Obama’s Speech

Read the full text here.

My immediate thoughts on the twitter feed (check the right hand column).

As much as I dig the guy, and I do, the “mush-headed” (as Will Wilkinson calls them) Obamaphiles are both creepy and annoying.  More than ever.  He gave a very good speech I thought.  Not that surprising he’s got a talent for it.  I thought he struck a decent balance, mostly focusing on the seriousness of the challenges and the difficulties ahead.  Not going all-soaring.  No matter, too many will just be entranced by the image and the giddiness and the collective vibes, etc.  The words are what matter.  What matters more actually are the actions the words he says point to.

But the key to me is the emphasis on hard work, responsibility, old fashioned values like honesty, thrift, parsimony, etc.  Not the Obama will come to save us, now I love America kinda junk.  He’s a man and will be undoubtedly a very imperfect President.

Obama will the president of another major turning point in American history.  He is while not literally/chronologically, in actual mindset, the first president of the 21st century.  Bush was on a 20th century bender in the 21st.  The country now awakes to the morning after (a new kind of morning in America, this one mostly hung over and dazed).  Obama is a liberal and a new 21st century liberalism (for better and undoubtedly for worse) is now upon us.  [Well assuming he can rangle the Democratic fools in Congress to grow up—paging House and Senate Majority Leader.  Not to mention the resident idiot hacks like Boehner and McConnell].  I wish it didn’t involve (as it will) growth of the state, but since the Republicans had control for 8 years and couldn’t meet the growing challenges via a non-state, organic, civil society process, than they have no one to blame but themselves when it is inevitable that the state fills the void.  I won’t shed a crocodile tear for them truth be told, no matter how much I’m not some reflexively pro-left sorta dude (which I’m not).  The problems of infrastructure–financial, energetic, material–have to be met.  Something has to be done with health care, energy policy, a new rule set for global capitalism, a foreign policy reboot (which I’m not sure he’s going to go as far as I wish he would).  I wish those had been in the last eight years when they could have been done without as much mass state intervention, and I would have prefered less liberal forms of solutions than the ones Obama will pass, but Bush’s AWOL presidency on that front really hurt.  And again, the conservatives had their chance to meet the days challenges and they failed them.  It is then inevitable that the state will grow as a result. They have no one to blame but themselves.

And The New New Majority as it were, when the Republicans eventually do come back to (some/partial) power, as they undoubtedly will, they will only be able to modulate what this liberal wave has set.  As has been the case in American history.   The other form of conservatism, the conservatism of skeptical mindset (but not “believed skepticism”), the conservatism that is best understood as a personal philosophy, will remain and be of enduring value.

Skyepcast: Israel-Gaza (Audio Content)

israel-gaza.mp3

Scott and I discuss the Israeli-Hamas war.  Click the link above to open a new player with the audio.  To download for Mac Users (Ctrl + Mouse), Windows users right-click Save As.

Links:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/15/world/middleeast/15fatah.html?_r=1&ref=world
http://www.iht.com/articles/2009/01/14/africa/15mideast.php
Chris’ Article Hamas: Method to the Madness  http://culture11.com/article/36290
Scott’s article http://politicsofscrabble.org/?p=1798

Published in: on January 15, 2009 at 10:53 am  Leave a Comment  
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Follow up on Proportionality in Asymmetrical War

Nagarjuna excerpts a nice line from a piece in The Economist and then comments on it (quoting a piece from my earlier post on the subject).

The Economist graf that he quotes is the following:

A country must first have exhausted all other means of defending itself. The attack should be proportionate to the objective. And it must stand a reasonable chance of achieving its goal. On all three of these tests Israel is on shakier ground than it cares to admit.

N’juna then quotes my passage relative to #2 (proportionality).  He asks this question:

I’m inclined to agree with Dierkes that we cannot reasonably apply the concept of proportionality to the situation at hand and to other instances of asymmetric warfare. So, what do we do instead? Use only tests 1 and 2. or add a new test to the mix?

I think he means should we use only tests 1 and 3 (since I’ve argued against relevance to #2).  I feel I have even badder news on this front ‘cuz I’m not sure 1 and 3 are totally relevant either.

Number 1: Country must have first exhausted all other means.

–If that principle holds, then certainly the Israelis are open to criticism given that they never accepted the Hamas election in 2006 and immediately set about trying to wrest them from power (I argued against that policy at the time, but too late for that).

–The principle (#1) assumes that a country can not live with a certain degree of violence intruding upon it.  While this is a crazy proposition, I’ll put it out there.  Maybe the best form of defense is too admit there is no ability to end all such violence and ask what the best amounts of violence are?  i.e. To create resiliency. . I realize this is insane and suicidal politically speaking.  What I mean is even having exhausted all means other means, one might still not go to war on the presumption that the violence is inevitable and will only cause more blowback than the current low-grade level of violence already intruding.  Easy to say in the abstract for Israel to be sure.  But I still think it might be right.

#2 I already covered.  I’ll only add that the proportionality is relative to the objective.  But the objective itself has to be open to some kind of normative critique.  Which are proper and which improper objectives?  This question I think directly leads to….

#3, reasonable chance of success

This one again comes up against the same question of 4th Generation War.  Asymmetry.  Irregular forces.  Proxy or Low-Intensity conflict.  Whatever term you prefer.  A reasonable chance of success typically assumes armies fighting armies.  What does a reasonable chance of success look like relative to Israel-Gaza.  Depends on what success is defined as–which even the Israelis have realized they can’t make public since they themselves have basically no clue.

The Israelis on the military side (“the war” side if you like, or first round of war anyway) have more than a reasonable chance of successs.  They have a guaranteed one.  The whole point is to bait them into a ground invasion anyway.  On the political (“peace”) side–which is the real endgame–I see no way they have any reasonable or even unreasonable (i.e. highly unlikely but still small percentage) of achieving success.  Hamas is embedded in civil society.  Either you may support the hardline factions of Hamas, end up with something worse than Hamas, or worse both simultaneously.  When the strong fight the weak, the strong are weakened.  Winning battles loses wars in this fight.

It’s a Chinese finger trap.  For the Israelis to win the peace, they have to reconnect Gaza to the outside world.  Exactly the opposite of what they have been trying to do with the blockade, shutting out bandwith (so no nasty photos of the civilians they’ve killed get out onto YouTube), cutting off escape routes into Egypt, etc.  So doing however would also empower those on the black weapons market (which is undoubtedly getting through anyway).  The Egyptians can’t stop it.  The Israelis can’t.  Nobody can.  Also, any attempt to rebuild Gaza (“win the peace”) would require the Israelis to have a political mediator on the Gaza side.  But any group the Israelis try to “putsch” through (i.e. Fatah returned to power in Gaza) will inherently be de-legitimized.  So the Israelis can’t rebuild civil society, hence they are only seen as targeting it, targeting civilians (in the eyes of Gaza and much of the Arab Street).  So they can’t (re)build the place, hence they see everything as a military problem with an attending military solution, which only furthers this downward cycle.  The more they struggle to resist, the more become entrapped in the device.

In that scenario, I’m simply don’t know if any of the classic just war principles are particularly relevant anymore.  I don’t look on that point btw as a good thing; frankly it scares the bejesus out of me.  I also struggle with Nagarjuna’s question:  If not this, then what?  Short answer: I’m not really sure.

Published in: on January 12, 2009 at 9:25 pm  Comments (1)  
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(A)Proportionality in Israel-Gaza

Shmuel Rosner writing in Slate:

But such is the tricky nature of modern warfare: How do we measure proportionality without reducing the concept to an impossibly pedantic tit-for-tat? (How would it work? For every rocket launched into an Israeli town, Israel would retaliate by launching a similar rocket? And even then, how could we achieve proportionality without making sure that Palestinians in Gaza have the same alarm systems and comparably effective shelters?) How do we measure “success” in a situation where no side is likely to bring real closure to a volatile situation?

Easy answer: you don’t and can’t.  The doctrine of proportionality (which has its roots in classical just war theory) was announced–as Rosner correctly points out–in the 1907 Hauge Conventions.  That defined the era of Clausewitz’s Trinitarian Theory of Warfare:  government, armies, and populations.  The first two fight the war, the third does not.  In the post-nuclear, post WWII era, of Fourth Generation Guerrilla Insurgencies, propotionality is a meaningless term because what you have is the equivalent of a swarm of bees stinging an elephant.  What would be a proportional response of an elephant to the bees?  It doesn’t make any sense.  Proportionality only works as a guiding principle within the bounds of a nation-state with a professional army built for conventional warfare.  The other side in this conflict does not have that edifice of social organization and therefore is not going to abide by those rules.  Meanwhile for the side that does (Israel in this case), the technological difference is so vast, there is no way (as Rosner himself points out in the article) for there ever to be a proportionate response.  All the elephant can do is step on some bees.  There is no proportionate elephant equivalent to a sting. Rosner is almost there–he keeps seeing how hard it would be to apply this concept but just can’t let it go.

4th Generation Warfare in Gaza: Hamas, Israel, and Creveldian Realistic Pessimissm

I don’t have much to say on the tragedy that is transpiring over in Israel/Gaza.

Only to say that it yet again proves the veracity of Martin Van Creveld’s thesis that since the nuclear age, since the end of WWII, big powers over time always lose against irregular, smaller, guerrillas groups.  e.g. The French in Indochina & Algeria; The British is Aden, Suez; The Americans in Vietnam, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan; The Soviets in Afghanistan.  On and on the list goes.

The only LICs (Low-Intensity Conflicts) that are won by the big powers are when they are within their own country (The British in N.Ireland, NATO in Balkans?).  But counterinsurgencies in another country (e.g. Syria trying to police/control Lebanon) eventually wear out.  With the Israeli/Palestinian situation the question is:  is this a counterinsurgency of national liberation or an uprising within a country.  The schizoid nature of the conflict suggests a bit of both which is why it continues to both flare up repeatedly and yet can not force a withdraw from the Israelis (except to the pre-67 borders).

For those who don’t know Creveld, basically he argues that big powers (including Israel) build their armies for conventional state-state war, which is what they never fight.  They get themselves and their mammoth energy-hungry beasts of armies into rugged terrain, urban warfare (see US in Iraq), get their supply lines cut (see Taliban attacks on NATO convoys through Pakistan), and eventually are forced to withdraw.

If Israel sends in tanks to Gaza expect it turn very badly for the Israelis.  They will undoubtedly kill many more Palestinians.  Hamas can not beat the IDF in a straight-up fight which is why they won’t take them on that way.

Here is Creveld predicting/explaining a very bleak future for Israel indeed (from 2002):

Byrne: Thanks for joining us tonight on Foreign Correspondent. How has it come to this, Martin… how is it that the mighty Israeli army – one of the world’s most powerful – with its helicopter gunships, with its tanks, with it’s missiles, can be losing to this relatively small, relatively under-armed if fanatical group of Palestinians?

Van Creveld: The same thing has happened to the Israeli army as happened to all the rest that have tried over the last sixty years. Basically it’s always a question of the relationship of forces. If you are strong, and you are fighting the weak for any period of time, you are going to become weak yourself. If you behave like a coward then you are going to become cowardly – it’s only a question of time. The same happened to the British when they were here… the same happened to the French in Algeria… the same happened to the Americans in Vietnam… the same happened to the Soviets in Afghanistan… the same happened to so many people that I can’t even count them.

Byrne: : Martin you used the word ‘cowardly’ yet what we’ve seen tonight – these commando units, the anti-terrorist squads – these aren’t cowardly people.

Van Creveld: I agree with you. They are very brave people… they are idealists… they want to serve their country and they want to prove themselves. The problem is that you cannot prove yourself against someone who is much weaker than yourself. They are in a lose/lose situation. If you are strong and fighting the weak, then if you kill your opponent then you are a scoundrel… if you let him kill you, then you are an idiot. So here is a dilemma which others have suffered before us, and for which as far as I can see there is simply no escape. Now the Israeli army has not by any means been the worst of the lot. It has not done what for instance the Americans did in Vietnam… it did not use napalm, it did not kill millions of people. So everything is relative, but by definition, to return to what I said earlier, if you are strong and you are fighting the weak, then anything you do is criminal.

Update I: And just for the record, the US COIN (Counter-insurgendy Doctrine) is mostly smoke-and-mirrors.  Obama is looking to double down in Afghanistan and guaranteed that will end as badly as it will in Iraq. It generally (at best) is not really a counter-insurgency but a capitulation to the victory of smallish, more primitive groups, and simply plays one off against another (i.e. The Sunni Tribesmen versus al-Qaeda in Iraq).  In Afghanistan Petraeus is looking for a replication of the same thing with local Tribes against the Taliban.  All that does is further de-legitimize the state.  This will come at the expense of Hamid Karzai.

Update II: As Israel becomes more and more militarized societally, under the supposed existential threat (whether from homemade rockets in Gaza or the Iranian nuke-to-be, which as Creveld points out is not a real threat to Israel, they can deter and respond with total annihilation of Iran, so can the US), the constant state of low-grade fear, spiking to intense in certain moments, corrodes the political process.  This unsurprisingly comes at the moment of an upcoming Israeli election as the center/left (Kadima and Labour) parties look to fend off tough-guy talk from the right (Likud) and perhaps box incoming President Obama in on any peace process. The Israeli state is veering towards a major constitutional crisis and all-out legitimacy of itself as a state in the 21st century.

Heads I win, tails you lose. That is the game Hamas is playing.

Update III:  Right on cue, Haaretz reports Hamas wants Israeli to invade with ground forces.  Of course they do.  Suck them in, bleed them dry, swarm like insects biting and sucking the blood of an elephant.  The Israelis would be beyond stupid to fall for this gambit.

Patrick Deneen on (Purposefully) Ignorant Democracy

Patrick Deneen excerpts a decent-sized section of a recently published article of his entitled Democracy Wrongly Understood. It is so brilliant I’m tempted to just cut and paste the whole thing. Read it all. Link here.

Deneen’s basic point is that the US Federalist system (as in Federal power not he states rights’ understanding of Federalism) is of course a republic not a democracy. Madison, the main architect of The Constitution, feared the agglomeration of factionalism within the country. He argued for a powerful federal government that would be filled by disinterested parties who would rightly guide the nation. In that regard, that a whole mess of Americans can’t find the US on a map (“our adults isn’t learning” apparently) shouldn’t surprise us as the US republic is predicated on divide and dissipate dissent–it is built to create a fairly uneducated populace in other words.

For all of the differences between the Progressives and the Framers – and the differences are manifold, as many scholars eagerly point out (e.g., Pestritto, 2005) – there nevertheless exists this striking continuity: both the Founding and the Progressive Eras are dominated by thinkers who praise the rule of the electorate even as they seek to promote systemic governmental features that will minimize electoral influence in the name of good policy outcomes.

As Sanford Levinson has argued for a long time the US constitution is not democratic.

Deneen again:

What requires more reflection are the deeper presuppositions of what constitutes “good policy” [of the sort consistently called upon by social scientists who study civic competence]. Good policy for the Founders and Progressives alike were policies that promoted the economic and political strength of the American republic and the attendant expansion of power in its private and public forms. For all their differences, what is strikingly similar about the thinkers of the Founding era and leading thinkers of the Progressive era were similar efforts to increase the “orbit” or scope of the national government concomitant with increases in the scale of the American economic order.

These patterns of similarity between The Progressives and The Founders (as well as Cold War Liberals and Conservatives) helps undercut arguments that the liberal (or progressive) are entirely foreign constructs. Particularly once Lincoln’s understanding of the republic/constitutional order becomes normative–over say a Calhoun’s.

I have to do some further thinking on this, but one thought that occurs to me is that a serious bug in Madison’s design was the assumption that there were ever dis-interested individuals. Charles Beard I think put that argument to bed in US history. The “corrosive political economics” of our age maybe attributable to this bug. The republican order does play off the intrinsic factionalism at the local level but among other things, with the failure of the Legislative Branch to be anything other than an attempt to get into The Executive these days and the politicization (on both sides liberal and conservative) of SCOTUS, we have a real problem. No one exists to check the factionalism at the federal level.

I think Deneen’s contribution is that (if I’m riffing correctly here) that this is not some European transplant from the left in the 20th century (a la Jonah Goldberg) but is there (at least in germinal form) from the get go.

Deneen’s analysis dovetails nicely with the book I’m currently reading Bounding Power: republican Security Theory from the Polis to the Global Village by Daniel Deudney. I’ve mentioned the book before, and I plan to do so more posts just on it, but a core argument of the text is that republican (little ‘r’) security theory goes through a series of emergent stages of development which are intertwined with material/technological contexts (i.e. it wasn’t just Marx would came up with this insight).

republics exist, for Deudney, between or perhaps bypassing the extremes of anarchy and hierarchy. [Hierarchy understood as domination not natural hierarchies, e.g. physiosphere to biosphere to noosphere].

The early republics–e.g. Sparta–were martial because they were fragile and vulnerable to attack. They either became too successful in war in which case they became imperial–see the shift of Greece from the Persian War to Alexander the Great’s Conquests or the evolution of the Roman republic to the Roman Empire–or they were unsuccessful and destroyed.

Madison feared democracy and (as Deneen points out) saw them as small scale state-level republics. See the failure of The Articles of Confederation. The creation of a federal republic which pushed up a complexified level of the “sphere of sovereignty” was a major achievement.

Deneen in the rest of his article argues for an alternate, localized, Aristotelian, more communitarian type notion of citizenship. That has its place to be sure I think, so long as we recall that (following Deudney’s insight) that frame was connected in part with technological-material constructs. We do not live in the plow and horse (or human chattel slavery) age. [Well sadly many do, but not in the contexts generally of people reading this blog]. In this technology age, any such micro-communities, need to be linked to each other through the internet, so the local and the global are not really particularly separate. In that sense, I wonder what education for republican order in a global age might look like? Deudney makes an argument for republican security theory applied to world setting (not a world government mind you) but I wonder what that would entail for those who are not part of that power holding class? De facto Deneenism? I need to think more on that one.

Skypecast: Foreign Policy into 2009 (Audio Content)

Scott and I discuss economics, the global political frame, and the future into 2009.  We begin by discussing a recent fairly grim post of mine (Happy New Year!!!) and then discuss potential creative ways out of the morass.

[Click the links below, pts1 & 2 for the audio.]

foreign-policy
foreign-policy2

Links:

Thomas Barnett post
My apocalyptic post
James Poulos’ Uncrackables
John Robbforeign-policy1

Scott’s post/embedding of the audio (if you have trouble on mine)

Some Apocalyptic Thoughts for Monday Afternoon

Warning:  This is some very disturbing analysis.  I hope I’m 100% wrong on this one.  I’ve also thought the scenario I outline below was possible for 2009 but through the end of October/early November, I thought it still somewhat remote.  I’m less confident and increasingly pesimisstic about the potential for this scenario to be very real, very much in play (more and more likely by the day it seems as of now with no wise leadership or counter-movements to help block the momentum).  So be warned.  I’m not in the business of fear-peddling or fear-hyping, but these are dark thoughts.  There are not the only ones within my brain, but I have been appalled (even fairly cynical me) by the responses across the board to this crisis and the sense that there is no Wizard behind the curtain.

I’m increasingly growing very disturbed by the way global events are proceeding.  A chain of potential explosions across the grid of the globe looks frighteningly more plausible by the day.  Meanwhile the US media is caught in wonderful tales of some pathetic Illinois Governor and a dude launching his foot wear. Here in Canada it’s about the potential of a coalition government.

All of which still assume a top-down model of power, a kind of view of the stability of large scale social organization that may all be swept away.  Reading the newspapers and frankly much of the blogosphere is becoming an increasingly useless exercise for me.  Particularly when it comes to political discussion:  left, right, libertarian, progressive, blah blah.  All of those discussions are assuming the continued existence in some form or other or our social-technological cultural foundations.

To me its increasingly as if reading the news in the ancient ziggurat/city-state culture a few months before Alexander the Great came conquering across Eurasian and installed the Hellenistic world and swept away the decaying, crumbling previous world era.  Like I said some apocalyptic thoughts.

The economic story would go like this:  the American consumer is dead and has been flogged to the breaking point of exhaustion.  Who then is going to buy all those Asian products?  Who can they sell their wares to?  The Asian economies contract leading them to stop buying the commodities across the Global South (esp. Latin America and Africa) that have led to that bubble (see the mass decrease in the price of oil recently).  Huge deflationary movements across the global simultaneously.  Much more rapidly and the fragility (i.e. non-redundancy) of the global platform system bleeds out.

As Niall Ferguson in his epic The War of the World, the great catacylsm and spasm of violence across the globe emanating from Europe during the 20th century (First War, Second War, Cold War) consisted of the inter-locking reality of the three “E”s:  empire, economics, and ethnicity.  Empire being the death of imperial systems.  See the decline of the US.  Also with all the talk of the coming Asian Century (rise of India/China), this could all be swept away by the economic meltdown.  The Asian Century that wasn’t in other words.  Still-born Asian Century.  The vacuum created by the implosion of economic and imperial systems, is filled by ethnic hatreds that flare up to the consternation and shock of many who assume a cosmopolitan order of peace and security (all fine when the economy and governance is roughly holding up).

The most likely early hot spots of ethnic hatred is the band of the Middle East (Lebanon, Iraq, Kurdistan, Iran, Syria???, through obviously Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India).  Other increased zones of violence would be Gap-status countires in the Western Hempishere (on smaller scale but still bloody).  Revived narco-fueled wars across Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, El Salvador, southern Mexico.  Other ranges of violence: The Horn of Africa (another Somalia implosion on the horizon) as well as violence across the middle band (Chad, Sudan, Nigeria, and potential flare ups again in Congo).

The massive de-leveraging must continue and the question is only whether the end of the fall (which has at least 9 months, probably 12 to 24 to maybe even 36-40 to go. who the hell knows at this point) will end us worse than the build up.  Exposed, exhausted, and de-legitimized.  The space of de-legitimization to be filled by ethno-nationalistic movements across the board.

With the breakdown of nation-state systems (orange and blue in Spiral colors), comes a mass re-reddifying both in memetic coloring and potentially in real blood, merged with increased technological capacity (global platform) plus increased cognitive flexibility and complexity however merged to earlier moral/social systems. Roving bands of pirates (e.g. Somalia), terrorists (e.g. Mumbai), criminal networks (coming here already to Vancouver in preparation for the 2010 Olympics, particularly the global sex slavery/human chattel trade) counteracted by potentially increased technocratic elites holding onto whatever power they can, as civil libertiese erode due to the inability to come up with a worldwide republican security theory, class lines harden in the post-industrial societies, the social contract of the 20th century continues to break down (ask Ford, GM, Chrysler) as the Nation-State gives way to the (increainsgly predatory?) Market State.

Ferguson forget a fourth E:  Environment.  As in environmental degradation/destruction as a potential accelerant to the fire of the other three.  Something along the lines of Diamond’s Collapse scenario.

The idea that an infrastructure stimulus will jump start the US economy out of this bog seems increasingly detached from reality for me.  At the pace things are moving, if the wave swells become large enough, it isn’t going to matter, as it could all be swept away by the mega-forces aligning at the moment.

Like I said, God how I hope I’m  completely wrong on this one.

Afghanistan Troop Number Calculations

Meditate on this:

[John] Nagl’s rule of thumb, the one found in the [US Army] counterinsurgency manual, calls for at least a 1-to-50 ratio of security forces to civilians in contested areas. Applied to Afghanistan, which has both a bigger population (32 million) and a larger land mass (647,500 square miles) than Iraq, that gets you to some large numbers fast. Right now, the United States and its allies have some 65,000 troops in Afghanistan, as compared to about 140,000 in Iraq. By Nagl’s ratio, Afghanistan’s population calls for more than 600,000 security forces. Even adjusting for the relative stability of large swaths of the country, the ideal number could still total around 300,000–more than a quadrupling of current troop levels. Eventually, Afghanistan’s national army could shoulder most of that burden. But, right now, those forces number a ragtag 60,000, a figure Nagl believes will need to at least double and maybe triple. Standing up a force of that size, as the example of Iraq has shown us, will take several years and consume billions of U.S. dollars.

And that’s just the Leviathan side of Barnett’s duo–this excludes the entire other army (on top of the 600,000) of engineers, aid workers, construction project leaders, humanitarian/conflict negotatiators, reconstruction crews, etc.  I have a hard time seeing how this happens.

Taliban(ds)

This excellent piece by Anand Gopal in the Asian Times on the Taliban is getting some play (rightly) in the b-sphere.

Gopal asks who are they (The Taliban):

The movement is a melange of nationalists, Islamists, and bandits that fall uneasily into three or four main factions. The factions themselves are made up of competing commanders with differing ideologies and strategies, who nonetheless agree on one essential goal: kicking out the foreigners.

Gopal tells us the harrowing reality that took over Afghanistan after the initial ejection of the 90s Taliban (Afghan Taliban 1.0):

Meanwhile, the country was being carved up by warlords and criminals. On the brand-new highway connecting Kabul to Kandahar and Herat, built with millions of Washington’s dollars, well-organized groups of bandits would regularly terrorize travelers. “[Once], 30, maybe 50 criminals, some in police uniforms, stopped our bus and shot [out] our windows,” Muhammadullah, the owner of a bus company that regularly uses the route, told me. “They searched our vehicle and stole everything from everyone.” Criminal syndicates, often with government connections, organized kidnapping sprees in urban centers like the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar city. Often, those few who were caught would simply be released after the right palms were greased.

In Spiral Dynamics terms, this was the regression of the country from blue–imperial mythic, 90s Taliban system–to red warlordism, gangs, and criminality.

As a result, blue has to come back to keep the peace:

Onto this landscape of violence and criminality rode the Taliban again, promising law and order. The exiled leadership, based in Quetta, Pakistan, began reactivating its networks of fighters who had blended into the country’s villages. They resurrected relationships with Pashtun tribes. (The insurgents, historically a predominantly Pashtun movement, still have very little influence among other Afghan minority ethnic groups like the Tajiks and Hezaras.) With funds from wealthy Arab donors and training from the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the Pakistani intelligence apparatus, they were able to bring weapons and expertise into Pashtun villages.

In one village after another, they drove out the remaining minority of government sympathizers through intimidation and assassination. Then they won over the majority with promises of security and efficiency. The guerrillas implemented a harsh version of sharia law, cutting off the hands of thieves and shooting adulterers. They were brutal, but they were also incorruptible. Justice no longer went to the highest bidder. “There’s no crime any more, unlike before,” said Abdul Halim, who lives in a district under Taliban control.

Gopal goes on to indicate that the increasingly Pashtun nationalist Taliban are largely out of the al-Qaeda connection as they were in the 90s. There were always Taliban factions even back then, who had no time for AQ, but Mullah Omar (their leader) was close with bin Laden. That relationship may be breaking down and some elements of the Taliban, which is increasingly de-centralized and networked, are getting on with girls in schools and realize they can not go back to the 90s version of themselves.

That’s group #1. Group two is Hekmatyar Gulbuddin and his Hiz-i-Islami group. They are insurgents against the NATO occupation, but again not necessarily tied to AQ and really only interested in power back in Afghanistan. So 2 out of 4 at this point seem open to negotiations on a future Afghanistan that will involve them along side other parties. Though Gulbuddin is implicated in an attempt on President Karzai’s life. The Afghanistan situation, as always, is murky.

The last two groups however appear to have no such deals and have sanctuary-providing protections for al-Qaeda. This is the real conundrum as both are based in the Pakistani NWFP. Jaluludin Haqqani in North Waziristan and Beitullah Mehsud in the South.

With Haqqani:

Pakistan extends support to the Haqqanis on the understanding that the network will keep its holy war within Afghanistan’s borders. Such agreements are necessary because, in recent years, Pakistan’s longstanding policy of aiding Islamic militant groups has plunged the country into a devastating war within its own borders.

Even with Mehsud however the issue seems to be anger at the Pakistani government for attempting to take over the Frontier Provinces. In the recent Pakistani elections, the fundamentalist parties lost heavily in the NWFP regions. But it is unclear if those votes have any real influence as increasingly the Paksitani Taliban under Mehsud appear dedicated to re-installing a 90s like Afghanistan Taliban ghastly asylum state in Waziristan. Mehsud’s men publicly hang tribal chiefs of the old guard who do not accept their rule. There has been some talk of creating a Sons of Iraq like scenario with a tribal rebellion against the Pakistani Taliban, but so far that has gone to naught. The Pakistani Army is built for a war with India and not for counterinsurgency in the tribal regions. The two times they have gone up there in the last few years, they have lost and been sent packing. The blowback that has come out of those operations led to the murder of Bhutto, the recent bombing in Mumbai, the attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul, as well as the attack on the Marriott in Islamabad.

I have no idea how we deal with this issue. If the Pakistanis go in there, more blowback, they will likely break with the US completely go with China and Russia (which would love the delicious irony of profiting off Pashtun resistance to Americans in Afghanistan). If we continue the airstrikes, Pakistani sovereignty (whatever is left of it) gets further quashed, more blowback, and the civilian government which probably has about zero power currently has even less so and probably a full on military coup. If nothing is done then it festers and I can definitely see an al-Qaeda attack in the West getting launched from the new sanctuary.

For Afghanistan to recover it requires a deal with the Talban or at least the dominant factions. Gulbuddin may not go for that. Haqqani likely the same. Mehsud no dice. With the sanctuary open, insurgencies always win over time in Afghanistan (see Alexander the Great, The British, and The Soviets).

Afghanistan also requires a regional deal that ends the countries in the neighborhood to stop using it as a pawn to be carved up in their power play:  Iran, India, Pakistan, Russia.   Can’t see any evidence of that happening soon.

Which means we are back to where we started–how to prevent Al-Qaeda Central from launching another attack when they have sanctuary.  If the attempt to go into the sanctuary would cause regional collapse scenarios, hollowing out areas that al-Qaeda could then flee to if need be?

The most important reason to prevent such an attack (minus the obvious defense of innocent life) is that the US is still not ready to be resilient in the face of another attack (a la India recently or Great Britain before). The insane over-reaction that would occur, like after 9/11 but only that much worse, would be so destructive, particularly now.  Particularly when a Democrat is in the White House.  The worst attack in US history happens under a right-wing administration and they spend years blaming the left and kowtowing them into obedience.  I don’t even want to think how dastardly they would be if an attack happened when a Dem was president.  Goodbye free society and civil liberties.