What to do in Afghanistan?

George Will, one of the most influential conservative writers, called today for a complete change of strategy in Afghanistan.   To sum up:  Will says we should pull out ground troops and handle security and terrorism issues from off-shore.

I am honestly unsure about our increasing involvement in Afghanistan.  Part of me feels we need to be there for three reasons 1)to hold off Iran 2)to remain an active participant in anti-terrorist activities in Pakistan and 3)to prevent the country from descending to complete chaos, which will inevitably cause the death of thousands.  But I have another, growing feeling, which is that we simply cannot afford monetarily to continue this level of involvement in Afghanistan, and reports seem to indicate that the people no longer want us there.  I am torn.

What are your thoughts?

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

73 thoughts on “What to do in Afghanistan?

  1. After the covert war in Afghanistan against the USSR (1979-19890; Congressman Charlie Wilson put in a plan to re-build Afghanistan’s infrastructure with the emphasis on building schools and hospitals. The cost for his proposal was one million dollars. The US who had just spent millions on the war, did not care about Afghanistan, instead defeating the Soviets was the goal. Because of our government’s shortsightedness, when the US left Afghanistan, the Taliban filled the power void that was formally held by the Soviets.

    Greg Mortenson, author of ‘Three Cups of Tea’, has a lifelong mission of building schools in the region. His book is an inspiration, by the way. Both Wilson and Mortenson feel that education is the answer to the problem. Educating the Afghanis is a difficult task. Teachers and medical personnel are in very short supply and the people do not understand modern technology or construction.

    Despite the initial difficulties, I think if we put effort into getting public education for the children, they in turn will can be trained to be the teachers, medical personnel, and the rest of the modern workforce that is essentially needed. This will take time and patience. As the supply of frustrated angry teenagers dries up, the Taliban and their kind will diminish in power. We cannot leave them just like we did before.

    To do this task properly, we will be in Afghanistan for the long haul. I say this as a mother to a future Army Corp of Engineers. Otherwise the Afghan people will return to the Taliban and the US will see terrorist attacks again like 9/11. We should not make this mistake again.

  2. JA Benson nailed it: Afghanistan will be a mess until it has a real economy. This kind of nation building was infinitely less difficult in Iraq, for example.

  3. Well, you probably already know my thoughts. It was a bad idea to begin with.

    We went in there to get Osama bin Laden and destroy his base of operations. We accomplished neither — because terrorism is an ideology, not a country, so it’s virtually impossible to destroy — but ended up inheriting a nation that we now have to babysit.

    What we *should* have done back in September 2001 is insert a small team of trained operatives who could have hunted down and taken out bin Laden and his top guys. But that idea doesn’t sound as cool and macho as turning the entire weight of the U.S. military against one of the most backward countries in the world. When you’ve bought (on credit) the most expensive war machine in the history of the world, you start feeling like you want to use it every once in a while.

    But all of that is hindsight, of course. Since we are now fighting a war that cannot be won, the best thing to do is pull out as quickly as possible and let the Afghans rule themselves. It will be messy and unpleasant, but much less so than staying there another 50 years.

    Once that’s done, we can then address the root causes of terrorism and try to figure out why it is there are so many people in the world who are so pissed off at us. Maybe they really *do* have reasons other than just “hating our freedom.”


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  5. Mike, I’m not convinced we would have been successful with our small group of trained operatives. If it had been that easy, it would have been tried in a lot of other situations long ago.

    But, having said that, it seems to me that your point about Afghanistan primarily being a defensive conflict seems true. That was what it was in Sept. 2001, yet I think we have not defined yet exactly what our goal should be now. If our goal is to build a new nation, we probably need to have 10 times the amount of troops in Afghanistan. Are we really prepared for that? And how are we going to pay for it given our huge deficits? If our goal is to prevent future terrorists from using it as a base of operations (presumably our initial goal) then we could scale down operations significantly, and, btw, save a lot of money.

    There are many reasons not to do this (genocide in Afghanistan when the Taliban takes over again, Iran is emboldened), but can we stay there indefinitely?

  6. I’m not sure why we–the United States–thought the outcome would be any different for our war versus that of the Soviet war in Afghanistan. History can teach us valuable lessons, if we will learn from history, rather than repeat it.

  7. Brian, Mark Steyn makes a very interesting point, which is that the British managed the situation in Afghanistan for more than century through a very nuanced policy that was focused on a specific goal — maintaining Afghanistan as a buffer between the British empire in India and the Czar in Russia. The British cared not at all about nation-building or human rights — their policy was 100 percent Realpolitik. The problem with U.S. policy now is that we have not learned from history — we don’t seem to have a clear goal of any kind.


  8. If we really think we are going to change Afghani thought processes in just a few years, we’re crazy. It takes generations to change people, unless you pound them so hard into the ground that they can no longer think straight.
    We stayed in Germany and Japan for over a generation after WWII, even without terrorism going on. No terrorism, because we firebombed Germany, and nuked Japan. But it took decades to rebuild them into democracies, rather than totalitarian governments they were.
    Why do we think Iraq or Afghanistan can be changed in just a decade, when their history of militancy and radicalism in the region goes back centuries?
    To do it right, we need to do “real” shock and awe bombing of the enemy within such nations, until they are no longer interested in war, but sue for peace at any cost. This is what Grant taught us at Vicksburg, Sherman at Atlanta, and Patton in Germany. We didn’t stop with one atomic bomb on Hiroshima, but destroyed Nagasaki as well, to ensure the Japanese would be so defeated and overwhelmed, there would be no more fight left in them. Dresden and Berlin were so devastated by firebombing that no one wanted to keep fighting after Hitler killed himself.

    Is it ruthless? Yes. Definitely. But it is reality. If you don’t truly defeat your enemy, he will eventually rise up against you again. We see it in the Book of Ether, and we see it today.

    So, as for Afghanistan, we either need to have a total and complete victory, or we need to walk away from it. A complete victory means more troops, more bombing, especially along Pakistan’s frontier (and into Pakistan), etc.

  9. With the talk of “emboldening Iran,” I’d like to remind everyone that Iran actually helped the United States during our initial invasion of Afghanistan. The Bush administration quietly contacted the Iranians and secured their help in sharing intelligence and securing their border to prevent Taliban leaders from seeking safe harbor there.

    The Iranian Supreme Leader also sent the “grand bargain” fax in 2003, which unfortunately was ignored.

    Clearly there have been some missed opportunities to normalize Iranian-U.S. relations. Instead, everything ends up turning to a military solution.

    When you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

  10. Rameumptom,

    Considering the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Lord’s law on war given in D&C 98, and President J. Reuben Clark Jr.’s resounding denunciation — from the pulpit in general conference — of the atomic bombing of Japan (he called it “fiendish butchery”), I’m surprised to read a Latter-day Saint advocating for such wanton and arrant slaughter.

  11. Mike and Brian are right, and so is George Will, in this circumstance. The job of our military is to protect our country, not build others’ for them. We are wasting our treasure, and sacrificing the lives of our finest young men and women. History has taught us a great deal about Afghanistan, and frankly we should have learned Vietnam’s lessons much better than we have. Never in my lifetime did I think U.S. foreign policy makers would make such a grievous mistake again–but here we are fighting two so called wars (undeclared) and completely run at the whim or the Oval Office–regardless of the occupant.

    The initial taking out of the Taliban was justified, but that’s it. The sooner we leave, the better. The middle east is not a place that has seen much peace in the last 2000 years–we’re not about to change that equation with all the bombs, shock and awe we can produce. I think ancient and modern prophecy confirm that as well.

    I think Mike is right that we should have taken out the top bad guys early on with as minimal a force as necessary. The longer this goes on the worse it will be.

    We have become a world wide empire, one we cannot afford to sustain. I think we should further reduce our presence worldwide. We cannot and should not think to be the world’s cop. We are neglecting our own country and have now for far too long. Come home America and let’s take care of business here. We have an infrastructure to completely rebuild and a health care crisis to resolve. These are legitimate efforts for which we should be spending our finite treasure–not to fund these illegal and immoral wars.

    To drive the point home, I hope the anti-war movement grows in force and effectiveness and forces America’s leadership to listen and act accordingly.

  12. @Brian

    I believe Alexander the Great had a real issue with Afghanistan too, long before the Russians.

    @ Mike

    Could you provide a more detailed reference? I looked on the church website (lds.org) and could not find any matches for “fiendish butchery” nor any conference talks by Clark with atomic bomb or butchery. Perhaps I’m using the search feature improperly. I’d love the read the article you refer to, since I hold a very different opinion of those events.

  13. Geoff: You noticed?

    Guy: Eloquently put, and wholeheartedly endorsed.

    Doug: President J. Reuben Clark Jr.’s address, “Demand for Proper Respect of Human Life,” was given in the Sunday afternoon session of General Conference, 5 October 1946. He spoke with the approval and endorsement of his brethren in the First Presidency. You can read his entire address here:

  14. Mike: Thanks for the link. It’s an interesting article, and I couldn’t agree with him more regarding the wish for war to be more humanitarian. One of the reason the US uses laser guide munitions. I do wonder what his opinion would have been 10-20 years after this was written when a lot more information about the war came to light. I also wonder if he believed President Truman spent time on bended knee asking God about this fateful decision? He quickly notes at the beginning of the talk that early wars were often of total annihilation, sometimes even with God’s permission. Yet he implicitly discounts the possibility that this happened with WWII. It’s not a perspective of that event that I have considered before. Something to think about.

  15. Guy, one point of information: you called the Afghanistan war “illegal.” I understand that point for Iraq, but what makes the Afghanistan war illegal?

  16. Doug,

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments on President Clark’s address.

    Precision guided munitions are not as wonderful as their advocates would claim. While their users *can* hit targets with more accuracy and less “collateral damage”, very often — much more than the public generally knows — they suffer from technical problems and hit the wrong targets. Or, even more frequently, we have bad intelligence and end up striking something we shouldn’t have, like a wedding. (The same problem exists with UAVs and cruise missiles.)

    This problem was famously demonstrated in the very first munitions dropped on Iraq at the opening of the 2003 invasion. Two F-117 Nighthawks dropped four satellite-guided 2,000-pound bombs on the al-Dora farming community outside Baghdad. U.S. intelligence believed that Saddam Hussein was at a compound there. All four bombs missed their targets, killing one civilian and injuring fourteen others, including nine women and one child. Later investigation revealed that Saddam Hussein had not visited the farm since 1995.

    So while I’m glad we’re no longer in the business of fire-bombing entire cities (à la Dresden), I’m afraid that precision-guided weapons simply allow us to disclaim responsibility for killing innocent people by blaming it on faulty technology or poor intelligence.

  17. As horrible as the bombing of civilians during wartime, whether in Warsaw or Rotterdam, London or Coventry, Dresden or Cologne or Berlin, or Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Hiroshima or Nagasaki, both sides in the war had long since crossed the line into “fiendish butchery” well before August 6, 1945.

    Judging from the experiences of U.S. soldiers and marines in Iwo Jima and Okinawa earlier in 1945, and the deaths of Japanese civilians (as well as soldiers) in Saipan and Okinawa, it’s fair to say that the losses from the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were considerably lower than combined U.S. and Japanese casualties would have been had the U.S. invaded the main Japanese islands.

    Fiendish butchery? Of course. But the overall butcher’s bill was lower because those weapons were used.

  18. Mark,

    You present the fallacy of the false dilemma, wherein only two choices are considered, when in fact there were others.

    The Japanese had indicated, prior to the dropping of the atomic bombs, that they were willing to surrender with conditions. Truman demanded unconditional surrender, and so the bombs came down. His demand for total victory cost the lives of 220,000 innocent civilians.

  19. The Japanese had indicated

    Who? With whose authority? To whom? How credible was this “indication”? And how many more Allied lives should be lost until those matters could be cleared up? (Whatever might seem clear in 2009 certainly wasn’t in August 1945–and it’s unfair to wartime leaders making decisions under pressure to suggest that they should see things in the clear light of nearly 65 years of post-war history.)

    Besides, the Tenno remained in his throne, and was not tried for war crimes as were his German counterparts, so it’s pretty clear that the surrender demanded was not unconditional.

  20. Mark,

    The Wikipedia article on the Japanese surrender documents several attempts by the Supreme War Council and advisers to the Emperor to negotiate an end to hostilities. Roosevelt himself had a 40-page dossier in February 1945, prior to the Yalta Conference, that included proposals to the American and British governments. They were also making quiet appeals to the Soviets.


    As the article notes, by early August 1945, the Japanese Navy had been completely destroyed. The Americans had sea and air superiority.

    A naval blockade of the home islands would have easily contained the Japanese with almost no losses on either side. Truman, however, wanted a quick and decisive end to the war.

    Then — as now and always — political considerations triumphed mercy and concern for human life. Just another part of life and death in our fallen, telestial world.

  21. I think there were a lot of people who wanted a quick and decisive end to the war.

    And I don’t think Pres. Truman wanted to explain to one more mother of an American soldier or sailor why he didn’t use a weapon that would have brought that quick and decisive end to the war before her son was killed.

    There was at lesat one Japanese submarine operating at the end of July 1945. The sailors on the Indianapolis–those who survived her sinking, anyway–could confirm that, no matter what Wikipedia says.

  22. I might add, parenthetically, that it’s always fascinating to me how conservative supporters of the wars in the Middle East always turn to World War II as their paradigm for how to prosecute a war, and how war in general is justified.

    Setting aside this as a validation of Godwin’s Law for a moment, I completely fail to see the connection between the war against the fascist Axis Powers and the modern conflict between the west and pockets of religious extremists in the Middle East. The two scenarios have completely different roots, motivations, and participants.

    It’s like telling the Steelers how to defeat the Patriots using strategies from a 70-year-old chess match — they’re both games, so isn’t the comparison be a fair one? (Rhetorical question; correct answer: “No.”)

    Saddam Hussein was not Hitler, and Afghanistan isn’t Imperial Japan.

  23. Mark,

    Sacrificing 220,000 Japanese lives so that Truman didn’t have to explain to one more American mother? Wow.

    The only way to prosecute a war effectively to is to dehumanize one’s enemy. That technique doesn’t seem to have been lost on you.

  24. Geoff,

    The title of that Commentary article fairly sums it up: George Will isn’t having an intelligent reappraisal of his previous support for the war in Afghanistan. He’s simply a coward who can’t stomach a fight.

    (And possibly an enemy sympathizer, as the second paragraph not-so-subtly hints.)

  25. Mike, regarding your #27, could I respectfully ask that you not personalize this debate. A lot of us are just fumbling around trying to figure out the best course. Very few of us are acting in bad faith, and I’m sure Mark isn’t. Accusing him of dehumanizing people is really not a good tactic if you want to have a reasoned discussion with somebody.

    I had a history professor in high school who said he definitely favored the use of the atomic bomb against Japan. And the main reason he did was that he was on a boat in 1945 waiting to invade Japan if the atomic bomb didn’t work. He ended up occupying a defeated Japan rather than fighting house to house against women and children, which is what happened in Okinawa.

    The point is, Mike, that you make some very good points and bring up some very good comments from Church leaders on the Japanese war and all wars in general. But often things are not as black and white as they may appear.

  26. Actually, Mike, I agree with your criticism of the Commentary article — I think it’s actually pretty weak. I’m trying to provide some balance on this issue, because personally I’m still undecided on Afghanistan, and I think a lot of other people are also.

  27. Thank you #2 Brian J for validating my comment. I think it is fair to compare the reconstruction of Germany and Japan after WWII. Neither country went psycho after being introduced to free market and democracy. Granted Afghanistan is much more primitive, but the education of both boys and girls will gradually change the situation in the next 20 years.

  28. JA Benson (neé Tex):

    Given the culture, history, religion, and present circumstances in Afghanistan, it seems much more likely to me that 20 years of American presence in that country, attempting to enforce our values and system of government, will only result in increasing anger towards us (a foreign, non-Muslim occupier), radicalization of the youth, and increased violence against our troops there.

  29. Mike-

    The US needs to help by having the patience to accomplish the task within the parameters of the Afghan culture. For example, gender based schools and hospitals are in other Islamic nations. Afghanistan can educate and provide care the same way.

    We need to look at the example set by Greg Mortensen a former nurse and hiker who is bringing change and hope to the remotest ares of Pakistan and Afghanistan by building schools.

    “The work Mortenson is doing, providing the poorest students with a balanced education, is making them much more difficult for the extremist madrassas to recruit.” -Ahmed Rashid, best-selling author of Taliban: Militant Islam and Oil in Central Asia and Descent Into Chaos.

    We are in Afghanistan. It does not matter at this point that we perhaps should not be there. We can not pull away, like we did in Vietnam. If we leave, the end result will not be a good one for the region and for the US.

  30. The ironic thing is that we *did* pull out of Vietnam, and now they’re a significant trading partner with us. (My dining room table is stamped “Made in Vietnam.”) There is a small but burgeoning technology sector there, with a growing capitalistic economy. And all of that was done after we left the country.

    Greg Mortensen is a great example of a private individual doing good works in a harsh area. But it is not in the United States’ best interests — nor is it our right — to enforce western culture on unwilling states at the point of a gun, funded by taxpayer dollars.

  31. Mike you are forgetting the decades of horror and hell the Vietnamese and Cambodian people suffered after we pulled out. It is only recently they have started down the road to freedom.

    We have done a good work in Afghanistan (so far). The US has killed a fair number of terrorists. We need to push on and kill a few more, secure regions and then rebuild. Greg Mortensen is good at what he does because he works with the Afghani system of doing business. Done right, we would not be enforcing western culture on the Afghanis. We would be empowering them with education; which will result in better healthcare, infrastructure, and then they will discover their own kind of freedom and democracy.

    A safer Afghanistan results in a safer world. If we leave like we did in 1989, we will create another power void that will result in another Talibanish type cult to rise up and threaten the security of the US.

    It is not relevant that we should not or should have invaded Afghanistan. We are there now and cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of the past. We just can’t cut and run in these situations. It demoralizes our troops and sends the message that we are cowards.

  32. Joanna, here’s an article that supports your position:


    My primary concern, frankly, is that with our deficits we are literally bankrupting our future. Even if cap and trade and expensive health reform get blocked, we are facing $1 trillion-plus deficits for the next 10 years. This has a direct effect on our economy by lowering the value of the dollar and potentially creating horrendous inflation, in addition to creating debts that can never be paid off. So, even if we would like to stay in Afghanistan, we literally can’t afford it. The question is: can we achieve some of the most important goals (ie, containing terrorists who want to attack us) without occupying an entire country?

  33. Joanna, one other point to consider: how will we know we have “won” in Afghanistan? I think we can say we “won” in Iraq — we got rid of Saddam Hussein and now the government there is increasingly governing on its own. We will have a smaller contingent of troops there soon. The problem in Afghanistan is there is a government, but it is corrupt and not trusted in larger and larger areas of the country. We may be able to change that, but it could involve 20 years and a lot more troops. Are we prepared to take on that burden?

  34. @Mike

    While true that the Japanese indicated they would consider surrendering with conditions prior to the atomic bomb droppings, you have certainly minimized the time required to negotiate a peace and the effectiveness of any potential cease fire. I would also like to point out that elments of Hirohito’s (sp?) war cabinet were not in favor of surrendering even after the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima, which is why they missed the initial deadline for surrender. They thought we only had one bomb and couldn’t do it again. Remember the concept of the atomic bomb was not a secret, physicists all over the world understood it could be made in theory. It was a matter of the men, money, and material to make it; which most countries did not have.

    Also for someone who is keen on the cultural impact you should consider the Japanese culture in the equation as well. The events in Saipan and Okinawa were indicators of what a landing on mainland Japan would be like.


    I have no definitive opinion on Afghanistan at this time. Geoff is correct that the cost of the Afghan war (for lack of a better word) will be significant at a time when the US economy is not very strong. I sympathize with the illusions to Vietnam and learning from the past, but one might readily suggest that we have already not learned from the past. We are involved in guerrilla warfare in another country where the enemy combatants are not clearing delineated from the civilians. This is a recipe for a very messy war. Perhaps the US is overstretching both its reach and scope. When did it become our mission to bring our way of life to every human on the planet? We take missionary work to every facet of the globe but we also teach as part of that missionary work that we are subjects to “kings, magistrates, and rulers.” Just thinking out loud.

  35. If your parenthetical addition, Mike, was aimed at me, you may take it and aim it elsewhere. I’m not “a conservative supporter of the wars in the Middle East” and did not bring up the example of World War II as justification for American strategy in Iraq or Afghanistan (which, by the way, is not in the Middle East). I was responding to J. Reuben Clark’s statement (as summarized by you) that the use of the atomic bombs was “fiendish butchery.” So it was.. But so too were all the means of conventional warfare that had been used by Axis and Allies alike during the entire war–especially those aimed indiscriminately at civilians. As Churchill said, wars used to be cruel and magnificent. Now they’re cruel and squalid.

    Arguing counterfactual “history” is always simply speculation, but I’m not convinced that any other course Truman could have chosen in August 1945 would have resulted in fewer Japanese casualties, and I would think that everyone agrees that the course he chose did result in fewer Allied casualties.

    If the Allies had simply blockaded the Japanese main islands, deaths among the Japanese would have continued due to:

    battles against the Soviets in Manchuria, the Chinese in China, and the other Allies in Southeast Asia;
    continued conventional bombing of Japanese cities by American Army Air Forces;
    malnutrition and disease.

    Whether those would have been greater than the numbers who died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki is anybody’s guess. (I’m guessing that they would be.)

    And casualties among the Allies would have continued to mount because soldiers die in battle, airmen die in combat operations and sailors die during blockade duty, even if the enemy’s navy has virtually ceased to exist.

    And, as “dehumanizing” as it may be, those are the choices that commanders make in wartime: minimizing one’s own casualties while maximizing the enemy’s. And the proverbial “buck” would certainly have stopped squarely on Truman had he avoided for “humanitarian reasons”–the use of a “wonder weapon” that had the promise of ending the war quickly and, for the Allies, bloodlessly. The American public would have little patience for such arguments in summer 1945, not after Pearl Harbor and Bataan, Iwo Jima and Okinawa, kamikaze attacks on U.S. naval vessels, mass suicides in Saipan (can people who do that really be like us??).

  36. @Joanna: Much of the “hell and horror” after the U.S. pullout from Vietnam — not to mention the death and destruction during the war itself — could have been avoided if we had not gotten involved there in the first place. I am arguing for a change in U.S. foreign policy, and a greater hesitation to rush in where angels fear to tread simply because we *can*. There are better solutions to our global problems then constantly falling back on the “big stick” of our military power. We need to address the root causes of terrorism, not just fight its effects.

    Yes we have “killed a fair number of terrorists” there. We have also killed a fair number of innocent civilians (our Predator drones seem to have the knack for taking out wedding parties), which only increases the hatred of the United States and fuels the terror problem we’re trying to stamp out.

    Our efforts to change the Afghan system of tribal warlords and opium production is going to be very expensive and time-consuming. I don’t believe the cost-benefit analysis works in the long-term. Geoff is right: Conservatives balk at paying $1 trillion for health care, but seem to have no problem forking over $3 trillion for nation-building.

    @Doug: You still seem to think I’m arguing for a 1945 invasion of mainland Japan. See my previous comments at #21. A blockade of the home islands would have extended the war, but it would have cost almost nothing in American or Japanese lives. Truman sacrificed human life on a gross scale on the altar of expediency.

  37. Mark,

    Rameumptom was the one who brought up World War 2, so my parenthetical was directed mostly at him/her.

    Thank you for the Churchill quote. So you have a source so I cite it sometime in the future?

  38. The only way to win the Afghan war is to mass a large army and invade the tribal regions of Pakistan and completely defeat the Pashtun speaking tribes and their Al Q and Taliban allies. Seriously. This is it. Our enemies now have a safe haven where they are larely safe from attack. We are simply trying to keep them from overrunning AF. Not a good long term situation.

    We will never invade Pak so the war will drag on until we leave.

  39. Mike, I’m not sure blockading the Japanese islands after we had called for unconditional surrender was a realistic policy at the time. Truman could never have gotten away with it politically. And I’m also not sure given the mass starvation already taking place (and the tens of thousands of U.S. prisoners of war already dying on the islands) that it would have resulted in any fewer deaths to Americans or Japanese. So, given the realities of the time, the choices were: A) invasion with millions of casualties B)dropping one (or two — you can argue the second was not necessary, and you might have a stronger case) atomic weapon causing hundreds of thousands. Horrible choices in each case, but Truman was right to choose B.

  40. Mike Parker,

    Are you suggesting a reform of wahabbi Islam? That is the root cause of the 9-11 attacks.

  41. Mike:

    Here’s the complete Churchill statement (at least, the complete statement that I’ve got):

    War, which used to be cruel and magnificent, has now become cruel and squalid. Instead of a small number of well-trained professionals championing their country’s cause with ancient weapons and a beautiful intricacy of archaic manoeuvre, sustained at every moment by the applause of their nation, we now have entire populations, including even women and children, pitted against one another in brutish mutual extermination, and only a set of bleary-eyed clerks left to add up the butcher’s bill.

    It’s from Churchill, My Early Life, 65 (1930), quoted in Meacham, Franklin and Winston, 7 (Random House Paperback Trade Edition, 2004).

  42. @bbell: No, I’m suggesting a U.S. foreign policy that doesn’t push other countries around, threaten them when they don’t do what we like, invade them when we think they threaten us, and otherwise stick our nose in other people’s business. Those were the grievances of the 9/11 hijackers.

    Obviously we can’t please everyone, but we could go a long way toward making more friends and fewer enemies around the world.

    @Mark B: Thank you for the citation!

  43. Mike thats simply not the full picture. The root cause of Islamic terrorism is the core teachings of Wahabbi Islam on the establishment of a new Caliphate and the eventual supremacy of Islam over other cultures and people. The US stands in the way of the supremacy of Islam and thus must be defeated. Its really that simple.

  44. Mike,

    You will also note that the Wahabbi terrorists are waging war against Western Europe, Balkans, Russia, all over Asia (India, Bali, Indonesia etc), and inside Islamic countries like Turkey Indonesia ETC. This is again because of the inherent desire/doctrine for expansion via violence in Wahabbi Islam.

    “No, I’m suggesting a U.S. foreign policy that doesn’t push other countries around, threaten them when they don’t do what we like, invade them when we think they threaten us, and otherwise stick our nose in other people’s business. Those were the grievances of the 9/11 hijackers.”

    This quote is what you really think? I am to be frank surprised

  45. @bbell: There is a lot of nonsense being put forward by neconservatives about the causes of terrorism. The idea that the U.S. is simply suffering from a holy war to establish a single-state Islamic regime is part of this modern mythology.

    Osama bin Laden laid out the issues that motivate him and his followers in his 1998 fatwa:


    He listed his grievances as (1) American military presence on the Arabian Peninsula, (2) sanctions against Iraq, and (3) U.S. support for Israel. If America is going to persist in these areas, we have to expect that we’re going to piss some people off and give them incentive to harm us.

    The opposition we face is not one of hatred for our values and culture, but our presence. The vast majority of Muslims in the Middle East watch American TV programs and movies, and read our magazines. Americans who travel there — including to Iran — are well-treated; the people typically say they love America, the just hate our government or hate our policies.

    For an introduction to this, read just the first chapter of Chalmers Johnson’s book ‘Blowback’. Johnson wrote about what he calls the “costs and consequences of American empire.” His book was largely ignored before 9/11; now it’s in its 10th or 11th printing. The problem is that many Americans aren’t aware of the kind of hatred for us that we’ve stirred up around the world since the end of WW2, so there’s no way for them to put events like 9/11 into context when they happen.


    And, yes, that quote is really what I think. And I believe the evidence for it is overwhelming.

  46. I believe its simply wrong.

    The OBL statements are simply his rational on picking us as a target. The underlying reason for his attacks are his religious idealogy and desire for Islam to control the world. When Al Queda and its co-conspirators in Jihad attacks another country like Russia or Indonesia they pick similar reasons but really its a desire to spread Wahabbi Islam with the sword.

  47. I kind of fall in between Bbell’s view and Mike’s view. On the one hand, I think it is clear that Al Qaeda’s problem is not just the U.S. presence in the Middle East. There are a huge number of other issues, going back to OBL’s feeling that Islam was ascendant until the 19th century and has been on the defensive since then and needs to fight back against the entire West, and will continue to fight back against the entire West until Islam dominates the world. If you read OBL’s writings, he is clearly still fighting the Crusades, and the Balkan wars. The perspective is one of a 10th century Jihadist.

    Having said that, I do agree with Mike that we have unnecessarily stirred up a hornet’s nest with some of our actions because we don’t understand the Muslim world. So, I agree that we need to have a much more nuanced policy. And I am beginning to think that a more nuanced policy where we made it clear that we are not a threat might cost a lot less money and still get the same results (ie, the U.S. not getting attacked).

  48. @bbell: It appears to me, then, that you are appealing to mind-reading. Bin Laden has stated his grievances and objections, and yet you seem to choose not to believe what he has said, but instead postulate a deeper, unspoken motive.

    FWIW, none of the individuals currently in power in the various Middle East countries want a single Islamic state, because that would mean an end to their power as individual rulers. The House of Saud is particularly opposed the notion of a ME caliphate, and the Iranian ayatollahs are not going to turn over their rule to Arab Sunnis. So this whole one-state thing is really nothing more than a chimera.

  49. I think this is the right idea; “I am beginning to think that a more nuanced policy where we made it clear that we are not a threat might cost a lot less money and still get the same results (ie, the U.S. not getting attacked).” -Geoff B #55

  50. That is so funny Mike. I was just about to say Kumbaya to you!!! Wow! We had a psychic connection. 🙂

    I personally appreciate your libertarian opinions. The US is like a kid who has drug out all the toys all over the house and now has difficulties cleaning up his mess. If the US were a tidy kid (libertarian) we would not have made the mess in the first place.

  51. (Only read the first 1/3 of comments)

    The #1 thing we ought to do is allow Afghanistan to grow legal opium. We have a special deal with Turkey that gives them more or less a monopoly. That’s inexplicable to me. Afghanistan won’t improve until they have a cash crop.

  52. Clark- What is this about legal opium and Turkey? Details, man, I need details! You can’t drop interesting tidbits of information without details!

  53. To add, the other problem with leaving Afghanistan is the problem of a destabilized Pakistan. There are real serious issues with neglecting that region. And simply portraying ourselves as not a threat isn’t going to cut it.

    That said, the current strategy is a mess. We had an opportunity to do something quite a bit better back in 2001 but neglect due to an overhasty focus on invading Iraq allowed a mess to develop in Pakistan.

  54. “FWIW, none of the individuals currently in power in the various Middle East countries want a single Islamic state, because that would mean an end to their power as individual rulers. The House of Saud is particularly opposed the notion of a ME caliphate, and the Iranian ayatollahs are not going to turn over their rule to Arab Sunnis. So this whole one-state thing is really nothing more than a chimera.”

    And that is why the House of Saud kicked OBL out. Because he wanted to throw the House of Saud out and establish the caliphate. All rulers in the middle-east want to retain power against the Islamists. That why the islamists will attack Middle-east targets. Because the islamists who want to re-establish the Caliphate want to defeat the more secular current crop of Middle-East rulers and take over.

  55. @bbell: Which gives us an incentive to work together with nations in the ME to eliminate terrorists.

    As I mentioned back in comment #8, the Iranians helped the U.S. when we invaded Afghanistan. But Bush had to go and spoil a potential thaw in Iranian/U.S. hostility by including Iran in the “axis of evil” only a few months later. This kind of duplicitous behavior makes it nearly impossible for us to make any headway in building relationships that benefit U.S. interests.

    Unfortunately, considering the on-again/off-again nature of the U.S. presidency, the kind of consistency I’m hoping for isn’t likely to happen.

  56. Clark makes a good point about Afghan opium. When you’re an impoverished farmer in one of the more backward third-world countries, growing a cash crop with high black-market value is very difficult to say “no” to. Destroying poppies in Afghanistan isn’t going to have any serious effect (just like destroying coca plants in Columbia has been a waste of time and resources) — we need to channel the product into legal avenues.

    But I don’t want to be accused of threadjacking with libertarian dreams of ending the pointless, failed War on Drugs, so I’ll forebear. [g]

  57. Mike, I actually think that the War on Terror and the War on Drugs are so intertwinned it’s not funny. On numerous levels. While I’m not for getting rid of the “war” on either, the problems of each tend to be mirrored in the other, ranging from overly militarizing responses, not focusing on causes, civil rights, border security, and so forth.

  58. I largely agree with you, Clark.

    The War on Drugs is a significant part of the funding for terrorism. When we make a high-demand substance illegal, it creates a black market and drives up the price. The enormous profit potential in narcotics makes it worth risking violence to move the goods — hence the mayhem taking place along the U.S./Mexico border, and in other places around the world.

  59. Mike,

    I wasn’t suggesting we should do as I posted earlier. I was just expressing reality. IF one wishes to subjugate a people, you have to first take away their will to fight. History proves that. Personally, I find we no longer have a stake in Afghanistan or in Iraq, and should just pull out. We can continue humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan, but let them deal with their own mess and in their own way.

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