The Other McCain

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Afghanistan/Pakistan Points So Glaringly Obvious, They Got Zero Mention During The GOP Foreign Policy Debate

Posted on | November 23, 2011 | 15 Comments

by Smitty

The GOP foreign policy debate was generally good. While disagreeing with Ron Paul’s non-interventionist approach, even he brings a valid viewpoint to the discussion. I’ll summarize it thusly: “No matter what we do overseas, we do a crappy job of reconciling our policy with our Constitution and purported Founding ideals.”

Yet Paul, as with the rest of the GOP field, seems to miss some specifics about the Asian conflict:

  • The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan are, [drumroll], Islamic Republics. This is a non-trivial point. For all some would say the U.S. is a Christian nation (I disagree), the Christian Republic of America ain’t here. Because we ruthlessly separate religion from politics. Or did until Progressivism. The point is that these are Islamic Republics. The religion precedes their constitutions. This starts to matter quite a bit for any long-term relationship. The leadership of a country may be all cosmopolitan, especially where elected by something more than gun barrels, but if the military and the people are not on board with the policy, conflict ensues. Read this, where “The Trinity of War” is mentioned.
  • The Durand Line means nothing in particular for the local population on either side. It is yet another British cartographic jape from the Age of Imperialism. Our policy and Rules of Engagement need a shot of realpolitik with respect to the ethnic situation, the history, and the geography. Pretending that Afghanistan and Pakistan are fully modern states is silly. Which is not meant as a dig against the populations of either country. They are no more or less evil than anyone else.
  • Nation building in Germany and Japan occurred with declared wars, against relatively industrious populations, involved troop commitments that haven’t ceased in 65+ years, and followed a thorough destruction of both governments. We had Germans and Japanese re-write their constitutions along solid Western lines. Do our Asian adventures, (begun as a SOF campaign by Bush and surged by BHO, who needed to say something muscular and coherent on foreign policy in 2008), even compare?

Here is my take, having spent most of a year variously in Kabul, Bagram, and Mazar-e-Sharif:

  • Nation Building a la Germany and Japan will not work.
  • Ignoring the threat of Islamist extremism only works in service of the threat.
  • The Bush-era policy on Afghanistan, while not exactly driving the problem, may be the least-worst way to get at the rub: this is not our problem to drive.

Above all else, these are Islamic Republics. While steering carefully clear of denigrating Islam as such, there exists a profound philosophical mismatch between Western and Islamic concepts of government. It’s easy to pick on Ron Paul for having foreign policy views that seem to clock in around the 1810. Yet those approaching these Asian conflicts with a purely Western mindset seem to be weighing in around 1910.

The point was made during the debate that insurgents play a waiting game. Time is the big weapon of the little guy in an asymmetric conflict. The clock works against representative governments like ours, where elections regularly try and succeed in breaking the Clausewitzian Triangle of resolve. However, time, education, and economics ought to favor the Western cause. The notions of iPads, social networking, and prosperity, as well as the roads, water, and power that get you to them, ought to be our emphasis points.

There is plenty of mineral wealth in Afghanistan and Pakistan to drive modern economies in both. Yet the culture and security situation do not permit the development of those resources. Not only are those cultural and security barriers completely outside the scope of anything we could externally change, we would be cultural imperialists even to try.

Concluding, consider Papua New Guinea. We’re not engaging in nation building there. Why the ‘Stans? Terrorist training camps in the ‘Stans. Fine: we can consider the minimum necessary investment to minimize legitimate security threats. After that, though, if we’re nation building in the ‘stans, we might as well take on the rest of the planet. No, that is not a serious suggestion.

For a more lyric take on Afghanistan, see this post.

Update: linked at Daily Pundit.


15 Responses to “Afghanistan/Pakistan Points So Glaringly Obvious, They Got Zero Mention During The GOP Foreign Policy Debate”

  1. Anonymous
    November 23rd, 2011 @ 12:51 pm

    Smitty, I would only alter two points in your column:

    1. We didn’t just destroy the governments in Germany and Japan; we inflicted enough death and destruction that the entire population of those countries understood that it was defeated and opposing the conqueror’s will was death.

    2. Absent that level of destruction, Nation Building a la Germany and Japan will not work… and neither the political nor military leadership of this country is capable of the willpower that destruction requires.

    Absent the willpower required in #2, this country will never win another war… and therefore has no business sending troops out to get killed “for the honor of the flag.”

    Historical note for non-naval types: In the 1750s, a British Admiral faced with a no-win situation surrendered without firing a shot. When he got back, the British government had him court-martialed and shot because he had “dishonored the flag by not even firing a gun in its’ defense.” After that, admirals in that position were careful to fire a broadside (the one not facing the enemy) so no one could accuse them of that. Of course, the enemy might take that amiss and destroy them any way… which was a little hard on those they commanded.

  2. smitty
    November 23rd, 2011 @ 12:54 pm

    I’m not seriously disputing your points, but the notion of the Clausewitzian Triangle applies on #2.

  3. Anonymous
    November 23rd, 2011 @ 1:34 pm

    Smart piece, Smitty.

    To which I would add: “Nation-building” and other military adventurisms not only do not work, they tend to drive the otherwise fairly isolationist populations of Islamic republics into the arms of internationally aspirant (and violently so) radical Islamists who would otherwise lack the base of financial support, recruitment mojo, etc., they need to constitute a serious threat to either the regimes they live under or to the United States.

  4. Anonymous
    November 23rd, 2011 @ 2:02 pm

    Unless you seriously wish to argue that Nazis and followers of Bushido were less fanatical, provided we use the tactics that worked on them, we can deal with radical Islamists the same way.

    Since we can’t muster the necessary willpower (thanks to followers of your philosophy and those who pretend to while hating the country), we better learn the direction of Mecca.

  5. Anonymous
    November 23rd, 2011 @ 2:16 pm

    It’s not really much a matter of “how fanatical” they are.

    It’s a matter of where they draw their money and recruits from to attack, and what weaknesses and asymmetries they can exploit in attack.

    And it’s also a matter of whether or not there’s a centralized leadership that, if defeated, brings the cause down with it.

    Absent US intervention in the Middle East, al Qaeda is about as much a threat/problem to the US  as Aryan Nations is, or as Aum Shinrikyo was to Japan — that is, pesky and sometimes deadly but not especially scary. And even given US intervention in the Middle East, it is not and will never be on the same order of magnitude as “existential.”

    The unfortunate fact is that the political class in the US has spent the last 65 years manufacturing, or at least greatly enlarging, “threats” for the purpose of maintaining the continuous transfer — initially made possible by WWII — of as much wealth and power as possible from your pockets to theirs via the military-industrial complex. You’ve been conned for so long that you’ve forgotten what the real world even looks like.

  6. Anonymous
    November 23rd, 2011 @ 3:42 pm


  7. smitty
    November 23rd, 2011 @ 3:55 pm

    One can follow your point well enough domestically. Internationally, post-WWII there has been a Division of Labor between countries. The US has gotten out of manufacturing, and into the peace and stability business.
    This is part of the Progressive blow-off of the Constitution, as the Founders neither envisioned nor would approve of this idiocy.
    But there it is.

  8. Edward Royce
    November 23rd, 2011 @ 3:58 pm

    That “military-industrial complex”.  Does that include or exclude Tickle Me Elmo?

  9. Anonymous
    November 23rd, 2011 @ 4:34 pm

    I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.

  10. Anonymous
    November 23rd, 2011 @ 4:35 pm


    When you get into a business you can’t turn a profit on, eventually you go bankrupt and find another line of work.

    The peace and stability business may be going gangbusters, but the customers never seem to pay their tabs.

  11. smitty
    November 23rd, 2011 @ 4:55 pm

    Yeah, I think we’re kind of at the ‘tits up’ point right about now. Swell business while it lasted.

  12. Shawn Gillogly
    November 23rd, 2011 @ 5:48 pm

    Smitty, Agree virtually 100%. And this is why Santorum turns me off whenever he tried to lecture people on foreign policy. He lives in the neo-con cocoon that tries to apply Cold War solutions to non-centralized problems.

    There’s another reason why Nationbuilding worked with Germany and Japan it won’t with Islamic Republics: West Germany and Japan both had a clear and present danger from Soviet domination if they did not choose to join the West. The alternative we presented was clearly more palatable. This is also why it succeeded in the RoK, but failed in South Vietnam, where we failed to clearly articulate the danger.

    There is no definitive danger to Islamic Republics in Asia or the Mideast that necessitates our involvement or patronage, so we look like what we are: Meddlers.

  13. intuitivereason
    November 23rd, 2011 @ 8:05 pm

    Regards Papua New Guinea – Australia engaged in nation building there for approximately 60 years before independance, and to a lesser extent since. 

    One thing the Europeans had right was the time scale required to conduct nation building.  Best measured in generations rather than years.

    Paul is best at what not to do.  Not a bad attribute for the person with the veto pen.  Effectively his position is that congress can do what it likes, within the bounds set by the constitution that he will enforce as President.  Once you get used to the boundaries, that still leaves a lot of scope…

  14. Rusty
    November 23rd, 2011 @ 9:35 pm

    In your discussion of Germany and Japan you might also add that we had two homogeneous, high-IQ populations to work with which greatly assisted in the development of their economic and political recovery.  The human capital in most of the Islamic world is no where near the level of Germany and Japan.

    Nation building in the Islamic world will not accomplish much.  It is best to limit the West’s contact with them especially when it comes to allowing mass immigration of muslims.

  15. Charles G Hill
    November 23rd, 2011 @ 10:13 pm

    And besides, until a full-fledged embassy is built, the Ambassador to Vanuatu is resident in Papua New Guinea, reason enough for its mention here.