.21 at 5:23 pm

James in 1903
. . . The country has once for all regurgitated the Declaration of Independence and the Farewell Address, and it won’t swallow again immediately what it is so happy to have vomited up. It has come to a hiatus. It has deliberately pushed itself into the circle of international hatreds, and joined the common pack of wolves. It relishes the attitude. We have thrown off our swaddling clothes, it thinks, and attained our majority. We are objects of fear to other lands’
William James on “The Philippine Question” (1903)

(Of course, in 1898 the US had “acquired” the Hawaiian Islands)

82

Alex SL 08.21.21 at 11:40 pm

MrMister,

Of course WW2 ended in occupation of Germany by the USA, UK, France, USSR; but the starting point of the thread was, I quote, “If successful interventions are the exception rather than the rule, it’s natural to ask why they are so popular?” It is NOT the case that WW2 started with the UK saying, hey, let’s intervene in Germany. That particular war was forced onto the victors.

As for cultural differences, it seems fairly clear that it was easier for Ancient Rome to conquer and manage Ancient Greece than Germanic tribes, or for Prussia to annex Saxony than to annex Namibia. Cultural differences or similarities matter because it is more easy to integrate somebody into your power- and economic structure who comes pre-adapted to that structure because their own structure is pretty similar already, than somebody who for example may not even have a monetary economy to pay taxes to your colonial administration with. That is no more “War of Civilisations” than, say, the observation that diplomats need some shared language to negotiate, or that agreed-on terms and standards are beneficial for trade.

83

Fake Dave 08.22.21 at 8:47 am

It occurs to me that the US still has huge military bases is Germany and Japan, but we don’t call that an “occupation.” South Korea as well. Would those governments have become strong and stable and peaceful without them? Why wasn’t it decided those countries were “quagmires?”

The Afghan military collapsed as soon as we abandoned our last bases there and removed the advisors and contractors that ran their advanced weaponry. Why couldn’t we have left a few thousand essential personally there like in so many other countries? Because the Taliban wanted us out? Why would that matter? The Afghan government didn’t want us out, they begged us to stay. Why not listen to them instead? NATO deaths had been quite low (none in the past year afaik) since the “combat mission” ended 2014 and the much-maligned Afghan military had succeeded in defending at least the urban areas for years against serious offensives.

The idea that this pullout had anything to do with saving American lives just doesn’t hold up — not when Americans haven’t been on the front lines for years. Likewise this idea that it was just too expensive — a waste of money better spent at home — is undermined by the reality that the US maintains expensive military presences all over the world in far less strategically relevant locales.

As far as I can tell this was all politics. Trump wanted the “win” of cutting a deal with the Taliban and Biden wanted to be able to brag about completing the withdrawal in time for the 9/11 anniversary. If either of them had cared as much about the people of Afghanistan as their own optics, things would not have played out this way.

84

Gorgonzola Petrovna 08.22.21 at 11:45 am

@60 “The USSR as far as I do understand did really have economic benefits after the war, though perhaps those benefits didn’t equate the cost (both human and economic) of the war itself.”

The only real benefit there was national security, matters of national survival. Having safe neighbors, economically, military, and politically integrated states along its borders.

For that matter, think of the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. The US establishment was ready to start a nuclear war over it. Did ‘economic benefits’ even enter the equation?

85

roger gathmann 08.22.21 at 12:29 pm

83 The difference between Germany and Italy – where the Americans have the biggest base – and Afghanistan is evident even to a child of twelve who can compare GDP, poverty levels, and overall literacy. Although, granted, looking at the seventies when Italy underwent a strategy of tension managed by the far right with American assistance does make one think that wasn’t the best deal for Italy. However, Germany does bring up the way successful occupations are done. Funny how the neocons adduce the reference, and don’t look at the cause.

don’t speak Pashto and have never set foot in Kabul. But I have noticed a few things about the U.S. and imperialism in general. I’ve noticed how the American brand of sloppy imperialism is bad for peasants and good for strongmen. I’ve noticed that, in the years since the Cold War ended, the U.S. has tried to transform its sloppy imperialism into remote control imperialism. Bring out the drones, exert total control over the battlefield sphere, yadda yadda.
To this I say: give me a fucking break.
The moral and political rubicon was crossed when the U.S. refused the Taliban’s offer to either try Osama bin Laden or send him to a moslem country for trial. As American then did not notice, but the Middle East did, when Osama bin Laden escaped there was a less than adequate search for the man. In fact, it was so inadequate it made a mockery of the American moral position demanding Osama’s surrender. It is a bit like that La Fontaine fable, The Wolf and the Lamb, in which the wolf presents several inconsistent and false reasons for attacking the lamb, but does so anyway: “La raison du plus fort est toujours la meilleure”.
Once the threshold was crossed, though, what would I – I as a railer at sloppy imperialism – have advised?
To my mind, imperialism doesn’t come cheap. What was needed, given the size of Afghanistan, was a U.S. force of at least 500,000 soldiers. What was needed was a five year occupation at the least. What was needed was putting in infrastructure on the American ticket. Electrification, minimum health care, education. The occupying power might well encourage civil society, of a type, but it would not be in name or deed a democracy. Corruption would be dealt with ruthlessly. Those who were the most corrupt would either be executed or jailed, as on this matter hangs the entire imperial exercise.
There would be no more NGO photo ops. Schooling, in Afghanistan, under the Americans was a pathetic theater. The stats as to building schools and graduating teachers disguised other stats, such as those contained in a report by the World Bank that the Bank chose not to publish in 2008, showing that 98 percent of the girl students dropped out by third grade, and 90 percent of boys had dropped out by sixth. (Rosemary Skaine, 2008). In Afghanistan, women have a long experience of rape, and are not going to send their girls to classes taught by men. Yet there are fewer female teachers, and as we know from numerous reports, teachers have to pay big bribes, amounting to a considerable part of their first years salary, just to get a post.
The trouble with this vision of Afghanistan is not the Afghanis. It is the Americans. To actually occupy and improve this central Asian space would require manpower and material that would demand a draft. You could do imperialism without a draft in the 19th century – but that moment died in the trenches of northern France in 1914. Americans speak of sacrifice tearfully, but when they have to, well, sacrifice, it is not popular. Furthermore, the amount of money needed would be in the hundreds of billions every year.
This goes against the sloppy imperialism ethos. Americans are willing to spend a trillion per year, more or less, on the military and intelligence because that money comes back into the pockets of the CEOs and stockholders of Defense contractors and radiates out in the American labor force. But spending money on making a national healthcare and educational system for Afghanis would hit the American funnybone: there is nothing as unpopular in America as foreign aid. In 2001-2005, spending on Afghanistan could have taken the place that was filled by the borrowing for the housing boom. But this is, to say the least, an unpopular way of heating up the economy.
Iraq survived, mostly, America’s sloppy imperialism. After Iraq, we did it to Libya – the perfect remote control imperialist enterprise. Ten years afterwards, Libya has yet to emerge from the fragments, the warlords, the plunge in lifestyle. And, surprise, Khaddafi’s son looks like he might become the ruler of Libya in the next year or two. The repressed return, especially when the repression is affected by minimal commitment of troops, mucho droning, and bubble gum.

86

Matt 08.22.21 at 12:39 pm

Why wasn’t it decided [Germany, South Korean, Japan] were “quagmires?”

Because no one in those countries was trying to kill the people at the bases and force them to leave? Because the countries were stable, peaceful, and improving in ways that Afghanistan wasn’t? Is this a real question?

NATO deaths had been quite low (none in the past year afaik)
My understanding is that this is a consequence of the deal reached with Trump – the US agreed to leave, and the Taliban stopped fighting against US troops. Is there any reason to think that if the US had gone back on this deal this situation would have kept going? If not, then again, this isn’t really a good question. You can’t really postulate that the US should get the benefit of an agreement to withdraw and then not actually withdraw.

87

David J. Littleboy 08.22.21 at 4:11 pm

“The Afghan government didn’t want us out, they begged us to stay. Why not listen to them instead? NATO deaths had been quite low (none in the past year afaik) since the “combat mission” ended 2014”

NATO/US deaths have been way down, but civilian deaths have been way up. The Afghan government was consistently rated one of the most corrupt government in the world. The people of Afghanistan were on the losing end of both those travesties. The folks getting rich off the corruption will tell reporters how great things were before, and the brain-dead culturally-illiterate reporters will believe they had interviewed a normal, regular, garden variety Afgani citizen. and write it up as a great truth.

Why not give the Taliban at least some benefit of the doubt? Lets see if they can turn things around. When things calm down, they’ll need bank clerks and the like. Sure, you don’t want to live under Sharia Law, but that’s the way large numbers of countries in the Middle East work. Including many of our “allies”. Not a currently an ally, but I had an Iranian table-tennis practice partner at MIT in 1975. She.Was.Good. And was a blast to practice with. I was one happy nerd. After this had been going on quite a while (much of spring term), I finally got up the gumption to chat her up. “What year are you?” “Senior”, “What are you doing after graduation?” “Going back to Iran” (I, freaking out that I’m losing a great practice partner, decided to at least try to get her to stay.) “Isn’t Iran a rough place to be a woman, won’t you be quite limited as to what you can do?” “Not at all. As long as you make it completely clear that you are working for the good of the country, women in Iran can do anything they want. It’s fine.” (OK, I’m defeated but, I have to keep up pretenses that I’m not completely defeated) and ask “What’s your field?” “Nuclear Engineering”. (I’ve probably mentioned this before here: Cheney and Kissinger set up a program for Iranian students to study nuclear engineering at MIT. This was before 1979, but in retrospect was more of the insane unbelievable stupidity we get from our incompetent “foreign policy elite.”)

But my point is that some members of those societies have figured out how to live in and deal with, the systems there. Some of them even think it’s right/good. We joke about the “Christian Taliban”, but it’s got a lot of truth to it since quite a few US women are strongly in favor of those policies.

88

MisterMr 08.22.21 at 4:15 pm

@Alex Sl

It’s not that clear that the Romans had cultural problems assimilating german tribes: many of the romano-barbaric kingdoms were quite romanized, and for example most of the “barbarians” were already christianized.

Look at Odoacer (the guy who deposed the last western roman emperor) or at his successor Theoderic: they were quite romanized and Theoderic spent his youth in Byzantium:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Odoacer

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodoric_the_Great

Theoderic even said something like: “All goths want to live like romans, only poor romans want to live like goths” (from the Wikipedia page).

It is more likely that there was a socio-economic collapse in the roman world, and/or that the roman empire was just too big for roman technology to keep it running.

If we speak of economic structures, this is exactly my point: did “the west” actually try to integrate Afghanistan into world markets?
In my opinion no.

Even for the old colonial systems, european powers didn’t really try to integrate colonies in the world market, the purpose was often to lock in the colonies as captive export market/natural resource exporters, generally preventing them to commerce with other european countries.

89

LFC 08.22.21 at 4:22 pm

Sarah Chayes, in the piece JimV linked above, identifies corruption and the role of Pakistan as the top two key factors in explaining Afghan govt weakness (in, among other things, commanding loyalty from.its citizens) and Taliban strength.

There were really only two ways to limit or change Pakistan’s malign role in supporting the Afghan Taliban. One, the “stick” approach of aid cutoffs or sanctions. Two, a regional diplomatic initiative involving not only Pakistan and Afghanistan but India as well, that might have given Pakistan more assurances about its borders and the status of Kashmir (among other issues, incl internal challenges by the Pakistani Taliban) in return for reduction of its support for the Afghan Taliban.

The U.S. did none of this, it didn’t tackle the Afghan govt corruption issue or Pakistan’s role with any vigor, and the result is this fiasco. The Afghan military would not have collapsed so suddenly had the govt been less corrupt and more able to command loyalty and sacrifice, and had the Taliban not been tied so closely to Pakistan and its monetary and other support. All of this, esp the problem of Pakistan’s role, has been pretty obvious to years to anyone who followed the region even casually. Blame shd be placed on successive State Depts and administrations for not doing what was necessary. It still might have failed, but at least it would have been tried.

90

nastywoman 08.23.21 at 5:03 am

‘It occurs to me that the US still has huge military bases is Germany and Japan, but we don’t call that an “occupation.” South Korea as well. Would those governments have become strong and stable and peaceful without them? Why wasn’t it decided those countries were “quagmires?”

some German Neo Nazi Nationalists believe that is a ‘Occupation Force’ and Germany won’t be entirely ‘free’ before the Americans -(and ALL Disney Programming) won’t be gone – that’ why I believe that if you want to conquer a ‘fureign’ country you always have
to start with building some kind of ‘Disneyland’ there –
with the exception of France –
as the French right away understand that you try to conquer their country with the
GREATEST Force of ALL…
as the French right away see your

91

nastywoman 08.23.21 at 5:35 am

and from a purely anthropological standpoint it makes absolutely no sense trying to conquer any ‘fureign country’ -(or city)
Just think about Venice and the disaster unfolding in Venice – where hordes of uncivilised
Barbarians try to enter the Vaparettos – and the Policia Stradale soon will have to shoot everybody who jumps the line.

And Australian Professors on the Internet complain about Afghanistan instead about rescue dogs getting shot…?

Typical?

92

SusanC 08.23.21 at 9:28 am

If the question is, was invading Afghanistan actually a good idea? then then many post WWII comparisons are pertinent.

On the other hand, if the question is, what the hell was Tony Blair thinking? When e.g. deciding to invade Iraq – despite mass protests at the time – then we might need to look to pre WWII examples to understand the motivation.

British politics has a problem that it has failed to come to terms with the end of the British Empire. Post WWII, these kind of imperialist ventures have not had a good record of success. But maybe that has yet to fully enter the political imagination of our leaders.

93

SusanC 08.23.21 at 9:31 am

“I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

94

Adam Roberts 08.23.21 at 11:24 am

@92 “… if the question is, what the hell was Tony Blair thinking? When e.g. deciding to invade Iraq – despite mass protests at the time – then we might need to look to pre WWII examples to understand the motivation.”

I disagree. I think Blair was thinking: “military intervention worked in Kosovo in 1999 and Sierra Leone in 2000, and therefore will work in Afghanistan in 2001.”

95

Tm 08.23.21 at 12:44 pm

Don’t neglect the propaganda front:

“As Judd Legum writes at Popular Information, big outlets have almost exclusively turned to critics of the Afghanistan withdrawal in their coverage, and in virtually every case people who supported the invasion and occupation. A public relations specialist told Popular Information that TV bookers were straight-up refusing to have anyone on who supports the decision to withdraw. Indeed, as Eric Alterman writes at The American Prospect, many people now being given a platform to hector Biden about his supposed failures were not only directly involved in the catastrophically bungled occupation but were revealed in The Washington Post‘s “Afghanistan Papers” to have blatantly lied to the public about how well it was going…”
“It goes without saying that until this outbreak of hysterics, the mainstream media had almost totally ignored Afghanistan for the last decade. … The main evening news programs on broadcast TV spent a grand total of five minutes combined on the country in 2020, and even before the pandemic barely more than that. As Jim Lobe writes at Responsible Statecraft, “the three networks devoted a total of only 362 minutes to Afghanistan in the preceding five years, or just two hours of coverage per network, or an average of only 24 minutes per network per year.”
https://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2021/08/punishing-biden-for-his-afghanistan-heresy

96

J-D 08.23.21 at 1:02 pm

Why not give the Taliban at least some benefit of the doubt? Lets see if they can turn things around. When things calm down, they’ll need bank clerks and the like. Sure, you don’t want to live under Sharia Law, but that’s the way large numbers of countries in the Middle East work.

It is unclear what point is intended. I know that many people live under conditions that I would not want to live under; many people live under conditions that they do not want to live under. The fact that many people live under conditions X and Y demonstrates no significant conclusion that I can think of, about the conditions or about the people.

But my point is that some members of those societies have figured out how to live in and deal with, the systems there.

The point remains unclear. It’s true that people find ways to live under and deal with many different conditions, but since this includes both good conditions and bad conditions, this leads to no significant conclusion that I can think of. People live under many different conditions; people also die under many different conditions; I don’t know what use can be made of these observations.

97

Tm 08.23.21 at 1:29 pm

And this:

“In 2019, the US dropped more than 7,000 bombs on Afghanistan, despite which the Taliban continued to take over more and more territory. The idea that this situation is anything remotely like Korea or Japan or Germany, or that the the Taliban would have continued not to attack American troops after the deal to withdraw was reneged on, is the most intelligence-insulting nonsense imaginable. But then so is every argument for continuing this massively failed war.”
https://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2021/08/petraeus-we-should-keep-doing-what-has-massively-failed-forever
https://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2021/08/the-seductions-of-war

98

rogergathmann 08.23.21 at 2:01 pm

I love the way Americans just disregard the fact that 62,000 Afghan soldiers at least have been killed in this war – because they just don’t exist. They didn’t exist for the Afghanistan government, either, since that government refused to pay them or feed them. I wonder what happens to armies that are not fed or paid? It is a mystery!

If the British experience of occupying Germany is pertinent, lets look back and see what that entailed.
There were around 800,000 Commonwealth soldiers in Germany at the end of 1945
vs.
over 100,000 british soldiers PASSED THROUGH afghanistan from 2001 to 2021. For comparison sake, the british had 54,000 people staffing the occupation administration by 1946.
It cost the British 80 million pounds just to maintain the occupation in 1945-1947. That amounts to a good quarter of all tax revenues in the same period. In terms of inflation, that amount is now equal to 3,816,000,000 pounds. By comaprison, the Brits spent 300-400 million pounds in 2001, and their expenditures fell 81 percent afterwards.
The British had no sense whatseoever that Afghanistan had the importance of Germany, nor did the Americans, and to compare the occupations is pure comedy. I guess freedom isn’t free! Where are those 800,000 commonwealth troops, anyway.

99

Omega Centauri 08.23.21 at 3:01 pm

Me fears that the REAL lesson we will learn is the political one: “disengaging from a quagmire is very hazardous to the political party in power”. Therefore kick the can down the road to the next administration is the only strategy for any president. This is a prescription for forever wars that no one wants, but no-one wants the opprobrium that attaches to whomever ends them.

100

J-D 08.24.21 at 3:28 am

I disagree. I think Blair was thinking: “military intervention worked in Kosovo in 1999 and Sierra Leone in 2000, and therefore will work in Afghanistan in 2001.”

‘This hammer worked to drive those nails, therefore it will work to drive this screw.’

101

David J. Littleboy 08.24.21 at 7:08 am

“The point remains unclear.”

Sorry about the lack of clarity. I was comparing living under a corrupt foreign-installed government associated with a continuing large numbers of civilian casualties to living under a government of your religious group that might actually be trying (admittedly, something we haven’t seen yet) to run the country reasonably honestly and competently.

Complaining about how bad Islam is to women is certainly a valid complaint, but it’s a complaint that can be made against many other Islamic countries as well. Thus it’s an invalid reason for supporting one of the most corrupt governments in the world. And “fixing” Islam isn’t our job, that’s their job. We can ask nicely, suggest better ways. But bombing people is neither nice nor acceptable.

So my guess is that some number of Afghanis (even some Afghani women) would be happier under a stable Islamic regime (in which the banks actually work) than under the corrupt foreign-installed government that required enormous tonnage of bombs dropped near enough to civilians to kill lots of them.

Certainly, the Afghanis who were on the US corruption gravy train are going to be unhappy.

We don’t see the Afghanis who were hurt by the prior government; the people who lost their life savings when the bank collapsed (due to government corruption), the civilians who died from our bombs, the opium farmers whose crops were destroyed but were neither compensated nor provided alternative crops to grow.

102

tm 08.24.21 at 10:02 am

Since we like to muse about history: why not compare Western “nation building” in Iraq and Afghanistan with Napoleonic occupations e. g. in Spain, Netherlands, the Rhineland, and Switzerland? Napoleon plundered shamelessly but he also brought progressive political reforms and to some extent freed oppressed populations. The results were very mixed. Occupation was costly and often met with bloody resistance. Some political reforms endured but the more lasting effect of the occupations, especially in Germany, was to taint liberalism as foreign imposed tyranny. Which I have always suspected is precisely the effect of Western efforts in Afghanistan etc.

Alex 82 and MisterMr 88: “it was easier for Ancient Rome to conquer and manage Ancient Greece than Germanic tribes”

To begin with, there wasn’t really anything to “conquer and manage” East of the Rhine. Contrary to the Greeks, the Germanic tribes had no cities, no centralized political structures, and no surplus production. Their interest from Roman perspective was mainly as mercenaries for Roman armies and as border raiders to be defended against. In the case of Odoacer and quite a few other Germanic leaders, it was both. Many were high officers in the service of Roman emperors but when they weren’t paid sufficiently, they could also be raiders. Or conversely, a leader of a sufficiently effective band of “barbaric” border raiders could beome a Roman general and put his unit into the service of Roman border defense. Fascinating.

103

Adam Roberts 08.24.21 at 10:13 am

J-D @100 “‘This hammer worked to drive those nails, therefore it will work to drive this screw.’”

Well, quite. On the other hand, hindsight is always 20-20.

104

J-D 08.24.21 at 10:50 am

Sorry about the lack of clarity.

Practically every change of government produces some good consequences for some people and some bad consequences for some people, is welcomed by some people and the reverse by some people. These things are so obviously and so generally true that it’s hard to tell why they would be worth mentioning with reference to this particular case; but if there is supposed to be any point being made beyond those obvious generalities, it remains unclear.

More particularly, your observations don’t justify the conclusion that it is, on balance, a good thing that the Taliban have taken over; but then, it isn’t clear what view (if any) you would take of that conclusion.

Also more particularly, since it isn’t clear what ‘fixing Islam’ could mean, it isn’t clear (a fortiori) how it could be the sort of thing that could be anybody’s job.

105

LFC 08.24.21 at 11:41 am

The question of neighboring countries and the role they play is crucial. It was in the Vietnam war and, in a somewhat different way, in Afghanistan. See my remarks re Pakistan above.

The references to some previous occupations are of dubious relevance because, as Peter T acknowledged @63, there is a difference between wars of conquest and occupation, on one hand, and, on the other hand, interventions in internationalized civil wars. There is an academic literature on the latter topic, incl some work that deals w Afghanistan.

I’m not in a position to discuss or summarize it, but I can say that all these references to occupations in this thread are pretty much like talking about apples when the subject is oranges. The key difference between Germany post 1945 and Afghanistan is that the former was an occupation of a defeated country. The latter was not. The four-power occupation of Germany involved administering and running the country. There was no such thing in Afghanistan, which had its own — corrupt and rather weak, but indigenous — government.

What sealed the fate of the Afghanistan intervention was the U.S./NATO failure to deal effectively with the role of Pakistan, as I noted upthread. NATO/ISAF could have put 1 million soldiers in Afghanistan and without dealing w Pakistan’s role as safe harbor and support of the Afghan Taliban, Haqqani network etc., it probably would not have made a difference.

There might have been problems in paying the Afghan army and there was certainly a lot of corruption. But the corruption in itself mattered mostly bc the Taliban were a viable alternative to it — not the only one, but one — and their viability rested in significant part on what Pakistan was doing to support them. Tons of ink was spilled on this over the years, little was done about it, and when Judy Woodruff asked Imran Khan about all this recently in an interview on PBS NewsHour he, not surprisingly, largely evaded the questions and changed the subject to how many Pakistanis had been killed in ‘the war on terror’ – which was not directly responsive to the questions re Pakistan’s role vis-a-vis the Afghan Taliban.

106

Peter T 08.24.21 at 12:01 pm

If we are to talk of historical parallels, the modern version of the Western Roman experience would be if the Afghans had invaded the US seeking admission as the 51st to 55th states (carved out of a swathe from Texas to South Dakota), been granted their wish but found that in the absence of qualified lawyers they had to make do with a mix of Sharia, AK-47s and a bad translation of the Mexican constitution picked up en route.

107

Trader Joe 08.24.21 at 2:50 pm

What would Hilary have done?

Stipulating that whomever finally decided to exit was going to have a mess – Obama is the one who should have began the exodus shortly after Bin Laden was eliminated since he didn’t have any further elections to win. He chose not to.

We can reasonably conclude that his Sec. of State HRC was advising continuation (certainly Mr. Biden was not) and that had she won in 2016 my guess is she’d have gotten the US in even deeper. Indeed Afghanistan might be one of the few things Trump didn’t make worse.

The withdrawal has been miserable on many dimensions. That said, it should have been done at least a decade ago. Its the first think Biden has done I’ve actually been proud of.

108

LFC 08.24.21 at 11:02 pm

Tm @95

Re the three networks’ coverage. They are half-hour evening broadcasts, with ads. So of course they didn’t cover Afghanistan in depth. That wd have been true irrespective of what was happening w the withdrawal, because the networks cover “news” defined in a certain, somewhat sensationalistic way.

However it’s been decades since the three networks defined and exhausted the news “space” in terms of TV and radio in the U.S. (not to mention other media). There’s cable (CNN, MSNBC, etc. et al), which I don’t watch, there’s PBS NewsHour (available both on TV and on radio, at least where I live), which does not a flawless but a much better job than the networks, there’s Pacifica for a more leftish slant, there’s NPR etc. etc.

109

J-D 08.24.21 at 11:48 pm

“‘This hammer worked to drive those nails, therefore it will work to drive this screw.’”

Well, quite. On the other hand, hindsight is always 20-20.

The arguments against intervention were made vociferously at the time. There is no way Tony Blair can have been unaware of them. He wrongly chose to disregard them. The right thing for him to do now would be to acknowledge this.

110

Dragon-King Wangchuck 08.25.21 at 5:22 pm

Something I’ve been thinking about is how this matches the mainstream response to Defunding the Police. To oversimplify one of the issues with police misconduct, it’s that we’re using cops for things which we should most definitely not involve cops. Dealing with homelessness or people undergoing mental health crises. But we use an armed police response because that’s all we know. That’s how these things are done.

Forever wars are just the same thing on a bigger scale. We deploy military forces on humanitarian missions all the time. It’s like we only know how to interact with things through the projection of force. Would we be better served using any other approach than guys with guns? Probably. But we don’t – not at the local level, nor at the international level.

There’s parallels. One reason we use cops instead of anything else is because we fund cops. The only city department that has adequate funding is usually the police. So when things come up, the only people with the capacity to respond is the one service that hasn’t been subject to decades of austerity. Holds true at the national level too – cuts to the military budget are met with the same outraged histrionics as the calls to Defund the Police. I think this is a result of the advocacy you get for various measures. The people who want to cut services always exempt the police and the military. People who want to curb the police and military are people who have less of an issue with government spending. So there’s no real pressure to cut those budgets, and so they grow constantly and voraciously.

The other big parallel is of course the idolatry. The hero worshipping of cops and soldiers. That also likely has a big role in why these government sectors get solid funding as well as why we’re so eager to deploy them whenever and wherever possible.

So I don’t think it has anything to do with results, it’s just our reflex to project power and coerce compliance through the threat (or the actual use) of violence. Through attrition and austerity, the system has made that the only response we can make – and we’ve grown accustomed to ignoring any negative outcomes that it produces.

111

Tm 08.25.21 at 6:12 pm

LFC 108: 24 minutes per network per year devoted to reporting about Afghanistan over the past five years seems to me a valid if incomplete indicator of American public interest/disinterest in that country. Do you have a better indicator and does it show a different picture?

112

John Quiggin 08.26.21 at 4:48 am

@110 If there has ever been a worse slogan than “Defund the Police”, I’d be interested in finding out what it was. Unless you already know the argument, it would be impossible to infer that this means
“To oversimplify one of the issues with police misconduct, it’s that we’re using cops for things which we should most definitely not involve cops. Dealing with homelessness or people undergoing mental health crises. But we use an armed police response because that’s all we know.”

The obvious interpretation of “Defund the Police”, given that most people think of police as crimefighters is “lets have more murders and armed robberies”. Unsurprisingly, it’s been a total disaster and gift to the right.

Assuming more than three words are acceptable as a slogan how about something like “Fund police to fight crime and social workers to deal with social problems”?

113

lurker 08.26.21 at 9:03 am

@112
Prison abolition is a close second.

114

engels 08.26.21 at 1:51 pm

The odd thing about “defund the police” is the penny-pinching rhetoric it proudly shares with right-wing proponents of starving the beast, a strange kind of left-wing austerity politics.

115

engels 08.26.21 at 2:00 pm

The obvious interpretation of “Defund the Police”, given that most people think of police as crimefighters is “lets have more murders and armed robberies”.

That’s one interpretation. Another is a sort of cyberpunk dystopia where the banks and megacorps are protected by private armies but the rest of us have to pack heavy weapons to get safely back from the cash point.

116

Dragon-King Wangchuck 08.26.21 at 5:20 pm

Defund the Police is a great slogan. The criticisms against it are exactly the same criticisms laid against “Black Lives Matter” six years ago. “But it’s divisive” and “bad faith arguments will be made against it”. Six years ago, BLM polled as well as Defund does now, and now BLM has mainstream acceptance.

Did this take many years to get to? Yes it did. But realistically, actual meaningful police reform is also going to take a LONG time. The need is to push the window on this discussion, and that’s achieved with the Defund slogan.

Here’s why it’s great:

It’s short and simple.
It’s a call to action.
It actually channels the outrage that egregious episodes of police misconduct generate into action. Specifically, Defunding just requires defunding – a simple change to budget allocations – a one and done action. Reform however requires constant vigilance and pressure to prevent police departments from subverting or undermining reform efforts – which is a pattern that has repeated itself countless times.

Too much of police reform is caught up in “but what about the good cops”. Defund takes the focus away from good cops vs bad cops. It reframes the argument as “what are police for anyways?”

Even the strong negative reactions it provokes are a launching point for discussion. Why can’t we defund the police? We defund literally everything else. Does there exist a city without massive backlogs for repair and maintenance of municipal infrastructure? Is a cop’s salary more important than water mains not bursting? Defunding any city service is totally normal, in fact it’s practically a tradition! And yet people freak out at the mere idea of police budget cuts. That’s a great point to hammer – why are police budgets so sacred? Why is it more important than say food safety inspections for local restaurants?

Final point – the reason BLM has become mainstream accepted is because the activists stuck by it, In the face of the pithy “All Lives Matter” crew, they held fast to the “unpopular” and “divisive” slogan. And then cops kept killing Black people for no reason at all. The bad apples kept acting like racist and violent psychopaths who know they are immune to repercussions. Every incident of brutality was punctuated by the words Black Lives Matter. And going forward, every incident of police brutality will be punctuated by the words Defund the Police. That’s how public opinion is going to get shifted.

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John Quiggin 08.27.21 at 3:37 am

DK-W there seems to be a motte-and-bailey going on here. @110 you were saying “let’s keep police focused on crime, not homeless people”. Now you’re saying, “let’s go along with budget cuts, and make sure the police cop their share” or, to use your food safety example “we’re letting people die of food poisoning, so why be upset if they get murdered – there’s not enough money in the budget to fix this”. If you had a contest to design a policy line to upset just about everyone on both the left and the right, this would be a hot contender.

The contrast with BLM is clear. Everyone understands what it means – we should do more to stop cops and vigilantes killing black people, even if the cops don’t like it. The ups and downs of its popularity reflect actual changes in views.

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Dragon-King Wangchuck 08.27.21 at 1:23 pm

Hardly. Your assertion begs the question. It assumes that police prevent crime and actually do something positive for public safety. That’s the point of reframing the question – to challenge that assumption. Do police prevent murders? No. They barely solve them after the fact. That’s the fundamental issue here. Police accountability is a farce because cops can rely on scaremongering for support. As if 10% fewer cops will result in The Purge.

AOC had a good take on this – when asked what it would look like if there were far fewer cops, she said it would look like suburbs. Where there are far fewer cops.

As for your comparison of Defund and BLM – I disagree. They are both clear, in fact Defund is clearer since it is an explicit call to action that states exactly what the ask is. You don’t have to interpret or read in anything. It’s just Defund the Police. And yes, people do in fact make it out to mean things it doesn’t, but that isn’t even blunting the message. For any audience that will hear it in good faith, Defund is an excellent message. It lays out the exact parameters of the argument and if one takes it seriously, then we attack the fundamental issue – that police departments are treated as sacred so they never have to worry about accountability. For those who will not engage it in good faith, no slogan is viable, so it doesn’t matter.

Here’s the point – is there anything else that gets the same degree of protection as police budgets? I say no. Nothing is more important than paying cops – that is the number one priority of any local government. Why? Why is that? Why can literally anything else get cut except cops? I think the answer is this unexamined assumption and unproven belief that cops make things safer. And there’s precious little data that even remotely hints that this is the case.

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J-D 08.27.21 at 10:35 pm

It assumes that police prevent crime and actually do something positive for public safety.

What happens when police go on strike?

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engels 08.27.21 at 11:39 pm

The criticisms against it are exactly the same criticisms laid against “Black Lives Matter” six years ago. “But it’s divisive” and “bad faith arguments will be made against it”. Six years ago, BLM polled as well as Defund does now, and now BLM has mainstream acceptance.

Imho it’s very unlikely to catch on anywhere other than US (part of Corbyn’s general election platform was actually *increased^ police funding!) “Black lives matter” was never “divisive”, it’s stating something that anybody except for extreme racists has to agree with.

That’s a great point to hammer – why are police budgets so sacred? Why is it more important than say food safety inspections for local restaurants?

“Defund” doesn’t mean “reallocate the funding to something nicer”.

From the point of view of the rest of the world I’m pretty sure the best thing Americans could do would be to defund the CIA and/or the Pentagon but some reason that isn’t getting a look-in.

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nastywoman 08.28.21 at 5:36 am

and then I read in the NYT:

“The humiliation of Afghanistan will have been worth it if it pries the old paradigm loose and lets new thoughts in,” Yoram Hazony, an influential nationalist intellectual whose conferences feature figures like Josh Hawley and Peter Thiel, tweeted earlier this month.
What old paradigm? Well, a few days later he tweeted, “What went wrong in Iraq and Afghanistan was, first and foremost, the ideas in the heads of the people running the show. Say its name: Liberalism.”
Fox’s Tucker Carlson, the most important nationalist voice in America, seemed to sympathize with the gender politics of Taliban-supporting Afghans. “They don’t hate their own masculinity,” he said shortly after the fall of Kabul. “They don’t think it’s toxic. They like the patriarchy. Some of their women like it too. So now they’re getting it all back. So maybe it’s possible that we failed in Afghanistan because the entire neoliberal program is grotesque.” (By “neoliberalism” he seems to mean social liberalism, not austerity economics.)
It turns out that when the government deceptively invokes liberal democracy to justify a war, liberal democracy can be discredited by a grueling defeat. In his new book “Reign of Terror,” the national security journalist Spencer Ackerman draws a direct line between our stalemated post-9/11 wars and the rise of Donald Trump’.

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engels 08.28.21 at 11:32 am

Amid Afghan Chaos, a C.I.A. Mission That Will Persist for Years
https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/27/us/politics/cia-afghanistan.html

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Stephen 08.29.21 at 8:24 am

DKW: “now BLM has mainstream acceptance”

And here was me thinking that BLM’s goals include abolishing capitalism, overthrowing the patriarchy, ending toxic masculinity and the nuclear family, and having open borders. As well as defunding the police and opening prisons.

I hadn’t realised that these have mainstream acceptance, unless “mainstream” means a rather small section of revolutionaries.

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