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Category: Afghanistan Page 1 of 3

Osama Bin Laden: The First Great Man Of The 21st Century

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Osama Bin Laden was not a good man.

Great is not a synonym for good. Genghis Khan was a great man. Hitler was a great man. FDR was a great man. Ivan the Terrible was a great man. Queen Elizabeth the first was a great woman. Of the five, only FDR was a good person.

Bin Laden didn’t quite win (though the jury is out), but he did accomplish much of what he wanted. His theory was simple: the US, the far enemy, was why when pious Muslims tried to reform their societies, they lost. The US supported the local governments or conservative/sell out forces, and with that support, the governments won.

This theory is a good one: it’s mostly true.

Bin Laden fought as one of the Mujahadeen against the USSR. He lead troops from the front. (He was a brave man, something most Americans refuse to admit.) He believed that the USSR broke up, in large part, because of their loss in Afghanistan. Pouring so many men and resources into the Afghan war put enough additional strain on the USSR to be decisive.

This theory is a good one: it has a lot of truth to it (though it’s only partially true.)

Osama also believed that the US military was fundamentally weak: they were good at battles and awful at prolonged combat. They were not tough: they could not win large-scale guerilla wars. Against tough warriors who wouldn’t give up, like the Vietnamese, they would eventually lose. This would destroy the myth of American military superiority.

So Osama’s plan was to suck the US into a war it couldn’t win, in Afghanistan. 9/11 was the method and it worked.

The US, under George W. Bush then also invaded Iraq, a self-inflicted wound.

And Osama was right, though more in Iraq than Afghanistan (which was fought more on the cheap.) The US won the initial battles, was bogged down and eventually forced out.

The cost was astronomical, and it did damage America, distracting America from its bleeding economic and social ulcers, and its real danger: China and the US. The money and men spent in Afghanistan and Iraq and in the endless “war on terror”; the attention paid to it, changed America in ways which made it weaker.

It didn’t, directly, cause the US collapse. America was stronger than the USSR had been in the 80s.

But Osama got much of what he wanted and planned: his wars; America defeated militarily, and America weakened. He found America’s trigger button and pushed it, and America acted as he wanted.

That he later died means nothing. His greatness was in making the greatest power of his time dance to his tune, and in so doing weaken itself.

The War on Terror was a great, essentially self-inflicted wound. Osama could never have damaged the US so much if America had not cooperated, but it did, because Bin Laden understood America enough to make it do what he wanted.

Bin Laden isn’t in the first tier of great men and women, but he qualifies for great: he made the world dance to his tune.

It’s important to recognize this. We can say of someone that they were evil and great. We can admit someone’s virtues if they are our enemies. If we can’t, we will underestimate them, and underestimating an enemy is sheerest stupidity, and a constant American vice.

You grant your enemies their greatness, or you are a fool.

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Open Thread

Rather delayed today. Used to discuss topics unrelated to recent posts.


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Living in Reality: Afghanistan Issue

Two weeks ago, I noted that the Taliban were competent and not corrupt.

Because of this, the Taliban leadership and even its lower ranks is made up of competent people who are true believers…

…The Taliban, like Hezbollah, does not tolerate people who are serial fuck-ups. In this they are the exact opposite of America’s elites, who not only tolerate serial fuck-ups, but promote them.

The Taliban will rule Afghanistan effectively, in line with their beliefs and goals.

This week,

“I’m happy about the improved security situation,” said Qadiri, 40. He doesn’t worry about crime the way he did a few weeks ago. He said corruption, along with the gov’t, appeared to vanish overnight.

Both of these things: improved security AND no corruption should not be a surprise. If you are surprised, your mental model of the world was badly flawed. The US-backed government was massively corrupt and the Taliban are competent true believers.

As Stoller notes, the next problem will be the economy.

Without the US flying in pallets of cash, Afghanistan will have some real problems. If the US insists on sanctions and doesn’t provide aid, Afghanistan will more or less automatically go into the China/Russia/Iran/Pakistan/Turkey axis. (Oh, they don’t like Iran, but they’ll live with them.)

The Taliban, as I have noted, run on an ideology I absolutely loathe. But I try to live in the real world, and I acknowledge the strengths and virtues of my enemies.

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The Taliban, ISIS, & the Kabul Airport Attack

So, a group called ISIS-K attacked near the Kabul airport and killed people, including US troops.

The media is in a full hand-wringing “Blame Biden” mode, which is fair in a sense (the buck stops at the top) and ridiculous in that it is still a war zone, and people die and evacuating traitors and collaborators after the country has fallen was always going to be a difficult job.

The Taliban was responsible for security outside the airport and failed, but given the mob scene, the only way they could have succeeded was to clear all the people clustered around the airport looking to get out, and pushed checkpoints back. Perhaps they should have done it, but it would have looked very bad and been used to suggest they were keeping people in the country.

Some people think this means a hard war for the Taliban against ISIS, but I rather doubt it: ISIS-K is a truncated terrorist group, not a full-fledged guerilla movement. They may be able to carry out some suicide attacks and bombings, but they aren’t a real threat to the Taliban. That doesn’t mean that cleaning them up entirely will be easy, but I don’t expect them to control any large amount of territory.

This is the sort of nonsense being spewed by “experts.”

The Taliban is overwhelmed,” Bruce Hoffman, a counterterrorism expert at Georgetown and the Council on Foreign Relation, tells Politico. “They are very effective at bullying and victimizing civilians, but they are incompetent at battling groups that look like themselves.”

This is the American disease, again. “The people who just kicked our ass are only good at beating up civilians, which is why we lost to them.” And “our murder squads are morally superior to them.” The main strategy in Afghanistan, as in Iraq, other than bribing untrustworthy people, was drone murders and special forces kill squads. We know that the drones killed about 90 percent civilians, and I’d be very surprised if the kill squad numbers were much better.

Broken countries are hard to rule. Iraq still has regular bombings to this day (unknown under Saddam). But the Taliban will be no worse than the US and its proxy government was at stopping them, and I suspect rather better, because they have what the US and the proxy government never had: legitimacy. Remember, most cities, including Kabul, did not fall to military force; the Taliban negotiated entry. In Kabul’s case, they were asked in by Karzai, the ex-President, because the “government” forces couldn’t maintain order.

When going after terrorists, which is what ISIS-K is, what you need to is informants. The Taliban will have more of them than the US ever did because, again, the Taliban has the legitimacy the US and its proxy forces never had.

As for the idea that the Taliban want or needs US help…

…Amira Jadoon, an ISIS-K expert at the U.S. Military Academy, told the Post. “Without U.S. support or Afghan security forces,” she added, “I don’t think we can realistically expect the Taliban to constrain ISIS-K” alone.

No. They will get help from Pakistan, and probably China, not the US, which has already started slapping on sanctions.

And, again, the idea that the US is good, or even remotely competent at shutting down terrorist groups in overseas nations is ludicrous. The US presence and “help” increases terrorist strength.

Afghanistan’s a mess. Over five million refugees were created during the occupation. We don’t know how many people died or wound up with PTSD and other mental or physical issues, but this isn’t going to be an easy country to govern.

What the US can do is bugger off and stay out of Afghanistan’s affairs. No sanctions, and no “help” except maybe reparations (which we all know the US won’t pay, because the US always thinks of themselves as the “good guys”).

And do remember, absent the US invasion of Iraq, ISIS would never have happened. Absent the US support for the Mujahideen fighting against the USSR, the Taliban and Al-Q’aeda would never have happened.

If the US actually wanted to help, which is beyond laughable, the best way would be to just stop interfering in other nations’ affairs.

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America Decides to Ensure Afghanistan Will Be a Chinese and Russian Ally

I mean, honestly, they probably would have been anyway and yes, I’m getting tired of writing about Afghanistan, but the time to say things about a subject which need to be said is when people are paying attention.


Sanctions don’t work to get countries to do what you want: They haven’t worked with North Korea, Russia, Venezuela, or Cuba. But what they will do is force Afghanistan to get help where it’s available, from the same countries willing to help Iran, which is to say the US’s geopolitical enemies: Russia and China.

If you take a look at a map you can see that both Russia and China really want Afghanistan to be friendly, and willing to let through trade and traffic, plus there are all the minerals, and so on.

If the US had not kept treating the Taliban as enemies, they might have been able to to avoid a tight alliance: All it takes is spending some of the war cash on Afghanistan even though the war has ended. But Americans so often don’t do realpolitik, they just pretend to. So much is about feelings, not interests.

China was always the rising power, but there was no need for Russia or Iran to be its ally. Likewise, the rise of sanctions as the US’s favorite weapon, even above drones, is essentially forcing half the world to create an alternate payments system and end the dollar’s role as world reserve currency, though it may keep that status in part of the world.

Dollar hegemony is a large part of American hegemony, so this seems foolish, but the same elites who couldn’t understand why occupying Afghanistan was stupid, or why using murder squads and drones which kill 90 percent civilians was just making the Taliban stronger, are also incapable of actually managing US interests, even in the coldest, hardest, evil, but semi-pragmatic, terms.

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What I Wrote April 9th About Afghanistan

Because sometimes it is important to say you said it.

This does mean the Taliban will almost certainly wind up ruling the country again; the Kabul government is not going to stand without US and NATO support.

That’s unfortunate, but the Taliban is the natural ruling party of Afghanistan. That’s just how it is. Probably the US shouldn’t have supported Islamic hardliners even before the Russian invasion (under Carter), but that’s a long-ago decision.

Biden’s going to be under immense pressure from the military and much of the media to not withdraw. He needs to hold firm. It would be best to do this as quickly as possible.

And yeah, this means there will be a “fall of Saigon” moment some time after the US leaves.

Nobody gets everything right (I’m bad on elections, in particular), but there are reasons its worth reading me: I spend a lot of time thinking about stuff like this, and I’ve spent decades working on my models of the world so that I’m more likely to get stuff like this right.

Contrary to what I’m seeing that “no one could have predicted,” this was easily predicted. It was obvious.

Nor was I the only one. Two others.

June 21st: Moon of Alabama.

May 11th, The Saker.

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A Few Words About the Taliban

One of the cardinal sins of American propaganda and thinking is that they often seem to want to assume their enemies are stupid, cowards, corrupt, immoral, blah, blah, blah. (This is weird, because if your enemies are shit, then there’s little to be proud of if you win and a lot to be ashamed of if you lose.) My favorite was calling the 9/11 bombers cowards, when they were willing to die. (Insert idiots talking about virgins in heaven here.)

One thing to understand about the Taliban is that they’ve been at war now for decades. The US military has the best e-lint in the world, a fleet of drones, bombers and an army of special force assassins.

You fuck up even once as a member of the Taliban and you may get dead. Since the US likes bombs and doesn’t care about how many people they kill to get one “terrorist,” you won’t just get dead, you’ll take some of your friends and family with you.

You fuck up serially, and you WILL get dead, and you WILL cause the death of your friends and family. (Being captured, of course, is much worse. If anyone reading this thinks the US doesn’t still torture, well…)

Because of this, the Taliban leadership and even its lower ranks is made up of competent people who are true believers. It’s a harsh life in which you cannot make mistakes. Only brave, competent, true believers sign up and survive.

The Taliban, like Hezbollah, does not tolerate people who are serial fuck-ups. In this they are the exact opposite of US elites, who not only tolerate serial fuck-ups, but promote them.

The Taliban will rule Afghanistan effectively, in line with their beliefs and goals. Before the invasion they ended 99 percent of Afghanistan’s poppy production in areas they controlled. These are serious people, in ways that American leaders haven’t been since the ’50s.

I say this without any pleasure. The Taliban are my ideological enemies and I want religious fundamentalism wiped from the world. But it is what it is, and people need to take their blinkers off.

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The Taliban Take Control Of Afghanistan

As I noted recently, once the US left Afghanistan, the Taliban would rule. This was obvious, and only completely delusional fools thought otherwise. Anyone who thought so should never say anything about military affairs ever again. Yes, the government army was larger and better equipped, but they have zero legitimacy and the Taliban are better fighters.

Not that being better fighters was needed, in most cases there was hardly any fighting and “government” forces just surrendered because of that whole “zero legitimacy” thing. (Also, they’re corrupt from bottom to top. They weren’t in it to fight, they were in it to be on the take.)

There is a lot of hand wringing among the usual liberal suspects about the bad shit that is now going down: collaborators being killed, women being beaten, the end of women’s rights, and so on.

All of this is true, and not irrelevant, but not sufficient to argue the US should have stayed in Afghanistan indefinitely, and let a guerilla war rage on while Americans used drones to kill 90 percent innocents.

It’s hard to say how many Afghans have PTSD and depression, but it’s certainly a large number. In 2002, PTSD was 42 percent (thanks to the war with the USSR, and the period of civil war, and the anarchy afterwards). As the linked article says, it’s hard to imagine that further war and invasion has lessened.

As for deaths, we’ll never know. The US, as in Iraq, deliberately never counted and I haven’t been able to find a good population study. One very careful analysis from 2015, by Physicians for Social responsibility, came up with 1,400 a month, but noted that number was almost certainly an under-count. (It seems low to me. Remember deaths in war/occupation are rarely, to use the modern world’s lovely euphemism, “kinetic.’)

The point here is that what Afghanistan needs is peace.

It will be a bad peace for a lot of people, there is no question. The Taliban are nasty and medieval. But it will be peace and people will mostly be safe. If the US decides to stop shooting stuff up, maybe Afghans can even have safe weddings and funerals.

The US occupation of Afghanistan was not, ever, in any way comparable to the US occupations of Germany, Japan, or Korea because in none of those cases was there any ongoing multi-decade guerilla war.

Instead, the US occupation was the cause of an ongoing war against invaders.

It is true, that as usual, the US has betrayed the collaborators who helped it rule Afghanistan. They should have shipped them out and to the US before leaving.

The vast majority will be fine, mind you: the Taliban knows how to rule and is just telling almost everyone to go back to work (unless they are a woman). But the key collaborators will be killed or otherwise punished.

This is exactly what Americans would have done if the USSR had invaded and conquered America, then left. Translators and Vichy collaborators would not be treated kindly.

But it’s not in the US’s interest. After all, no doubt the US will need collaborators for its next overseas war and occupation, and they will be less willing seeing how Afghan collaborators were treated.

As for Americans, I’m extremely disheartened though entirely unsurprised to see prominent liberals arguing for forever-war. There’s this weird idea in the US that you are somehow, still, in any way, “good” when it comes to invading and destroying other people’s countries, that you have a right to take such actions and that the US doesn’t need its own Nuremberg trials.

Finally, it was never possible to leave “well.” The US military-political complex is incompetent to its core. You can’t do stupid smart, and Afghanistan has been stupid all the way through. (The smart policy would have been to follow the Clinton plan of going in, then leaving.)

Afghanistan’s peace will suck. It’s better than endless war.

For an American Veteran’s perspective I found compelling, see: “Afghanistan Meant Nothing.”

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