Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Logic Fail

Urban Dictionary
Definition: Concern Trol
In an argument (usually a political debate), a concern troll is someone who is on one side of the discussion, but pretends to be a supporter of the other side with "concerns". The idea behind this is that your opponents will take your arguments more seriously if they think you're an ally. Concern trolls who use fake identities are sometimes known as sockpuppets.

It's time to FJM Tom Friedman's latest Op-Ed, aptly entitled "Not Good Enough". In case you don't know Tom yet, he generally believes in invading countries as a first resort. He's never met a war he didn't like; the world may not have been flat when he wrote his book, but he sure seems intent on bombing it until it gets that way.

If President Obama can find a way to balance the precise number of troops that will stabilize Afghanistan and Pakistan, without tipping America into a Vietnam there, then he indeed deserves a Nobel Prize — for physics.

Tom actually seems to recognize that there is a problem with this war.

I have no problem with the president taking his time to figure this out. He and we are going to have to live with this decision for a long time.

Yes, the whole country waits for the president's decision. Will we withdraw? Will we stay the course? Will we escalate? These are the great questions of the day.

For my money, though, I wish there was less talk today about how many more troops to send and more focus on what kind of Afghan government we have as our partner.

And here is where Tom does his best work. He feigns concern for the viability of the unenviably non-viable Afghani government, while, like a magician, he claims that the decision to send more troops has already been made, and that the only question is how many. His concern for Karzai is palpable, and it's designed to distract from the big issue yet to be determined-do we send more troops?

Because when you are mounting a counterinsurgency campaign, the local government is the critical bridge between your troops and your goals. If that government is rotten, your whole enterprise is doomed.

Also, when you are mounting a counterinsurgency campaign, a critical element, according to General Patraeus and the US Army field manual, is to have 20-25 troops per thousand civilians. This means that we need over a half a million troops in Afghanistan, which is about 9 or 10 times the number we have now. Of course, assuming that the American people don't start an armed revolt over sending 600,000 troops to Afghanistan, it will also be necessary to have a stable government in place. The Army field manual says this, too.

Independent election monitors suggest that as many as one-third of votes cast in the Aug. 20 election are tainted and that President Hamid Karzai apparently engaged in massive fraud to come out on top. Yet, he is supposed to be the bridge between our troop surge and our goal of a stable Afghanistan. No way.

I couldn't agree more. We can send all the troops we want to (although it appears that the voters don't want to), and it will be a colossal waste of money unless there is a stable government. (Actually, it will be a colossal waste of money if there is a stable government, but let's forget about that for now. )

I understand the huge stakes in stabilizing Afghanistan and Pakistan. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, our top commander there who is asking for thousands more troops, is not wrong when he says a lot of bad things would flow from losing Afghanistan to the Taliban.

What exactly are all these "bad things", Tom? How bad are they, really? The Taliban aren't terrorists. There are only 100 Al Qaeda members left in the country. 600,000-100 seems a little much. If the Taliban wanted to let Al Qaeda in, they could, since they still control half the country after 8 years of war.

But I keep asking myself: How do we succeed with such a tainted government as our partner?

This is a great question. I don't see how we can.

I know that Jefferson was not on the ballot. But there is a huge difference between “good enough” and dysfunctional and corrupt. Whatever we may think, there are way too many Afghans who think our partner, Karzai and his team, are downright awful.

Yes, and so they think that we, by extension, are also awful. And they're right. So we should not send more troops, but we should, instead, bring our troops home.

That would be logical. But that logic doesn't fit Friedman's predetermined desired outcome, which is to send more troops, and to keep us in a never-ending state of war. And if that is what you want, here's how you frame it.

That is why it is not enough for us to simply dispatch more troops. If we are going to make a renewed commitment in Afghanistan, we have to visibly display to the Afghan people that we expect a different kind of governance from Karzai, or whoever rules, and refuse to proceed without it. It doesn’t have to be Switzerland, but it does have to be good enough — that is, a government Afghans are willing to live under. Without that, more troops will only delay a defeat.

Implicit in this argument is the assumption that we are sending more troops. Again, he tries to distract by talking about how important it is to have a good government there, even though he knows damn well that that isn't going to happen, and has no ideas on how to make that happen.

He goes on to talk about how bad that government is, as though there are still people who haven't yet heard how bad it is.

I am not sure Washington fully understands just how much the Taliban-led insurgency is increasingly an insurrection against the behavior of the Karzai government — not against the religion or civilization of its international partners. And too many Afghan people now blame us for installing and maintaining this government.
Karzai is already trying to undermine more international scrutiny of this fraudulent election and avoid any runoff. Monday his ally on the Electoral Complaints Commission, Mustafa Barakzai, resigned, alleging “foreign interference.” That is Karzai trying to turn his people against us to prevent us from cleaning up an election that he polluted.

Talking to Afghanistan experts in Kabul, Washington and Berlin, a picture is emerging: The Karzai government has a lot in common with a Mafia family. Where a “normal” government raises revenues from the people — in the form of taxes — and then disperses them to its local and regional institutions in the form of budgetary allocations or patronage, this Afghan government operates in the reverse. The money flows upward from the countryside in the form of payments for offices purchased or “gifts” from cronies.

What flows from Kabul, the experts say, is permission for unfettered extraction, protection in case of prosecution and punishment in case the official opposes the system or gets out of line. In “Karzai World,” it appears, slots are either sold (to people who buy them in order to make a profit) or granted to cronies, or are given away to buy off rivals.

And then...

We have to be very careful that we are not seen as the enforcers for this system.

Uh, the whole world knows that Karzai is America's puppet. After 8 years of war, and countless Afghan deaths, it's not very freaking likely that the Afghans won't consider us enforcers.


This is crazy. We have been way too polite, and too worried about looking like a colonial power, in dealing with Karzai. I would not add a single soldier there before this guy, if he does win the presidency, takes visible steps to clean up his government in ways that would be respected by the Afghan people

Way to act tough, Tom. I can see how this conversation would go if you were the president:

President Tom: Hey, look here, Karzai, this whole corrupt government you've got here, well, it's just not working. The people just hate how corrupt you are, and they hate your laws and everything about how you run things. And now you want us to send you more troops to protect you?

President Karzai: Yeah, that's pretty much what we want.

President Tom: But this is going to bankrupt our country, and we're going to have to send a half a million troops halfway around the world to protect you. People will die. It's going to be bad. And the voters are already starting to realize that we have no mission here besides protecting you. And you are corrupt. And this whole mission is really just helping to breed more terrorists.

President Karzai: But you wouldn't want the terrorists to win, right?

President Tom: Well, no, but this looks like it will go down as another Vietnam. What are we going to do?

President Karzai: I'll try to take some steps to clean things up.

President Tom: That's not good enough! These steps have to be visible!

President Karzai: Visible?! You drive a hard bargain, Mr President! Ok, we'll try to make visible steps.

President Tom: Alright then. Just needed to make sure. You promise?

President Karzai: (laughing to advisers with hand over phone) Ok, we promise.

If Karzai says no, then there is only one answer: “You’re on your own, pal. Have a nice life with the Taliban. We can’t and will not put more American blood and treasure behind a government that behaves like a Mafia family. If you don’t think we will leave — watch this.” (Cue the helicopters.)

Just because you deny that it's an empty threat doesn't mean that it's not an empty threat. This is an empty threat. If we send 600,000 troops over there, we aren't going to send them home because Karzai is corrupt. It'll just be a reason to stay.

So, please, spare me the lectures about how important Afghanistan and Pakistan are today. I get the stakes. But we can’t want a more decent Afghanistan than the country’s own president. If we do, we have no real local partner who will be able to hold the allegiance of the people, and we will not succeed — whether with more troops, more drones or more money.

Stop conflating Pakistan and Afghanistan, Tom. Karzai is not the president of Pakistan. And you are the one lecturing us about how important Afghanistan is. Even though it isn't.

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