Withdrawal from Afghanistan, Part 1

LIndsay Graham, one of my favorite senators, strongly opposes Trump’s decisions to withdraw from Syria and Afghanistan. (Newsweek) Lindsay Graham Calls for Immediate Hearings on Trump’s Syria and Afghanistan Decision, Warns of Second 9/11. This is about Afghanistan, which fails the ROI test that the U.S. presence in Syria currently passes. This is described in U.S. Withdrawal from Syria re Providing for the Common Defense.

A second 9/11 is possible, this time involving dirty bombs. An  end to the U.S. role in Afghanistan adds some incremental risk. But risk abounds elsewhere; Peshawar, in Pakistan, is a market for low-level radioactive waste.  Quoting (Reuters, 5/15/2008) How real is the Pakistan nuclear risk?,

Al Qaeda is known to be actively seeking nuclear material. Pakistan could be the place they finally manage to acquire some.

“It’s not going to be a risk where rogue elements take over Pakistan’s nuclear assets and then launch them at India or launch them at the U.S.,” Kuusisto said. “It will be a radiological bomb exploding somewhere that is traced back to Pakistan.”

The United States has given Pakistan assistance in checking containers leaving from key ports for radioactive material. But Vickers said smuggling radioactive material out of the country would not present a major problem for militants.

What is the incremental risk of Afghanistan? With risk all over the   globe, could a reduction be achieved by reallocation of resources? Terror originating in Afghanistan must transit through a third country, most likely Pakistan.

We fear handing Terror a nation-state, but what degree of accommodation would the Taliban offer to it? In 2001, the Taliban refused to give up Bin Laden, but is this still relevant? (Reuters) ‘Very positive signals’ after U.S., Taliban talks: sources. This is one of the most important pending intelligence estimates.

Part of this blog is about the skill of prediction, which deeply involves recognizing previous situations that analogize with the present. The news sites present snapshots of the present, leaving us vulnerable to all our hopes and fears. Sloppy analogy with past can leave us vulnerable. Carefully drawn analogies,evaluated in number and quality,  bind the future to the past. So what is the quality of historical analogy available for the four top issues?

  • Iran: Current Iran approaches have limited but useful analogies with the neoconservative approach to  Iraq in 2003.
  • Russia: Limited analogy exists to expansionism dating to the 18th century, and to balance-of-power policies.
  • China: There is no precedent for the rises of China.
  • Afghanistan: Numerous, extensive analogies with  Vietnam exist.

With Afghanistan, as with Vietnam, it can be hard for the best minds to differentiate between the desired outcomes, foreign policy goals, and the work of prediction, when we try to exclude confirmation bias. Like most Western readers, I would prefer to imagine the outcome of an Afghanistan with a civil government that has at least limited secular, inclusive aspects. The situation of Pakistan, which is more a failed state than a model, would actually be progress in Afghanistan.

So let’s start with Vietnam. As painful as the experience was,  the lesson lived in memory for little more than a generation. The goals of our fathers for Vietnam were fairly modest. The  corrupt rule of South Vietnam’s elite was supported because, so it was thought,

  • The doctrine of Containment of world communism required it.
  • Absent the lock-down of a rigid ideology, South Vietnam would continue to evolve.
  • The goals were achievable.

A magnificent book recounts  the cautionary tale. The Best and the Brightest, by David Halberstam, documents and dissects. The best thinking of the time, employing the best tools of the time, statistics, estimation theory, game theory, and operations research, could not predict the failure of the massive U.S. military and logistical footprint to defeat a small, economically primitive country with an army of foot soldiers.

The analogy, already obvious, deserves elaboration. To be continued shortly.






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