Monday Mashup—9/14/09


This past Friday marked eight years since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.


Looking back over the last eight years, Robert Frost’s “Road Not Taken” comes to mind:


Two roads diverged in a yellow wood

and sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveller, long I stood

and looked down one as far as I could

to where it bent in the undergrowth;


Two roads diverged from 9/11—Iraq and Afghanistan—and we have traveled both. And from those two roads, strategies diverged, winding us so far down the roads, that it is hard to see that first fork.


At the end of “Road Not Taken,” Frost wrote:


I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less travelled by,

And that has made all the difference


Will there be a point when we say that we took the road that “has made all the difference?”


September 11, I posted a guest blog, from Michael Brandon McClellan, titled “Knowing When to Stop, or Learning how to Win?” It was written in response to George Will’s much-debated Washington Post op-ed “Time to get Out of Afghanistan.”


You should also check out General Charles Krulack’s much-discussed e-mail response to Will. The e-mail is posted on Small Wars Journal. Check out the e-mail, as well as Paul Yingling’s commentary, and the comments following it.


Fouad Ajami’s Wall Street Journal op-ed “9/11 and the ‘Good War’” also ran September 11th. Ajami wrote:


The road that led to 9/11 was never a defining concern of President Barack Obama. But he returned to 9/11 as he sought to explain and defend the war in Afghanistan in a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Phoenix, Ariz., on Aug. 17. “The insurgency in Afghanistan didn’t just happen overnight and we won’t defeat it overnight, but we must never forget: This is not a war of choice; it is a war of necessity. Those who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al Qaeda could plot to kill more Americans.”


This distinction between a war of choice (Iraq) and a war of necessity (Afghanistan) has become canonical to American liberalism. . . .


But it will not do to offer up 9/11 as a casus belli in Afghanistan while holding out the threat of legal retribution against the men and women in our intelligence services who carried out our wishes in that time of concern and peril. To begin with, a policy that falls back on 9/11 must proceed from a correct reading of the wellsprings of Islamist radicalism.


The day before, Stratfor ran the article “France, Germany, U.K.: Trading Troops for an Exit Strategy.” From the Summary of the article:


European leaders are considering an increase in troops to Afghanistan in anticipation of a future withdrawal and exit strategy. Leaders of the U.K, Germany and France hope to train up Afghans to fend for themselves as soon as possible. A meeting, dubbed the “exit strategy summit,” is planned for December to discuss Afghan issues.


At DODDBuzz, in his article “Worst Case Unfolding in Afghanistan?” Greg Grant asked:


What if the entire U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is based on a flawed premise?


He ends with:


The best chance for success in Afghanistan had been the hope of cleaving away parts of the population, the proverbial fence sitters, from the more extremist Quetta shura Taliban. That required the people buy in, on some level, to the Afghan central government. It’s difficult to see how that happens now given the results of the election.


Over at Foreign Policy, you’ll find “The Ultimate AfPak Reading List”, compiled by Peter Bergen. Bergen notes that the list is:


. . . an amalgamation of syllabi from classes I’ve taught at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. I’ve included a variety of reading, from books I’ve found particularly insightful on the topic to significant reporting on everything from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to al Qaeda’s media strategy.


Also over at Foreign Policy: The AfPak Channel. This is a special project of Foreign Policy and New America Foundation. Make sure you check out Artemy Kalinovsky’s article Afghanistan is the New Afghanistan.” Kalinovsky wrote:


In a recent article, Thomas Johnson and Chris Mason argue that Afghanistan is the new Vietnam. They are right, but there is another historical parallel which is both more obvious and less discussed: the Soviet involvement in Afghanistan.


U.S. government officials have understandably avoided the comparison. For one, the United States supported the other side: Afghan “freedom fighters” who later became enemies. Further, the Soviets became bogged down in a costly and bloody decade-long quagmire before Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev ultimately pulled the plug and withdrew. Moscow’s invasion of Afghanistan and its attempt to create a working central government in Kabul is broadly (if somewhat inaccurately) deemed a failure.


It’s a failure the United States apparently has no intention of repeating — to the extent that it doesn’t even seem to study it. The U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual does not mention the Soviet experience once. One analyst told me that when she suggested including the conflict as a way to inform current policy, Pentagon officials seemed to have little awareness about what Moscow had been trying to do there or for how long.


With so many disagreeing over strategy, staying or leaving, the roads taken have become muddy, without a clear route moving forward, or a trail left from behind. What can be done now, to make all the difference?



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  1. Tim on September 14, 2009 at 1:43 pm

    Seems like not enough people read your books. Our thinking is flawed. Once again “those who do no know history…”

    Pull out the ‘Big’ Army(and Marines) and let the Spec Ops folks have a free hand?

    Kipling had it right.

    Tim, Ex-lots of things

  2. Karl on September 15, 2009 at 7:30 am


    What can be done now, to make all the difference? I think we all agree that “our” current vision of victory is just not attainable. We do not speak the same language. We do not want or need the same things. It is nearly impossible to even have a technical conversation with a rural Afghan about things such as governance, a central governement, infrastructure development, a juducial system, etc…and believe me – it is not becuase they are not intelligent people – it is becuase our cultures, beliefs, morals, values and even language are such huge barriers to overcome. I can see some strong tribal leader in the Konar valley saying,”Come back and speak to my people in a hundred years when you have seen what we have seen and lived as we have lived. Living with them, becoming a part of their culture is the only way to understand them. But do we have that kind of patience? That kind of time? The answer is staring us in the face. Deal with the tribes. For the long-term. Build relationships. They key to “winning” the war in Afghanistan is not “defeating” the taliban, but “winning” the tribes. Eventually, the tribes will decide who will lead them. It has happened in the past and it will happen again in the future. With or wothout us. We should empower this social structure, not be afraid of it.

    Karl…just a guy who knows a guy.

  3. wisner on September 15, 2009 at 10:43 am

    With so many disagreeing over strategy, staying or leaving, the roads taken have become muddy, without a clear route moving forward, or a trail left from behind. What can be done now, to make all the difference?

    I find this debate necessary. The same thing happened for Iraq and now it is happening for Afghanistan. We NEED this discussion and we need this debate to be loud. There is no other way to move towards a clear strategy than to put pressure on the decision makers thru a public debate. The more “heavy” the participants (Gen. Kurlak) the better.

  4. hotaruSTAR16 on September 15, 2009 at 10:45 am

    It’s no doubt that the Afghan war is a huge question mark right now, with people for and people against its continuation. Asia Chronicle News offers knowledgeable input and good analyses on the situation. Check out the site at

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