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20 Years After 9/11 - Effects, Lessons Learned, Roads Not Taken


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It struck me yesterday that with the retreat from Afganistan, this has become indeed a case for the history section. Even though there are still ongoing operations in Iraq and elsewhere, not necessarily well-founded in events of 2001; which leads directly to the points noted in the topic line.

There's no doubt of the lasting effects, some unavoidable, some by choice, good or bad. There was always going to be both a military and internal security response to 9/11; no US president was going to get away with a couple Tomahawks dropped into Afghanistan, then revert to business as usual like after previous Al-Qaeda attacks. It's also clear there were going to be some overreactions under the immediate impression of the monstrosity. Errors are human, and hindsight is 20/20. We know what went wrong; we can't know which alternate courses of action would have yielded better results, depending on a given definition of "better".

Obviously the Afghanistan mission failed, though opinions there are already split between those who think it should just have been a short, sharp punitive expedition with Western involvement after toppling of the Taliban regime repeated only as needed, those who think more ressources should have been poured into building up the place (like what was used on Iraq instead), and those who think the recent low-level engagement could have maintained a sufficient status quo for the foreseeable time. Most seem to agree at this point that Iraq was a mistake, though again it's unclear how an alternate course of events would really have gone.

Certainly both missions, along with the European attempt at regime change in Libya, have killed off the idea of exporting Western democracy by force for the near future. There was already reluctance about intervening in Syria seven years ago, the civil war there itself an effect of the Arab Spring which some say was triggered, others say was actually delayed by intervention in Iraq. Iraq certainly affected Syria through the emergence of the IS, which gestated from its Jordanian roots through resistance against US occupation next door. In the end, events increased Iranian influence throughout the Shi'ite crescent, which was surely not the original intention. On the flip side, this probably promoted the rapprochement between Israel and the Sunni monarchies.

The US hasn't seen another major organized Islamist attack since, which could count as a success; though whether that's mostly due to the "fight them there so we don't have to fight them here" concept or the sharpened domestic security regulations - and whether either was worth the price - is questionable. Europe actually saw an increase of terror attacks, in part as retribution for its involvement in the American missions, in part due to its geographical proximity to the Muslim world as they served to promote Jihadist resistance against the West as a whole.  Even the refugee crisis of 2014/15 was at least in part an eventual effect of the Iraq-IS-Syria chain; so in terms of net security gain, it probably wasn't worth it, or at least Iraq should absolutely have been avoided.

Some additional information about 9/11 may become soon available through declassification of documents after the review just ordered by the Biden administration; though how much this will impact judgement of subsequent actions remains to be seen.

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For the U.S. this involved changes in leadership and legislative bodies throughout these 20 years, yet from the opposing view, imo, not much appeared to change. The West, basically the U.S., was/is in an Islamic country and no Islamic country was in the West. Do not irk the U.S. with surprise attacks or horrible things occur to you. The U.S. and Europe, it appears, could benefit from more and better human intelligence in the Islamic world. I admit I have no idea how do this.
I do wonder on how impressed the Islamic world was, and is, impressed by Western firepower and logistics along with political staying power. I cannot think of a Mid-East/ Islamic country that is immune from this amount and duration of applied force and I wonder if this Western world ability is in the mind of said leaders in these countries. 

I do not believe you can have a successful government with a prior culture of compromise and morality. Afghanistan will, imo, never have this. With people you have problems and when you have groups of people you have groups of often large problems. The best form of government is Christianity leading Capitalism with a representative form of government. The West has this and is now living off the traditions such success brought. Islamic countries have not had the benefits of this and suffer accordingly.

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The link below is truly evil! That such wretched choices are celebrated is a large reason why Western cultural is the antithesis of morality for much of the Islamic world. The basis of the family, the cornerstone of a successful society,  is a man an and woman becoming husband and wife, then a mother and father. The Western evil below is one reason why the West spent 20 years in Afghanistan.

https://www.aol.com/news/pete-buttigieg-husband-chasten-welcome-154439324.html

 

Edited by Rick
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Afghanistan was lost because US administrations were tricked into believing in a mythical Taliban insurgency. In reality what the world witnessed was the conquest of Afghanistan by a Pakistani proxy force in much  the same way China used the Khmer Rouge to conquer Cambodia.

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Well, unless US was willing to go to war with Pakistan (or at least close to it) it would have happened. That Taliban  were Pakistani proxy force and that Pakistan decided so side with most radical Islamism elements in Afghanistan should have been clear to everyone already back in the '90s.

 

Edited by bojan
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4 hours ago, Rick said:

The link below is truly evil! That such wretched choices are celebrated is a large reason why Western cultural is the antithesis of morality for much of the Islamic world. The basis of the family, the cornerstone of a successful society,  is a man an and woman becoming husband and wife, then a mother and father. The Western evil below is one reason why the West spent 20 years in Afghanistan.

https://www.aol.com/news/pete-buttigieg-husband-chasten-welcome-154439324.html

 

No wonder they find the family policies of people like Orban or Putin unacceptable.

Then  there is this, wrt the recent ruling of SCOTUS about Texas abortion ban:

https://www.salon.com/2021/09/04/why-satanists-may-be-the-last-best-hope-to-save-abortion-rights-in-texas/
 

Quote

Why Satanists may be the last, best hope to save abortion rights in Texas

The "nontheistic" organization joins the fray with a last-ditch legal maneuver to save abortion rights in Texas

yep, "nontheistic", suuure. This single word tells a lot about the current state of certain parts of society.

Kinda sad to see some people prefer real, truly, evil to OrangeManBad, and they have the gall of calling their adversaries "divissive". Or even "conspiracy theory nutjobs" when they dare to point that relation between US Liberals (progressives in the rest of the world) and satanism.

I do not see how that people could read aloud truthfully the Pledge of Allegiance, but one should remember who is called the father of lies*:
 

Quote

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."


* John 8:44:
 

Quote

You belong to your father the devil and you willingly carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks in character, because he is a liar and the father of lies.

 

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7 hours ago, BansheeOne said:

It struck me yesterday that with the retreat from Afganistan, this has become indeed a case for the history section. Even though there are still ongoing operations in Iraq and elsewhere, not necessarily well-founded in events of 2001; which leads directly to the points noted in the topic line.

...

Obviously the Afghanistan mission failed, ...

Certainly both missions, along with the European attempt at regime change in Libya, have killed off the idea of exporting Western democracy by force for the near future.

I would say, it depends on what the objective was, which was never properly defined (in contrast to Irak). I have said it before, if the Taliban had handed OBL on 12/9, there would have been no Afghanistan war and no one would have cared that the women had to carry a burka.

Since they did not, they had to be toppled, but there was no reason not to hand over power to the winners, except that they were/are an unsavory bunch and were the minority in terms of the population they represented (and of course, were not in Pakistan's pocket...)

Since the only long term solution was finding a strongman that would be acceptable to the Pakistanis, but not so strong as to generate an insurrection among the tribes, it seems this defaulted on Karzai, but with US fighting the war, and NATO doing the stabilization stuff. With USian money cam rampant corruption, and with it went the credibility among the Afghan street, who has elected to sit this one out for 20 years, so in the end, he Afghans are getting what they chose to have, a return to 2000 but without Al Qaida - and the whole point after 2001 was to let the Afghans decide their future = mission success!

Irak is another matter altogether, there the objective was to create a firendly state in a crossroads of history that would free the US and the Saudis from keeping an eternal vigl on the border. It failed misserably when people ignorant of what they were doing and where they were doing it (Sun Tzu know your enemy and know yourself maxim) managed to get the place in arms and into a civil war, and finally left it to the ISIS and Iranians. This cannot be blamed on GWB or Obama as it was a bipartisan effort indeed.

The net result has been to ignite a war among at least 4 players, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Qatar and Pakistan, with shifting alliances and several battlefields, be they Syria, Yemen, Lybia or Afghanistan, fueled by US dollars and US weapons, so all that remains is to sit and watch who comes on top. Voids to be occupied by the Chinese.

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I know I keep banging on about this, but Dubya's foreign policy team was basically the best team (on paper) in history, and they ended up making horribly bad decisions, and that dynamic should be closely studied by historians moving forward. Their obvious mistake was to launch two major wars practically at once but trying to do it the "nice guy" way. 

Re Banshee's original post, I think he's maybe (understandably) confusing public-facing newspaper editorials etc. with the actual opinions of the American people. Most USAians gave up on both of those wars a while ago; they either got bored of hearing about it or decided it was all a waste.

My personal opinion is that Iraq and Afghanistan were both incredibly stupid and wasteful, and that most of the think-tank folks who argue otherwise are either in the pockets of the military-industrial complex or are people who were so invested in Afghanistan working out (often for totally moral reasons) that they refuse to believe that the whole thing was pretty much bullshit (This would include a lot of people I know.) My favorite line of argument is the "but it's our fault for training them along Western standards, without air support they couldn't function, blah blah" -- not true at all, they gave up immediately because the paper government didn't have any legitimacy.

Moving forward, honestly I don't think our failures are going to affect the US for jack-shit overall. There wasn't a draft and we didn't suffer 58K dead like we did in Vietnam, so there's not going to be some big anti-war movement. I don't think a lot of furriners really understand how powerful the US really is -- in Afghanistan we basically poured $2 trillion dollars into a hole and lit in on fire and then pissed on it, and it didn't affect our economy in the slightest.

Europeans who are going on about "how can we trust the US anymore after this??" are crying crocodile tears, anybody with a brain and a Wikipedia account would realize that the US is a fair-weather friend and that most of our foreign-policy decisions are based around domestic policies (i.e. getting re-elected).

Would also add that the USAian national character is to basically ignore bad stuff and then to go into full righteous panic mode once something hits. Sometimes it works out great, like us building a navy that was like 10 times larger than the IJN's in a couple years. More often it works out very badly -- the War on Terror (seriously I'm still taking my shoes off at the airport), the whole Defund the Police movement in 2020, etc. We are a clumsy and stupid giant. 

Edit to add: just dividing Afghanistan war costs by US population I got about $6k per capita.  counter balancing that is how much of that cash made it back to the US economy, probably a lot!

 

Edited by Angrybk
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1 hour ago, Angrybk said:

just dividing Afghanistan war costs by US population I got about $6k per capita.

...distributed over 20 years, so $300 per year, $25.- per month, less than a dollar each day.

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4 hours ago, Ssnake said:

...distributed over 20 years, so $300 per year, $25.- per month, less than a dollar each day.

Almost a dollar a day per capita for a total fuvkup makes it seem worse actually. Free daily coffee for everybody for 20 years and no hundreds of thousands dead!

Edited by Angrybk
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The Taliban were and are a Pakistani proxy, but the Pakistanis themselves were and are not invincible. They probably would have also been open to cutting their losses, right about when their air force was evacuating Pakistani nationals from the country they thought was about to be formerly known as Afghanistan.

Washington may have indirectly backed the wrong regional power broker in this one.

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9 hours ago, Angrybk said:

I don't think a lot of furriners really understand how powerful the US really is -- in Afghanistan we basically poured $2 trillion dollars into a hole and lit in on fire and then pissed on it, and it didn't affect our economy in the slightest.

😄 LOL! 😄

I mostly took the various opinions on Afghanistan from internet posts (not just TankNet), though those would include some proper editorials, too. But obviously that's not representative either, and I acknowledge that most people might not care one bit one way or another, and not only in the US.

FWIW, I used to fall into the "Afghanistan could have been made a success with more focus and effort" camp, but am not so sure now. Though I still maintain that Iraq was not only a diversion, but counterproductive in that it actually lead to a greater terror threat, and undermined public support for the GWOT both among Americans (eventually across the entire political spectrum) and internationally. 

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Well, what are the (negative) effects on the US economy that can be directly traced back to the war in Afghanistan?

The country's deficit increased. It also did because of the subprime crisis, and the war in Iraq. A lot of people think that the US deficit is unsustainable and it may well be. But people (including myself) have been saying that since Reagan's days, 40 years ago. But how certain can we be that a day of reckoning is coming, if it hasn't materialized for almost two generations and the practice of deficit spending has grown from "irresponsible" to , if there was a comparative case, "even irresponsibler"?

Maybe trust in the capacity of the US ecenomy depends on the perception of US strength as a whole, and that might have taken a dive recently - so maybe the apocalypse is right around the corner (but that's speculation about the future, and this is the history board). 91 cents per day and per capita as the daily cost of the war in Afghanistan are, without doubt, insufficient to dent the growth of the US economy, so in a way I think the argument, as provocative as it may have been phrased, is not baseless.

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23 minutes ago, BansheeOne said:

😄 LOL! 😄

I mostly took the various opinions on Afghanistan from internet posts (not just TankNet), though those would include some proper editorials, too. But obviously that's not representative either, and I acknowledge that most people might not care one bit one way or another, and not only in the US.

FWIW, I used to fall into the "Afghanistan could have been made a success with more focus and effort" camp, but am not so sure now. Though I still maintain that Iraq was not only a diversion, but counterproductive in that it actually lead to a greater terror threat, and undermined public support for the GWOT both among Americans (eventually across the entire political spectrum) and internationally. 

There were similar allegations made about Vietnam. The USMC early on had some success with a hearts and minds strategy aimed at securing hamlets. That was overturned by Westmorland, whom wanted a more combative approach, bringing the enemy to combat. The USMC ever since has maintained if the Army had adopted their methods, Vietnam might have worked out. Or at least, not been as big a disaster as it was.

The US Army has its own defence. Many veterans claim that the difference between Westmorland and Abrams was between night and day, and if the latter had been in command from the start, it may have made a difference. Although as most of the problems seem to have emerged in Washington, its difficult to see even a capable a general as Abrams making a difference.

I guess the point im making is, in every defeat there is an excuse. Germans adopted the 'stabbed in the back' narrative. We in Britain blamed Jellicoe for not providing an outright victory at Jutland, despite the fact he did his job in keeping the German navy blocked up. its the scooby do defence. Our own CDS was doing it the other day, when he admitted that yes, he didnt ask for enough resources to fight the war. He didnt explore why that was of course, nor in fact, why it would have made a difference without a clear strategy.

Yes, the distraction of Iraq was unwelcome. It undoubtedly made things much harder than they needed to be. Whether that was enough to ensure victory, when the real problem was corruption, and our media was happy to remain distracted from Afghanistan most of the time, is the question I have. I think the problem is not how we fought the war, though that was flawed, or even our strategy, which we didnt really have.   It was the corrupt societies we created which couldnt stand up on their own. In an era when we created colonies which were not expected to stand on their own, that was fine.But we dont seem to be able to make the step change to make societies that dont need us.

Im sure there will be lots of studies of why that is, the but the uncomfortable thought in my mind is that western societies dont transplant well  because they are not as efficient or as corruption free as we like to think.

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This little gem intrigued me..."Dubya's foreign policy team was basically the best team (on paper) in history, and they ended up making horribly bad decisions". A more correct formulation would be, "Despite their formidable foreign policy reputations, Dubya's foreign policy team proved inept - and venal in some cases - in the extreme and they carefully painted their Administration into corners that left few good options available to future Presidents. They are likely to go down in history as the worst foreign policy team in American history."

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22 hours ago, RETAC21 said:

I would say, it depends on what the objective was, which was never properly defined............

That is because defensive wars are almost by definition wars without objectives. Compare Afghanistan with Korea. In both cases there were no spots on a map that could be taken to cause the enemy to quit. Instead the fighting was ultimately about one side or the other running out of some kind of energy to continue. The USMCDP defines this as a "War of Erosion". Pak eventually won because idiots in D.C. were more concerned with  building the Afghanistan nation instead of building the Afghanistan military.

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8 hours ago, RichTO90 said:

This little gem intrigued me..."Dubya's foreign policy team was basically the best team (on paper) in history, and they ended up making horribly bad decisions". A more correct formulation would be, "Despite their formidable foreign policy reputations, Dubya's foreign policy team proved inept - and venal in some cases - in the extreme and they carefully painted their Administration into corners that left few good options available to future Presidents. They are likely to go down in history as the worst foreign policy team in American history."

But that was what I meant too! Edit to add: coming from a civilian mindset, the combination of physical courage and moral cowardice on the part of the military/political ruling class has always been incredibly confusing to me. I mean, I don't think of myself as a particularly brave guy but if my company was defrauding our customers (much less making terrible decisions that were causing massive loss of life) I'd quit ASAP, it'd be a no-brainer.

Edited by Angrybk
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48 minutes ago, JWB said:

That is because defensive wars are almost by definition wars without objectives. Compare Afghanistan with Korea. In both cases there were no spots on a map that could be taken to cause the enemy to quit. Instead the fighting was ultimately about one side or the other running out of some kind of energy to continue. The USMCDP defines this as a "War of Erosion". Pak eventually won because idiots in D.C. were more concerned with  building the Afghanistan nation instead of building the Afghanistan military.

This is not so, this gets forgotten time and again: WAR IS A MERE CONTINUATION OF POLICY BY OTHER MEANS.

In the end, it's a mean to impose the desires of one side on an unwilling enemy. In this, the US has failed miserably on the XXI century, despite the tremendous power that BK says it has, mainly because it hasn't been able to identify what is the end state it wanted and how to get there, it didn't know its enemies and didn't know itself, and a COIN war as was the one in Afghanistan, has pretty simple objectives: the people living in the country.

But simple things are hard, and the US leadership didn't want to take that long, hard part, instead going for the short and violent approach that failed before and has failed again. In contrast to Vietnam, this wasn't a civil war with one superpower on each side, and there wasn't a ideological constrain to convert the Afghans into good capitalists, all that was needed was to avoid the corruption that was allowed to reign supreme and undercut the efforts to create an alternative to the Taliban, but that was hard, and the US is not into "hard", so it doesn't matter the economic impact, nor the number of carrier groups or bombers, in the end, every 2 bit insurgent group in the World know knows all they need to do is to wait out the USians.

Last, but not least, the Chinese have take note of the last 20 years, which had been a godsend for them, enabling them to catch up and be in a position to blackmail their near abroad (S. Korea, Taiwan, Philippines, etc) while the US does a few gestures that do not inspire confidence anymore. This was unheard in the 90s, when it took a single CV to transit the Taiwan strait to end the crisis.

It's a situation similar to the British Empire of 1919, it had never been so big and ruled over so many people, it had the largest navy, a significant army and had just won a war against its biggest competitor in a century, but by 1949 it had all gone away.

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16 hours ago, BansheeOne said:

😄 LOL! 😄

I mostly took the various opinions on Afghanistan from internet posts (not just TankNet), though those would include some proper editorials, too. But obviously that's not representative either, and I acknowledge that most people might not care one bit one way or another, and not only in the US.

FWIW, I used to fall into the "Afghanistan could have been made a success with more focus and effort" camp, but am not so sure now. Though I still maintain that Iraq was not only a diversion, but counterproductive in that it actually lead to a greater terror threat, and undermined public support for the GWOT both among Americans (eventually across the entire political spectrum) and internationally. 

I think twenty years and $2 trillion dollars (not to mention thousands of lives lost) probably counts as enough effort to prove that we were incapable of affecting any kind of real change in Afghanistan -- either the whole project was impossible or we simply lacked the institutional skillset to pull it off. If anybody in late 2001 had claimed that we should invest that much time and effort in Afghanistan, they would have been consigned to a mental institution. :) I just hate that whole claim that we should have stuck it out and tried harder, USAians just cut and run when it gets difficult, etc. -- again, twenty years, $2 trillion dollars, over 2K dead US soldiers. What more do you want? Our mistake was sticking it out for way too long. 

Interestingly enough, re the "Afghanistan will prove to our enemies that the US doesn't have what it takes to stick it out" crowd, there's a school of thought that the Vietnam War convinced a lot of Warsaw Pact thinkers that the US was actually incredibly stubborn -- we spent over ten years and 58k lives on a strategically marginal objective, what would we do if it was a region that was actually of existential importance for us?

Edited by Angrybk
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16 hours ago, Ssnake said:

Well, what are the (negative) effects on the US economy that can be directly traced back to the war in Afghanistan?

The country's deficit increased. It also did because of the subprime crisis, and the war in Iraq. A lot of people think that the US deficit is unsustainable and it may well be. But people (including myself) have been saying that since Reagan's days, 40 years ago. But how certain can we be that a day of reckoning is coming, if it hasn't materialized for almost two generations and the practice of deficit spending has grown from "irresponsible" to , if there was a comparative case, "even irresponsibler"?

Maybe trust in the capacity of the US ecenomy depends on the perception of US strength as a whole, and that might have taken a dive recently - so maybe the apocalypse is right around the corner (but that's speculation about the future, and this is the history board). 91 cents per day and per capita as the daily cost of the war in Afghanistan are, without doubt, insufficient to dent the growth of the US economy, so in a way I think the argument, as provocative as it may have been phrased, is not baseless.

I think an interesting thought experiment would be, what could we have done with that $2 trillion instead of trying Afghanistan, although that's basically impossible to answer. I mean, it's a lot more complex than saying "we could have fixed our decaying infrastructure and eradicated homelessness and lowered college tuition" or something, we're not really a centralized economy like that. Plus we made Northern Virginia rich as hell!

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Two roads taken needlessly, one road not taken recklessly.

  • Road into Iraq is one that should never have been taken.
  • Road into Afghanistan should not have been taken unless...
  • The road not taken was the destruction of Taliban controlled cities after having giving the civilians a 72 hour fair warning.  The campaign to end only after OBL and his gang is turned over or no more targets exist.  Taliban's choice.
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46 minutes ago, Angrybk said:

I think an interesting thought experiment would be, what could we have done with that $2 trillion instead of trying Afghanistan, although that's basically impossible to answer. I mean, it's a lot more complex than saying "we could have fixed our decaying infrastructure and eradicated homelessness and lowered college tuition" or something, we're not really a centralized economy like that. Plus we made Northern Virginia rich as hell!

It wouldn't have needlessly indebted us to the tune of $2T or more.

Not going to eradicate homelessness until people stop enabling it.

Only way to lower college tuition is to sharply reduce the easy cheap money being thrown at it.

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8 hours ago, RichTO90 said:

 They are likely to go down in history as the worst foreign policy team in American history."

Maybe, but they're getting a strong push by the current administration.
We need to keep in mind that the same career intelligence community and career state department of 20 years ago hasn't really changed since.  Remember the Colin Powell Amateur Hour at the UN to prove the existence of WMD and means of delivery?  The same people that put him up there to humiliate himself are the same bunch of morons that thought Karzai and Ghani were excellent choices to run Afghanistan.  They're same ones that thought ISIS couldn't happen, and that Afghanistan wouldn't collapse like a house of cards.

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6 hours ago, Angrybk said:

But that was what I meant too! Edit to add: coming from a civilian mindset, the combination of physical courage and moral cowardice on the part of the military/political ruling class has always been incredibly confusing to me. I mean, I don't think of myself as a particularly brave guy but if my company was defrauding our customers (much less making terrible decisions that were causing massive loss of life) I'd quit ASAP, it'd be a no-brainer.

I thought that might be what you meant, but wasn't sure. To be clear, Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, et al were the Gang Who Couldn't Shoot Straight on a national level. They make Johnson's and Nixon's National Security teams during Vietnam look like certified geniuses. Anyway, Thomas Ricks hit the nail on the head regarding America's problems with the military-civil decision-making interface a couple of years ago in The Generals. Post World War II, the revolving door between uniformed service, to corporate board, and then political appointments went out of whack with Bradley and Taylor, then the whole relationship between civilian and military leadership was possibly irretrievably poisoned by Lyndon Johnson. At this point, I suspect we will continue to be ill-served by both Republican and Democratic National Security appointments.

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14 minutes ago, DKTanker said:

Two roads taken needlessly, one road not taken recklessly.

  • Road into Iraq is one that should never have been taken.
  • Road into Afghanistan should not have been taken unless...
  • The road not taken was the destruction of Taliban controlled cities after having giving the civilians a 72 hour fair warning.  The campaign to end only after OBL and his gang is turned over or no more targets exist.  Taliban's choice.

 

Agree completely on the first and second point. On the last though, the Taliban evaporated from the cities long before any threat to them would have had any meaning. Nor would a threat to cities have done much good, it would have only accelerated the disaffection of the populace with our occupation, much as our continued support of obvious warlords and the corrupt Afghan government did. It was Vietnam 2.0.

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