Multi-tasking and Afghanistan

Posted on Tuesday 30 May 2006

Polimom recently asked AC what she thought happened first after 9/11, and I was completely unsurprised to hear her say that we’d gone into Iraq.

Now, AC is nine, and to a child, the 3+ years of the Iraqi War is the normal state of affairs. The rest of us, though, remember Afghanistan, the Taleban, and the connection to al Qaeda / bin Laden…. don’t they?

Polimom wonders how many were surprised by the rioting this weekend in Kabul?

KABUL, Afghanistan, May 29 — The Afghan capital erupted Monday in the worst street violence since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, following a fatal traffic accident involving a U.S. military truck. Mobs of men and boys, many of them shouting slogans against the government and United States, set fires, attacked buildings and clashed with police for about seven hours.

Hotel windows were raked with gunfire, a foreign aid agency was torched and looted, and numerous police posts were destroyed. Some rioters brandished AK-47 assault rifles; gunfire sounded throughout the city and clouds of black smoke wafted in the air. Dozens of vehicles were smashed and burned.

The violence was fed by rumors that U.S. troops had shot and killed civilians, which U.S. military spokesmen denied.

The media (and public) eye moved off of Afghanistan with unseemly haste as we rolled on with other agendas, and the US and its allies have been juggling multiple balls ever since. Unfortunately, we’re not very good jugglers.

4+ years after the Taleban was overthrown, Barzai still huddles in Kabul in his “bubble of safety”, unable to form a government. Meanwhile, the provinces are in chaos, fighting rages, and the Taleban is regrouping.

Mash has an excellent post this morning about “The Great Game” that’s been played out in Afghanistan for nearly two centuries – a game that has cost millions of lives, billions of dollars, and has never been won. He says, in part:

The Great Game between the United States and the Soviet Union in Afghanistan was launched in earnest. Over the next 10 years the Soviets unsuccessfully battled an insurgency, the Afghan Mujahideen, backed by the Central Intelligence Agency. The Soviet Army lost over 15,000 soldiers in Afghanistan while over a million Afghans lost their lives in the same period. Yet after 10 years of fighting the Soviet Union was unsuccessful in breaking the back of the insurgency. On February 15, 1989 the battered and demoralized Soviet Red Army completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan.

It’s a very well written description of what has happened there (go read it all…). There’s something else, though, that grew out of the American – Soviet round of The Game: our funding and backing of the insurgency during that decade gave birth to the trained, organized terrorists under Osama bin Laden. We were involved right up to our eyebrows,contributing largely to our current problems with fundamentalist Islamic fanaticism.

Even though country after country has approached the situation in Afghanistan and left in demoralized defeat, Polimom initially had hopes that an organized and committed coalition of countries could finally turn the tide for them. Unfortunately, It looks as if little has changed, in spite of all the billions of dollars and thousands of lives. The Taleban (and “insurgency”) in the provinces — Kandahar, in particular — are fighting to come back. The opium trade – the cornerstone of Afghanistan’s economy, is booming… yet some of the spark to the rioting flame was the dreadful economic conditions and unemployment.

Meanwhile, we’ve been distracted by all the brightly colored balls we’re juggling.

Someone recently asked in a comment what one does when, no matter how good or helpful a motive might be, the recipient of our intended largesse simply cannot or will not accept it.

Polimom had no answer for them, then or now. I do wonder, though, whether sustained focus on Afghanistan might not have been a better investment of money…. and lives.

15 Comments for 'Multi-tasking and Afghanistan'

    May 30, 2006 | 12:42 pm

    Someone recently asked in a comment what one does when, no matter how good or helpful a motive might be, the recipient of our intended largesse simply cannot or will not accept it.

    Someone recently asked you a rather skewed question, in my opinon. We had no mission of “good or helpful” motives in Afghanistan. We went there to punish the people ho had oranized the bombings of 9/11 and the Taliban who protected them. Whether or not we’ve had good motives after that, we certainly screwed up the job, so the question should be more along the lines of, “What does one do when somebody drowning doesn’t seem able or willing to accept the anvil we’ve thrown them?”, or some similar question that throws the scrutiny back at us—where it belongs.

    And I’m also hearing Iraq included in the question (I may be wrong). if so, then the same answer applies. We went there to stop an “imminent threat,” or so we were told, of Weapons of Mass Diarrhrea. And thrown a burning man a barbeque in the meantime.

    The question is wrongheaded, lacking, IMO, revealing a lack of ability to examine oneself.

    May 30, 2006 | 12:44 pm

    You got the meaning of that last bizarre sentence, I hope.

    May 30, 2006 | 1:28 pm

    Thom — I love your “anvil” phrasing… and yes, you’re absolutely right – Iraq is underlying this post.

    I can’t, however, help but see Afghanistan as a much different situation — not in terms of reduced responsibility, but the stated goals there were, at least, closer to a purpose I could understand. The Taleban did shield / foster al Qaeda – an organization that had roots in our support against the Soviets.

    Yes, punishment was also the goal, but it wasn’t the fanciful, whole cloth creation of Iraq. However, Afghanistan is the LAST place we should have been taking our eye off the ball.

    imho, the truth is that we (meaning the US adminstration) didn’t understand what we were getting into in either venue… to everyone’s detriment.

    May 30, 2006 | 4:00 pm

    Multiple fronts is obviously a complicating factor. How did we manage such a successful two-theater operation in WWII, straddling both Europe and the Pacific?

    May 30, 2006 | 4:49 pm

    the forester

    Uh, how about a massive draft, for one? And allies with millions more fighters?

    May 30, 2006 | 5:32 pm

    Then it’s not just the fact that we’re multitasking, is it, Thom?

    May 31, 2006 | 10:39 am

    Forester, what exactly is your point?

    You seemed to be saying that going into Iraq after going into Afghanistan wasn’t a problem since we a managed a “successful two-theater operation in WWII, straddling both Europe and the Pacific.” I thoght my simple reply showed how ridiculous that comment was.

    Then you come back with Then it’s not just the fact that we’re multitasking, is it, Thom?

    Your response makes no sense. Are you saying the problem is that we should have had a draft and more allies? That and fifty cents… We didn’t. That was what you call a “known known.”

    To move past what seems to be your games, yes, multi-taking is obviously an issue. An ingredient of that issue is the idiocy of the second task, in this case, invading Iraq.

    May 31, 2006 | 11:20 am

    Ahh, Thom … believe it or not, my original question didn’t have a point, it was only intended to open up a conversation. Blame the English teacher in me.

    Your “simple reply [that] showed how ridiculous that comment was” serves as one more example of the petty one-upmanship that occurs too frequently on blog threads. I’m sorry for responding in kind.

    I’m tired, Thom. When asking an open-ended question results in this kind of petty sniping, I have to question whether commenting on blogs is worth — anything, really. What am I doing, frittering away so much time typing words that only produce consternation?

    It’s not just you, Thom. You’re the last straw. I’ve been known to issue flippant and hasty remarks of my own, sometimes to my great regret (as Polimom can attest).

    But that’s it for me. You win, Thom. In fact, all of you win. I love writing, I love blogging, I love reading blogs. I love reading Polimom’s blog! But apart from an occasional “Nice post” (which in itself may draw some snipes), this is the last comment from me.

    Adios …

    May 31, 2006 | 11:45 am

    Oh c’mon Forester, get over it. I responded to what you seem to agree was a ridiculous comment with a logical response: Uh, how about a massive draft, for one? And allies with millions more fighters?

    You opened a conversation. I responded. Then you come back with a nonresponse: Then it’s not just the fact that we’re multitasking, is it, Thom?

    Now you’re going to leave saying I was being impolite? That’s really weak.

    May 31, 2006 | 3:44 pm

    It’s hard to know why this thread drove off the path…. I’m sorry feelings got hurt. It’s a rare occurrence here, and as a result, intervention isn’t my strong suit.

    Having said that, I’m intervening by inserting myself into the dialogue:

    Yes, without the draft, the situation in any military action today is much different than historically. And while we’re not without allies, this is (for the most part) a US problem.

    We (the administration, not Polimom and friends) knew these things, of course, before we launched two actions back to back. Or at least, one would assume that.

    Afghanistan was perhaps going to be just as big a problem as it’s being, regardless. Certainly enough countries have tried there before… but the US will never know, will they, whether this situation would look better now.

    May 31, 2006 | 4:46 pm


    What drove the thread off path was this comment: Multiple fronts is obviously a complicating factor. How did we manage such a successful two-theater operation in WWII, straddling both Europe and the Pacific?

    Forester later said it had no point, but was meant only to “open discussion.” Oy.

    I’m not at all sorry for the hurt feelings of someone who throws an hardly-disguised insult—obviously dissing your “multi-tasking” point and, just to share, my agreement with it, by trying to liken it to the “multi-tasking” of WWII. It’s not “one-upmanship” to call something ridiculous “ridiculous.” It’s honest and accurate, and that comment most certainly deserved it. Forester’s intent is further shown by the smarmy and nonsensical comeback to my reply about the draft and allies (can you make sense of it?)

    On your point about us having allies today—I think that hardly makes it worth any likening. The “Coalition of the Willing” consisted of less than 30,000 troops from countries other than the U.S. 30,000. Canada alone had more casualties than that in WWII. Canada.

    Anyway. Nice day, huh?

    May 31, 2006 | 5:19 pm

    Thom said:

    On your point about us having allies today—I think that hardly makes it worth any likening.

    No, we’re certainly not supported strongly enough, and the “Coalition” was never particularly willing, either. However, given what’s happening in Basra, and the abrupt escalation for the British troops, I don’t dismiss their efforts at all.

    My point there was that the US committed us — our troops and lives, and MANY other lives, as well as enormous funds — knowing we would not have nearly enough support.

    Furthermore, the situation in Afghanistan was never adequately stable enough for us to “move on”.

    Sigh…. and as ever, it is where we are today. No magic wands in Polimom’s pocket.

    (and dang it, to top it off, it’s not a nice day here! been raining for days on end — bleh! Gonna build a boat soon…)

    May 31, 2006 | 8:15 pm

    We weren’t supported strongly enough for good reason. Who’s going to support a preemptive war? An arguably illegal war by international standards (besides the British and the others who you point out ween’t so willing)? And we do agree that there’s no dismissal–just trying to stay planted on the ground regarding Iraq and WWII.

    it’s starting to rain a bit here—and since before too long it’s going to break 100 for wekks on end and parch the entire area brown, I’m calling this a nice day.

    Cheers to you

    June 4, 2006 | 6:37 pm

    Thom: It wasn’t my intention to respond again on this thread, but I’m going to make an earnest effort to apply something I heard in a sermon this morning.

    I’m sorry for my flippancy on this thread. You are correct, Thom, in labeling my second reply “smarmy,” and I am especially sorry about that. (Thank you for adding that excellent word to my vocabulary.) And I am sorry, Thom, for failing to keep in mind your generally high-quality and thoughtful responses on this blog when replying to you. You are an intelligent contributor here; keeping that in perspective would have served me well.

    If I continue refraining from commenting on Polimom Says and other blogs, it’s only out of an appreciation for my failure on both this thread and another a few days earlier (which Polimom was kind enough to delete). I’ve been contemplating a mechanism whereby I might resume commenting in a more respectful and self-controlled manner. If I move in that direction, Thom, and our paths cross again, my hope is that you will encounter a reformed forester.

    Either way, commenting or not, I am still a devoted Polimom Says reader, and look forward to reading more of your responses as well.

    June 4, 2006 | 6:47 pm

    Forester I hope you stick around. You’re a good one, obviously, and you haven’t something to teach me. I gotta go—just got a free hot tub! Just got some friend to help move it and I patched some cracks and I’m filling it up and Christine’s barbecuing some food… Gotta go. Good day to you, and Polimom.

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