Tag Archive for 'afghanistan'



Remembering America’s Unnecessary Wars

Published May 28th, 2011 by tcarpenter

My colleague Doug Bandow has a terrific article on the Huffington Post website that is especially appropriate for Memorial Day.  He makes a compelling case that contrary to the platitudes that we will hear this weekend about how “freedom is not free,” and that we owe our freedoms to those who died in America’s wars, the truth is much more troubling.  The reality is that many of this country’s wars–and nearly all of them since the end of World War II–have had little or nothing to do with defending the freedom of the American people.  Instead, the motives ranged from misplaced humanitarianism (e.g., the Balkan wars and Libya), to insane attempts to impose enlightment and democracy on pre-industrial societies (e.g., Afghanistan), to cynical attempts to project U.S. power for dubious, if not sleazy, motives (e.g., Vietnam and Iraq.)

Doug argues that all too often the political elite in the United States has used American soldiers as nothing more than “gambit pawns” in a global strategic chess match.  He’s right.  And the best tribute we could give on this Memorial Day to those who have lost their lives in such conflicts (including two good friends of mine in the Vietnam War) is to make sure that our troops are never again sent into harm’s way for frivolous reasons. 

Our Tax Dollars: Supporting Child Rape in Afghanistan

Published September 2nd, 2010 by tcarpenter

I’ve long argued that the mission in Afghanistan has morphed from a limited, focused effort to damage al-Qaeda into a foolish and expensive–in both blood and treasure–nation-building crusade.  But there is now evidence that we are spending billions of tax dollars and risking the lives of our soldiers to protect the biggest concentration of pedophiles in the world.  Please read this article and then tell me if you think the war in Afghanistan is worth it.

Afghanistan: Obama’s Vietnam?

Published November 29th, 2009 by tcarpenter

President Obama will address the American people on Tuesday night regarding Afghanistan.  Reports have leaked out over the past week that he will announce that he is sending additional troops into that quagmire.  The only question seems to be whether he will send 30,000, 40,000 or some number in between.  That is, frankly, not a very important issue.  And for all of his talk about “off ramps” for the United States if the Afghan government does not meet certain policy targets or “benchmarks,” the reality is that he is escalating our commitment.  Since Obama has repeatedly asserted that the war in Afghanistan is a war of necessity, not a war of choice, his talk of off ramps is largely a bluff–and the Afghans probably know it.

I am in the process of co-writing a book that includes a chapter on America’s disastrous war in Vietnam.  I’m the first to acknowledge the hazards of equating one historical event with a development in a different setting and time period.   In fact, the tendency of U.S. leaders to view every conflict in the world over the last 60 years through the prism of the failure to stem Nazi aggression in the 1930s has been a major cause of policy disasters like Vietnam and Iraq.  And I don’t want to imply that what Obama is doing is exactly the same as the foolish strategy that the Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon administrations adopted in Southeast Asia during the 1960s.  But there are a couple of very disturbing similiarities.  In both cases, U.S. leaders opted to try to rescue a failing war by sending in more troops.  And in both cases, Washington found itself desperately searching for a “credible” leader who could serve as an effective partner in the war effort.  The United States never found such a leader in Vietnam.  From the first client, Ngo Dinh Diem, to the last leader of South Vietnam, Nguyen Van Thieu, American policymakers were frustrated by a parade of repressive, corrupt, and ineffectual political figures.  Now, doesn’t that sound more than a little like the problem the Bush and Obama administrations have encountered with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his government?

That fact alone suggests that our Afghanistan mission is not likely to turn out well.

Instead of escalating, Obama should move to rapidly draw-down our forces and narrow the mission to one of trying to harrass Al Qaeda and keep it off balance.  My colleague, Malou Innocent, and I published a Cato Institute White Paper, “Escaping the Graveyard of Empires,” describing how to achieve that goal without pursuing the futile objective of nation-building in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan: The Graveyard of Empires

Published September 7th, 2009 by tcarpenter

Last week, I published an article in The National Interest Online about the folly of engaging in nation building in Afghanistan.  Following the 9-11 attacks, I strongly supported military action in Afghanistan to punish al Qaeda and the Taliban regime that gave the terrorist organization a safe haven from which to plan that dastardly attack.   But I also warned that we should not try to remake Afghanistan into a modern, stable, democratic country–in other words, try to pursue a utopian nation-building crusade.  Yet, during the Bush years, we gradually drifted into exactly that sort of mission.  And, unfortunately, the Obama administration seems to be escalating that effort.

The reality is that Afghanistan is not going to become a Central Asian version of Arizona–or even Arkansas–no matter how long we stay, how much money we spend, and how many American lives we sacrifice.   The country is not called “the graveyard of empires” for nothing.  Invaders from Alexander the Great to the Soviet Union discovered that it was impossible to subdue that fractious society.  Now, the United States seems determined to make the same foolish error. 

We have to adopt realistic objectives.  It is possible to further disrupt and weaken al Qaeda.  But we must learn to treat that terrorist threat as a chronic, but manageable, security problem, not an overpowering threat that requires a definitive victory with a surrender ceremony (which isn’t going to happen anyway).   And it certainly doesn’t require us to (somehow) get the people of Afghanistan to become good 21st century democratic capitalists committed to gender equality.   That won’t happen for generations–if it ever does.

Eight years into the war in Afghanistan, we need an exit strategy, not the escalation strategy that the Obama administration is giving us.  On September 14, my colleague Malou Innocent and I will be publishing a Cato Institute White Paper giving a detailed analysis of the current situation and outlining such an exit strategy.  Please stay tuned.

Keep an Eye on Pakistan

Published May 11th, 2009 by tcarpenter

The situation in Pakistan is becoming increasingly ugly.  Taliban forces and their Al Qaeda allies have gained control over significant chunks of Pakistan along that country’s border with Afghanistan.  The feckless government in Islamabad, after unsuccessfully attempting an appeasement policy, has now apparently reversed course and is confronting the militants with a major military offensive.  The bottom line is that Pakistan is an extremely fragile country with a growing radical Islamic insurgency.  At the very least, those developments complicate America’s already beleaguered mission next door in Afghanistan, where the Obama administration is beefing-up the U.S. military presence.  And we need to ponder a possible worst-case scenario: Pakistan completely unraveling and the militants getting control of that country’s nuclear arsenal.  While the risk of Pakistan becoming the South Asian version of Somalia is still relatively remote, that possibility cannot be ruled out.

My colleague Malou Innocent recently published an excellent study on this extremely complicated situation.  She spent several weeks last year in Pakistan as part of her research, and her analysis is the best relatively short treatment I’ve seen of this crucial and difficult issue.

NATO’s Sop to Obama

Published April 12th, 2009 by tcarpenter

President Obama came away from last week’s NATO summit in Strasbourg hailing the outcome as a great victory for U.S. foreign policy.  He professed to be especially pleased with promises made by the allies regarding the mission in Afghanistan.  Yet the European members of NATO gave him next to nothing.  He asked for a substantial number of additional combat troops to supplement the surge of American troops he announced last month.  Instead, the European allies agreed to send a mere 5,000 personnel, none of whom will be combat forces.  Moreover, the bulk of that number (3,000) will be sent just temporarily to assist the Afghan government in the upcoming elections.  The rest consist mainly of police and military trainers and wannabe nation-building bureaucrats.

These anemic gestures continue the lack of seriousness on the part of the NATO allies that I’ve written about here and here.  During the Cold War, NATO was a credible security organization–although even then the Europeans underinvested in defense and liked to have the U.S. bear a disproportionate amount of the burdens.  Now, though, the alliance has become a bad joke.  NATO has just celebrated its 60th birthday, and Washington should take stepts to make sure that it’s the last birthday.  NATO has become a very bad bargain for America, and we should terminate our involvement in this increasingly disfunctional alliance.