Afghanistan

What should I be voting for?

Afghanistan

Postby David Yun on Thu Oct 15, 2009 11:55 am

Last Sunday night, Trebuchet and I had a heated argument about the nature of our nation's involvement in Afghanistan. It was a natural extension of our competing paradigms about the nature of geopolitics. We both firmly agree on human nature: that it is driven by fundamental weaknesses such as greed. But he sees organized conspiracies to create specific exploitable situations, whereas I merely see profiteers taking advantage of events, as opposed to actually engineering them. I think that's actually giving humanity too much credit; that would require a degree of trust and cooperation that I don't believe we're capable of, even in the pursuit of ignoble ends. We're a swarm of vultures, not a pack of hunting lions. Corruption leads to men attempting such conspiracies, but corruption within them also prevents them from true fruition.

Anyhow, I think I botched the presentation of my argument. Treb believes our involvement in Afghanistan is driven by a specific, hidden agenda organized to enrich the military industrial complex. (At any point, if I misrepresent you Treb, please clarify.)

Success in Afghanistan is a tough sell. Iraq is tough enough, and that's a nation that has cultivated sophisticated governments since the very dawn of human civilization. Afghanistan has been alternating between swallowing up invaders and destroying itself for at least three thousand years. They possess a tribal society that cowtows to whichever penny ante warlord is able to prevail in a given region at any given time. To force organization on them, in my opinion, is not a realistically achievable endgame. The last "election" supports this perspective. Our valiant troops, at the moment, are far too busy fighting Taliban and other competing elements to spend any time or effort on the current strategy of winning "hearts and souls". We can't get farmers to grow nourishing crops when opium is exponentially more profitable. We can't establish order when the local law enforcement is beholden to local militias as soon as our troops move on. We need a LOT more manpower and materiel in place to make that happen, and I don't know if we have that to give, much less the political capitol to get them into place.

(I do want to posit that it's absolutely astonishing how effective our special forces were in seizing control of Afghanistan. That's a nation that broke the Red Army, and a handful of our badass boys with laser designators on horseback led the spearhead that brought them down. Nobody talks about this, but our success there is one of the most impressive military campaigns ever conducted in recorded history. We Americans should not take this accomplishment for granted.)

That was a massive digression, but I needed to establish some context for my views. My current prevailing belief is that we're there due to the ancient motivation of superpowers throughout human history: prestige (as opposed to a plot by the military industrial complex). After our continued pissing match with Pakistan, we can't lose face by leaving. We can't absorb the hit to our prestige by allowing the Taliban to claim "victory" over us. We can't allow Iran (and especially their preening president) to crow about it. We would be loathe to relinquish that geopolitical sphere of influence to Russia or China. All of these are prestige related motivations to succeed in the region. Today's youth (and to a lesser degree, my generation) are too young to fully relate to the wound to the national soul that was Vietnam. People liked to draw analogies between Iraq and Vietnam, but the comparison is much more apt to Afghanistan. Finally, related to prestige, the stated goal is to bring stability to the region so groups like al Queda cannot once again take root. We've stated a purpose, and to not fulfill it would deliver shame.

I feel we've lost sight of who the enemy is. What would happen if we vacated Afghanistan? Are we actually doing any good there? Perhaps, but I'm extremely skeptical as to whether it's an enduring good. Without us there, they would go on preying on each other like they always have. Like they'll do after we're gone anyway. The Taliban doesn't particularly care about us one way or the other, except in the context that we're a competing gang that has taken power. They don't meet the classic definition of terrorists. They're guerrilla fighters with their own local concerns. I feel that our resources should be more specifically directed against al Queda.

Treb - it's specifically because the military industrial complex has nothing to exploit in the area that I find this conflict, unlike Iraq, even more vexing.

But here's where I failed to properly deliver my argument to Treb. I merely explained why we persist in the region. I didn't clarify how we got there in the first place. Where Treb sees conspiracies, I see a series of failed policy. Our nation's strategy has been like a poorly played chess game of reacting to moves, instead of envisioning an endgame and looking turns ahead in order to dictate events. There is a distinct chain of actions and consequences that I'll shotgun below; excuse me if I speed through them, but I've already been windbaggy.

-A steady flow of energy was/is vital to our national security

-In the pursuit of this interest, we supported the Shah of Iran

-After the Iranian revolution of 1979, we supported Iraq to counter Iran (ironically now, supplying Iraq with the only WMDs they've ever had)

-Concurrently, CIA elements trained and funded Osama bin Laden against Soviet forces in Afghanistan. (Our current position is a direct result of interceding there during the Cold War.) We even stood by passively as he formed the organization now known as al Queda; we didn't care as long as they were aimed at someone else.

It's important to remember exactly who bin Laden is. He was an intelligent, charismatic, successful Saudi businessman who was so devout to Islam that he left his comfortable home to go fight the Russians in Afghanistan. The Taliban are direct offshoots of the same mujahideen that bin Laden fought alongside, the same guerrillas that Ronald Reagan referred to as "courageous freedom fighters".

-During the first Gulf War (I'm glossing here, but if desired, I can expound on why this resulted from a diplomatic FUBAR - I just wanted to link our energy concerns and the continued extension of that policy into Iraq), our troops set foot in areas of Saudi Arabia that Osama bin Laden considered holy. He felt that this was an abhorrent sacrilege, and this is why/when he devoted his network to inflicting harm on the United States.

-As the Clinton administration pursued him (remember, he struck at the World Trade Center, multiple embassies, and the U.S.S. Cole, etc. long before 9/11) he fled to the safety of his entrusted allies in Afghanistan. It's simply where he would be safest, under the protection of men he used to fight and bleed with. Naturally, the Taliban took in the man that gave up so much to come to their aid in times past.

-9/11 happens. We go into Afghanistan (and rightly so) in pursuit of Osama bin Laden and al Queda. And there we are.

Treb, whenever you shifted to the stance that it's possible that an organized conspiracy led us there, I backed off. A great many things are possible. But you spoke with a diction that sounded assured of such a conspiracy. The dominoes of observable events suffice to explain our presence in Afghanistan. There's no reason to look for a boogeyman here.

You know what happens when men attempt conspiracies on that scale? Fumbled, clumsy shows of force like bungled money laundering within corporations, or obvious misrepresentations like the ones that led us into Iraq. Even then, that was largely motivated by prestige as well - the hubris of men like Cheney and the hunger of the hawkish Neo-Cons. They got away with it, but they always leave a messy trail even when they succeed. You always go back to JFK, and look how sloppy that was. There's always evidence. I don't see any of that sort of manipulation in Afghanistan. Conspiracies fall apart as more parties become involved. Even a conspiracy of two can break down from mistrust or competing agendas. Your position, to me, seems to be like that of the theorist who applies his hypothesis universally, even in the absence of any evidence. You're assuming it's there, because you believe it to be everywhere. All thinkers (myself included) love to believe we've hit upon fundamental and universally applicable axioms, but we need to be more judicious in their application.

To clarify, if your ultimate position is that the possibility of such a conspiracy exists, then we are in agreement. "Possibility" covers a wide range. However, I see no evidence whatsoever to support the existence of a conspiracy in this case, and neither did you proffer any. I place that possibility at a fairly low order of probability, but you sounded like it was an inevitability: "It just hasn't been proven yet." It's the yet, and other such language, that made you sound so sure to me. Joel was there. I believe he was receiving the same impression from you.

(Also as an aside, you repeatedly asserted that "our media outlets (AP, Reuters) are rife with inaccuracies." Your exact words, I believe. I took that to mean that you were indicating that they were useless in the pursuit of understanding the driving forces behind these events. You responded by saying that I made the wrong inference from your statement, and we had to leave shortly thereafter.)

Well, then, what did you mean with that assertion? Why did you bring that up? I'm not naive either, and know that information needs to be analyzed to be understood. How was I supposed to understand that statement? You were using it as a counter to some of my points about events; was it unreasonable of me to use events of record as premises upon which to build my perspective?)
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Re: Afghanistan

Postby trebuchet on Sat Oct 17, 2009 5:15 pm

First, let me state my position clearly so that there is no confusion. The reasons why we are in Afghanistan are nothing new in light of human history, specifically the history of empires. I believe that it is a grab for resources in the region, not necessarily for resources in Afghanistan itself.

Historically there have been many competing reasons as to why human beings go to war. Sometimes we do it because we have been offended (Genghis Khan and the Khwarezmid Empire), at other times it’s for control (Oda Nobunaga and the Ikko-Ikki), and still, sometimes we go to war because of madmen (Hitler and his thousand year Reich!). The two most prevalent reasons, in my opinion, are ideology and resources.

IDEOLOGY

I believe that the American Civil War was fought over a difference in ideology. The ideology that I’m talking about is not Slavery but the question of who has the final authority in the United States of America, the states or the federal government. Slavery was merely the smokescreen for the real conflict, at its best. At its worst it was a shrewd political ploy by the Executive Branch to garner foreign support for the Federals. This sort of “left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing” politics has been the modus operandi of the American government ever since.

The Vietnam War began as an extension of American anti-communist ideology, a la “The Domino Effect”. I fully believe that had President Kennedy not been assassinated he would have issued an executive order for the withdrawal of troops at some time during his term.

RESOURCES

The securing of resources is THE major concern of the geopolitical landscape of the 21st century.

Earlier this year, at the British Humanist Association’s Darwin Day lecture, former UK chief scientific advisor Sir David King warned of “resource wars” as climate change fuels a scramble for scarce resources:

“Future historians might look back on our particular recent past and see the Iraq war as the first of the conflicts of this kind – the first of the resource wars.”

I happen to agree with him. I believe that the major players on the world stage today (US, UK, China, et al.) have gotten very good at deceiving their people with media propaganda and great shows of ideology (President Bush landing on an aircraft carrier and declaring ‘mission accomplished’ was the worst example in recent memory) to hide the fact that wars are waged, not for defense, or to protect an ally, or even to promulgate a noble idea, but to secure resources around the globe. This is part of the reason why I said that most of the information available today, regarding current events, is rife with misinformation. It’s no secret that governments use their media outlets for propaganda. It’s just that most Americans are naïve enough to think that it doesn’t happen here in the US.

In our conversation on Sunday you blithely said to me that my suggestion that one of the main reasons for US involvement in Afghanistan could be to construct an oil pipeline through the region was a “pipe dream”. I can hardly blame you because, at the time, I had no way of knowing for sure – it was wild speculation on my part. Or so I thought.

In 1998 John J. Maresca, vice-president of international relations of Unocal corporation, made this statement before a Congressional hearing committee on international relations (emphasis added):

"I would like to focus today on three issues. First, the need for multiple pipeline routes for Central Asian oil and gas resources. Second, the need for U.S. support for international and regional efforts to achieve balanced and lasting political settlements to the conflicts in the region, including Afghanistan. Third, the need for structured assistance to encourage economic reforms and the development of appropriate investment climates in the region.

Mr. Chairman, the Caspian region contains tremendous untapped hydrocarbon reserves. Just to give an idea of the scale, proven natural gas reserves equal more than 236 trillion cubic feet. The region's total oil reserves may well reach more than 60 billion barrels of oil. Some estimates are as high as 200 billion barrels. In 1995, the region was producing only 870,000 barrels per day. By 2010, western companies could increase production to about 4.5 million barrels a day, an increase of more than 500 percent in only 15 years. If this occurs, the region would represent about 5 percent of the world's total oil production.

One major problem has yet to be resolved: how to get the region's vast energy resources to the markets where they are needed. Central Asia is isolated. Their natural resources are land locked, both geographically and politically. Each of the countries in the Caucasus and Central Asia faces difficult political challenges. Some have unsettled wars or latent conflicts. Others have evolving systems where the laws and even the courts are dynamic and changing. In addition, a chief technical obstacle which we in the industry face in transporting oil is the region's existing pipeline infrastructure.

Because the region's pipelines were constructed during the Moscow-centered Soviet period, they tend to head north and west toward Russia. There are no connections to the south and east. But Russia is currently unlikely to absorb large new quantities of foreign oil. It's unlikely to be a significant market for new energy in the next decade. It lacks the capacity to deliver it to other markets.

Two major infrastructure projects are seeking to meet the need for additional export capacity. One, under the aegis of the Caspian Pipeline Consortium, plans to build a pipeline west from the northern Caspian to the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiysk. Oil would then go by tanker through the Bosporus to the Mediterranean and world markets.

The other project is sponsored by the Azerbaijan International Operating Company, a consortium of 11 foreign oil companies, including four American companies, Unocal, Amoco, Exxon and Pennzoil. This consortium conceives of two possible routes, one line would angle north and cross the north Caucasus to Novorossiysk. The other route would cross Georgia to a shipping terminal on the Black Sea. This second route could be extended west and south across Turkey to the Mediterranean port of Ceyhan.

But even if both pipelines were built, they would not have enough total capacity to transport all the oil expected to flow from the region in the future. Nor would they have the capability to move it to the right markets. Other export pipelines must be built.

At Unocal, we believe that the central factor in planning these pipelines should be the location of the future energy markets that are most likely to need these new supplies. Western Europe, Central and Eastern Europe, and the Newly Independent States of the former Soviet Union are all slow growth markets where demand will grow at only a half a percent to perhaps 1.2 percent per year during the period 1995 to 2010.

Asia is a different story all together. It will have a rapidly increasing energy consumption need. Prior to the recent turbulence in the Asian Pacific economies, we at Unocal anticipated that this region's demand for oil would almost double by 2010. Although the short-term increase in demand will probably not meet these expectations, we stand behind our long-term estimates.

I should note that it is in everyone's interest that there are adequate supplies for Asia's increasing energy requirements. If Asia's energy needs are not satisfied, they will simply put pressure on all world markets, driving prices upwards everywhere.

The key question then is how the energy resources of Central Asia can be made available to nearby Asian markets. There are two possible solutions, with several variations. One option is to go east across China, but this would mean constructing a pipeline of more than 3,000 kilometers just to reach Central China. In addition, there would have to be a 2,000-kilometer connection to reach the main population centers along the coast. The question then is what will be the cost of transporting oil through this pipeline, and what would be the netback which the producers would receive.

For those who are not familiar with the terminology, the netback is the price which the producer receives for his oil or gas at the well head after all the transportation costs have been deducted. So it's the price he receives for the oil he produces at the well head.

The second option is to build a pipeline south from Central Asia to the Indian Ocean. One obvious route south would cross Iran, but this is foreclosed for American companies because of U.S. sanctions legislation. The only other possible route is across Afghanistan, which has of course its own unique challenges. The country has been involved in bitter warfare for almost two decades, and is still divided by civil war. From the outset, we have made it clear that construction of the pipeline we have proposed across Afghanistan could not begin until a recognized government is in place that has the confidence of governments, lenders, and our company.

Unocal foresees a pipeline which would become part of a regional system that will gather oil from existing pipeline infrastructure in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Russia. The 1,040-mile long oil pipeline would extend south through Afghanistan to an export terminal that would be constructed on the Pakistan coast. This 42-inch diameter pipeline will have a shipping capacity of one million barrels of oil per day. The estimated cost of the project, which is similar in scope to the trans-Alaska pipeline, is about $2.5 billion."

One man’s testimony before Congress is far from proving anything beyond a shadow of a doubt, but it does go a long way in supporting my notion that American interests in Afghanistan go beyond mere prestige.

CONCLUSIONS

You may very well be correct in your statement that US foreign policy is less a master stroke of a genius chess player and more of a blundering buffoon who luckily stumbles into things (or unluckily as the case may be). I just find it hard to believe that over 200 years of empire-building is the result of blind luck. What are the chances?

You keep telling me that there is no reason to believe in ulterior motives of the US government – that face-value is what we should be looking at. But there’s plenty of reason when you dig a little deeper than the surface. Information on the assassination of JFK, for example, was suppressed for over 30 years. For over 30 years the American people were in the dark about what really happened to one of its presidents. Only since the early ‘90s have we begun to investigate the ramifications of a CIA conspiracy and a Warren Commission cover-up of one of the most heinous crimes in US history. For 30 years the American people believed that their president was killed by some pro-Castro, commie nut-job. And then the president’s brother is shot while running for office just a few years later? What a coincidence! The direct result being that America’s involvement in Vietnam is extended to a final tally of 10 years. 10 years of weapons manufacturers, military contractors, and pharmaceutical companies getting fat off of American lives. It’s sickening. What’s worse is we’re doing it all over again.

The evidence that you demand is almost impossible to give empirically. Therefore I’ve given up all hope of ever convincing you otherwise. You’ll just have to come to your own conclusions based on your own observations of what the truth really is. I’m sure that if the tables were turned and it was you telling me that the American Dream was dead I’d have the same reaction as you’re having now.

*edited for proper grammar*
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Re: Afghanistan

Postby David Yun on Tue Nov 03, 2009 11:32 am

Guh, you responded ages ago?

And neat :D I love that deposition you found. Maybe despite my disdain for humanity, I'm still underestimating our frailty. I always assume the worst in terms of moral corruptibility, but sometimes I don't give sufficient credence to human stupidity.

And Unocal - they are the worst offenders I actually know of. In the previous decade, they indulged in participating in outright slavery at gunpoint in Burma. I wouldn't put ANYthing past them. The irony is that our actions in Afghanistan has only served to destabilize the region further. Pre 9/11, the conflict there consisted of the Taliban uniformly beating down ambitious rivals. Now, we have a power vacuum that multiple corrupt factions are vying to fill. I'm still completely comfortable with applying the phrase "pipe dream" both then and now. I feel that way because of the rugged terrain that would make the engineering cost ineffective, and the political instability that has only worsened since then.

Even more to the point, I think that pipeline would be completely useless (to both American political AND corporate concerns) even if it could be safely constructed and protected. The Chinese recently made major deals with the Russians to create energy channels in the region. Those deals effectively cut Western energy concerns out of the picture. From a national security perspective, SELLING the oil to foreign markets makes no sense now either - the 21st century will absolutely be driven by conflicts over scarcity of resources, from joules to calories. We are absolutely in 100% agreement on that issue.

And that bit about the Asia Minor pipelines being insufficient to deliver capacity is complete horseshit lol. I suppose he was doing his job in covering all potential bases for his employers with that testimony. "If Asia's energy needs are not satisfied, they will simply put pressure on all world markets, driving prices upwards everywhere." Please.


In any case, the point of my first post up there was to clarify my position. If I failed to do so, yes, the point of origin is 100% driven by resources. I started with our support of the pre-revolutionary Iranian regime, and laid out the resulting political dominoes - those are inextricably intertwined with ideological motivations. Regardless of the differences in our underlying paradigms, do you agree Paul, that the series of events/policies I delineated are sufficient to satisfactorily explain how we got where we are? Agreeing would not preclude additional pressures at all.

That Russian/Chinese deal did make me think further on this issue, however. The continuing massive expenditure (personnel, materiel, cash, political capital) of prosecuting our war in Afghanistan must have a reason(s). I went with ideology because I couldn't see how that investment could be leveraged into any material gain. (BTW, I still don't. That pipeline as presented by the Unocal rep is a pre-9/11, pre-scarcity paradigm concept of profiting from the burgeoning Chinese market. Even the stance you're taking is one of securing resources for our own consumption, not passing them on. Unless we want to become major players in the opium trade, there are no resources for us to exploit.)

What occurred to me since then, is that we both neglected a third option. There is something completely new occurring here. Suddenly, Afghanistan has become a completely American sphere of influence. This is a stunning geopolitical turn of events. Remember how this Sunday I joked about the Pentagon's catchphrase "full spectrum dominance"? Airfields. I'd like to put forth the theory that we remain in Afghanistan (in addition to, or even related to, prestige - you STILL need to posit a reasonable scenario in favor of resources) because it's a new platform from which to project American force into a hitherto unreachable region. Our rivals heading into 2020 and beyond are the EU (cooperative if not always completely friendly), Russia (ever eager to belligerently regain lost prestige), and China (potential to become a true foe). Afghanistan gives us a base of operations that allows us to quickly interject in force into any conflicts in the region, which, I fully agree could involve the securing of resources. In this scenario, unlike Iraq, we are never leaving. In fact, successfully creating a politically stable Afghanistan (which I feel is nigh impossible anyway) would be undesirable, since this would remove our stated reason for being there. The sweet spot would be propping up a government strong enough to suppress any insurgencies to manageable levels, but not so strong as to no longer require an American military presence. This is a third alternative in addition to "prestige" and "resources" - namely "leverage".

I'm finding this viewpoint extremely compelling. Those same analyst reports that point to conflicts of scarcity becoming the new paradigm also describe the geopolitical landscape as becoming increasingly multipolar. This can't possibly sit well with the military/industrial leadership of our nation. Bush the Lesser and his cohorts followed a rigid policy of American hegemony, and as far as I can see, even Obama's diplomacy isn't actually reversing this course in any way. Our corporate concerns have a vested interest in maintaining this dominance in order to continue leveraging profitable arrangements. Perhaps our Afghanistan endgame is to prevent or at least ameliorate the diffusion of geopolitical power to new centers. In a related issue, I've also noticed that the current administration has steadfastly continued to pursue the broad missile defense strategy initiated by the previous one.

Thoughts?



Post Script:
The evidence that you demand is almost impossible to give empirically.

I'm not looking for empirical evidence. You simply did not put forth any plausible theory to consider as a reasonable alternative. You can say "resources" all you like, but what resources are you pointing at? There's no empirical evidence that we interceded in the Bosnian war because of resources, but if you were to argue that viewpoint, I'd absolutely be nodding my head and saying that that's a reasonable stance. That area is chock full of industrially useful resources. But Afghanistan? Nope. Just poppies.
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Re: Afghanistan

Postby Mike on Thu Nov 05, 2009 10:13 am

off-topic.... but fuck the Taliban for shelling the shit out of those Buddha carvings however long ago it was. They deserve to get peed on by a homeless guy that found 20 pounds of rotten asparagus the night before.
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Re: Afghanistan

Postby David Yun on Thu Nov 05, 2009 11:15 am

You should care more about their oppression and abuse of human life and dignity, and I have my own personal issues with Buddhism, but yeah - that was pretty fucking petty. Rotten asparagus sounds about right.
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Re: Afghanistan

Postby Mike on Fri Nov 06, 2009 6:21 pm

Oh I care about the oppression and all that business. They're total cocksuckers. Just seems it takes a special kinda cocksucker to pull some shit like that....
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Re: Afghanistan

Postby Zokrah on Mon Dec 28, 2009 10:33 pm

*BUMP*

I'm curious on your guys thoughts now that Obama has announced his troop surge.
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Re: Afghanistan

Postby Mike on Sat Jan 02, 2010 5:43 am

I say disarm America. Get rid of everything, put a big target on us, and hope that others follow suit. I figure super small chance of more peace > mutually assured destruction. Yarly.
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Re: Afghanistan

Postby David Yun on Thu Feb 23, 2012 4:08 pm

Years later, I respond lol

I always approved of the surge. If we're going to do something, we might as well commit the necessary resources to do it not-completely-FUBAR-ly. I'm sure there are all manner of logistical calculations that attempt to determine the minimum force-to-space ratio necessary to prosecute our strategic goals.

Of course, I haven't always approved of those strategic goals.
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