Luttwak on Steve Coll’s Book and War in AfghanistanSaturday, June 30th, 2018
[mark safranski / “zen”]
I’m a fan of strategist Ed Luttwak who, like Ralph Peters, is known for his bombastic and shibboleth-breaking analysis. I saw this book review by Luttwak in the Times Literary Supplement posted on a listserv to which I subscribe.
On April 14, 2011, at a meeting in The Hague, I was much impressed by the impassioned speech of Amrullah Saleh, a former Head of the Afghan National Directorate of Security and a future government minister. His chief message was that Afghanistan, being poorer, deserved Europe’s help not by way of charity but out of solidarity, because both faced the same struggle against jihadi violence. As it happened, I was sitting immediately to his left on the speakers’ stage, and when it was my turn to speak I reached for his left hand to hold up his gold Rolex watch, declaring my readiness to swap it for my steel Timex, in the name of solidarity. He declined the offer.That is one important thing that readers will encounter in Steve Coll’s Directorate S; money, and lots of it; a torrent from the arrival of the first CIA team in the Panjshir Valley on September 26, 2001 carrying $10 million in cash, which was handed out in bundles “like candy on Halloween”. That 10 million was followed by hundreds of millions and then tens of billions and then hundreds of billions – cash that made a millionaire of every Afghan official you have ever heard of, and often of his brothers, sons and nephews too, in a country where the official minimum wage reserved for those with coveted public sector jobs is $72 – per month. So assuming that Saleh’s gold Rolex was the very cheapest model, he was wearing five or six years of wages on his left wrist.
As it happens, Coll’s book starts in the summer of 2001 with Saleh, not as a symbol of the all-contaminating corruption that appears to doom any American undertaking in Afghanistan but the opposite, as a selflessly dedicated intelligence aide of Ahmed Shah Massoud, whose stalwart resistance in the Panjshir river valley that runs in a north-easterly direction from Kabul was all that prevented the complete domination of Afghanistan by the Taliban, with their highly visible al-Qaeda subordinates, on behalf of their thinly disguised masters, the Pakistani army.
….The diplomatic price the Pakistani army exacted for allowing truck convoys via Quetta or Peshawar was and is immense: the toleration of its nuclear weapons programme and – until Trump came along – the flourishing of its terrorist networks that operate in Afghanistan as well as India. Thus to defend the Afghan government, the US has been funding its deadly enemies via the money given to Pakistan and its army, thereby incidentally solving Pakistan’s religious dilemma, because its conversion to Islamic extremism (in a country that celebrated Ahmadi war heroes in 1965, and as late as 1993 promoted a Catholic to major-general), only prohibits a sincere alliance with non-Muslims. As for the Central Asian routes, across Turkmenistan to Herat, or across Uzbekistan to Mazar-i-Sharif, or via Tajikistan to Kunduz, they require Russian consent in practice, even if in theory containers could bypass Russia via the Black Sea to Georgia’s ports and then from Baku to Turkmenistan or Kazakhstan via Caspian ferries.
That is why the United States should never have stayed to fight for Afghanistan after quickly breaking up the al-Qaeda infrastructure in the country very soon after September 11; and that is why it is a very great pity that Trump frittered away his authority before he could order the full and immediate withdrawal he had wanted.
Read the rest here.
In fairness, there are more reasons than mere geography, Afghan corruption and Pakistani perfidy for our lost war in Afghanistan continuing into it’s second generation and nearly all of them are of our own making. If the Taliban went away and Pakistan turned into Switzerland we might continue the war anyway given the degree to which victory and defeat there have become politically irrelevant to our prosecution of the war.