Catch-22 and the long war in Afghanistan

October 1, 2009

Bernd Debusmann— Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. —

Listening to the protracted Washington debate over the war in Afghanistan, the phrase Catch-22 comes to mind. It was the title of a best-selling 1961 satirical novel on World War II by Joseph Heller and entered the popular lexicon to denote a conundrum without a winning solution.

Example: You can’t get work without experience and you can’t get experience without work.

In the context of the war in Afghanistan, soon entering its ninth year and already longer than the Vietnam war, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in mid-September heard a description of the Afghan conundrum worthy of joining a list of examples to explain Catch-22.

“You need to defeat the Taliban to build a state and you need to build a state to defeat the Taliban.
There cannot be security without development or development without security.”

That observation came from Rory Stewart, an expert witness with a more intimate understanding of Afghanistan than most — he walked, alone, across the entire country (the size of Texas, twice the size of Vietnam) on a trek that began two weeks after U.S. troops and bombers drove the Taliban government from power in 2002.

That was the “good war,” a widely-applauded act of vengeance and punishment for the Taliban for having played host to Osama bin Laden and his fellow al Qaeda planners of the Sept. 11 mass murder of 3,000 people in Manhattan and Washington. The assault on Afghanistan had a clear rationale but the war gradually morphed into a nation-building exercise that defied simple answers to the question “why are we there?”

Stewart, now a professor at Harvard and head of a foundation in Kabul dedicated to reviving the Afghan capital’s historic commercial center, was one of several experts asked to analyze the state of the war in Afghanistan and suggest ways forward after President Barack Obama decided the Afghan strategy he announced on March 27 needed re-appraising.

The overall aim Obama then laid out in what he described as a “comprehensive new strategy … the conclusion of a careful policy review” did not differ greatly from the goals laid out, but never given enough resources, by his predecessor, George W. Bush. Defeating the Taliban, dismantling the al Qaeda network, training Afghans to take over from U.S. troops, helping set up an effective government.

That last goal, possibly the most difficult, appears as “Objective 3b” in a draft paper from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. It lays out metrics to measure progress. Objective 3b is to “promote a more capable, accountable and effective government in Afghanistan,” to be measured by “demonstrable action … against corruption.”


Much of the public debate on revising strategy has focused on troop levels – 10,000 more? 30,000? 40,000? – and relatively little on exactly how the United States could contribute to the creation of a government trusted by the Afghan people. Particularly after elections so blatantly rigged in favor of President Hamid Karzai that the much-criticized presidential vote in neighboring Iran a few months earlier looks like ballot stuffers’ amateur hour in comparison.

Afghanistan ranks 176 (out of 180) on an international index on corruption compiled annually by Transparency International, a corruption watchdog based in Berlin. The bleak assessment the top military commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, sent to Obama, referred to the dilemma that poses.

“The weakness of state institutions, malign actions by power brokers, widespread corruption and abuse of power by various officials … have given Afghans little reason to support their government. This crisis of confidence has created fertile ground for the insurgency.”

Catch-22 for the United States and its NATO allies if Afghanistan’s state remains weak?

Ballots from the disputed August elections are still being counted but Washington seems resigned to the prospect of having to deal with Karzai for another five years. It requires the willing suspension of disbelief to assume the next Karzai-led government would be different enough from the actual one to end the “crisis of confidence.”

“We … must ask whether we can succeed if our partner is weak and viewed with suspicion,” John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee wrote in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal. The answer seems straightforward: probably not.

But after Obama declared Afghanistan a war of necessity and warned that losing it would put at risk “the safety of people around the world,” how much leverage do the United States and its NATO brothers-in-arms have on the government in Kabul? Cut aid? Set a withdrawal deadline? Shame corrupt officials with public disclosures?

The strategy reappraisal debate began in earnest in the last week of September with a video conference bringing together senior White House officials and General McChrystal. There won’t be a decision for weeks, according to the White House, and there may be more options than those that have been aired so far.

Apart from McChrystal’s “more troops and a significant change in strategy” plan, there are influential voices arguing the opposite – draw down forces in Afghanistan (now more than 100,000, two thirds of them American) and instead strike harder at al Qaeda across the border in Pakistan with missile strikes and special forces.

For Obama, there are Catch-22 elements in whatever he decides. If he goes for boosting forces for what is becoming an unpopular war and there is no significant progress by the time he is beginning to campaign for re-election, his chances of a second term in 2012 will probably be slim.

If he cuts down the U.S. presence and there is an attack on the United States that his political foes can blame him for, they are equally slim


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President Obama sailed into office on a presumption that he might exercise the American equivalent of parliamentary supremacy – namely, that he would not be bound by the evident mistakes and convolutions of the preceding regime. Having surrendered the moral high ground in favor of the bipartisan slough that spawns patently false alternatives, all he’s done on healthcare, and grotesque platitudes such as “war of necessity” – the Catch-22 Obama now faces is entirely of his own making.

Will he confront it? That is the question.

Forgetting the interests of those who profit from war, the longer he remains indecisively embedded in Asia Minor, the worse things get for Obama in the eyes of the world. There’s no reason to be waging war there at all, period.

He could always do the right thing in Afghanistan and Iraq, and get out. To which there is zero downside. He has the power to do this, but if he fails to exercise it, there will be zero upside. If he can’t handle this, for the sake of America and the World, he needs to leave office.

With due respect, that’s no Catch-22. It’s what has to happen.

Posted by The Bell | Report as abusive

And if he boosts forces yet there is still an attack on the United States, what then? The Catch-22 continues and he doesn’t get re-elected…. or… the country unites like it did the last time that happened?

Posted by G. Cook | Report as abusive

I may have missed some information along the way, but I don’t understand the issue with Afghnaistan and the Taliban. If the Taliban support themselves with the opium trade, why aren’t we just burning all the opium fields? I would think they would be easy to spot in Afghanistan – they are basically plantations. It seems that if you cannot outlast your enemy in combat, you must have a siege. The best way I can imagine to hurt the growth of the Taliban and destroy their morale would be to remove their supply lines and their funding any way possible. I have heard mention of the opium fields, but it seems that they would be a priority target. Unless, of course, the USA depends too much on the opium production to continue our own war on drugs at home… It just seems that the whole affair in Afghanistan is a PR effort to make it look like we are serious about stopping the Taliban when we really aren’t. They’ve been great business for us for 8 years now. The Department of Peace is busily working away….

Posted by James | Report as abusive

Obama isn’t the victim of a catch 22 with Afghanistan. We are the victims of a bait-n-switch. Obama got what he wanted from Afghanistan — elected.

As Krauthammer pointed out, claiming that the real war was in Afghanistan was a way for Obama to bash Bush for being ‘off-mission’ in Iraq and rally support for his presidential candidacy without actually standing up to Bush and actively curtailing US involvement in Iraq. And Obama had a lot of company doing that among the democrats, and in 2008 he suckered enough votes from the middle with that bait-n-switch routine to win the presidential election.

Now, President Obama is expecting McChrystal to pull off everything Candidate Obama promised during the election campaign regarding Afghanistan AT NO ADDITIONAL COST, even though such is a no-win proposition. McChrystal can’t, even with more troops and funding — and that’s no skin off Obama’s nose.

From the standpoint of US interests re: Afghanistan: The toppling of the Taliban gov’t back in late 2001 was as good as it gets. Obama knew Karzai was a crook before 20 August. Now Karzai is the prime beneficiary of Obama’s bait-n-switch. There’s no mystery in what will happen next, watch while President Obama backpedals from what Candidate Obama duplicitously promised to bring about in Afghanistan, to where he emulates Bush’s limited Afghan strategy. And that will be spun as Bush’s fault yet again.

Obama is President Heads-I-win-tails-you-lose.

Posted by dom youngross | Report as abusive

Catch-22 or not, Obama is going to have to make a decision. This is what happens to a country that can’t stop it’s meddling. America is not the new Israel and we are not the new Israelites sent by God to spread the gospel of Americanism to all the world. Spain, France, Italy, England, and Germany tried to rule the world and failed. America is destined for the same fate if it doesn’t withdraw all troops from every country,stop selling arms to warring nations, and quit supporting Israel.

Posted by Mufaso | Report as abusive

“Spain, France, Italy, England, and Germany tried to rule the world and failed. America is destined for the same fate”

What? Realising they can’t do it alone, and uniting into a collective regional organisation with the largest combined economic power on the planet?

If America goes the same way, the West will soon form the first Hyperpower.

Posted by Anon | Report as abusive

For this Catch-22 I would blame Bush Jr. He blew at least 2 chances to resolve Afghan issue once and for all. The first and best one was on 10/11/2001. If on that day he turned Afghanistan into a pile of radioactive dust, not one civilized leader would have had a word against it, everyone would understand. A couple of weeks later it was too late.
The second best chance was when Taliban was toppled. He should have installed a dictator – preferably former monarch, or his heir, or (lacking previous options) his N times removed nephew – in short, anyone who could be sold to tribal leaders as legit monarch. Keep troops there long enough for the new boss to hang/behead/skin alive most of his opponents, and then withdraw, leaving the new ruler to his own devices.
The state-building exercise was doomed as soon as it began. The population there needs no democracy, they don’t know what it is, how to use it, and what for. It’s against their ethnic and religious practice. Lacking the Emir, Khan, or what’s-the-title, they turn to Taliban – at least these speak in familiar Islamic terms.
Now BHO has not many choices. Either abandon his promises to wind things down and bring our boys home, or abandon “democratically elected” leaders. Both choices will cost votes in 2012. Even sooner, in 2010 – each vote against BHO will turn into a vote for GOP, no matter who actually runs.

Posted by Anonymous | Report as abusive

Dom Youngross has it right. Among the many ironies is that Obama called Gen Petraus’ idea for a surge in Iraq “like pouring gasoline on a fire.” He and other dems like Biden said we had to declare defeat, get out, and watch Al-Qaeda-in-Iraq butcher millions–Shiites, Kurds, and those Sunnis who had supported us. It would have made the early-1970’s mass slaughter of the friends we abandoned in South Vietnam and Cambodia look tame in comparison. But the inconvenient truth for BHO is Gen Petraus’ strategy worked in Iraq. We’re well on the way to leaving that country as victors, with a moderately friendly government in place rather than the nightmare that was Saddam Hussein and his sons. Gen McChrystal has the same playbook for prevailing in counterinsurgency that Gen Petraus helped write. BHO the candidate was either naive or was disingenuous and said things he didn’t believe simply because he knew it would help him get elected. For our country’s sake, I hope he’s humble enough to admit he had it wrong on the Iraq surge and apply those lessons to Afghanistan.

Posted by Jeff | Report as abusive

With all due respect, I thought the assault on Iraq was the primary outcome of the ‘Sept. 11 mass murder of 3,000 people in Manhattan and Washington’ and Afghanistan the secondary outcome. Catch 22 arguments, to me, is a cop-out. There has been a fair amount of columns on this topic lately. There are so many contradictions and changes in direction that simply cause the loss of credibility. James: good perspective and transparency. Mufaso: your comment is harsh but carries validity – to me it is inconceivable to carry a grudge against my family and brothers. The Abrahamites that live along the river Jordan and its vicinity should realize that family, sisters and brothers are dependent on each other and best friends and work together. There has been Plans A-C. What to we do when we reach Plan Z ? Without repeating myself, the warfare is conducted in a separate reality, it is not guerilla, it is not conventional, it’s not a drone war, it’s a desert war and the West stands no chance. The West should also start counting it’s pennies in these lean times. Then there is the loss of life, but no one seems to care about that one ? How many opinionists and politicians have actually been on the battle front, is this just a computer game at a cowardly distance ? By the same token, it should not be ‘Cut and run’, but a sensible, but rapid withdrawal from ‘meddling’ in the affairs of others. There is a lot of oil and energy in Africa and Canada.

Posted by ANON | Report as abusive

…sorry, I meant a desert war in mountains and vice versa.

Posted by ANON | Report as abusive

ANON: re “With all due respect, I thought the assault on Iraq was the primary outcome of the ‘Sept. 11 mass murder of 3,000 people in Manhattan and Washington’ and Afghanistan the secondary outcome.”

That sentence highlights the enormous power of government propaganda. No, the assault on Iraq was NOT the primary outcome of Sept. 11. Iraq and Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with that. But Bush himself and his administration officials, chief of them Dick Cheney, mentioned Sept. 11 and Iraq so often in the same breath (without actually blaming Iraq) that many people thought they were connected. You are not alone in your ignorance: at one point, some 60% of the population thought there was a link between Sept. 11 and Iraq.

The war in Afghanistan began on October 7, 2001, i.e. some three weeks after Sept. 11 and the stated aim was to remove the Taliban regime for having given a safe haven to al Qaeda, to find Osama bin Laden “dead or alive” and to destroy the al Qaeda network. Bush, before the attack, stated the the U.S. would make no difference between terrorist organizations and governments that harbor them.

The war in Iraq began on March 20, 2003 (note 2003) and the stated reason was Saddam Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction that could be used against the United States. So, your statement on the “primary outcome” is 100% wrong.

Posted by Elvira | Report as abusive

Remember “Charlie Wilson’s War”. This is Barack Ob ama’s War. Why are we there and are prepared to have U.S. soldiers killed to have democracy in Afganistan?. No kidding. Ask the Russians if you can win a war in Afghanistan. Let them fight it among themselves and stay out.

Posted by Ricardo | Report as abusive

I’m still laughing at the author’s need to share the actual definition of Catch 22. What Obama’s facing, however, is not a Catch 22. A Catch 22 is a “damned if I do, Damned if I don’t” issue, or a “between a rock and a hard place”. Obama’s issues don’t quite fit the definition unless you compare it to the kid on trial for killing his own parents who pleads with the court for mercy since he is now an orphan. That is not a Catch 22.

Regardless, I was a supporter of the war for a long time until the constitutions of both Afghanistan and Iraq were put in place. Both of their constitutions are Sharia law constitutions which means, of course, that it really doesn’t matter a whit which Afghan tribal leader holds office. Taliban is Sharia. Kharzi will follow sharia. Now it’s just a matter of tribal feudalism. Before, we were able to claim there’s a good guy. Now it’s clear there are no good guys, there is sharia law. Sharia law is 7th century barbaric tribalism codified in law.

It does not matter who enforces it since it’s in their codes and these laws are no longer debatable. They were approved by all and it’s just a matter of who will be enforcing them.

So, that’s the main issue. And, this would allow Obama to save face, too. He could actually say, “hey I never would have approved Sharia law and it was approved by the last administration. Sharia law is the antithesis of freedom and democracy so we are pulling out”. Or, he could insist on re=writing that constitution to have it mirror our wonderful document in the US.

Now, since Obama has supported sharia law in the past (he went to Kenya to campaign for his cousin, raila odinga who promised the muslim minority he would bring in sharia law to Kenya), and for the fact Obama seems to be a huge arab/muslim apologist, I doubt we’ll actually see either of those choices occur.

Wow, though. If he did, he would completely show his strength and fortitude. He’d be a President to admire. He’s not, though. And, he won’t be, though. He’s an American hating leftist who wishes to undermine the integrity of America.

Posted by kelly | Report as abusive

Why should Afghanistan accept a government imposed by …Us?

And how DO you go about IMPOSING a democratic government?

You DON’T, do you? And We haven’t, have we?

So, when do we get to stop trying?

Catch – 22 ? No. This situation is a lot more direct. You can’t go home without going home.

As for Al Ciada… Have Y’ever SEEN one? Why not? How long are you going to insist I respect your fear of an imaginary enemy?

That ain’t a Catch – 22, either. I am out of patience. I am calling all of you “TERRIFIED PEOPLE” what you really are . You are COWARDS. You have set fire to the one thing that can protect you, your Constitution, in order to warm your chilled soul with the smokescreen of burning freedom for the sake of a pretence of safety.

I am disgusted.

Posted by Frosted Flake | Report as abusive

What’s the catch 22? What’s the upside to expanding warmongering in Afghanistan?

Let’s run through this:

A.) Increase troops and up the bombing
1.) That’ll kill a lot of innocent civilians, making the population hate us even more.
2.) After they turn on us they’ll turn to the America haters, the Taliban, giving them even more power than they do now.
3.) It’ll cost mainstream America a lot in taxes and lives.

B.) Complete troop withdrawel
1.) Won’t affect their gov’t, it’s a puppet trash government the people don’t trust anyways.
2.) Less dead civilians by American hands, less hate for America.
3.) Can be used as a tax cut and less dead American soldiers.

Obama has already proven to be a Bush-replica hellbent on warmongering and nationbuilding as he’s shown in Iraq/Pakistan/Iran, so I’m sure he’ll go with option A.

Posted by Michael Ham | Report as abusive

-How do you impose a democratic government?

You remove the non-democratic government (taliban) and you allow the people to form their own government.

-Why do we need a troop surge?

Because the weakness of insurgency is their low numbers and inability to hold ground in the face of conventional resistance. Large numbers of soldiers are needed to secure areas. This means that as areas are secured, the taliban become more vulnerable when attacking.

-How long do we need to do this?

Until the Afgani government has an army large enough to control large areas of land. Possibly with tribal militia as support.

-Do the Afgani people support the taliban?

Only an idiot would believe that an Afgani civilian actually wants to be ruled by a violent theocratic islamic dictatorship. Where the civilians support the Taliban, it is at the barrel of a gun.

And many taliban fighters are actually jihadists from other nations. As a rule, native freedom fighters tend to avoid killing their own people. Whereas the taliban is willing to commit atrocities on Afgani civilians.

-Why can’t we pull out?

It is not time. If we pull out now, the taliban will easily regain control of Afganistan. This will have serious problems for Pakistan, which has had a growing insurgency problem for some time.

It will also cause the Afgani people to be subjected to decades of suffering and repression under Taliban rule. Many thousands will be beaten and killed, just as the Taliban do now.

In addition, the Taliban will get a major propaganda boost for default victory. Many of the foreign fighters now fighting in Afganistan will then move on to another area, such as Pakistan or Central Asia.

For some reason, peace protesters fail to see that even running away from an enemy can still lead to dire consequences for innocent people.

I believe this is because they focus on the short term, and have an inability to consider the long term consequences of their ideas. But nobody’s perfect.

Posted by Hmmmm | Report as abusive

The arrogance and the stupidity of our leaders are the reasons why we Americans are hated around the world. Osama Bin Laden is still alive and powerful. So, what was the point in destroying Afghanistan?

Posted by Jon | Report as abusive

A simple solution: Live and let live. Let’s get out of Afghanistan while we still can. I agree with Anon. It seems like Europe and the other white majority countries think that it is their god given right to colonize and police the rest of the non-white world. The day will come when many non-white nations will have the same destructive power that white countries have now. What if one of those countries decide to take revenge on us? We need to change our foreign policy and get rid of our arrogant leaders.

Posted by Grand Jury | Report as abusive

Bernd, Vietnam lasted from 1963-1975 which would make it a 12 year war. American advisors entered the conflict in 63 to train and assist the South Vietnamese.

Posted by buddy | Report as abusive

When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan we knew that they are Afghans, now we call them “insurgents”, but the bottom line is that we are also fighting the Afghan people.
I just read the book by Rory Stewart, mentioned in this article, its called The Places In Between and describes his walk across Afghanstan in 2002.
If you read it you might understand better what is going on there, its a good read!
They have a culture and a political system that is 2000 years old which we are trying to change, perhaps that wont work!

Posted by jean delarue | Report as abusive

Buddy: “Vietnam lasted from 1963-1975 which would make it a 12 year war.” That’s one way of counting it. The other is from The Gulf of Tonkin resolution in August1964 to January ’73 when the last American soldier to die in combat was killed.

Posted by Bernd Debusmann | Report as abusive

If Obama doesn’t like difficult decisions, he shouldn’t have run for president.

Posted by Anon | Report as abusive

There are various methods for measuring when the Vietnam war ended:

-The last American soldier killed (US-centric definition).
-The American ceasefire with the North (technical definition).
-The fall of Saigon (practical definition).

Or my personal favorite:

-The date when congress ruled that it didn’t need to keep it’s promise to support South Vietnam, when the North breached the ceasefire and invaded (soul crushing definition).

Posted by Hmmm | Report as abusive

Elvira, thanks, so I ‘thought’ wrong, the sequence of outcomes don’t have to follow timelines. Your position is neutral and factual. al Qaeda is everywhere, so everybody should have been attacked. I personally think that the ‘one whose name we do not speak’ was very far away from these countries at that stage, it would have been too obvious. I, for a long time thought this person was the WMD, itself, the way people were carrying on. Presumably ‘60% of the population’ was a representative sample. It is dead simple: ‘Allah is God and Mohammed the Prophet’, there are Sunnis and Shiites and there is black gold. These givens have no borders.

Posted by ANON | Report as abusive

And then there is always what the neighbours’ think… the dragon stirs! “A senior Chinese official has publicly put forward an unusually forthright and timely view on the Afghanistan conflict…” KJ02Df01.html

Posted by Peter H | Report as abusive

Interesting Peter, especially when the adjacent border is only +- 50 kilometers long in the Hindu Kush.

Posted by ANON | Report as abusive

ANON, that’s +-50 kilometers longer than the NATO countries boarder with Afghanistan. :)

Posted by Peter H | Report as abusive

This goes for Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan alike:

Modern war may be considered “over” when the last civilian child has been maimed by the last hidden land-mine, and when you no longer need a lead diving suit to visit the world’s most ancient cultural sites – the countless tons of Depleted Uranium scattered there having been returned to the back yards of those who generated the noxious garbage in the first place.

No truly great nation ever starts a war it can’t afford to finish.

Posted by The Bell | Report as abusive

Well, 8 more soldiers killed; are you warmongers ready to admit you are wrong? All you John Waynes and Sergeant Yorks are probably yelling out, “Send ’em all to hell!” Well, may I remind you that winter is coming. The Taliban know the terrain better than our troops. From what I saw on the news the survivors of the attack were surprised at how well the enemy fought. Looks like it’s time for America to tuck its tail between its legs and come whimpering home before all our troops are gone. I’ve noticed the battle took place when there’s a call for more troops. Coincidence? I think not. It’s all propaganda to muster support for a losing war. I do have a question for all you warmongers: Has America won or lost the war in Iraq? I want a yes or no answer, no muddling the facts or twisting the truth.

Posted by Mufaso | Report as abusive

Modern war will never be over.

Because war remains the most efficient way of enforcing objectives of a nation against another nation that refuses to negotiate.

Iran is next. And it will not be an invasion. Just a massive bombing campaign.

As Israel and Russia have shown, you don’t need to invade your enemy to win a war or secure your interests. You just need to hit the enemy with overwhelming force until they stop. Lebenon and Gaza were the defining examples. No more rockets are launched at Israel.

Russia was another example of modern war. A quick (if clumsy) invasion, destruction of Georgian military equipment, and a quick withdraw.

War is kind of like a street fight. You hit them until they stop moving, or you beat them until they run away. Even insurgents or unconventional fighters obey these rules. The one thing you don’t do is move into their house, because then you have to beat them up every day.

Posted by Anon | Report as abusive

The most egregious thing about Bush was that he didn’t understand warfare and just toyed around of the most powerful military force in history. To end a war you need an opponent to make truce with. He simply destroyed everything not even knowing what he was really doing, and suddenly found out that, by definition, there was no means available to end all that shit. Wow. This is even worse than Vietnam.

Poor Obama. In this situation he has no chance either.

Why not just go further and colonize there strictly? I mean, that’s the only positive thing left you can do. Who the hell is Kharzi anyways, no one cares about a swindler filling up a puppet throne. The U.S. MUST take ALL (and of course, pay for it) or give up at once and forget about abusing and cleansing Muslim nations. If you suffer 911 again, too bad, but that’s another thing which doesn’t need to be messed up with the chaos in Afghanistan.

It’s a very difficult question if you can ever eradicate Taliban from Afghanistan. They are extremists and kill many civilians but are Muslims. It’s quite obvious that U.S. can never kick out Muslims out of a Muslim nation. Let them decide by themselves. If Taliban government revives, do a better war next time!

Posted by Caspar | Report as abusive

Peter and Bell, after looking at the map last night, hopefully China does not use that 50 km’s ‘funnel’ to get through/fan out to Iraq via Afghanistan and Iran ? This morning there is talk about going into Pakistan. The only solution then is a ring of peace around the Afghan border by balanced forces from the UN. Bell, ‘Depleted Uranium’ from bullets and missiles ?

Posted by ANON | Report as abusive

…well Caspar, that decision will be made public by close-of-business today. Shall we change tack and declare 20th October and Halloween a gun-, rocket-,bomb- and fire-cracker-free day around the World ?

A friend once suggested to me that children, artists and the elderly see and read the future much clearer than the rest of us. Maybe we should have done a ten-point survey to get their valid inputs.

Posted by aNON | Report as abusive

@ Mufasto.

Answer. Yes we won the wars in Iraq and Afganistan. We took control of the countries, we defeated the previous governments and military. We have superiority in numbers and weapons. We hold the ground.

What we have now is insurgency. A very different thing to a war. Is is resistance to an occupation, after a war already lost.

What is your definition of victory? When all resistance ends? No war in human history has ended thus. There is always resistance in some form. Your definitions of victory and defeat are flawed.

Plus you ignore the fact that most support for the Taliban, both men and arms, seems to come from Pakistan and other countries. But then again, anti-war supporters tend to miss details like that.

The truth is this. No matter how the Taliban tries, it can never defeat us conventionally. And as long as we have soldiers to fight, and government support, no amount of unconventional warfare can forcibly eject America from Afganistan either. The Taliban simply does not have the men or the weapons.

In fact, the only real way that the Taliban can “beat” us is if we choose to surrender and withdraw our armies.

And do you know who causes that to happen? Anti-war protestors like you. America doesn’t lose wars. People like you lose wars.

And yet even when you successfuly manage to undercut the efforts of American soldiers, and force them to withdraw in shame and defeat, you blame *them* for failure. When the only reason they were forced to surrender in the first place was because of the unceasing efforts of the anti-war lobby.

Funny world, eh?

Posted by Anon | Report as abusive

Wow, look at the front page.

I think I’m going to create a new profession, government psychic. I can predict every single thing government does.

All their solutions have 2 things in common; more money, more government (which means more power). So for anyone who wants to join my new business I’m starting just remember every big issue involves those 2 things whether it be healthcare, warmongering, drug war, big private industries, etc. The funny thing is members of both parties approve of this methodology and pretend to bicker back and forth despite having the exact same strategy.

Posted by Michael Ham | Report as abusive

Moderator, there are so many ‘anon’s out there, and I don’t know whether it is am or pm anymore and what my real name is. Let’s confuse the issue even further:

October 6th, 2009 7:16 am GMT – Posted by Anon:

“The truth is this. No matter how the Taliban tries, it can never defeat us conventionally. And as long as we have soldiers to fight, and government support, no amount of unconventional warfare can forcibly eject America from Afganistan either. The Taliban simply does not have the men or the weapons.” – you have to pick the form of warfare, otherwise nothing happens, it is neither though, nor is it guerilla, it is desert and mountain rat warfare, NATO stands no chance, anti-war or not.

‘In fact, the only real way that the Taliban can “beat” us is if we choose to surrender and withdraw our armies.” – why would you surrender if you have already won ?

“@ Mufasto.” – would that be a communist lion ?

Posted by aNON | Report as abusive

well, lets get one thing straight. this was not obama’s war. the mistake was made many moons ago by a person who would not take heed and decided to attack another country.soo the catch -22 should be put on the backs of the people who created this mess. how mice it must be to pick a fight with poeple , kill them and not have any police come to your house and arrest you. its strange, but your garden variety punk gangs operate in the same fashion. but sometimes they go to jail for it. but back to the issue. this is not obama’s war. and the attempt to pin the loss or win on him is cowardly at best. the people before this, gave the controller over with the batteries almost dead. soo how far do you think he will be able to drive this before it runs out.noo, you have to look at it rationally. to pull out some will call you a coward and we lost, what did we lose??? that the question not answered. dignity went out the door the day we attacked people without provocation in iraq. we had bin laden in the tora bora mountains. but bush pulled the forces out to attack iraq, soo he got away. the funny thing is how hard is it really to find a guy hooked up to a dialysis machine??.food for thought/

Posted by mike | Report as abusive

The only way to win a war where you are fighting an indigenous people like the Afghans, or Vietnamese or the American Indians is through genicide. Kill everyone. Just like we European immigrants (now Americans) did with the expansion westward. It is not possible to defeat the Taliban without kiling them all, afterall, it is their land. We are the invaders, and it is not possible to kill them all. It is illegal for one thing. I think pulling out and engaging in intense dialogue is the only way. Remeber this, a “Catch-22″ is also a lose-lose situation. I would rather see America spend the $500,0000,000,000 a year war and military budget on making Americans healthy. How about making the next generation of Afghan children healthy through financal support. Food and good will costs alot less than bullets, bombs, and more dead Americans and Afghans.
Doc Ellis

Posted by Doc | Report as abusive

Anon, how do you figure America has won the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan when people are still dying? You don’t know what you’re talking about. This has been going on for nearly a decade, and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. Just when those bastards in Washington say “mission accomplished” another round of battles takes place. As for blaming the military, you’re exactly right; I do blame the soldiers for not thinking for themselves. They blindly follow orders without asking themselves if what they are doing is actually defending their country. They’d kill their own mother if their commanding officer told them to. I’ve been in the military, so I know the kind of brainwashing that occurs. It is not normal for one man to kill another man, so a soldier must be conditioned to kill upon command. I cannot condone that type of stupidity. I do not believe in all this God-Country-Mom-And-Apple-Pie and “freedom is not free” nonsense. I will not die for anything, and believe it is foolish for anyone to die for anything. What good is freedom to a dead man, Anon? Answer me that. More soldiers are killed by suicide than are killed from battle. Isn’t that reason enough to stop all this empire building? If you are so gung-ho why don’t you go over there and fight for your “country” and your “God”? You won’t because you don’t want to die for your values; you prefer others do your fighting for you. That’s the Catch-22 of the situation.

Posted by Mufaso | Report as abusive

I don’t get it, now the US wants to aid Pakistan, so where will the ‘trek’ from Israel/the Palestine, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan end, in India ? There must be some slush fund somewhere. After having looked at the maps again, it is dead simple, the US must scale back its component of the NATO force, and NATO must convert to a UN Peace Force, just so that the Muslim World may hate everybody for a change. The only thing that counts is Allah ! Don’t they get it ? No wonder its ‘friends’ are double-crossing the US. Soon the US will be blindsided again.

Else, let’s be callous – soldiers are supposed to be professionals, and they know the risks involved and get paid for it, so let them die in heaps like flies.

Posted by Gaspard | Report as abusive


What would be your definition of victory then? According to your definition, can any war be won? If so, your definition is flawed.

The problem is this. And I will set it out in steps, so you can more easily understand it:

-You blame the military for failing.
-But the only way they can fail is if they pull out.
-The military cannot be forced out of Afganistan by the Taliban, or it would have happened by now.
-Which means the only way the military will pull out, is if public support for them drops.
-The anti-war support actively attempt to cut public support for the troops.
-So if our soldiers end up losing this war, the anti-war supporters will be the reason for their defeat.
-You are an anti-war supporter.
-So you are attempting to defeat our troops and assist the taliban in the process. QED

I will not waste space to address the fact about you allegedly being in the army, or me not being in the army, or soldier suicides, because these are not relevent to the debate of how to win or lose the Afgani war.

Nor is it relevent that you have openly admitted that you refuse to fight for the freedom of others, or even to risk your life for your own freedom. And yet take the time to imply that I am a coward.

Have a nice day, comrade! I am sure the Taliban appreciate your support, even if they still think of you as an infidel.

Posted by Anon | Report as abusive

The Catch-22 is America has elected a Catch-22. To get out of it, well that is the real task in a real world not a “virtual one”, from the true words of Sarkozy to Obama. Sadly the big catch Ben Laden is still at large.

Posted by Ian | Report as abusive

Just want to add something that rings true to me:

If a nation wants to be a democratic nation; it should comes from the nation’s people. Simple men and women must be willing to sacrifice their lives and the lives of their kids to acheive that goal. You just can’t force real democraty on a nation. Sadly, i don’t see many afghanis willing to do anything for themself, their kids and their country. I think the last years demonstrated that. They are not there yet and probably never will.

That’s fine by me; they had a good opportunity: someone else proposed to do the job for/with them but they stayed put instead of jumping on the train. Perhaps they even derailled that train themself. Who do you think the Taliban fighters comes from? they don’t all come from Pakistan right?!

Now if we believe that is true; If they don’t have the will to put some blood in it; why should we put more in???

Simply because that’s just smoke and mirrors anyway. We are not there for them but to achieve our own agenda. We don’t even bother asking them what they really want. Thruth is; we don’t really care about the afghanis and they know it. They are willing to join with the Talibans for that reason. May as well tell it like it is.

Let it be, let’s get out, let’s keep both eyes open. Don’t want to fight with dogs? Build a fence so that they don’t come shit on your lawn, give them water and a few bones. They just might be happy.

Posted by Canuck Friend | Report as abusive

Interesting article elsewhere in the media today: 25% of people on Earth are Muslims, and it gives a not-so-obvious breakdown per country. The Taliban is calling for a Muslim State. One wonders whether this includes the Palestine State and what the borders of this ‘State’ would be ? As far as I am concerned, compromise and create a new economic ‘desert’ block/State that stretches from Africa north of the Equator right through to Pakistan, including Turkey. Indonesia and Israel will have to decide how they fit into all of this, if at all. No noddy badges for matching up the World oil reserves in percentages. I really miss Henry Kissenger.

Posted by Gaspard | Report as abusive


I think you need to do a little research on how much of Afghanistan the Taliban currently controls and how much Al-Qaeda has grown since our 2 wars started.

Then tell us who’s helping these groups.

Posted by Michael Ham | Report as abusive

Simple thought experiment (could easily be done for Iraq):

-Imagine you are an Afgani muslim.
-And America invades your nation.
-And you decide to become a resistance fighter.
-You decide to fight against the invaders
-You train with weapons and bombs.
-You prepare to give your life to liberate your nation.

Now the questions:

1. Would you then start kidnapping and killing fellow muslims and burying them in mass graves, or driving a carbomb into a market full of innocent Afgani civilians?

2. Why would an Afgani freedom fighter do such things? How does this work towards liberation?

3. If you were actually a Pakistani, who had entered Afganistan to fight America, would this change the issue regarding the killing of Afgani civilians?

Posted by Hmmm | Report as abusive

Anon, you are dead-set on forcing manifest destiny on the Afghans, aren’t you? You believe our way of life is the most superior way of life on earth and that our form of government is the most benevolent on the planet. Furthermore, you use these beliefs to rationalize meddling in other countries’ affairs with force. Invading, occupying, and subduing people is your way of handling disagreements.You would rather die than admit defeat, a sure sign of the John Wayne types I despise. You see admitting defeat as a blow to your machoism. Real men fight according to you. Rubbish! Once again I ask, What good is freedom to a dead man? What have the deaths of all our military men and women proved? Will their deaths affect the outcome of the war? Do you think Obama or any of those other bastards care? Come on, learn to think. If the dead soldiers could come back to life what do you think they would say? I think they would say what a bunch of fools we are for supporting a government that likes to invade other countries. They would ask themselves why they were so stupid to buy into this “Be all you can be” nonsense and sacrifice their lives for a few politicians’ ambitions. By the way, Anon, America lost both wars before they even began.

Posted by Mufaso | Report as abusive

I wish I could answer you, Mufasto.

But after looking at your post, it seems to contain nothing but personal attacks, baseless attributions as to my motives, and simple insults.

You seem to have a bit of anger there. Or as an alternative, you simply don’t know how to debate in a civilised manner. Or perhaps you don’t like it when people disagree with you.

But only you can know what that reason is. My responding would only make it worse.

By the way. If you were in the military, and you ended up KIA, would you want people to say “He died because he believed in and American imperialism”? If not, then don’t imply motives into the deceased.

Have a nice day.

Posted by Anon | Report as abusive

Mr Ham.

Would you prefer a “little” research to a lot? A little research can be a dangerous thing.

Your possible implication is that we are the cause for the rise of Militant Islam in the world. I fear this is based on false logic.

A war involves two sides, and two conflicting goals. If one side ceases fighting (for reasons including, but not limited to, unconditional pacifism), this doesn’t mean the war ends. It simply means the other side can achieve their objectives unopposed. Just like the cold war.

If you refer to who is “literally” responsible for the growth in the Taliban?

World events indicate men and supplies for the Taliban are coming from Pakistan. And possible training and equipment by the Iranian military. And funding from other arab nations (such as Saudi), which do not seem to be directly due to the governments of those nations.

I myself would be very interested to see how the Afgani conflict goes, once Pakistan has proper control over the border regions.

Posted by Anon | Report as abusive

Hmmm, Ham and Anon’s

We keep losing sight of the fact that a sectarian war is a civil/religious war. There is bankrolling etc. amongst Sunni and Shiite/Shia. What are THEY really fighting about ? Money ? What is the source of that money ? Power ? What is the source of this power ? The US should shed its obsession of being a ‘presence’ outside their own borders. It has enough off-shore assets now, let’s not erode cash flow and capital assets even further. Add branding.

It is bad to land in the cross-fire of something you are unfamiliar with, and this is a separate reality.

I associate Kabul with kite-runners, not flying bullets and shock waves

Posted by Gaspard | Report as abusive


We taught militant islam to Afghani’s when they were fighting Russia. We supported militant islam when we backed Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran. We support King Abdullah a militant islamic dictator in Saudi Arabia. We have double standards when it comes to Israel and every other nation in the area, Israel obviously jewish, so people who are against those double standards are going to be pushed further and further towards militant islam.

Now we see a christian nation invade, attack and/or occupy 3 islamic countries in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan. So moderate Islams are going to be driven to militant extremist Islams because they’re sick of watching their families and friends be killed by people of different faith from another part of the world.

Anon, you’re a smart man, but people like you will never get it. You’re too entrenched in your beliefs. I hope that no matter what the odds, if a foreign country ever invades and occupies us here in the US that you and I would fight shoulder to shoulder rather than just rolling over and submitting like you want all the enemies of the US in the current world to do.

Posted by Michael Ham | Report as abusive

Mr Ham.

If America was invaded and occupied by a foreign power, you bet I would be up in arms. Hell, I would probably fight along side you.

But you know one thing I wouldn’t do? Get a car bomb and blow it up in the middle of Detroit, killing fifty innocent men, women and children. Would you?

Care to explain why this is happening in Afganistan and Iraq? Why islamic “freedom fighters” are killing innocent civilians with marketplace carbombs, and murdering people and burying them in mass graves?

I can’t really seem to get it. Being so entrenched in my beliefs and all that…

Posted by Anon | Report as abusive


I’m not defending car bombers and suicide bombers. It’s more of a religious thing, they think they’re killing infidels. Both the Bible and the Quran say to kill non-believers so when people are entrenched in those beliefs you’ll see them follow the words of their scripture.

Me being an atheist, i find those beliefs as crazy.

Posted by Michael Ham | Report as abusive

As a fellow Athiest (albeit a right-wing, pro-military interventionist republican) I agree.

But you would think that as these innocent civilians are all muslim, they wouldn’t fit the criteria for being an infidel.

So why would a freedom fighter blow himself up in a market place, when there are no military targets around? Killing nobody but innocent men, women and children. All muslim?

It seems a bit confusing for a freedom fighter to focus one’s efforts on killing the “victims” of occupation.

Which is why I do not see it as the actions of resistance or freedom fighter group. It is the efforts of a small armed group, seeking to impose it’s will on the civilian population. And they will do whatever it takes to get control of those people, even if they have to kill them.

And this will only get worse if America pulls out of Iraq and Afganistan before they are stable. Just because peace supporters think its not our business anymore once we leave, won’t stop the countless deaths and suffering that will result if we pull out too early.

And that is why we need to stay for the moment. Because it is a peacekeeping operation. And the “peace” in those countries now is much better then what will happen if we cut and run.

Posted by Anon | Report as abusive

Annon, I recommend reading “Fenian Fire: The British Government Plot to Assassinate Queen Victoria”
by Christy Campbell. It doesn’t explain how a theoretically religious fanatic blows up a theoretically fellow religious adherent, but it is a very interesting study in how the leadership of the supposed enemy is in cahoots with their supposed “enemy”. I don’t know if it is relevant to the current situation in Afghanistan or Iraq, but suspect it possibly, in an abstract way, is. It seems to be about money, power and manipulating public opinion.
Have a nice day!

Posted by Peter H | Report as abusive


I’m different from the vast majority of the peace movement. I’m a constitutionalist, our founding fathers formed this country with a neutral foreign policy. We wouldn’t even intervene in the French Revolution even though without the French we would have no country.

Imagine the tax cuts that could be given to Americans if we stopped these wars, imagine how much more disposable income civilians and businesses would have if our military budget didn’t skyrocket every single year no matter what the party in control is. I’m a small government guy. I don’t understand how those of you with a party think our bureaucrats are complete idiots when it comes to healthcare but all of a sudden turn into geniuses when it comes to foreign policy and vice versa. It’s the same people making the judgement decisions.

I want your opinion on this. Do you think Bush, Pelosi, Cheney, Obama care about what’s best for you and me before they make their decisions in the middle east? Do you think they ask themselves “how can I help average joe american with our military”? Do you think your Republicans had us middle class americans in mind when they went to war with Iraq?

I guess just having watch government fail at everything from balancing budgets to delivering mail efficiently to not blowing up tankers in crowded markets just makes me a little more cynical of whether they know (or give a damn) about doing what’s right.

Posted by Michael Ham | Report as abusive

“Do you think Bush, Pelosi, Cheney, Obama care about what’s best for you and me before they make their decisions in the middle east?”

Yes. Most certainly.

But the issue is that the job of a government is to consider the national interest. And that includes domestic, military, foreign, civil, legal and economic considerations.

So if you believe one of those considerations takes priority over everything else, it is understandable that you would be upset when the overall direction of the nation does not comply with your priority.

Government has always been a balancing act of pragmatism. That is something the Obama government is beginning to learn right now. Something they shouldn’t have forgotten in the first place. But such is life.

One thing I disagree with is isolationism. A neutral diplomatic stance will not further American interests. Nor will it further Western interests, of which America is a central part.

Nor do I believe that abusive groups such as the Taliban or Saddam should be allowed to repress their own people. That doesn’t mean America has any moral right to be policeman. But at the same time, it doesn’t prevent us from doing as we please. Once again, pragmatism.

Were I taxed into oblivion in order to do this, I would probably think otherwise. But then I wouldn’t be thinking in an objective manner, would I?

Posted by Anon | Report as abusive

Make no mistake I’m not writing to defend the President because I’m a huge supporter…i would give any president this benefit of the doubt. I keep reading and hearing all the things that the president is suppose to be doing and isn’t and how he hasn’t done anyting. I think people forget this isn’t a monarchy. The president really doesn’t have absolute power to make things any way he wants…so when blame is to be cast it should also include the rest of congress that not getting things done as well…The president is our leader but don’t forget how our government really operates. It is designed specifically to deterr one man or woman from having complete power. So it confuses me to hear the inconsistant criticism of the presidents. I can still remember the chastizing the last president took for doing thge opposite of Obama and trying to “go it alone”. Criticism is not nessesarily a bad thing, but when you put someone in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation there aren’t any winners.

Posted by The Ring | Report as abusive

@ the Ring.

You are absolutely right. America isn’t a monarchy, and the President is not all powerful. This means that the President does not always have the ability to make massive sweeping changes.

Unfortunately, this is the image that Obama presented to the public during his election. He made very few promises. But he carefully cultivated the image of a political messiah, who was ready to take America to the promised land.

And for creating such an image, he can not then turn around and pretend he didn’t. America will expect him to make practical action, or they will start to take a dim view of how he used image to win the election.

Posted by Hmmm | Report as abusive