Afghanistan is Not Enough

Michael J. Totten takes exception to the frequently expressed view that “the war on terrorism started in Afghanistan and it needs to end there.”  In my New Atlanticist essay “Afghanistan: Necessary But Not Sufficient,” I explain why he’s right.   My conclusion:

Defeating the Taliban and its al Qaeda allies there and in neighboring Pakistan is vital to regional security and failure would have serious repurcussions for NATO and its member states.  Sadly, however, there will be other fights.

See the link for the discussion.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Triumph says:

    The policy prescription is simple: kill ’em all and let Allah sort ’em out.

  2. Boyd says:

    Wow, what a brilliantly insightful characterization of your political opponents’ views, Triumph.

    Sheesh.

    I know, it’s supposed to be irony, or satire, or some other BS smokescreen to hide behind, but for once I feel I have to say, “Either join the debate or STFU.”

  3. DMan says:

    Sadly, however, there will be other fights.

    Do you believe there is a point at which a military response to combating terrorism, and so called terrorist supporting regimes, backfires and produces a larger pool of potential terrorists?

    At what point, if any, do you believe a military response might exacerbate the situation? Have we already reached this point?

    Are we doing enough in the way of projecting our soft power in the region to ensure we win over the hearts and minds in the region?

    I don’t have the answer to any of these questions, but I think it’s important that any discussion of where we go after Afghanistan includes at least some attempt to answer these questions.

  4. Bithead says:

    Do you believe there is a point at which a military response to combating terrorism, and so called terrorist supporting regimes, backfires and produces a larger pool of potential terrorists?

    The answer to thst question would seem to depend on how many terrorists we kill, vs how many our own left tries to do a moral equvalency for.

    Are we doing enough in the way of projecting our soft power in the region to ensure we win over the hearts and minds in the region?

    Well, let’s put it this way; Do you believe there is a point at which soft power is ineffective in response to combating terrorism, and terrorist supporting regimes, and is in fact seen by them as weakness, to the point where it in fact produces a larger pool of potential terrorists?

  5. Anderson says:

    Of course the “war on terrorism” won’t end with Afghanistan … just like the “war on enemies” didn’t end in 1945.

    We do not have a war on terrorism. We have a war on al-Qaeda and Taliban. If other terrorist organizations become our enemies, then we will have wars against them, too.

    Anyone who thinks in terms of a “war on terrorism” is suspiciously fuzzy-minded.

  6. Rick DeMent says:

    Mr. Joyner writes:

    If Afghanistan were miraculously transformed into the Switzerland of Central Asia, every last one of the Middle East’s rogues gallery of terrorist groups would still exist. The ideology that spawned them would endure. Their grievances, such as they are, would not be salved. The political culture that produced them, and continues to produce more just like them, would hardly be scathed. Al Qaedism is the most radical wing of an extreme movement which was born in the Middle East and exists now in many parts of the world. Afghanistan is not the root or the source.

    Replace the words Afghanistan with Iraq and you end up with the exact same conclusion except that you wouldn’t have spent the blood and treasure. So tell me again why did we invade Iraq? Who thought it was a good idea and why are those people taken seriously?

  7. steve says:

    Solving Afghanistan means solving Pakistan. If we figure out how to make things work in these two places, we will still be left to deal with fringe groups for a long time. I think this will require a multinational police type effort that will call upon military resources. The folks at RAND have published some good stuff looking at this.

    Steve

  8. DMan says:

    The answer to thst question would seem to depend on how many terrorists we kill, vs how many our own left tries to do a moral equvalency for.

    Can you further elaborate on what point you’re trying to make here? Are you trying to say it’s ineffective to worry about the root causes of terrorism when conducting our foreign policy, and instead should use whatever military means necessary that results in dead terrorists?

    Do you believe there is a point at which soft power is ineffective in response to combating terrorism, and terrorist supporting regimes, and is in fact seen by them as weakness, to the point where it in fact produces a larger pool of potential terrorists?

    The question seems to have two parts. 1) Yes, I do believe there is a point at which soft power alone would be an ineffective response to combating terrorism, and I by no means advocate such a response. 2) No, I don’t believe the projection of soft power produces a larger pool of potential terrorists, but I believe over the top military action could.

  9. Dave Schuler says:

    We have a war on al-Qaeda and Taliban

    While I agree that the phrase “War on Terror” has always been a poor choice, I don’t agree with your formulation either, Anderson. I think we have a war on violent radical Islamists. Some but not all of them are members of Al Qaeda or the Taliban.

    If the current members of Al Qaeda and organizations that sympathize with Al Qaeda start calling themselves by a name other than Al Qaeda will that make them less our enemies? Of course not. That’s why I think the problem is somewhat broader than just a tight clique who call themselves by some particular name.

    Note to responders: I thought that invading Iraq was a poor idea in 2003 and I continue to think so now. I just think that keeping our forces there until the country is reasonably stable is a better alternative than letting it collapse in a civil war or otherwise turn into a failed state. It’s not my preference. My preference is never to have invaded but that option isn’t available any more.

  10. Dave Schuler says:

    Dman:

    Please define “soft power”. I’m not sure it means what you think it means.

  11. DMan says:

    Using Wikipedia’s definition of soft power:

    the ability of a political body, such as a state, to indirectly influence the behavior or interests of other political bodies through cultural or ideological means.

    I don’t get it, is that at all inconsistent with anything I said?

  12. Dave Schuler says:

    No, there’s nothing inconsistent there and that’s the correct definition. It’s just that I disagree with this:

    No, I don’t believe the projection of soft power produces a larger pool of potential terrorists

    Have you read Qutb? Very influential in Islamist circles. His specific thesis is that American soft power is a threat to Islam. My point here is that there’s little question that American soft power has created terrorists. The radical violent Islamists certainly think so.

  13. Anderson says:

    I think we have a war on violent radical Islamists.

    Well, I was using “al Qaeda” in its current sense as an umbrella org, not so much just guys in Osama’s cave (damn if I didn’t type “Obama” first, ha!).

    But does the U.S. have “a war on violent radical Islamists” who aren’t attacking the U.S. or its interests? Suppose that V.R.I. are fomenting domestic unrest in Indonesia — are we at war with them?

    If so, why aren’t we at war with other non-Islamic domestic terrorists in other countries? Because we particularly hate Muslims? Doesn’t work that way.

    A “war against terrorism” is not a winnable war. It’s not a “war” at all, any more than there’s a “war on crime.”

    I still think that terrorists are just glorified criminals who need to be de-glorified. Where they’re acting in rogue states (Afghanistan) or outside effective sovereignty (the NW Province), the military has to be used against them. Otherwise, they’re like the Mafia and should be treated as such.

    — Re: “soft power,” modernity is a threat to fundamentalists. American culture is threatening to fundy Muslims, some of whom are naturally going to take a violent tack about it. That doesn’t stop our soft power from ALSO having a very strong pro-American effect, as Muslims demand blue jeans, Coke, pornography, and democracy.

    To be more than nuisances, terrorists need cultural support. American soft power threatens that support. That is why it’s so important to them to engage “hard power” and counteract our soft power with images of bombed Baghdad etc.

  14. DMan says:

    My point here is that there’s little question that American soft power has created terrorists. The radical violent Islamists certainly think so.

    That’s a fair point, but not in the sense of what Bithead was suggesting, which is that somehow American soft power is viewed as a weakness that creates more terrorists.

    I think Anderson has it mostly right about the potential effect of American soft power in the region. It seems more likely to me that American hard power has a greater potential to create terrorists than American soft power. Surely images of bombed Baghdad, images of torture, and American troops on holy grounds is a greater rallying call for terrorism against America than are blue jeans, Coke, and pornography, as Anderson put it.

  15. Bithead says:

    That’s a fair point, but not in the sense of what Bithead was suggesting, which is that somehow American soft power is viewed as a weakness that creates more terrorists.

    I’m actually suggesting both.

    And frankly, I find frightening your assertion that at at no point along the scale will terrorists see ‘soft power’ as weakness, thereby generating more terrorists… as I do the assertion that terrorists are common criminals.

    I think in both situations you’re inviting problems.

  16. anjin-san says:

    If we are unable to come up with a solution other than relying on superior firepower, we may well end up where Israel is, in an unending cycle of violence.

    And, as we and Israel both know, even a vastly superior military does not ensure a nation against very unpleasant surprises.

  17. Bithead says:

    If we are unable to come up with a solution other than relying on superior firepower, we may well end up where Israel is, in an unending cycle of violence

    Well, now… isn’t this interesting. You’re starting to get a glimpse of reality,Anjin. (Wow… reality… what a concept!)

    An overview of history… both recent and ancient, reports exactly that; The only way to maintain country and empire and the safety and prosperity of the people within it, is to maintain the ability to repel violence, violently. Hopefully, though not always, the mere threat of violence is enough to the task.

    It also suggests what happens to those who forget, or by intent try to ignore that equation. You may find it distatseful, but it exists, and is in force, and unless you can overcome Human nature all around the globe, every individual, all at the same time, (Highly improbable) it always WILL be in force.

  18. anjin-san says:

    The only way to maintain country and empire and the safety and prosperity of the people within it, is to maintain the ability to repel violence, violently.

    Clearly. you do not understand what I said. Being good at killing people, all by itself, is not enough. We could not have won the cold war without soft power.

    Clearly we need to maintain military superiority. Clearly, if we do not wish to engage in unending conflict, we need to reach the people who oppose up with something other than cluster bombs. Ideas, perhaps…

    Your remark about empire is interesting. Is that how you see us?

  19. Bithead says:

    Clearly. you do not understand what I said. Being good at killing people, all by itself, is not enough. We could not have won the cold war without soft power.

    well, wasn’t it this blog a very short while ago where I saw someone, and I forget who, suggest that we spent 40 years over-estimating the Soviet Union’s military ability because of suppsoed CIA screwups and misestimatons? If we take that at face value, then yes, we could have won it on Military power alone.

    That snark aside, and to the contrary, I understand you quite well. More than is good for your argument, I shoudl think.

    I submit that soft power only comes into play when the country exhibiting soft power has both the military might and the will to use that might. It is inarguable that 9/11 occurred because we showed reluctance to use our ability to protect our interest, on repeated occasions. Every time Obama BinLaden hit us, we reteated, emplying soft power instead. 9/11 was the drect result of our reluctance to use our Military.

    The “Cut and run” push by the Democrats like Murtha for example, and yes, by Obama, too… sends exactly the wrong message in that regard.

    Your remark about empire is interesting. Is that how you see us?

    Still looking for the little dig, huh? Well, I hate to disappoint you, but the obvious got right by you. I was speaking in terms of covering both the historical and the present day, in context.

  20. anjin-san says:

    I understand you quite well

    Gosh, you are so deep!

    t is inarguable that 9/11 occurred because we showed reluctance to use our ability to protect our interest, on repeated occasions

    Only if you are.
    A. A very poor thinker
    B. Someone who’s opinions are entirely shaped by dogma and ideology.
    C. Both of the above.

    Bush was warned Bin Laden was “determined to strike in the US”.
    Perhaps if he had said “we have to keep a very close eye on that bastard, make this a top priority” instead of “ok, you’ve covered your ass” things would have been different.

    I submit that soft power only comes into play when the country exhibiting soft power has both the military might and the will to use that might.

    We are pretty close to agreement on this. You have to keep your powder dry. But there is using your might, and there is using it wisely. Read some Eishenhower.

    The “Cut and run” push by the Democrats like Murtha for example, and yes, by Obama, too… sends exactly the wrong message in that regard

    Perhaps it is that they have not bought into Bin Laden’s sucker play that Iraq is “the central front”. But if you want to take Bin Laden at his word, hey, thats you.

    I was speaking in terms of covering both the historical

    And what does history teach us? Empires have ample military power, and the willingness to use it. In the long run, it simply does not work.

  21. Bithead says:

    Gosh, you are so deep!

    It’s hardly a requirement. Indeed, being deep is counter productive to understanding you.. but I’ll manage.

    Only if you are.
    A. A very poor thinker
    B. Someone who’s opinions are entirely shaped by dogma and ideology.
    C. Both of the above.

    Ah. So THAT’s how you manage to argue against it, and keep a straight face. I had thought to ask. Thanks.

    Perhaps it is that they have not bought into Bin Laden’s sucker play that Iraq is “the central front”. But if you want to take Bin Laden at his word, hey, thats you.

    A moment ago, you were chastising W for NOT taking BinLaden at his word. Which way we goin’ with this?

    And what does history teach us? Empires have ample military power, and the willingness to use it. In the long run, it simply does not work.

    It teaches us nothing of the sort, unless you ae

    A. A very poor thinker
    B. Someone who’s opinions are entirely shaped by dogma and ideology.
    C. Both of the above.

    Thanks for playing.
    You better get some practice though.

  22. anjin-san says:

    It teaches us nothing of the sort

    Which explains why the British and Soviet empires still exist today.

    Ah. So THAT’s how you manage to argue against it

    Argue against what? You have presented nothing but a lame position that what you think is “inarguable”. Its is not cause for an argument, just a laugh.

    A moment ago, you were chastising W for NOT taking BinLaden at his word

    Actually I was referring to what Bush was told by an intelligence officer, who was correctly reporting Bin Laden’s objectives. It had nothing to do with “taking Bin Laden at his word”. I leave that to you. Bush told him to take a hike. It’s not confusing bit, do try and keep up.

  23. anjin-san says:

    A. A very poor thinker
    B. Someone who’s opinions are entirely shaped by dogma and ideology.
    C. Both of the above.

    Still copying off the other kids, I see.

    Hey bit, tell us again how Palin has Democrats quaking in fear…

  24. Bithead says:

    Still copying off the other kids, I see.

    Just putting it in a framework you’ll be sure to understand. Always amusing to see you squrim.

    Hey bit, tell us again how Palin has Democrats quaking in fear…

    See me after tonight.

  25. anjin-san says:

    hmmm Chuckels does not have a real comeback, just a sneer. Well, its working so well for McCain…

  26. anjin-san says:

    See me after tonight.

    Right here bubba…