A light footprint?

Monday was the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival into the United States. Coincidentally, here in the American Midwest, we had a discussion about the United States’ “arrival” into Afghanistan. We even mentioned the dangers for the United States of being seen as an occupying power promoting a neo-colonial project. But first things first. We kicked it off by talking about the week and months that followed the fall of the Taliban regime. We mostly talked about the Bonn agreement that was signed in December 2001 and the vision of a light international involvement that prevailed at the time (the so-called “light footprint” approach).

Why is the Bonn agreement so important? What is so special about it? And why do people keep mentioning it, almost nine years later? Well, first, it is not even a real peace agreement. The enemy was excluded from the discussions. So it was mostly a blueprint for future power-sharing among the remaining political actors after we got rid of the Taliban (who, up to that day, represented the most powerful political actor). A passionate debate raged in class about whether the Taliban should have been invited to Bonn or not. Some argued that excluding them was a strategic mistake. Others believe that emotions were running so high that it would have been impossible to openly negotiate with the Taliban only three months after the events of 09/11. Nine years later, this is all hypothetical of course. But what should be done now? Is the Afghan government right to talk to the Taliban? What about the other non-state armed actors (the so-called warlords)? Should they also be involved in the future political project?

We then spent the remaining time discussing the “light footprint.” We talked about the many reasons that might explain the adoption of that hands-off approach. We evoked the risks of getting sucked into a new quagmire (based not only on the American experience in Vietnam, but also on the Soviet fiasco in Afghanistan and the Bush administration’s defiance towards nation-building), the lack of resources (in part due to the already existing plan to invade Iraq), the dangers of being considered as an occupying force, or the (naïve?) neo-cons’ ideology concerning regime-change.

We pointed out that this Cornelian dilemma (having to choose between a “light footprint” and a heavier one) was something policy-makers had already experienced in the past. The war in Vietnam was taken as an example. We also discussed previous international interventions in Bosnia, East-Timor and Kosovo. We then tried to understand how the international community shifted from a light counter-terrorism operation to a much heavier counterinsurgency. Finally, we discussed the opportunity of going back to a “light footprint” today. Is it feasible, or would it be a disaster for Afghanistan?

About Afghanopoly

I am an Assistant Professor of peace and conflict studies at Radboud University's Centre for International Conflict Analysis and Management (CICAM). I completed my PhD in Political Science at Northwestern University and Sciences Po under the supervision of Will Reno and Bertrand Badie. Among other things, I teach students about the politics of international intervention in Afghanistan and elsewhere. My research focuses on the political strategies that Afghan strongmen use to consolidate and legitimize their authority. I am particularly interested in how these actors manage to conduct their own forms of international relations. My field research brings me in contact with Afghan community leaders, politicians, diplomats and foreign military officers.
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38 Responses to A light footprint?

  1. Valkyrie says:

    This is going to be very short, because I am absolutely mesmerized by the news coverage of the Chilean miner rescue (way to go, rescuers!), but I will just answer this one question, for now…

    Re: “Is the Afghan government right to talk to the Taliban?”

    From a purely strategic perspective, yes, it is wise to know the enemy.

    Ronald Reagan famously noted, in the past, that he was against negotiating with misbehaving brats (OK, so the word he actually used was much stronger), but at the same time, how can one truly know what’s going on over there, on the other side, if not in some sort of contact, even if for purely strategic reasons?

    Besides, if the Afghan government is doing the talks, it certainly helps the US to “look good,” politically, by being on the sidelines. Everyone knows that if Obama comes right out and says he’s on his way to chit-chat with the brats, the political repercussions back home will be damaging. Let the Afghan government do the talking and relay info back to the United States, as necessary.

    Note: Larry King just interviewed Karzai on his show. I caught it after getting home, Monday night. Have not yet looked at the entire transcript, but if anyone is interested in what Karzai had to say, check into it at CNN. There’s probably a transcript there by now, no doubt.

  2. Muslem Hayat says:

    I would say in AFG there is to concepts regarding US troops presence.
    1-mejority of the country papulation from all tribs thinking US has come to AFG
    To fight against AQ and Taliban,but most of pashtoon tribs which is about 35%
    In AFG thinking US as occupided froces as well as pashtoon and that side of pakistani border.such vission mostly feuling from Pak and Iranian propaganda,
    In 2001 bonn agreement it has been free election among attendence for leading post war country
    Abdul satar sirat was elected by mejoriy of members ,but by US delegation interfrence he was refused.The reason for diagreements he was not pashtoon ,
    karzai was nomonated for leadership, which was big mistek the main reason
    was pashtoon and close to US offical,exatcly US has made another wrong choice like
    80 which Hakmatyar was faver of US. Karzai was not well known personality in AFG,
    with out supporters ,he played very weak policy,has used old british impir policy .
    we call creat defrences and rull the country,and also has brought many pashtoon friends and relatives from US and EU,athinic tensions,taliban use this cause for regrouping themself , and corruption has been started. Taliban were ousted in hidden to the Pakistan ,
    Remember Taliban never would come to Bonn conffrence the do not have blieve for
    peace talk for ever even now,
    AFG nvever be vitnam for US troops ,People of AFG ready to fight against taliban and AQ,but need change from those people ruling AFG from A to Z ,
    As for as this Karzai and his crony in power US never would be succeded in this war.
    iternational community has to pay price for them.

    • There is definitely some amount of political maneuvering that happens when trying to build a coalition. Given that the Pashtoons were not well represented in the Bonn conference, there was a real chance that the elected leader would have been from the Northern alliance, which it sounds like it was. We did not read about Abdul Sirat in our class, but it can be imagined that the US did not want to make the Pashtoons feel entirely cut off from the center. By having Karzai, they could ensure that it would not be so.

      But about manipulating ethnic tensions and the divide and rule policy being adopted by Karzai to stay in power, the only thing is that it will eventually backfire on Afghanistan, because what he needs to be doing is building unity and cohesion. It is enough that there is a big divide with the Taliban that needs to be bridged, if the ethnicities start splintering, Afghanistan will have a much bigger problem on its hands.

  3. Kredox says:

    First I want to point out that we do not know for sure if Taliban would show up for Bonn agreement or not. Taliban consists of many people, some of them more extreme than others and I believe some would actively negotiated, maybe not toward peace or compromise but at least they would show up and voice their opinions and goals. That way we would identify their views and we would not have to guess about their plans. Another point that if some of Taliban would show up another more extremist part of Taliban would be not happy about it (put it in light terms) which would create tensions within Taliban and shake their unity and that would be handy for US and Afghanistan. By not including Taliban in Bonn conference we gave more reasons for Taliban members to think that we are against them and give the the only choice as to fight us. At the end Taliban is not Al Q’aida and it is not one person, it consists of many people which are mostly extreme but they still have their own thoughts toward outside world, so by inviting Taliban we would separate more moderate members who are at least willing to show up, listen and voice their opinions.

  4. The Jackal says:

    Muslem Hayat said “Remember Taliban never would come to Bonn conffrence the do not have blieve for
    peace talk for ever even now,
    AFG nvever be vitnam for US troops ,People of AFG ready to fight against taliban and AQ,but need change from those people ruling AFG from A to Z”

    Kredox said “First I want to point out that we do not know for sure if Taliban would show up for Bonn agreement or not.”

    I’m taking the gentelmen, who I assume lives in Afghanistan, his word for it! I agree with you Muslem Hayat.

  5. The Jackal says:

    To think that the Taliban would just show up and tell their plans and goals is delusional. Wait we know their goals it’s called terrorism. I agree the Taliban consist of “many people” but they are all extreme! They are a Theocracy and when driven by a divine ideology there is no compromising or reasoning. The only way they know how to voice their opinions is through suicide bombers and IED’s Oh and the occasional TV broadcast for Jihad. We don’t need for them to “think” we are against them, we are against them.
    Also please explain what a “moderate” Taliban is?

    Valkyrie, it is wise to know your enemy, but unfortunately the Afghan people already do. So why give them justification by acknowledging them through talks? What would these talks accomplish? Would they renounce their extreme?

    The Afghan government is talking to them because Americas President is weak and put a deadline on the table. They said they have been talking to them for awhile, how long? 2 years is awhile and that is about how long America has had a new President.

  6. Ahmad Muslem Hayat says:

    Taliban movement goal is holy war( Jihad ) against Muslims and non muslim around the globe.

    To bring sharia law with different defination

    They are message for Muslims is if you,r with us do jihad same way as the do . if you don’t your deserve to be dead.

    For Non muslims they are thinking(up to Jihad will continue end of the world)

    I raised up and involved during real Jihad against USSR in AFG i Know personally all player from all parties . my back round,

    Is the same Jihadi.I have not seen modert taliban yet.ofcouse many ex pashtoon communists of nationalist collaborated them.Accept Molla omar A have seen all of them in the meeting took place in Midan shahr in near kabul ,the first taliban arrival around of kabul with martyr Ahmad shah Masoud. Natinal hero of AFG.

    they are not taliban with the vision.

    As an Afghan and Muslim I fully believe taliban and AQ high jacked Islam and Jihad. what AFG government and our ally have done against this ideological war to stop and confront by quranic verses , nothing,

    Islam first word is peace( salam).

    but taliban first word is terror blood killing man women children.

    Karzai always ignored,for athinic reasons,

    Personally i have involved in this concept to encourage president karzai 2006 i would say i am co founder of this project.

    to dismantle the ideology of AQ taliban+ hezbe islami( takifires) like Al jihad e lashakr taiba JIA aljeria etc.

    and alsoTalibans are fighting for interest of pakistani ISI in region.

    Ok, i am agree if they stop fighting come to normal life.

    I think AFG government in US have agreed on this facts.

    1- put more military pressure on taliban.

    2- to be opened door for they are joining to normal life under name of (Grand consul of peace)

    I am agree with Jakal he is fully right.
    In Afghanistan 5000 years history of AFG rullers, you can not find bringing peace without war.
    also in youtube (Afghanistan war without end ) is very educational.



  7. Durkheim says:

    According to Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage “Afghanistan was really an accidental war for much of the administration.” Is there such a thing as an accidental war? Light footprint or not, the reality is that the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan has driven the nation into chaos and America just keeps digging itself into an even bigger hole overseas. When will history stop repeating itself?
    A major mistake the U.S. committed was its faith in the abilities of the Afghan Army to create and maintain stability in a country on the brink of anarchy. Is it really realistic to train a largely illiterate army the principles of counter-insurgency and effects-based operations? The light footprint approach depended upon successfully training the Afghan National Army, yet the U.S. government neglected to place qualified and experienced personnel to get the job done. Once Iraq entered the picture, key resources and personnel in Afghanistan shifted to Iraq and replaced with younger agents who lacked the knowledge and skill of older veterans. According to former CIA chief counter-terrorism official Robert Grenier, “I think we could have done a lot more for the Afghan side if we had more experienced folks.”
    Furthermore, the light footprint approach made training the Afghan army nearly impossible due to force protection. Rather than risking troops on the ground, the strategy utilized is indiscriminate violence via air strikes which, according to Stathis Kalyvas in his book The Logic of Violence in Civil War, “is at best ineffective and at worse counterproductive.” Indiscriminate violence tends to elicit strong emotional responses driving civilians or noncombatants into the arms of insurgents who can offer protection. Light footprint bombing tactics in Afghanistan is just another instance of the neocon concept that America is immune to international law and can utilize indiscriminate violence as an (unsuccessful) means of securing its interest across seas.
    Finally, another significant mistake is imposing a “democratic regime” in a tribal sectarian nation. Most people in Afghanistan cannot read or write and the U.S. expects them to understand and embrace the principles of democracy overnight. Afghanistan did have the ability to govern themselves, just not under a secular democratic regime. In a country lacking in national infrastructure, family, clan, tribe and ethnic group plays an important role in maintaining order. In a weak state like Afghanistan, the warlords obtain power because they are able to get things done, and thus have the support of the populace. Forcing a democratic regime in such a nation is a means for disaster.

  8. I would like to problematize the word Taliban. Who is/are the Taliban?

    Here is the first set of answers: It is the movement that took power in Afghanistan. It is the leaders including Mullah Omar and such who are the ideological fountainheads. It is the whole organization that rallied behind the call to bring an extreme form of sharia in Afghanistan (and eventually the who of the Islamic Ummah). It is the people who responded for the call to Jihad against anyone who was against their philosophy.

    Here are the other set of answers: It is the soldiers, middle level administrators, village leaders who form most of the bulk of the organization but who would not be able to keep up the ideological bent of the organization without the top of the chain. They are opportunists who joined the rising power thinking that it would mean that they would not be the ones that would be chased out of their erstwhile strongholds. They are those Afghans who do not see eye to eye with the Taliban philosophy but are geographical in a location that leaves them with few political choices. The people would be happy to usher in a different regime, given enough chance. It is also the people who would be willing to change what they teach and preach if they realized that aid that they were getting from the ISI till now has dried up.

    I am trying to answer the question: who are the moderate Taliban. It is to some extent the same answer that Muslem Hayat has given. He says: “Ok, i am agree if they stop fighting come to normal life.” So the moderate Taliban are the people who would be willing to come to normal life when the old way of doing things is shown to be history.

  9. The Jackal says:

    Muslem, thank you for the affirmation. It is easy to speak from a distance and only look from the perspectives of what books say, but to here that your own thoughts and opinions that don’t come from books or others are accurate is an honor, especially from someone that is living it every day. I hope through this time in history Afghan can find peace.

    As far as “America just keeps digging itself into an even bigger hole overseas” and “When will history stop repeating itself” I disagree, actually I disagree with everything you wrote. History did not repeat itself, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda were driven out, and the military campaign was a success. The American military is not a police force. Also it is nice to say “peace” not “war” and “violence is not the answer”, but is it realistic? No, so instead of using abstract generalizations on why not to go to war or how bad things are going, let’s seek solutions and viable options. I here no specific alternative options or actions that can lead to results!

    Again, not a strong definition of what a “moderate” Taliban is. So I’m not buying it. It sounds more like a Taliban in hiding and when opportunity arises to just do the same thing they will. We can’t provide an atmosphere to allow that to happen. Also your statements about the Taliban would change given the chance and they would change what they teach and preach are assumptions that we learned from our Afghan friend Muslem, are incorrect and yet you still hold on to them as truths.

    • Durkheim says:

      Yes, we initially got rid the Taliban in AFGHANISTAN but many al Qa’ida leaders escaped across the border to Pakistan unharmed. The so-called “success” did not last very long.

      The U.S. failed to perform a thorough analysis of the Soviet experience in Afghanistan. On the surface, it appeared as though the problem with the Soviet invasion was a heavy footprint. However, a more nuanced approach would show that their mistake was fighting an unconventional war using conventional tactics. “They terrorized the population rather than trying to win support for the Afghan regime” (Jones, 132). It just so happens that the good old U S of A took advantage of this situation to fight communism, however, in the end, we were supporting (both militarily and economically) the mujahideen, which gave birth to al Qa’Ida .

      I agree with you when you said “let’s seek solutions and viable options.” However, how can we find valid solutions when we fail to even acknowledge all the facts and consider the FULL (short and LONG-TERM) consequences of our actions?

      Side note: I don’t think I presented my previous argument in such black and white terms as “peace” and “war” as you described. What I was saying is that before invading a country and bombing them we should look at a variety of strategies and carefully scrutinize them as well as consider the consequences of our actions and how it can effect other people, even if they reside thousands of miles away. It’s called empathy.

  10. Valkyrie says:

    Re: The Jackal’s comment

    “Valkyrie, it is wise to know your enemy, but unfortunately the Afghan people already do. So why give them justification by acknowledging them through talks? What would these talks accomplish? Would they renounce their extreme?”

    Because it makes the more civilized side appear to be acting “in good faith” to the international community (as international law continues to evolve).

    I never thought a large percentage of them would renounce extreme views at all, nor do I think that’s likely in the short-term (I would have to confirm it from a better source, but I shall cautiously state that I think I read somewhere, online, that Secretary of State Clinton recently commented on how skeptical she was about the talks, because they were just beginning), but it IS a start.

    That said, the political cynic in me looks at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and sees that they keep trying to have talks, but that the cycle of violence seems to continue, ad infinitum, despite these attempts at civil conversation.

    So, the point is not that it will work, but that like the stock market, where past success does not predict future gains, past failure cannot predict future failure with 100% certainty (by analogy, has anyone ever crash-landed a plane on the Hudson River successfully, before? lately, someone did!).

    “The Afghan government is talking to them because Americas President is weak and put a deadline on the table.”

    How can you be “weak” if you’re putting a deadline on the table? To me, that sounds decisive. We’ve been there for years! Pick a new direction, already, and get going.

    “They said they have been talking to them for awhile, how long? 2 years is awhile and that is about how long America has had a new President.”

    OK, you’re turning this into an I-Don’t-Like-the-POTUS issue, so being that I voted for the POTUS, I’ll just state that I’m obviously going to disagree with you on that one.

    Finally, I kind of like (from a strategical perspective), this idea of putting military pressure on the Taliban while simultaneously encouraging talks. Kind of like saying to them, while aiming right at them, “Any time you folks want to surren–whoops!–I meant have talks, we’re ready over here.” (smirk)

  11. The Jackal says:

    Once again I’m only hearing rhetoric and no alternative options. Give me a plan; give me substance, not what quotes you can conjure up from books or other people’s opinion.

    I completely disagree that the “US of A took advantage” and what is this “nuanced approach”?? Shall we have a steak dinner at the White House with them?
    To make a decision to go to war is not easy and you are making it sound like we just did it irrationally. Did we move quickly? Yes, but it was decisive as it should be.
    Also we knew that they were going to Pakistan before they did, that is why we were trying to gain support from them before we started. We can see the date on a quarter on the ground of any street and you think we don’t know where they are at? The war may not be a success in your eyes but it was and that is fact. They did what they planned to do; nation building is not what America’s military does!

    Obama is weak and all the nations know it. That is why Russia just built a nuclear plant in Iran and now will build one in Venezuela and is also looking to build more for rouge nations. If we had a strong President this would not be happening. Way to go sanctions and talks!!!!! Maybe we should have more?? NOT!

    • Durkheim says:

      I must reiterate the words of Valkyrie: “OK, you’re turning this into an I-Don’t-Like-the-POTUS issue, so being that I voted for the POTUS, I’ll just state that I’m obviously going to disagree with you on that one.”

      Thank you Valkyrie.

  12. Ahmad Muslem Hayat says:

    Jackal,Thanks for your answers about my affirmation,

    I would say its not easy to understand AFG from book,its more complicated then that.

    Even if have PHD, when your in the country you must start from zero with your within the coutry,

    Nine years NATO war has passed in AFG without big results,

    1-Eliminating taliban .

    2-Kill or capture of Bin Laden and his AQ group.

    3-More corruption within the government and US officials.

    4-AFG became the first narco state in the world.

    5-AFG government was the biggest fraudulent election maker with US and united nation back up in history of democracy.

    Taliban’s AQ with supported of ISI and Iranian revolutionary guards getting stronger day by days according to some intel sources.

    About 30,000 fighters have been prepared within 80% pashtoon distracts and villages,

    Even in the relatively north provinces,

    I think US and allies have had wrong prospective toward AFG at the beginning of invasion 2001.

    From books( thing thanks )and poor intel about people and cultures friends enemies etc.

    I dont close my eyes about successes .ANA ,ANP ,NDS and reconstructions of infrestractures which is visible.

    and also spend of billions $ for other projects,

    If gorilla warfare would have continued in AFG against NATO from Taliban, I don’t see more future iternational commitmentin long tearm ,One by one

    Allies will withdraw from AFG like Holland Canada ……etc.

    If our leadership staying in power with same situation and deferent opinion, AFG ANA ANP can,t defend country without

    US military supports in 10 years.

    Otherwise repeating of the history is possible

    With only hope its not easy to find a peace and change in AFG, let put how to find solution( peace) with AFG agenda.

    in future desiccations.



  13. The Jackal says:

    I agree about understanding by books. The more I read, watch and talk to people like you I feel myself growing more knowledgeable. But I value talking more so thank you for your interaction.

    I’m not sure what level of involvement you have in the government if any or what perspective you are voicing from, but do you feel it is necessary to have an American base long term to have success in Afghanistan? Is a big footprint the option? How about a light footprint on the surface and big financial support for resources in the back? What do you think is the best way to bring stability to Afghanistan?

  14. Ahmad Muslem Hayat says:

    It would be very effective way to find out more knowledgement about AFG in such discussions.

    Since 2007 I am not working for Government, but I am supporting change and hope alliance opposition in AFG.

    What opposition think about long term US military bases ?

    Afghanistan because of many threats from atomic powers neighbouring countries as well as terrorism ….etc

    For Big footprint option AFG need it , they only option Afghanistan,s survival,

    Is light footprint ,again we need them to bring stability,good governs, building ANA ANP ..other sources….etc

    To support and respect choice of people, up to government should have represented people of AFG, not one trib or group of drugs,


    Even it would be very easy to stop blood shed and insurgency if we have elected governor and fedral system .unfortunately still our allies listening to the wrong team

    same as USSR listened to pres Babrak karmal party.

    we think as golden era for Afghans to rebuild our country and make strong wealthy within country resources prosper AFG Inshallh,with the support of allies

  15. Durkheim says:

    Please don’t be so defensive. I am only trying to have a civil argument.
    It is not up to me to “give a plan.” That is the Pentagon’s job. I mean, our tax money is going to paying these people to figure out a rational and effective strategy for approaching international conflicts.
    For one, yes the USA did take advantage of the Soviet situation in Afghanistan. We supported the ISI who then transferred our economic and military support to the Taliban in Afghanistan. I thought that was common sense by now.
    You seem to have failed in understanding what I meant by “nuanced approach.” A nuanced approach does not mean having “a steak dinner at the White House with them” (I also am not a proponent of eating meat). I am referring to looking at the specifics of the situation; reviewing the subtle patterns of the history of invasions in Afghanistan and allowing the issue to be open to debate. In fact, your lack of understanding of “nuanced approach” ironically demonstrates your own lack of nuance.
    You said “to make a decision to go to war is not easy and you are making it sound.” Actually, my argument supports the fact that going to war is an extremely difficult decision that needs to be analyzed as thoroughly as possible before we put lives in danger. We must look at the consequences – an objective cost-benefit analysis. This requires an open-minded analysis of historical evidence. Trial and error is the most simplistic approach to problem-solving, yet the U.S. couldn’t even do that.
    Also, I would like to see empirical evidence that back up your opinions. Otherwise, your arguments have no valid base. If you fail to do so, you’re just making up stuff based on a very selective and simplistic view of society.

    • Afghanopoly says:

      In the Cold War context, it is true that the United States tried to take advantage of the Soviet situation in Afghanistan. We cannot deny either that the CIA supported the Afghan mujahedeen through the ISI. However, during the period between the Soviet withdrawal and 09/11, the relationship between the United States and Pakistan was very tumultuous, to say the least. It is an oversimplification to state that “we supported the ISI who then transferred our economic and military support to the Taliban.” That being said, I agree that the U.S. attitude towards Pakistan has long been ambiguous.

      • Afghanopoly says:

        Now, if you are talking about the fact that some of the mujahedeen that the CIA supported (such as Jalaluddin Haqqani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar) are now fighting alongside the Taliban, yes, you have a point.

  16. Valkyrie says:

    Jackal wrote:

    “Give me a plan; give me substance, not what quotes you can conjure up from books or other people’s opinion.”

    Did you have your own plan in mind, perchance? Because I’m sure we’d all really like to hear it.

  17. Rory says:

    Jackal, you seem to subscribe to the “great man theory of history” that suggests a nation’s position in global affairs is dependent entirely on the one individual who happens to be President. This is kind of silly, especially when you examine the close continuity between the Bush and Obama administrations in foreign policy terms.

    If anything, you can see Obama continuing Bush’s late second term policy of gradual drawdown from Iraq (which is starting to fall apart again) but departing from Bush in taking a dramatically more aggressive stance in Afghanistan, which Bush had largely ignored since Tora Bora in December of 2001.

    We have an absurdly overextended and overcommitted military right now that simply isn’t equipped or trained to administer an empire in central Asia (that’s not what our military is for, despite neoconservative ambitions to make it so) and this would be the unavoidable reality regardless of who is President.

  18. midlandpriest says:

    I am a fan of foundations. Once a foundation is set one may discuss layout and paint all day but without foundations there is nothing.

    “The war in Vietnam was taken as an example. We also discussed previous international interventions in Bosnia, East-Timor and Kosovo. We then tried to understand how the international community shifted from a light counter-terrorism operation to a much heavier counterinsurgency. ”

    It is incredibly difficult to have a relative discussion on an equal footing using these examples. The red herring is the points of comparison but they are narrow. The European and Asian mindset is dramatically different from the Middle Eastern and African mindset. There are two major baseline understandings one must have of Middle Eastern and African experience. They would be the long term intervention of colonial powers into these areas and the random borders these powers installed irrespective of the local cultural/religious/societal landscape. The more important of these two being the understanding these cultures are tribal and nomadic. These are not hallmarks of European or Asian cultures.

    For the short time the USA has existed on the planet there have been several hallmarks of its foreign policy(speaking merely in generalities with no comment on specific instances). There is a cultural/societal reluctance to get involved in any foreign affairs. There is the European arrogance of thinking if we are to absolutely get involved our way is the best way and we have no need to understand the local sociological landscape because they will conform to ours. There is the American “Cowboy Doctrine” of “if you shoot at us we will kill you immediately without thought”. The balance between these three, along with the ability to generally dominate our enemies, is what has kept us out of serious trouble for our entire history. As the world becomes more complex this simplistic attitude becomes more dangerous, as the examples above illustrate.

    The final stone in the foundation I will lay today will be the “dumbing down” of the American citizen. In the last fifty years we have seen a spectacular slide in the baseline understanding the average American has of the world around them. The “common sense” of the farmer understanding it takes time and hard work to plant something and wait for it to grow to maturity. The patience and “walk a mile in your counterpart’s shoes” understanding of the local guilds/merchants it takes to foster good solid long term relationships. The mentality of the local builders who “measure twice and cut once” in order to do the job right… The first time. This “dumbing down” is not a commentary on the intelligence or education level of the average American as there is no denying the spectacular rise in college graduates. This is merely to point out we have lost our ability to have a common understanding as a culture due to the specialization and instant gratification of our people.

    Our enemy is tribal and nomadic, our society tends toward a “shoot first ask questions later” attitude and our cultural arrogance/disconnection lends itself to terrible ignorance on the ground when we do get involved. All this said we are in Afghanistan. The first two understandings are out the window and unrecoverable. The last understanding we can yet see an impact through a little humility as a society and changing our perspective of who we are dealing with on the ground.

    We either repeat our mistakes of the past by destabilizing the area(through partnership with the Muhajadeen) and pulling out fully(thereby being seen as dishonorable allies) or we step up and take a two fold approach for the long term. We have seen what weak willed weak minded politicians have done to our stature in the world through past interventions(ill advised or well thought out) and prematurely leaving(Vietnam, Somalia, …). We have seen the benefits of seeing the intervention through(Germany, Japan, Austria….). We have no choice but to see this intervention through to its bitter end or risk further creation of an entirely new class of enemy without borders so we need politicians with far more intestinal fortitude/acumen than we have seen lately. We need to listen to men like Ahmad Muslem Hayat on the ground and foster change from the top down through relational leadership and the bottom up through a Green Beret approach of living with them and changing the locals one person at a time. The issue of the Taliban and who they are is a mere footnote if these two approaches are addressed well.

    I know this is simplistic but a blog doesn’t lend itself to exposition well.

  19. The Jackal says:

    Thank you for engaging me in an intellectual conversation. I enjoy talking about strategies; looking at alternatives and focusing on solutions, so I can better my understanding and not speak of ignorance like so many do in the world. I agree with you about the federal system and we can see that decisions were made in haste (after the Taliban went running) because recourses were taken away for Iraq. It sounds that Afghanistan would now be open to a bigfoot print and not feel threaten by CF. What do you contribute this new attitude of the Afghan people to, in order for them to allow a bigfoot print? Also how do you feel about the U.S. setting a withdrawal date and what do you think the impact this has and will have?

    When you said “The European and Asian mindset is dramatically different from the Middle Eastern and African mindset.” And then went on to explain, I would like to thank you for this because it seems that this had not been thought about for it is essential to understanding. Since the Taliban is a Theocracy how do you feel about them being involved in talks?

  20. midlandpriest says:

    Hmmm. First, I would have to be consistent in saying the Taliban is a non issue in the greater scheme of things. Should the world treat the root problems rather than the symptoms and do this in a multilateral, split approach(top down/bottom up) forward thinking way this area will come out more stable than it ever has been… In twenty years.

    It is all the ground chosen to do battle and not the battle itself. As we all know if one chooses the ground well the battle is won before it begins. No nation can negotiate with a Theocracy on their terms. It is idiotic to think any theocratic society would wholesale its views in favor of another philosophy through external pressure(military intervention to simple blockade). The Theocracy is either open enough to deal with other philosophies or it is hellbent for leather in imposing its philosophy on others. The Taliban leadership is the second type of group. True Believers who have the desire to bend the world to their philosophy without regard to any other viewpoint are the very antithesis of all philosophies from Democracy to Communism. The Taliban’s desire for homogeneous societal ideas precludes them from any reasonable discussion with the rest of the world. For the rest of the world to have legitimized their views by inviting them to Bonn would have been painful in its naivete.

    • Valkyrie says:

      What does one do with a rather large minority population that has been delegitimized, then?

      Imagine, by analogy, if within the United States, a minority group that makes up 40% of the population ends up politically marginalized. Let’s say they are all a bunch of Theocrats (ideologically and politically speaking), and the rest of the population recoils in understandable horror. How, then, does a nation handle this rather large mindset existing within the overall population?

      It just seems an irreconcilable situation, and yet you’re dealing with such a large minority population (40% is quite high, not yet half, but quite significant), that you know you’re going to have problems if you attempt to alienate and marginalize that many people.

      Within a democratic society that subscribes to the ideals of classical liberalism (respect for individual rights, and not majority or mob rule trouncing individuals), a small (yet harassed) minority can utilize the legal system for redress when wronged. But marginalizing a 40% minority population is a recipe for disaster.

      Is there even a workable solution, aside from allowing these delusional Theocrats to merely self-govern themselves? And if that ends up the case, do they not end up still isolating themselves, like North Korea has done?

      I’m really not at all certain what the solution is, in the short-term, aside from attempting to educate these cognitive delusionals into somewhat more rational thinking (I use the word “somewhat,” because it’s already widely accepted that no one is entirely rational–the work of Nobel winner Daniel Kahneman addresses the limitations of human reason).

      Being a bit more libertarian in political philosophy, I’m inclined to accept that they should just be left to self-govern and isolate themselves, much like North Korea has done, if it will get them to stop harassing the rest of the world. It’s not like they’d get much done outside their small sphere of influence if just left to themselves, I suppose.

      • Valkyrie says:

        To clarify, I’m talking about the Pashtun population, for those not clear on that.

        According to the reading for class from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Pashtun minority is a whopping 40% of the population.

  21. The Jackal says:

    I would have to agree and in looking at the previous invasions in Afghanistan I would believe the lightfoot print was the proper approach, why should we have put thousands of troops in harm’s way when we didn’t need to. I do think now and right after the fall of the Taliban we should have gone with a bigger foot print for security; especially knowing that Pakistan was allowing them to re-assimilate on the outer agencies. We should have never allowed that to happen, for they need to be wiped out. What are your thoughts about this and how to deal with Pakistan?

  22. Ahmad Muslem Hayat says:


    Thanks for your invitation for this conversation, its really interesting for me to looking for alternative solution ( federal system )

    The only option and roadmap for light footprint in Afghanistan,

    If we have looked back after 2001 first grand consul (Loya jerga) Karzai with support of Ex King team in direct involvement former
    Ambassador Khlizad all from same tribs .they had tried to resolved and legitimized their central power.
    Later on the constitution commission has been elected by Karzai,s with his backers from same sources recognized all his concepts.
    Afghanistan has missed this great opurtunaty of FS likly smi copy of switzerland cocept .
    Nine years deterioration of war in AFG put all solution on table.
    As for as i am following the researchers fellows, within AFG and EU they are trying very hard to find out the uniqe way of federal system for Afghanistan.
    I think pakistan was the first lobby for this vision, to avoid,
    first PAk army fighting in wazirstan.
    and to give autonomy for Taliban in wazirstan and include pashtoon provinces of AFG in south , to make buffer zone for NATO operation in durand line.
    Gen parwiz always addressed that about wazirastan declared,
    Pashtoon historically un conquerable by fighting, offered about peace talk for taliban
    And swat vally ,after US and allie pressure end up cease fire and military operation has started .
    I do see very warm welcome for federal system by people in AFG now.for first step with support of US and Nato
    A-I think Afghanistan need real elected leadership must be installed.
    B- recalling of Grand meeting to recognize frame work and roadmap for FS .
    Gio ethnically zons in AFG should have elected governors other administrations, operatives regardless to his back round even Taliban or warloards .
    If they accept AFG constitution of AFG. security sources’ and law enforcements must be from locals.with coordination with central government.

    As for as Afghans naturally they are happy to implement islamic sharia law ( not Talib sharia law ).should be welcomed by central government.
    Unity of nation for securing Federal states and computation for education jobs creation developments good governance economy agricultures mining natural sources.
    Taxation etc, must be on top agenda will promote society to stop fighting and defending federal states by people.
    Afghanistan in that stage will be succeeded for light footprint.
    Beside that US and alleys can reduce number of combat troop and for supporting mission in Afghanistan they can be at their bases for big footprint.
    Without big military expanses US can win this war against terror .
    i don’t see threat , I would say all neighbouring countries would be happy to see secure and stable AFG without war and drugs
    productions accept pakistan,
    Pakistan will continue to work on greater pashtoonistan to be threat for India/ AFG and NATO.

    And the will never ever upper hand most wanted terrorists,to keep up money pipeline from west for their own strategy in region.
    In case of date setting withrawal policy, no need for any system FS.

    US troop withdrawal was big bang for NATO .
    As former ISI chief said to BBC fasi TV, NATO and US has been defeated in Afghanistan .

    The will withdraw from AFG Taliban will be succeeded.

    Same opinion taliban and south people of AFG have for setting date for withdrawal.

    If happen the impacts of that is more killing attacks will take place , ANA ANP will
    Be splited , Most of pashtoon memebers will join Taliban

    And all Tajiks and Hazara and Uzbeks, the will go back to support former commanders against taliban threats.

    Afghanistan will be devided to two part south and North taliban control and anti Taliban non pashtoon provinces.

    I think karzai,s would be happy to see AFG to taliban.

    As history show the pashtoonwali is more important for pashtoon than other causes,

    Taliban will be succeeded to establish their own regim in south part of AFG with wazirstan,
    If US and NATO would have show weak policy of pres Obama exit stratigy.

  23. midlandpriest says:

    Valkyrie… Excellent points. I might make the distinction between the leadership and the actual people who make up the 40% of the population. Leadership always has a vested interest in continuing their hold on power. The people, given Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs are met, really will be fine merely being represented rather than dominated. For example, European nations were co led by political entities and The Church at one point. The Church now holds sway in people’s personal lives but the distinction has been made, and accepted, between a person’s religious affiliations and political affiliations. This does not preclude allowing for religious views to inform the political leadership, it merely takes the direct voice of The Church out of government. Once the leadership in Afghanistan accepts this point of view, or is marginalized, all parts of this diverse society will benefit from a more egalitarian representation. This is NOT a short term solution but one which will take a minimum of a generation to BEGIN the process.

    The problem with the question of “light vs heavy footprint” is the complexities on the ground and the muddling of mission this question can inspire. I might posit the sole purpose of the “Big Green Machine” is to pacify a large geographic area and hold it. There is no way to start a dramatic shift in philosophy in any given area on the planet without boots on the ground. The problem with merely thinking in single stage progressions is the American Military is exceptionally good at the pacification stage and wins the military objectives in short order(heavy footprint). The next stage is a peaceful winning of hearts and minds and would, under circumstances like Japan(isolated island nation) or Germany(homogeneous population with peaceful neighbors) this part would normally involve a “lighter footprint”. In Afghanistan the situation is an impossible mix of geography, false borders, institutionalized religious hatreds, deep secrecy, exceptional eons old negotiating ability(just look at how they treat horse bloodlines), terrible economics, all mixed with a geographic institutionalized mistrust of all things external… And these are but a VERY few of the many problems on the ground.

    Bush never understood/thought about these difficulties and Obama is just incompetent/uncaring. This is not to make a specific statement on the lack of leadership in the USA but to point out the weakness of allowing a politically changing leadership to nation build. After WWII Generals were given to task of leading the nation building portion. They were given a certain autonomy and all the support they needed to accomplish the mission. In Afghanistan the situation is handicapped by political leadership with its own interests at heart and exceptionally weak understandings of the ground situation. This may be because of the distraction of trying to run a complex nation themselves but it shows the idiocy of allowing American political leadership access to any of the decision making in Afghanistan. Until the leadership structure of the external agencies in the rebuilding/building of Afghanistan changes there will be small gains and small setbacks due to changing political goals here in the United States which have no connection whatsoever to the well being of a healthy Afghanistan. Heavy or light footprint is an impossible question to answer until a clearer vision of Afghanistan’s future is cast without partisan US politics playing a part in a situation already difficult made impossible through this type of ignorant arrogant policy making.

    What do we do about Pakistan? This entire situation involves the entire geographic area. To falsely keep the military constrained to one false border is idiotic. If the area is given an independent leader with the ability to create regional stability then the question of what to do with Pakistan/Iran/Russia/China/anyone and their interference in local Afghani politics will be moot. A local leader with American military might, local understanding of the political landscape and the autonomy to “crack the whip” would find a VERY different local situation than what exists today. Like a good parent this person would need to punish with one hand while raising up in the other. This means more death, a widening of the military involvement locally and the creation of an American Dictator in the area. THIS is why the United States doesn’t nation build. THIS is why we will continue to be unsuccessful in our modern external involvements.

    It is tons of fun to win the battles and it is the very antithesis of civilized American sensibility to win the war. We may be too civilized to ever truly make a long term commitment to winning against tyranny in foreign lands. We nobly recognize our moral duty to stop genocide/terrorism/bullying in the world and then we immediately quail at the thought of the process of winning. Given we are already involved in Afghanistan(we may have been better off politically just staying home) we are in a no win situation for an American political class. To win the peace the politicians on the home front would need far greater will, ability, fortitude and knowledge than they currently own(we have a leader in Congress who believes an island will capsize if too many people are put on it). To win the peace we would need courageous politicians unafraid of losing their jobs in the next election cycle(Congress) and capable of visionary leadership(President). We don’t have these factors. Despite the military prowess and ability on the ground without political will/understanding any foreign adventure may be doomed.

    • Valkyrie says:

      So, the general consensus seems to be that this effort will take decades.


      At least that’s much more clear, now.

      I actually took the class to figure out what necessary change in direction was needed to get this whole mess moving in a more positive way, but apparently, it’s much too complex to be anything but a really long long term issue.

      On a more humorous note (because you have to laugh once in a while, in the midst of a war abroad, as well as the current political war going on over mid-term elections), I read somewhere that US troops in Iraq were having great success in demoralizing the enemy by blasting really loud heavy metal. Some argued that this was a form of torture (???).

      If someone’s blasting Disturbed (shameless plug for a great Chicago band), then excuse me, but what is the problem with that? (laugh)

      Maybe that’s it? Maybe we aren’t sufficiently engaged in a good enough SONIC offensive when it comes to dealing with the Taliban fighters over there. I propose that to properly break them down, psychologically, we just up and send Danzig in there, already.

      : )

    • Valkyrie says:

      By the way, I forgot to ask how one could consider the current POTUS incompetent or uncaring.

      Who would even want that position (one in which one has to deal with two wars going on, simultaneously, as well as the aftermath of the financial meltdown), if they didn’t care? Sure, some want power for the sake of power (lots of big egos in politics), but the current POTUS is generally known to be an idealist in temperament.

      Idealists are not uncaring people (they may err on the side of being unrealistic, at times, unless they are aware of their temperamental liabilities, but they are certainly not uncaring).

      The US is broke. We are not going to be able to stay over there as long as is actually necessary to have a heavy footprint.

  24. midlandpriest says:

    Apologies as this may not be the venue to debate who or what the current President is, however I recognize I opened the door so I will give it a few words. Do not confuse “well intentioned idealist” with “qualified”. You will not see the opportunity to run a Fortune 500 company for a minimum of 20 years after your graduation IF you work 80-100 hours a week and are a political animal. By way of comparison Mr. Obama hasn’t ever held an executive position anywhere in the world and held two legislative positions for a few years before finding himself in the Office of the President of the United States, the largest and most powerful corporation on the planet. I might make the assertion he was HIGHLY under prepared for the position for which he was hired.

    It is widely known Mr. Obama spends very little time reading or writing policy and leaves these mere details to functionaries in the administration. Although one might make the case this is what a good executive does the reality is the CEO of any company is a visionary who inspires the culture and movement of his company. Most do so through deep understanding and involvement in the overarching policy decisions. We’ve established, and seen in the past two years, Mr. Obama’s lack of understanding of the world around him so this leaves the vision part of the job with involvement in the promotion of the vision. Mr. Obama has shown a complete lack of respect for the average person and has broken his own promises to the voting public and the world. We didn’t make these promises to him, he made them to us. The litany of broken visions and promises is manifest and manifold.

    Yes, Mr. Obama is a beautiful and idealistic person with deep convictions. I apologize for not clarifying my comment was not directed at the heart of the man, merely the translation of his heart into public policy. However, in the expression of these convictions through the execution of his job he has shown a total lack of understanding of the position and an inability to follow through with his own initiatives thereby making him appear uncaring of the plight of the average American and the average Military man(the two components of his job). Were I to review him in HR I would write him up and fire him, not ask him to continue to execute poorly for you and me.

  25. Valkyrie says:

    You would have preferred an out-of-touch McCain, with a complete airhead sidekick, instead?

    I respectfully agree to disagree that America picked the wrong candidate, but I will say that I sleep much better knowing that Sarah Palin does not have access to the launch codes.

  26. midlandpriest says:

    The 2008 election was yet another election between dumb and dumberer. The American people have not had a choice of a good leader in many many years. This is what the entire Tea Party and their ilk is all about. Having a true choice rather than the poor politicians the party’s put up. If you want to continue to be force fed idiots then continue to be partisan in your approach to politics. If you want to love your nation and cease the parade of unqualified self serving fools then get involved and continue to educate yourself through venue’s like this class and you will, I haven’t a doubt, come out the other side a less partisan, more involved, wonderfully knowledgeable and prepared citizen. I feel your pain at the choice of candidates. I’m sorry the Baby Boomers gave you such a horrific set of choices. There are those of us working to change this for you. Join us in the marketplace of ideas and we will welcome you with open arms.

    • Valkyrie says:

      I am far from partisan, actually.

      In my 20’s, I was solidly Democratic. At about 30, I trended Republican (I live in the suburbs; GOP moderates tend to be favored out here, although no one decent has run the place since perhaps Jim Edgar, when he was Governor).

      Upon enrolling in a political science program at Northwestern and learning how utterly screwed up both parties are (both spend money the US doesn’t have, just on different pet causes), and more importantly, how difficult it is to really change things, I’ve declared my Independence (and expect to remain so perpetually).

      So, please do not accuse me of being partisan. Not even close.


  27. hi, i agree with you Valkyrie whatever you said is right.

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