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I've a long record in editorial work in book and magazine publishing, starting 1974, a variety of other work experience, but have been, since 2001, recurringly housebound with insanely painful sporadic and unpredictably variable gout and edema, and in the past, other ailments; the future? The Great Unknown: isn't it for all of us?

I'm currently house/cat-sitting, not on any government aid yet (or mostly ever), often in major chronic pain from gout and edema, which variably can leave me unable to walk, including just standing, but sometimes is better, and is freaking unpredictable at present; I also have major chronic depression and anxiety disorders; I'm currently supported mostly by your blog donations/subscriptions; you can help me. I prefer to spread out the load, and lessen it from the few who have been doing more than their fair share for too long.

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"The brain is wider than the sky,
For, put them side by side,
The one the other will include
With ease, and you beside"
-- Emily Dickinson

"We will pursue peace as if there is no terrorism and fight terrorism as if there is no peace."
-- Yitzhak Rabin

"I have thought it my duty to exhibit things as they are, not as they ought to be."
-- Alexander Hamilton

"The stakes are too high for government to be a spectator sport."
-- Barbara Jordan

"Under democracy, one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule -- and both commonly succeed, and are right."
-- H. L. Mencken

"Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves."
-- William Pitt

"The only completely consistent people are the dead."
-- Aldous Huxley

"I have had my solutions for a long time; but I do not yet know how I am to arrive at them."
-- Karl F. Gauss

"Whatever evils either reason or declamation have imputed to extensive empire, the power of Rome was attended with some beneficial consequences to mankind; and the same freedom of intercourse which extended the vices, diffused likewise the improvements of social life."
-- Edward Gibbon

"Augustus was sensible that mankind is governed by names; nor was he deceived in his expectation, that the senate and people would submit to slavery, provided they were respectfully assured that they still enjoyed their ancient freedom."
-- Edward Gibbon

"There exists in human nature a strong propensity to depreciate the advantages, and to magnify the evils, of the present times."
-- Edward Gibbon

"Our youth now loves luxuries. They have bad manners, contempt for authority. They show disrespect for elders and they love to chatter instead of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants, of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up their food, and tyrannize their teachers."
-- Socrates

"Before impugning an opponent's motives, even when they legitimately may be impugned, answer his arguments."
-- Sidney Hook

"Idealism, alas, does not protect one from ignorance, dogmatism, and foolishness."
-- Sidney Hook

"Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted."
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

"We take, and must continue to take, morally hazardous actions to preserve our civilization. We must exercise our power. But we ought neither to believe that a nation is capable of perfect disinterestedness in its exercise, nor become complacent about particular degrees of interest and passion which corrupt the justice by which the exercise of power is legitimized."
-- Reinhold Niebuhr

"Faced with the choice of all the land without a Jewish state or a Jewish state without all the land, we chose a Jewish state without all the land."
-- David Ben-Gurion

"...the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right; that it tends also to corrupt the principles of that very religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing, with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments, those who will externally profess and conform to it;[...] that the opinions of men are not the object of civil government, nor under its jurisdiction; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty....
-- Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, Thomas Jefferson

"We don't live just by ideas. Ideas are part of the mixture of customs and practices, intuitions and instincts that make human life a conscious activity susceptible to improvement or debasement. A radical idea may be healthy as a provocation; a temperate idea may be stultifying. It depends on the circumstances. One of the most tiresome arguments against ideas is that their 'tendency' is to some dire condition -- to totalitarianism, or to moral relativism, or to a war of all against all."
-- Louis Menand

"The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis."
-- Dante Alighieri

"He too serves a certain purpose who only stands and cheers."
-- Henry B. Adams

"The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to beg in the streets, steal bread, or sleep under a bridge."
-- Anatole France

"When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle."
-- Edmund Burke

"Education does not mean that we have become certified experts in business or mining or botany or journalism or epistemology; it means that through the absorption of the moral, intellectual, and esthetic inheritance of the race we have come to understand and control ourselves as well as the external world; that we have chosen the best as our associates both in spirit and the flesh; that we have learned to add courtesy to culture, wisdom to knowledge, and forgiveness to understanding."
-- Will Durant

"Glimpses do ye seem to see of that mortally intolerable truth; that all deep, earnest thinking is but the intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea; while the wildest winds of heaven and earth conspire to cast her on the treacherous, slavish shore?"
-- Herman Melville

"The most important political office is that of the private citizen."
-- Louis D. Brandeis

"If we desire respect for the law, we must first make the law respectable."
-- Louis D. Brandeis

"We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both."
-- Louis D. Brandeis

"It is an error to suppose that books have no influence; it is a slow influence, like flowing water carving out a canyon, but it tells more and more with every year; and no one can pass an hour a day in the society of sages and heroes without being lifted up a notch or two by the company he has kept."
-- Will Durant

"When you write, you’re trying to transpose what you’re thinking into something that is less like an annoying drone and more like a piece of music."
-- Louis Menand

"Sex is a continuum."
-- Gore Vidal

"I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibit the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state."
-- Thomas Jefferson, letter to the Baptists of Danbury, Connecticut, 1802.

"The sum of our religion is peace and unanimity, but these can scarcely stand unless we define as little as possible, and in many things leave one free to follow his own judgment, because there is great obscurity in many matters, and man suffers from this almost congenital disease that he will not give in when once a controversy is started, and after he is heated he regards as absolutely true that which he began to sponsor quite casually...."
-- Desiderius Erasmus

"Are we to have a censor whose imprimatur shall say what books may be sold, and what we may buy? And who is thus to dogmatize religious opinions for our citizens? Whose foot is to be the measure to which ours are all to be cut or stretched? Is a priest to be our inquisitor, or shall a layman, simple as ourselves, set up his reason as the rule of what we are to read, and what we must disbelieve?"
-- Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to N. G. Dufief, Philadelphia bookseller, 1814

"We are told that it is only people's objective actions that matter, and their subjective feelings are of no importance. Thus pacifists, by obstructing the war effort, are 'objectively' aiding the Nazis; and therefore the fact that they may be personally hostile to Fascism is irrelevant. I have been guilty of saying this myself more than once. The same argument is applied to Trotskyism. Trotskyists are often credited, at any rate by Communists, with being active and conscious agents of Hitler; but when you point out the many and obvious reasons why this is unlikely to be true, the 'objectively' line of talk is brought forward again. To criticize the Soviet Union helps Hitler: therefore 'Trotskyism is Fascism'. And when this has been established, the accusation of conscious treachery is usually repeated. This is not only dishonest; it also carries a severe penalty with it. If you disregard people's motives, it becomes much harder to foresee their actions."
-- George Orwell, "As I Please," Tribune, 8 December 1944

"Wouldn't this be a great world if insecurity and desperation made us more attractive? If 'needy' were a turn-on?"
-- "Aaron Altman," Broadcast News

"The great thing about human language is that it prevents us from sticking to the matter at hand."
-- Lewis Thomas

"To be ignorant of what happened before you were born is to be ever a child. For what is man's lifetime unless the memory of past events is woven with those of earlier times?"
-- Cicero

"Hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue." -- François, duc de La Rochefoucauld

"Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it." -- Samuel Johnson, Life Of Johnson

"Very well, what did my critics say in attacking my character? I must read out their affidavit, so to speak, as though they were my legal accusers: Socrates is guilty of criminal meddling, in that he inquires into things below the earth and in the sky, and makes the weaker argument defeat the stronger, and teaches others to follow his example." -- Socrates, via Plato, The Republic

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, represents, in the final analysis, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children."
-- Dwight D. Eisenhower

"The term, then, is obviously a relative one; my pedantry is your scholarship, his reasonable accuracy, her irreducible minimum of education, & someone else's ignorance." --
H. W. Fowler

"Rules exist for good reasons, and in any art form the beginner must learn them and understand what they are for, then follow them for quite a while. A visual artist, pianist, dancer, fiction writer, all beginning artists are in the same boat here: learn the rules, understand them, follow them. It's called an apprenticeship. A mediocre artist never stops following the rules, slavishly follows guidelines, and seldom rises above mediocrity. An accomplished artist internalizes the rules to the point where they don't have to be consciously considered. After you've put in the time it takes to learn to swim, you never stop to think: now I move my arm, kick, raise my head, breathe. You just do it. The accomplished artist knows what the rules mean, how to use them, dodge them, ignore them altogether, or break them. This may be a wholly unconscious process of assimilation, one never articulated, but it has taken place." -- Kate Wilhelm

"The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed."
-- Albert Einstein

"The decisive moment in human evolution is perpetual."
-- Franz Kafka, Aphorisms

"All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."
-- Samuel Beckett, Worstward Ho

"First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you."
-- Nicholas Klein, May, 1919, to the Third Biennial Convention of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (misattributed to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, 1914 & variants).

"Nothing would be done at all, if a man waited till he could do it so well, that no one could find fault with it."
-- Lecture IX, John Henry Cardinal Newman

“Nothing is more common than for men to think that because they are familiar with words they understand the ideas they stand for.”
-- John Henry Cardinal Newman

"Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."
-- James Madison

"Those who are free from common prejudices acquire others."
-- Napolean I of France -- Napoleon I of France

"Our credulity is a part of the imperfection of our natures. It is inherent in us to desire to generalize, when we ought, on the contrary, to guard ourselves very carefully from this tendency."
-- Napoleon I of France.

"The truth is, men are very hard to know, and yet, not to be deceived, we must judge them by their present actions, but for the present only."
-- Napoleon I of France.

"The barbarous custom of having men beaten who are suspected of having important secrets to reveal must be abolished. It has always been recognized that this way of interrogating men, by putting them to torture, produces nothing worthwhile. The poor wretches say anything that comes into their mind and what they think the interrogator wishes to know."
-- On the subject of torture, in a letter to Louis Alexandre Berthier (11 November 1798), published in Correspondance Napoleon edited by Henri Plon (1861), Vol. V, No. 3606, p. 128

"All living souls welcome whatever they are ready to cope with; all else they ignore, or pronounce to be monstrous and wrong, or deny to be possible."
-- George Santayana, Dialogues in Limbo (1926)

"American life is a powerful solvent. It seems to neutralize every intellectual element, however tough and alien it may be, and to fuse it in the native good will, complacency, thoughtlessness, and optimism."
-- George Santayana, Character and Opinion in the United States, (1920)

"If you should put even a little on a little, and should do this often, soon this too would become big."
-- Hesiod, Work And Days

"Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free."
-- Eugene V. Debs

"Reputation is what other people know about you. Honor is what you know about yourself."
-- Lois McMaster Bujold, A Civil Campaign

"All that we have to do is to send two mujahidin to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written "al-Qaida," in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic, and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note other than some benefits for their private companies."
-- Osama bin Laden

"Remember, Robin: evil is a pretty bad thing."
-- Batman


Gary Farber is now a licensed Quintuple Super-Sekrit Multi-dimensional Master Pundit. He does not always refer to himself in the third person.
He is presently single.

The gefilte fish is dead. Donate via the donation button on the top left or I'll shoot this cute panda. Don't you love pandas?

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Contents © 2001-2013 All rights reserved. Gary Farber. (The contents of e-mails to this email address of Gary Farber are subject to the possibility of being posted.)

And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself in another part of the world

[Blogroll now far below the sea line! Dive, dive, dive!]

You Like Me, You Really Like Me

Gary Farber! Jeez, the guy is practically a blogging legend, and I'm always surprised at the breadth of what he writes about.
-- PZ Meyers, Pharyngula

...Darn: I saw that Gary had commented on this thread, and thought: oh. my. god. Perfect storm. Unstoppable cannonball, immovable object. -- Hilzoy

...I think Gary Farber is a blogging god. -- P.Z. Myers, Pharyngula

...writer[s] I find myself checking out repeatedly when I'm in the mood to play follow-the-links. They're not all people I agree with all the time, or even most of the time, but I've found them all to be thoughtful writers, and that's the important thing, or should be.
-- Tom Tomorrow

‎"Gary Farber is a gentleman, a scholar and one of the gems of the blogosphere." -- Steve Hynd,

"Well argued, Gary. I hadn't seen anything that went into as much detail as I found in your blog." -- Gareth Porter

Gary Farber is your one-man internet as always, with posts on every article there is.
-- Fafnir

Guessing that Gary is ignorant of anything that has ever been written down is, in my experience, unwise.
Just saying.

-- Hilzoy

Gary Farber gets it right....
-- James Joyner, Outside The Beltway

Once again, an amazing and illuminating post.
-- Michael Bérubé, Crooked Timber

I read Amygdala...with regularity, as do all sensible websurfers.
-- Jim Henley, Unqualified Offerings

Okay, he is annoying, but he still posts a lot of good stuff.
-- Avedon Carol, The Sideshow

Amygdala - So much stuff it reminds Unqualified Offerings that UO sometimes thinks of Gary Farber as "the liberal Instapundit."
-- Jim Henley

...the thoughtful and highly intelligent Gary Farber... My first reaction was that I definitely need to appease Gary Farber of Amygdala, one of the geniuses of our age.
-- Brad deLong

Gary is a perceptive, intelligent, nice guy. Some of the stuff he comes up with is insightful, witty, and stimulating. And sometimes he manages to make me groan.
-- Charlie Stross

Gary Farber is a straight shooter.
-- John Cole, Balloon Juice

I bow before the shrillitudinousness of Gary Farber, who has been blogging like a fiend.
-- Ted Barlow, Crooked Timber

Favorite.... [...] ...all great stuff. [...] Gary Farber should never be without readers.
-- Ogged

I usually read you and Patrick several times a day, and I always get something from them. You've got great links, intellectually honest commentary, and a sense of humor. What's not to like?
-- Ted Barlow

One of my issues with many poli-blogs is the dickhead tone so many bloggers affect to express their sense of righteous indignation. Gary Farber's thoughtful leftie takes on the world stand in sharp contrast with the usual rhetorical bullying. Plus, he likes "Pogo," which clearly attests to his unassaultable good taste.

One of my favorites....
-- Matt Welch

-- Virginia Postrel

Amygdala continues to have smart commentary on an incredible diversity of interesting links....
-- Judith Weiss

Amygdala has more interesting obscure links to more fascinating stuff that any other blog I read.
-- Judith Weiss, Kesher Talk

Gary's stuff is always good.
-- Meryl Yourish

...the level-headed Amygdala blog....
-- Geitner Simmons

The only trouble with reading Amygdala is that it makes me feel like such a slacker. That Man Farber's a linking, posting, commenting machine, I tell you!
-- John Robinson, Sore Eyes

...the all-knowing Gary Farber....
-- Edward Winkleman, Obsidian Wings

Jaysus. I saw him do something like this before, on a thread about Israel. It was pretty brutal. It's like watching one of those old WWF wrestlers grab an opponent's face and grind away until the guy starts crying. I mean that in a nice & admiring way, you know.
-- Fontana Labs, Unfogged

We read you Gary Farber! We read you all the time! Its just that we are lazy with our blogroll. We are so very very lazy. We are always the last ones to the party but we always have snazzy bow ties.
-- Fafnir, Fafblog!

Gary Farber you are a genius of mad scientist proportions. I will bet there are like huge brains growin in jars all over your house.
-- Fafnir, Fafblog!

Gary Farber is the hardest working man in show blog business. He's like a young Gene Hackman blogging with his hair on fire, or something.
-- Belle Waring, John & Belle Have A Blog

Gary Farber only has two blogging modes: not at all, and 20 billion interesting posts a day [...] someone on the interweb whose opinions I can trust....
-- Belle Waring, John & Belle Have A Blog


Gary is certainly a non-idiotarian 'liberal'...
-- Perry deHaviland

Recommended for the discerning reader.
-- Tim Blair

Gary Farber's great Amygdala blog.
-- Dr. Frank

Isn't Gary a cracking blogger, apropos of nothing in particular?
-- Alison Scott

Gary Farber takes me to task, in a way befitting the gentleman he is.
-- Stephen Green, Vodkapundit

My friend Gary Farber at Amygdala is the sort of liberal for whom I happily give three cheers. [...] Damned incisive blogging....
-- Midwest Conservative Journal

If I ever start a paper, Clueless writes the foreign affairs column, Layne handles the city beat, Welch has the roving-reporter job, Tom Tomorrow runs the comic section (which carries Treacher, of course). MediaMinded runs the slots - that's the type of editor I want as the last line of defense. InstantMan runs the edit page - and you can forget about your Ivins and Wills and Friedmans and Teepens on the edit page - it's all Blair, VodkaP, C. Johnson, Aspara, Farber, Galt, and a dozen other worthies, with Justin 'I am smoking in such a provocative fashion' Raimondo tossed in for balance and comic relief.

Who wouldn't buy that paper? Who wouldn't want to read it? Who wouldn't climb over their mother to be in it?
-- James Lileks

I do appreciate your role and the role of Amygdala as a pioneering effort in the integration of fanwriters with social conscience into the larger blogosphere of social conscience.
-- Lenny Bailes

Every single post in that part of Amygdala visible on my screen is either funny or bracing or important. Is it always like this?
-- Natalie Solent

You nailed it... nice job."
-- James Lileks

Gary Farber is a principled liberal....
-- Bill Quick, The Daily Pundit

December 2001 January 2002 February 2002 March 2002 April 2002 May 2002 June 2002 July 2002 August 2002 September 2002 October 2002 November 2002 December 2002 January 2003 February 2003 March 2003 April 2003 May 2003 June 2003 July 2003 August 2003 September 2003 October 2003 November 2003 December 2003 January 2004 February 2004 March 2004 April 2004 May 2004 June 2004 July 2004 August 2004 September 2004 October 2004 November 2004 December 2004 January 2005 February 2005 March 2005 April 2005 May 2005 June 2005 July 2005 August 2005 September 2005 October 2005 November 2005 December 2005 January 2006 February 2006 March 2006 April 2006 May 2006 June 2006 July 2006 August 2006 September 2006 October 2006 November 2006 December 2006 January 2007 February 2007 March 2007 April 2007 May 2007 June 2007 July 2007 August 2007 September 2007 October 2007 November 2007 December 2007 January 2008 February 2008 March 2008 April 2008 May 2008 June 2008 July 2008 August 2008 September 2008 October 2008 November 2008 December 2008 January 2009 February 2009 March 2009 April 2009 May 2009 June 2009 July 2009 August 2009 September 2009 October 2009 November 2009 December 2009 January 2010 February 2010 March 2010 April 2010 May 2010 June 2010 July 2010 August 2010 September 2010 October 2010 November 2010 December 2010 January 2011 February 2011 March 2011 April 2011 May 2011 June 2011 August 2011 September 2011 October 2011 December 2011 January 2013

Blogroll is Always In Progress:

Roger Ailes
Alas, A Blog
The American Street
The Aristocrats
Avedon Carol
Between the Hammer and the Anvil
Lindsay Beyerstein
The Big Con
CantBlogTooBusy The Center for American Progress
Chase me Ladies, I'm in the Cavalry
Doghouse Riley
Kevin Drum
Fables of the Reconstruction
Gall and Gumption
Gin and Tacos
House of Substance
The Hunting of the Snark
If I Ran The Zoo
Lawyers, Guns & Money
Lotus: Surviving a Dark Time
Matters of Little Significance
Nancy Nall
Charlie Stross bastard.logic
Daniel Larison
American Conservative
American Footprints
Andrew Sullivan
Angry Bear
Balloon Juice
Beautiful Horizons
Bitch Ph.D.
Brad DeLong
Crooked Timber
Cunning Realist
Daily Kos
Debate Link
Democracy Arsenal
Edge of the American West
Ezra Klein
Glenn Greenwald 13th Floor
Hit & Run
Juan Cole
Kevin Drum
Lawyers, Guns and Money
List Project (Helping Iraqis who worked with us get out)
Marc Lynch
Mark Kleiman
Katha Pollit
Market Square
Matthew Yglesias
Megan McArdle
Metro Green
Pam's House Blend
Paul Krugman
Philosophy, et cetera
Radley Balko
Sadly, No!
Southern Appeal
Stephen Walt
Steve Clemons
Ta-Nehisi Coates
Taking It Outside
Talking Points Memo
The Poor Man
The Progressive Realist
The Sideshow
U.S. Intellectual History
Unqualified Offerings
Volokh Conspiracy
Washington Monthly
William Easterly
Newsrack Blog
Ortho Bob
The Poor Man
Prog Gold
Prose Before Hos
Ted Rall
The Raw Story
Elayne Riggs
Sadly, No!
Texas Liberal
Think Progress
3 Weird Sisters
Tristram Shandy
Washington Monthly
Ian Welsh
James Wolcott
World o' Crap
Matthew Yglesias
Buzz Machine
Daniel Larison
Rightwing Film Geek About Last Night
can we all just agree
Comics Curmudgeon
Dum Luk's
Glenn Kenny
Hoarder Museum Juanita Jean
Lance Mannion (Help Lance!
Last Words of the Executed
The Phil Nugent Experience
Postcards from Hell's Kitchen
Vanishing New York
a lovely promise
a web undone
alt hippo
american street
city of brass
danger west
fierce urgency of now
get fisa right
great concavity
happening here
impeach them!
kathryn cramer
notes from the basement
talking dog
uncertain principles
unqualified offerings
what do i know
crooked timber emptywheel
ezra klein
The F-Word
glenn greenwald
schneier on security
ta-nehisi coates
talking points memo
tiny revolution
Roz Kaveney
Dave Ettlin
Henry Jenkins' Confessions of an Aca-Fan
Kathryn Cramer
Monkeys In My Pants
Pagan Prattle
As I Please
Ken MacLeod
Arthur Hlavaty
Kevin Maroney
MK Kare
Jack Heneghan
Dave Langford
Onyx Lynx Atrios
Rittenhouse Review
Public Nuisance
Scoobie Davis
Nathan Newman
Echidne Of The Snakes
First Draft
Rising Hegemon
Cab Drollery (Help Diane!
Southern Beale
The Kenosha Kid
Culture of Truth
Talk Left
Black Ag=Q< Report
Drug WarRant
Nieman Watchdog
Open Left
Meet the Bloggers
Dispatch from the Trenches
Crooks and Liars
Campaign for America's Future
Iraq Today
Daily Kos
Lefty Directory
News Hounds
The Brad Blog
Informed Comment
UN Dispatch
War and Piece
Glenn Greenwald
Schneier on Security
Jim Henley
Arthur Silber
Julian Sanchez
The Agitator
Balloon Juice
Wendy McElroy
Whoviating (LarryE)
Scott Horton
Tennessee Guerilla Women
Looking Glass
Charles Kuffner
Brad DeLong
Busy, Busy, Busy
Oliver Willis
The Carpetbagger Report Shakesville
Down With Tyranny
Professor B
Monkey Media Report
The Grumpy Forester
Ian Welsh
Pacific Views
Booman Tribune
Matthew Yglesias
The American Street
Media Bloodhound
Liz Henry's Composite
The Heretik
Arizona Eclectic
Sisyphus Shrugged
Interesting Times
Talking Dog
Liberal Desert
Under the Lobsterscope
Seeing The Forest
Sean Paul Kelley's The Agonist
King of Zembla
Mark Kleiman
Liquid List
Elayne Riggs
No More Mr. Nice Blog
Fanatical Apathy
Blue Gal
Mark Evanier
Roger Ailes
Suburban Guerrilla (Help Susie with money!)
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People I've known and still miss include Isaac Asimov, rich brown, Charles Burbee, F. M. "Buzz" Busby, Terry Carr, A. Vincent Clarke, Bob Doyle, George Alec Effinger, Abi Frost, Bill & Sherry Fesselmeyer, George Flynn, John Milo "Mike" Ford. John Foyster, Mike Glicksohn, Jay Haldeman, Neith Hammond (Asenath Katrina Hammond)/DominEditrix , Chuch Harris, Mike Hinge, Lee Hoffman, Terry Hughes, Damon Knight, Ross Pavlac, Bruce Pelz, Elmer Perdue, Tom Perry, Larry Propp, Bill Rotsler, Art Saha, Bob Shaw, Martin Smith, Harry Stubbs, Bob Tucker, Harry Warner, Jr., Jack Williamson, Walter A. Willis, Susan Wood, Kate Worley, and Roger Zelazny. It's just a start, it only gets longer, many are unintentionally left out. And She of whom I must write someday.

Friday, October 30, 2009
EVERYBODY LOVES DEMONIC CANDY. I've been meaning to do a follow up on Afghanistan, along with so many other topics, as always, but now we catch up on the important news: crucial Halloween tip! Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network Warns Americans Of ‘Demonic’ Halloween Candy.

I'm pretty sure that's what caused The Most Inappropriate Halloween Costumes Possible.

Alternatively, maybe they were trying too hard to fill this job.

I assume they've taken this guy down by now.

Otherwise, this may happen: a relationship warning:

© 2002 Geek Culture.

Keep in mind you never know who might be reading you.

If only they kept an eye on these evil types: beware of Shire 419 letters.

If you don't, you may be subject to rage:

I'm sure this sort of music calmed him right down. More here.

I demand an end to the war on shortness, and this guy is on my side:

More pics at the link. I never did figure out the purpose of his nose, though.

We all have to take a new, more compassionate, look at the mutant problem. Could anyone hate Kitty?

I think not.

About this scene?

It probably won't be part of this project:

Okay, maybe you want to get away from such geeky genre stuff. Go fast this way:

With enough boost, you might get out here:

(Via John Robinson.)

It couldn't cost as much as a gallon of Tuscan whole milk.

But if travel tires you out, you might try your usual: Bowling. Drive around. The occasional acid flashback.

Anyone would want to get away from living in Nazi Soviet Muslim North Terrorist Korean MaoHitlerstan:

But if you don't want to live there, you should try filtering reality. Sound familiar?

Speaking of sounding familiar? This means war again!

Fortunately now we have Vader on our side.

And he's going to be enforcing our contracts for a very long time.

Does that thought drive you batty? Relax, it's not that bad: Fruit Bats Found to Practice Oral Sex.

Batman, of course, always said that criminals were a cowardly and superstitious sort, but his were rarely this stupid.

I hate to think of what awaits them, so I'm going to think of my new favorite video of all time.  Boom-day-atta-boom-day-atta-boom:

Yes, it's xkcd, the musical.

Via John Robinson. Based on this xkcd.

Read The Rest Scale: oh, yeah, all of them, baby.  Oh, and will Ursula K. Le Guin's A Pillow Book for Cats be her next Hugo Winner, Nebula Winner, or both?

Yes, do read the whole brief thing, if you at all like cats.

ADDENDUM, 4:32 a.m.: I forgot to sign my post:

Enjoy your demonic Halloween candy.

Via Bobbie Smith on Facebook: Make A Cylon Jack-O-Lantern:

Star Wars pumpkins.

10/30/2009 05:47:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009
LET'S BURN ALL THE BIBLES. Except for one. Whose idea is this? Amazing Grace Baptist Church's.
Pastor Marc Grizzard claims the King James version of the Bible is the only true word of God, and that all other versions are "satanic" and "perversions" of God's word.

On Halloween night, Grizzard and the 14 members of the Amazing Grace Baptist Church will set fire to other versions of the scripture, as well as music and books by Christian authors.

“We are burning books that we believe to be Satanic,” Pastor Grizzard said.

“I believe the King James version is God’s preserved, inspired, inerrant, infallible word of God… for English-speaking people."

All other religious or Christian texts are sacreligious, the pastor insists. The list of books being burned will include works written by "a lot of different authors who we consider heretics, such as Billy Graham, Rick Warren… the list goes on and on,” Pastor Grizzard said.

Also on the pastor's list of heretical authors — Mother Teresa, according to a full list that was previously available at the Amazing Grace Baptist Church's Web site. The Church's Web site — which is no longer available — calls the event 'Burning Perversions of God's Word,' and urges parishioners to "come celebrate Halloween by burning Satan's bibles." Calls to the Amazing Grace Church were not returned Thursday.
The website is gone, but not the Google cache.

And if anything is Satanic, it's their choices of color and web design. Green, yellow, and red, on burning flames? Jesus, indeed!

The event has not been cancelled, mind; it's now only:
This event is not open to the public. Only our members and those by special invitation from the pastor only. All others are tresspassing.
 Apparently God's work needs to be done in secret.

If some of this seems a tad incoherent, that's because it is.  But it's inspiring to know that they're burning Satan's music, such as country, and some oldies but goldies.

And I have no problem with Chuck Colson being denounced as a heretic.


I'm omitting the part where they give their phone number. 

But in case you had any doubts about what a fine thing this is: [...]

It goes on like this at some considerable length, quoting various biblical passages, and explaining that:
[...] Those writing perversions are not something new, it's an old trick of the devil.
One might almost get the idea the pastor, or his webmaster, feels a tad defensive, and needs to justify book-burning. 

And in case you find the page at all confusing, we're informed:
[...] Everything Satan and Eve said is in Black.

Everything God said is in RED.

Everything I say is in GREEN.
As I said: Satanic web design.

It does go on and on, and I'll spare you, but ya gotta love this part:


Again, he goes on and on.  One other bit, and I'll just quote, rather than keep up the screen shots:
[...] 5. Why don't you be more concerned with winning souls that wasting your time concerning the Bible?

It's not anyone's business but since so many concern individuals are asking here goes. We have a visitation time three times a week. Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturdays we go out into our community and share the Gospel with the lost. Since our church has started we have had eight souls saved from hell. Praise God.
Praise God.

But, wait, there's more!
[...] 6. Why are you celebrating Halloween?

We are not celebrating Halloween. We are making a statement against satan and what Halloween stands for. When most of the world will be dressing up, and giving out candy we will be burning satans perversions, music and books. Kind of like sticking it in his face, so to speak. While most churches see nothing wrong with Halloween we do. One church down the road from us is having what they call an "Eternity House," instead of a haunted house. I am assuming they are going to present hell in a negative way, and then present the plan of salvation. That is awesome. I believe this is a great idea. Some may ask, "why don't you do something similar to try to reach out to the community?" Which is a legitimate question. We do things that reach out to the community, and as stated above we do try to reach people with the gospel. Every event that any church does is not necessarily a "soul winning" event. This book burning is not to reach the lost, but to make a statement about our stand for the Word of God.
And finally:
[...] 7. Why don't you include all the emails instead of just the ones who support you?

Because I don't want to.
Okay, then.

Alas, for my evil, because I believe what I'm doing here is called damning someone with their own words. Oh, damn.

Read The Rest Scale: 3 hell yeah's out of 5. Hallelujah.

BONUS LINK, 8:35 p.m.: What kind of unholy creature could you create if you get a member of this church together with someone from the Ayn Rand dating service?

ADDENDUM, October 29th, 1:05 p.m.: Thanks, Crooks and Liars! Thanks, Avedon!

ADDENDUM, October 30th, 4:40 p.m.: Please send me your demonic candy.

10/28/2009 09:19:00 AM |permanent link | Main Page | | 12 comments

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A BAD CASE OF FICTIONAL AMNESIA. People do not, in fact, forget who they are in real cases of the various sorts of amnesia that exist. When people contract fictional amnesia, it's always a story made up for a reason.

SEATTLE - The girl New York police called "Jane Doe" first drained her bank account of more than 400 dollars before disappearing from Hanville on the Kitsap Pennisula according to a spokesperson for the Kitsap County sheriff's Department. Authorities identified the 18 year old as Kingston High School student Kacie Peterson.

The blonde-hair blue-eyed teen last showed up for class at Kingston High school on Wednesday September 30th according to Scott Wilson from the Kitsap Sheriff's Department. Two days later her family reported her missing.

On October 9th she showed up on the streets of New York City without knowing her name or where she was from.

"She was disoriented and the citizens had told uniformed officers that she was actually in the fetal position. The officer at that time obtained medical attention," said Christopher Zimmerman of the New York Police Dept.

The New York police released her photo and asked for nationwide assistance in identifying her. A CNN viewer from Maryland called in with a tip which led investigators to positively identify her.

According to investigators, after vanishing Peterson took cash from her bank account, spent money at a WalMart in Poulsbo, bought some items at a Thriftway in Kingston and then left her bike outside an Albertson's grocery store in Kingston. That is where the financial trail stopped.
Investigators say Peterson had a rocky relationship with her father over her academic performance. In June she moved from her father's house in Colville, in Eastern Washington. According to investigators the teen moved in with a friend of her now deceased mother. Peterson took off after learning her father was coming to visit says Wilson.

Peterson enrolled in couple of classes at Kingston High School but
school officials told authorities that she wasn't there long and didn't have many friends.

Peterson's father has been working with missing person's detectives.
This isn't the first time Peterson has suffered a case of amnesia.
That's "amnesia," with air quotes.
Her father told investigators in May she vanished. He later found her lying near a stream on his property. When she woke up at the hospital the dad told detectives she didn't remember her name or where she was from.

Authorities say family members are flying to New York City to reunite with Kacie.

Authorities still want to know how she ended up in New York City. Wilson says this is not a criminal matter.
I'm sure it wouldn't help Kacie Peterson or her family to press charges, but it seems perfectly clear that this was a run-of-the-mill runaway case, where either for some reason the police were amazingly gullible, or where they simply chose to play out her story to help get her identified.

Most missing teens don't get reported as missing persons, so those who sell a story can be problematic to identify. In this case, the girl went with what had worked before: why wouldn't it work again, in her view?

In real amnesia:
Global amnesia is a common motif in fiction despite being extraordinarily rare in reality. In the introduction to his anthology The Vintage Book of Amnesia, Jonathan Lethem writes:
Real, diagnosable amnesia – people getting knocked on the head and forgetting their names – is mostly just a rumor in the world. It's a rare condition, and usually a brief one. In books and movie, though, versions of amnesia lurk everywhere, from episodes of Mission Impossible to metafictional and absurdist masterpieces, with dozens of stops in between. Amnesiacs might not much exist, but amnesiac characters stumble everywhere through comic books, movies, and our dreams. We've all met them and been them.

Amnesia is so often used as a plot device in films, that a widely-recognized sterotypical dialogue has even developed around it, with the victim melodramatically asking "Where am I? Who am I? What am I?", or sometimes inquiring of his own name, "Bill? Who's Bill?"

In movies and television, particularly sitcoms and soap operas, it is often depicted that a second blow to the head, similar to the first one which caused the amnesia, will then cure it. In reality, however, repeat concussions may cause cumulative deficits including cognitive problems, and in extremely rare cases may even cause deadly swelling of the brain associated with second-impact syndrome.
Lethem's anthology sounds pretty good, by the way.

But as soon as I read claims such as this:
[...] The Administration for Children's Services, which is caring for the girl, said as far as psychologists can tell, her amnesia is genuine.
I thought: what a bunch of crap.

Stuff like this should have offered any reader with no prior medical knowledge a clue:
[...] Amnesia is a common device used in popular novels and in movies and television shows, but it usually occurs with the person's sense of identity intact, according to the Mayo Clinic, unlike the fictional device used.


She may also have been the victim of a severe concussion or have a heretofore undiagnosed (by those who know her now) neurological (perhaps degenerative) disorder that caused her to lose her identity. True amnesia presents with an individual having problems processing new memories or learning new information. ACS personnel say she is studying GED material and seems to not have a problem retaining the information, making her case even stranger.
Or, in other words: liar, liar, pants on fire.

You'd like to think that sf folks wouldn't be so gullible, either.

Read The Rest Scale: 2 out of 5.

10/28/2009 08:29:00 AM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

[Cross-posted at Obsidian Wings, as a guest post.]

On December 31, 2009, three provisions of "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT ACT) Act of 2001," aka the "PATRIOT Act" sunset and expire.

Bills to reauthorize or amend these three provisions have been moving through the Congressional Judiciary Committees in the past two months.

The three sections are:
Section 105(c)(2)(B) of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (50 U.S.C. 1805(c)(2)(B)) is amended by inserting 'or in circumstances where the Court finds that the actions of the target of the application may have the effect of thwarting the identification of a specified person, such other persons,' after 'specified person'.
This is also known as "the John Doe" provision.
Also known as the section dealing with "national security letters," by which:
The Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation or a designee of the Director (whose rank shall be no lower than Assistant Special Agent in Charge) may make an application for an order requiring the production of any tangible things (including books, records, papers, documents, and other items) for an investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities [....]
The third is:
What are these about, and why should we care?, you ask.

As the ACLU explains:
National Security Letters (NSLs). The FBI uses NSLs to compel internet service providers, libraries, banks, and credit reporting companies to turn over sensitive information about their customers and patrons. Using this data, the government can compile vast dossiers about innocent people. Government reports confirm that upwards of 50,000 of these secret record demands go out each year. In response to an ACLU lawsuit (Doe v. Holder), the Second Circuit Court of Appeal struck down as unconstitutional the part of the NSL law that gives the FBI the power to prohibit NSL recipients from telling anyone that the government has secretly requested customer Internet records.

Material Support Statute. This provision criminalizes providing "material support" to terrorists, defined as providing any tangible or intangible good, service or advice to a terrorist or designated group. As amended by the Patriot Act and other laws since September 11, this section criminalizes a wide array of activities, regardless of whether they actually or intentionally further terrorist goals or organizations. Federal courts have struck portions of the statute as unconstitutional and a number of cases have been dismissed or ended in mistrial.

FISA Amendments Act of 2008. This past summer, Congress passed a law to permit the government to conduct warrantless and suspicion-less dragnet collection of U.S. residents' international telephone calls and e-mails. This too must be amended to provide meaningful privacy protections and judicial oversight of the government's intrusive surveillance power.
How are NSLs abused?
Through NSLs the FBI can compile vast dossiers about innocent people and obtain sensitive information such as the web sites a person visits, a list of e-mail addresses with which a person has corresponded, or even unmask the identity of a person who has posted anonymous speech on a political website.

The provision also allows the FBI to forbid or "gag" anyone who receives an NSL from telling anyone about the record demand. Since the Patriot Act was authorized in 2001, further relaxing restrictions on the FBI's use of the power, the number of NSLs issued has seen an astronomical increase.

The Justice Department's Inspector General has reported that between 2003 and 2006, the FBI issued nearly 200,000 NSLs. The inspector General has also found serious FBI abuses of the NSL power.
Nearly three and a half years ago, I wrote:
[...] But first, here [link rotted] we see that 9,254 "national security letters" were unilaterally issued by the Administration (without warrants, as per the PATRIOT ACT) in 2005; lots more here.

Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) wiretaps/searches:

* Submitted 2,074 applications in 2005 to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for wiretapping and searches of spies and terrorists. (1,758 in 2004)
* 2 of those were withdrawn before the court ruled. One was modified and resubmitted and approved by the court). (3 withdrawn, 1 re-submitted 2004)
* 2,072 were approved by the secret FISA court, but 61 were substantially modified. (1754 approved, 94 modified in 2004)
And Section 215 Orders for Business Records:
* Submitted 155 applications for business records (and maybe tangible things, like that guy's iPod)
* None withdrawn by government
* FISA court approved all 155 but modified 2 substantially
FISA Court: clearly turning down too many warrants.
Sarcasm is more than called for when our liberty is at stake.

5 Myths About the Bush Administration's Use of National Security Letters.

We have no reason as yet to think the Obama Administration is doing better.

Julian Sanchez last week looked at an example from 2005 of very funny business with an NSL.

There have been two main bills introduced to "reform" the problems in these three sunsetting provisions of the "PATRIOT Act," as well as several other problematic aspects of both the "PATRIOT Act" and subsequent surveillance law revisions, including the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which you'll recall gave the telecoms immunity from lawsuits, and which Senator Obama voted for.

One is the Feingold bill, the so-called "JUSTICE Act":
U.S. Senators Russ Feingold (D-WI), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jon Tester (D-MT), Tom Udall (D-NM), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Daniel Akaka (D-HI) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) have introduced legislation to fix problems with surveillance laws that threaten the rights and liberties of American citizens. The Judicious Use of Surveillance Tools In Counterterrorism Efforts (JUSTICE) Act would reform the USA PATRIOT Act, the FISA Amendments Act and other surveillance authorities to protect Americans’ constitutional rights, while preserving the powers of our government to fight terrorism.

The JUSTICE Act reforms include more effective checks on government searches of Americans’ personal records, the “sneak and peek” search provision of the PATRIOT Act, “John Doe” roving wiretaps and other overbroad authorities. The bill will also reform the FISA Amendments Act, passed last year, by repealing the retroactive immunity provision, preventing “bulk collection” of the contents of Americans’ international communications, and prohibiting “reverse targeting” of innocent Americans. And the bill enables better oversight of the use of National Security Letters (NSLs) after the Department of Justice Inspector General issued reports detailing the misuse and abuse of the NSLs. The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on Wednesday, September 23rd, on reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act.
What would the "JUSTICE Act" have done? A lot and a little. A lot of good, and still only revising the "PATRIOT Act" very little, indeed.

Infuriatingly, but utterly unsurprisingly, the proposed minor changes of the "JUSTICE Act" are far too radical for the Obama Administration, and much of the the Congress, and so Senator Patrick Leahy, chair of the Senate Judicary Committee proposed yet far thinner soup: the "USA PATRIOT Act Sunset Extension Act of 2009."

Let's look at the "radical" proposed improvements of the Feingold, et al, "JUSTICE ACT":
[...] Title I – Reasonable Safeguards to Protect the Privacy of Americans’ Records

Sections 101-106 – National Security Letters

The bill rewrites the National Security Letter (NSL) statutes to ensure the FBI can obtain basic information without a court order, but also adds reasonable safeguards to ensure NSLs are only used to obtain records of people who have some connection to terrorism or espionage, and to provide meaningful, constitutionally sound judicial review of NSLs and associated gag orders.

Section 107 – Section 215 Orders

The bill would reauthorize the use of Section 215 business records orders under FISA, but with additional checks and balances to ensure these orders are only used to obtain records of people who have some connection to terrorism or espionage, and to provide meaningful, constitutionally sound judicial review of Section 215 orders and associated gag orders.
This is elementary stuff, these proposed Section NSL changes: National Security Letters shouldn't be used in mere criminal investigations.

Who would object to such a clarified restriction, which was supposed to be inherent in the first place? And who would object to judicial review, particularly of the unprecedented gag orders constraining telling anyone you've gotten an NSL letter?

Repeat: gag orders wouldn't be eliminated. The bill merely requires judicial review.

Next, "sneak and peek" searches, where the FBI or other agency breaks into your home or business, searches it, and leaves without you ever being informed, wouldn't be eliminated -- such searches would remain perfectly legal! -- but they'd be restricted to terrorism investigations.
[...] Section 201 – “Sneak & Peek” Searches

The bill would retain the Patriot Act’s authorization of “sneak and peek” criminal searches but eliminate the overbroad catch-all provision that allows these secret searches in virtually any criminal case. It would shorten the presumptive time limits for notification, and create a statutory exclusionary rule.
Is this objectionable to any reader? Or should we just do away with the Fourth Amendment entirely?

The Feingold "JUSTICE Act" would have made a number of small changes in the FISA law: too many to list here, but one of the more significant would have been:
[...] Section 301 – FISA Roving Wiretaps

The bill would reauthorize roving FISA wiretaps, but eliminate the possibility of “John Doe” roving wiretaps that identify neither the person nor the phone to be wiretapped. It would require agents to ascertain the presence of the target of a roving wiretap before beginning surveillance.
Julian Sanchez did a fine job of explaining Why Congress should not renew the PATRIOT Act's "lone wolf" provision.
[...] The extraordinary tools available to investigators under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), passed over 30 years ago in response to revelations of endemic executive abuse of spying powers, were originally designed to cover only "agents of foreign powers." The PATRIOT Act's "lone wolf" provision severed that necessary link for the first time, authorizing FISA spying within the United States on any "non-U.S. person" who "engages in international terrorism or activities in preparation therefor," and allowing the statute's definition of an "agent of a foreign power" to apply to suspects who, well, aren't. Justice Department officials say they've never used that power, but they'd like to keep it the arsenal just in case.

As with so many of the post-9/11 intelligence reforms, the lone wolf provision has its genesis in the misguided assumption that every intelligence failure is evidence that investigators need more power.


Courts have generally been extraordinarily deferential to the executive in the realm of foreign intelligence, and have suggested that the Fourth Amendment's protections against warrantless searches apply only weakly, if at all, in this context. But when it comes to domestic national security investigations, a unanimous Supreme Court has ruled that the usual restrictions remain largely intact. The court clearly saw the involvement of a "foreign power" as providing the distinction between the world of the criminal law's Fourth Amendment protections and the hazy arena where the executive enjoys far greater latitude. The "lone wolf" provision recklessly blurs that line, defying the common sense meaning of an "agent of a foreign power," and giving investigations that belong in the first world a dubious statutory foothold in the second.


Justice Department officials have suggested that the definition would cover a suspect who "self-radicalizes by means of information and training provided by a variety of international terrorist groups via the Internet," making a Web browser the distinction between a domestic threat and an international one. Activities "in preparation" for terrorism, according to the legislative history, may include the provision of "personnel, training, funding, or other means" for an attack.

While it's difficult to be an unwitting "member" of a terror group, nothing in the law requires that the contribution a lone wolf makes to terror activities be a knowing one. And while definitions of an "agent of a foreign power" applicable to citizens explicitly prohibit investigations conducted wholly on the basis of protected First Amendment activities, PATRIOT appears to permit "lone wolves" to be targeted merely on the basis of advocacy. Finally, while the criminal law requires "preparation" for terrorism to include a "substantial step" in the direction of carrying out an attack, the Justice Department has suggested that FISA's definition does not. Thus, not only may lone wolf suspects be monitored despite the absence of ties to a terror group, they may not even need to be engaged in criminal conduct.
So if you or anyone you have contact with "advocate" anything the FBI or another agency finds suspicious, hey, that's enough to get not just you wiretapped, but roving wiretaps instituted that need not identify you specifically, nor any specific phone, but if you happen to use one of those phones, or have any contact at all with anyone engaged in such suspicious advocacy, well, prepare for government agents enjoying all your "private" communications.

Sanchez further explains the abuses, and why the law, as per the "JUSTICE Act," should be curtailed. Among other aspects:
[...] Yet on the basis of such claims, a panicked Congress signed off on almost limitless authority to vacuum up international communications — authority that we already know has resulted in systematic "overcollection" of purely domestic conversations, and even resulted in the interception of former President Bill Clinton's e-mails.

In theory, the purpose of building "sunset" provisions into these new powers was to allow — indeed, to force — Congress to consider what changes might be needed in the event of such misuse. Given the incredible secrecy of intelligence investigations, this would be a dubious check even under ideal circumstances. But what's truly astonishing is that even known abuses don't seem to have given legislators second thoughts about resisting administration demands.

Among the reforms in Feingold's JUSTICE Act was a measure requiring targets of "roving" wiretaps to be identified, as is required under criminal wiretap statutes, rather than merely described. Unlike criminal taps, FISA eavesdropping tends to be extraordinarily broad, with any innocent communications picked up "minimized" later. Yet "minimization," the legal procedures meant to protect the privacy of innocent Americans when their communications are swept up in a FISA wiretap, does not mean deletion. In a 2003 case, US v. Sattar, prosecutors submitted 5,175 recordings made under FISA that had not been "minimized." Yet, faced with disclosure obligations at trial, it turned out that they were able to produce a far greater volume of recordings: more than 85,000 audio files.

Given that breadth, the risks inherent in "John Doe" warrants, which neither name a specific phone line or Internet account in advance nor identify a target, are obvious. Indeed, a 2005 Inspector General report on the FBI's translation backlogs revealed that among the eighty-seven years' worth of foreign language material recorded FISA in 2004 alone — a tiny fraction of what the NSA collects — there were an undisclosed number of "collections of materials from the wrong sources due to technical
Sanchez explains even further.
[...] Suppose, for instance, that a FISA warrant is issued for me, but investigators have somehow been unable to learn my identity. Among the data they have obtained for their description, however, are a photograph, a voiceprint from a recording of my phone conversation with a previous target, and the fact that I work at the Cato Institute. Now, this is surely sufficient to pick me out specifically for the purposes of a warrant initially meant for telephone or oral surveillance. The voiceprint can be used to pluck all and only my conversations from the calls on Cato’s lines. But a description sufficient to specify a unique target in that context may not be sufficient in the context of, say, Internet surveillance, as certain elements of the description become irrelevant, and the remaining threaten to cover a much larger pool of people. Alternatively, if someone has a very unusual regional dialect, that may be sufficiently specific to pinpoint their voice in one location or community using a looser matching algorithm (perhaps because there is no actual recording, or it is brief or of low quality), but insufficient if they travel to another location where many more people have similar accents.


We also know that individuals can often be uniquely identified by their pattern of social or communicative connections. For instance, researchers have found that they can take a completely anonymized “graph” of the social connections on a site like Facebook—basically giving everyone a name instead of a number, but preserving the pattern of who is friends with whom—and then use that graph to relink the numbers to names using the data of a different but overlapping social network like Flickr or Twitter. We know the same can be (and is) done with calling records—since in a sense your phone bill is a picture of another kind of social network. Using such methods of pattern analysis, investigators might determine when a new “burner” phone is being used by the same person they’d previously been targeting at another number, even if most or all of his contacts have alsoswitched phone numbers. Since, recall, the “person” who is the “target” of FISA surveillance may be a “group” or other “entity,” and since I don’t think Al Qaeda issues membership cards, the “description” of the target might consist of a pattern of connections thought to reliably distinguish those who are part of the group from those who merely have some casual link to another member.
[...] FISA wiretaps are covert; the targets typically will never learn that they occurred. FISA judges and legislators may be informed, at least in a summary way, about what surveillance was undertaken and what targeting methods were used, but especially if those methods are of the technologically sophisticated type I alluded to above, they are likely to have little choice but to defer to investigators on questions of their accuracy and specificity. Even assuming total honesty by the investigators, judges may not think to question whether a method of pattern analysis that is precise and accurate when applied (say) within a single city or metro area will be as precise at the national level, or whether, given changing social behavior, a method that was precise last year will also be precise next year. Does it matter if an Internet service initially used by a few thousands—including, perhaps, surveillance targets—comes to be embraced by millions?


What is absolutely essential to take away from this, though, is that these loose and lazy analogies to roving wiretaps in criminal investigations are utterly unhelpful in thinking about the specific problems of roving FISA surveillance.
This cries out for reform.

And, of course, all the info goes here, as James Bamford updates:
On a remote edge of Utah's dry and arid high desert, where temperatures often zoom past 100 degrees, hard-hatted construction workers with top-secret clearances are preparing to build what may become America's equivalent of Jorge Luis Borges's "Library of Babel," a place where the collection of information is both infinite and at the same time monstrous, where the entire world's knowledge is stored, but not a single word is understood. At a million square feet, the mammoth $2 billion structure will be one-third larger than the US Capitol and will use the same amount of energy as every house in Salt Lake City combined.

Unlike Borges's "labyrinth of letters," this library expects few visitors. It's being built by the ultra-secret National Security Agency—which is primarily responsible for "signals intelligence," the collection and analysis of various forms of communication—to house trillions of phone calls, e-mail messages, and data trails: Web searches, parking receipts, bookstore visits, and other digital "pocket litter." Lacking adequate space and power at its city-sized Fort Meade, Maryland, headquarters, the NSA is also completing work on another data archive, this one in San Antonio, Texas, which will be nearly the size of the Alamodome.

Just how much information will be stored in these windowless cybertemples? A clue comes from a recent report prepared by the MITRE Corporation, a Pentagon think tank. "As the sensors associated with the various surveillance missions improve," says the report, referring to a variety of technical collection methods, "the data volumes are increasing with a projection that sensor data volume could potentially increase to the level of Yottabytes (1024 Bytes) by 2015."[1] Roughly equal to about a septillion (1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) pages of text, numbers beyond Yottabytes haven't yet been named. Once vacuumed up and stored in these near-infinite "libraries," the data are then analyzed by powerful infoweapons, supercomputers running complex algorithmic programs, to determine who among us may be—or may one day become—a terrorist. In the NSA's world of automated surveillance on steroids, every bit has a history and every keystroke tells a story.
Then there's the issue of "sneak and peek."
[...] The “sneak and peek” provision of the USA PATRIOT Act was used 1291 times in Fiscal Year 2008. Of those, it was used five times for “Terrorism” purposes. So, .0038% of the time, the “sneak and peek” provision was used to combat terrorism; which was, of course, the Act's original purpose. On the other end of the spectrum, it was used 843 times (65% of the time) for “drug offenses”. Clearly, this is a blatant violation of any interpretation of the Fourth Amendment, except where it's superseded by the USA PATRIOT Act.
See the full study done by the Administrative Office of United States Courts in July 2009 for details.

The last issues I'll cover regarding the proposed revisions the "JUSTICE Act" would have made are these two highly important changes:
[...] Section 501 – Domestic Terrorism

The Patriot Act’s overbroad definition of domestic terrorism could cover acts of civil disobedience by political organizations. The bill would limit the qualifying offenses for domestic terrorism to those that constitute a federal crime of terrorism.

Section 502 – Material Support

The bill would amend the overly broad criminal definition of material support for terrorism by specifying that a person must know or intend the support provided will be used for terrorist activity.
What crazy ideas are these?!

Again: the "PATRIOT Act" is supposed to be used to fight terrorism. It's not supposed to provide a grab bag of tools to be used against any criminal or every person.

Should this be controversial? Can anyone concerned with fighting terrorism explain the problem with these amendments?

But what we're apparently going to get is some version, as combined with the forthcoming House bill, of S. 1692: USA PATRIOT Act Sunset Extension Act of 2009.

Compare the two bills and current law. It's a very simple chart.

What's wrong with Leahy's "Sunset Extension Act" (supported by the White House)?
[... The] bill, introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chair of the committee, passed with bipartisan support but has been denounced by civil liberties groups and privacy advocates.


Critics of the Leahy bill assert that the legislation does little to address the well known civil liberties concerns and extends sweeping law enforcement surveillance powers with little to no safeguards. For instance, as passed out of committee, the bill renews the roving "John Doe" wiretap authority that allows the federal government to obtain a wiretap order without the requirement to name the target or specify the phone lines and e-mail accounts to be monitored. Further, it offers little or no reform of other controversial Patriot Act provisions.

Reform of National Security Letters (NSLs) was also limited in the legislation. NSLs are used by the Justice Department like subpoenas to seek information from companies, such as Internet service providers and phone companies, about their subscribers. The Feingold-Durbin bill had included increased standards for NSL issuance, limitations on the types of information that can be obtained by NSLs, limitations on non-disclosure orders for NSLs, and limits on emergency use of NSLs. The Leahy bill only requires that the government draft an internal statement showing that the information sought is somehow relevant to an investigation. Conversely, the Feingold-Durbin standard would require discussion of specific facts, a much more rigorous standard. However, the committee noted that the Obama administration supports a relevance standard like that found in the Leahy bill.


Some of the provisions to protect civil liberties that the administration opposed, such as the restrictions on NSLs, were proposals that Obama had supported as a senator. In particular, Obama had supported the SAFE Act (S. 737) in 2005 that attempted to reform Section 215 orders that require anyone to produce tangible records relevant to an investigation to protect against international terrorism, including business records. The SAFE Act had been unanimously reported by a Republican-controlled committee and included the requirement of a link between records sought and a terrorist or other agent of a foreign power. Durbin proposed an amendment to the Leahy bill that would have added this standard, but it was voted down due to the administration’s opposition.

Some committee members reacted negatively to the committee vote to accept the Leahy bill for Senate debate. Feingold expressed his disappointment in the final version of the bill. Feingold likened the Senate Judiciary Committee to a "Prosecutor’s Committee" and stated that the bill "falls well short of what the Congress must do to correct the problems with the Patriot Act." This position was echoed by some advocates, including Leslie Harris, president of the Center for Democracy and Technology, who proclaimed that "the opportunity for real reform will not come again anytime soon. Congress needs to do the right thing, even if Obama will not."

Some minor reforms were included the final Leahy bill. The bill included reforms for "sneak and peek" searches and requires the executive branch to issue procedures to minimize the use of NSLs. However, these changes were not enough to garner the support of Feingold or many of the civil liberties groups following the legislation.
Meanwhile, the press coverage of all this has generally stunk or been next to nonexistent.

Fox News and the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal have done what you'd expect, of course, including the latter publishing a misleading op-ed by former Bush attorney general Michael Mukasey.

The New York Times has barely reported on any of this, with one adequate editorial on October 8th, and a foreshadowing article back on September 19th.

Marcy Wheeler has been doing 10,000 times better coverage at Emptywheel.

And now the battle goes to the House where House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.), Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties Subcommittee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), and Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security Subcommittee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Va.) yesterday introduced the USA Patriot Amendments Act of 2009.

It's pretty much the same as the Feingold, et al, "JUSTICE ACT."

The rest is covered in H.R. 3846, FISA Amendments Act of 2009.

Conyers has also introduced further attempts at reform and oversight including "The Department of Justice Inspector General Authority Improvement Act of 2009," which would:
[...] authorize the Department of Justice Inspector General to investigate attorney misconduct within the Department of Justice. Under current law, all allegations of wrongdoing by the Department of Justice attorneys are required to be investigated by the by the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility, rather than the Inspector General. In contrast with the statutorily independent Inspector General, the Office of Professional Responsibility is supervised by the Attorney General.

This limitation on authority does not exist for any other agency Inspector General. The Department of Justice Inspector General Authority Improvement Act of 2009 will make the authority of the Department of Justice Inspector General consistent with that of all other agencies and will prevent future abuses and politicization within the Department.
And the "The Inspector General Authority Improvement Act of 2009," which would:
[...] provide the Inspectors General of the various agencies the authority to issue subpoenas for the testimony of former employees or contractors as part of certain investigations. Under current law, a critical witness can avoid being interviewed by an Inspector General, and thus seriously impede an investigation, by simply resigning from the agency.
These loopholes badly need to be closed.

Now you know what to write and call your Representative about.

Before I finish this post, although it's digressive, in the spirit of Hilzoy and Katherine R., I'd like to at least mention that the Supreme Court on Tuesday:
[...] agreed to decide whether federal courts have the power to order prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay to be released into the United States.
And that You Can't Trust A Tortured Brain: Neuroscience Discredits Coercive Interrogation.

Yesterday, at the UN:
The U.N.'s top investigator on torture and punishment called Tuesday for a new U.N. convention to protect the rights of detainees, saying many are held for years and sometimes for a lifetime in inhuman and degrading conditions.
In Canada:
The Conservative government faced new questions yesterday about what it knew about the alleged torture of Afghan prisoners after opposition parties pounced on an explosive new book by the former head of the Canadian Forces, Rick Hillier.

After published allegations of torture surfaced in 2007, Conservative ministers denied they had any previous knowledge of problems with the transfer of detainees. But Hillier now suggests he was aware of allegations possibly as early as 2006. He writes that he also warned officials in Ottawa that prisoner transfers would stop in the fall of 2007 unless inspectors visited Afghan jail continuously.
And you may have noticed that a few days ago in Britain, High Court Approves Releasing U.S. Intelligence Documents on Torture.

Finally, in a ludicrously minor step, Senate allows more transfers of detainees to U.S. for trial. Yes, they concluded that it's actually possible detainees won't use their magical al Qaeda Mr. Miracle super escape powers. Woo and hoo.

It's not all bad news, if you look at the trivial: Amherst, MA, has volunteered to take two Guantanamo prisoners. Standish, Michigan, however, is wavering.

But at least not all elected Americans are crazy, even though most of the national Republicans, and too many of the national Democrats, are.

Finally, on a much-needed lighter note -- sort of -- Q&A: Our Threatiest Threat.

Now, go call, write, and visit your Representatives about the bills above. Do it today, tomorrow, or the rest of this week.

Do it for America.

Do it because it's right.

10/21/2009 09:57:00 AM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Cross-posted as a guest blog posts at Obsidian Wings, in two parts.

On Friday night's PBS Newshour, Tom Bearden gave the following report from Fort Carson: 

 (Audio-only, if you have bandwidth issues.  Click the above link for a transcript.)

I was struck cold.

I've been to that chapel.

I've seen the upended rifle with the soldier's own helmet atop it, and boots beside it.

I've been there for the chilling sound and sight of the honor guards' rifle-shot salute.

I've listened to the bagpipes, and seen the faces of the family and friends, just as we see and hear in this video.

Then it was one soldier's boots and rifle. 

On Friday, it was six at once.

This is the cost of our Long War in Afghanistan.

This is the price our families, and sons and daughters, and parents, are paying.

It's been eight years and a week since American forces began combat in Afghanistan.

Come Februrary of 2010, we'll have been fighting in Afghanistan longer than we fought the American revolutionary war (April, 1775 to September, 1783 = 100 months). 

(That's by the longest possible measure: the last actual major British land offensive ended in October of 1781, when Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown; the war formally ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris on on September 8, 1783.)

The date on which America "began" fighting the Vietnam War is an entirely debatable question, but for argument's sake, let's go with the commencement of U.S. air strikes on North Vietnam with Operation Flaming Dart on February 7, 1965, and major U.S. bombing of North Vietnam in Operation Rolling Thunder on March 2nd, 1965.  The deployment of the 18th Tactical Fighter Wing to Da Nang for Flaming Dart led to the almost immediate deployment, on March 8th, 1965, of a Marine brigade (3,500 troops) to protect U.S. air bases in South Vietnam from ground attack.

By April of 1965, the U.S. had 60,000 ground troops in South Vietnam.

On June 27, 1965, the U.S. launched a major ground offensive against the National Liberation Front.

By December of 1965 the U.S. had 200,000 ground troops in South Vietnam. 

On January 27, 1973, the U.S. signed a cease fire, and by March 1973, all U.S. combat operations troops had left Vietnam.  America's war in Vietnam was effectively over by them, although the final collapse of South Vietnam's corrupt shell of a government didn't take place until April 30, 1975, the same date the last U.S. personnel fled Vietnam, and the last two American soldiers, Marines, died under hostile fire in Vietnam. 

It was a war of eight to ten years.

And as matters presently stand, America looks sure to have a longer war in Afghanistan, our longest war evah, if not as of now, our ninth year of war in Afghanistan, but within, at most, a year or two from now.

So, as a former mayor of New York City used to ask: how are we doing?

The unanimous opinion is: we're deep in a bloody hole. 

As Dexter Filkins writes in Sunday's long profile of Afghanistan commander Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal: 

[...] Success takes time, but how much time does Stanley McChrystal have? The war in Afghanistan is now in its ninth year. The Taliban, measured by the number of their attacks, are stronger than at any time since the Americans toppled their government at the end of 2001. American soldiers and Marines are dying at a faster rate than ever before. Polls in the United States show that opposition to the war is growing steadily.

Worse yet, for all of America’s time in Afghanistan — for all the money and all the blood — the lack of accomplishment is manifest wherever you go. In Garmsir, there is nothing remotely resembling a modern state that could take over if America and its NATO allies left. Tour the country with a general, and you will see very quickly how vast and forbidding this country is and how paltry the effort has been.

And finally, there is the government in Kabul. President Hamid Karzai, once the darling of the West, rose to the top of nationwide elections in August on what appears to be a tide of fraud. The Americans and their NATO allies are confronting the possibility that the government they are supporting, building and defending is a rotten shell. 

And that's the crucial problem: no foreign power can win a counter-insurgency war on behalf of a government not widely regarded as legitimate, relatively uncorrupt, and able to provide security for its own people. That was always the problem with Vietnam: wars are, in the end, as Carl von Clausewitz said, "merely a continuation of politics" ("Der Krieg ist eine bloße Fortsetzung der Politik mit anderen Mitteln"), and if you can't win politically, all the military battles you win are irrelevant. 

The classic exchange:

The late Colonel Harry Summers liked to tell a tale familiar to many who served in Vietnam. In April 1975, after the war was over, the colonel was in a delegation dispatched to Hanoi. In the airport, he got into a conversation with a North Vietnamese colonel named Tu who spoke some English and, as soldiers do, they began to talk shop. After a while, Colonel Summers said: "You know, you never defeated us on the battlefield." Colonel Tu thought about that for a minute, then replied: "That may be so. But it is also irrelevant."

Can the government in Kabul become one that most Afghans regard as legitimate? 

That is the antepenultimate question, rather than which military forces or strategy should be used. 

The penultimate question is: if so, can we help the government in Kabul become that legitimate government?

The ultimate question for America and NATO is: if so, how high a price is too high a price for us to pay to help the government in Kabul become that legitimate government?

Thomas H. Johnson, of the Department of National Security Affairs and director of the Program for Culture and Conflict Studies at the Naval Postgraduate School and retired Foreign Service officer M. Chris Mason think not: 

[...] Meanwhile the political failure in Kabul is Saigon déjà vu. A government that is seen as legitimate by 85 or 90 percent of the population is considered the sine qua non of success by counterinsurgency experts. After the Diem coup, this was never possible in Vietnam, as one incompetent and utterly corrupt government succeeded another. None was legitimate in the eyes of the people. Contemporary descriptions of the various Saigon governments read almost exactly like descriptions of the Karzai government today. Notwithstanding all the fanfare over this week's presidential voting in Afghanistan, the Kabul government will never be legitimate either, because democracy is not a source of legitimacy of governance in Afghanistan and it never has been. Legitimacy in Afghanistan over the last thousand years has come exclusively from dynastic and religious sources. The fatal blunder of the United States in eliminating a ceremonial Afghan monarchy was Afghanistan's Diem Coup: afterwards, there was little possibility of establishing a legitimate, secular national government.

It doesn't matter who wins the August elections for president in Afghanistan: he will be illegitimate because he is elected. We have apparently learned nothing from Vietnam.

Elizabeth Bumiller also reminds us that Afghanistan has not always been riven, when there was a monarchy seen as legitimate by many Afghans:

[...] American and Afghan scholars and diplomats say it is worth recalling four decades in the country’s recent history, from the 1930s to the 1970s, when there was a semblance of a national government and Kabul was known as “the Paris of Central Asia.”

Afghans and Americans alike describe the country in those days as a poor nation, but one that built national roads, stood up an army and defended its borders. As a monarchy and then a constitutional monarchy, there was relative stability and by the 1960s a brief era of modernity and democratic reform. Afghan women not only attended Kabul University, they did so in miniskirts. Visitors — tourists, hippies, Indians, Pakistanis, adventurers — were stunned by the beauty of the city’s gardens and the snow-capped mountains that surround the capital.

“I lived in Afghanistan when it was very governable, from 1964 to 1974,” said Thomas E. Gouttierre, director of the Center for Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska, Omaha, who met recently in Kabul with Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan. Mr. Gouttierre, who spent his decade in the country as a Peace Corps volunteer, a Fulbright scholar and the national basketball team’s coach, said, “I’ve always thought it was one of the most beautiful places in the world.”

Afghans today say that the view of their country as an ungovernable “graveyard of empires” is condescending and uninformed. “Unfortunately, we have a lot of overnight experts on Afghanistan right now,” said Said Tayeb Jawad, the Afghan ambassador to Washington. “You turn to any TV channel and they are experts on Afghan ethnicities, tribal issues and history without having been to Afghanistan or read one or two books.”

“Afghanistan,” Mr. Jawad asserted, “is less tribal than New York.”

Perhaps so, but NYC remains unlike this.

Still, it's worth keeping in mind that Afghanistan has been relatively governable in living memory:

[...] “There was definitely what was developing to be a newer tradition of a more open society and trained people” in those earlier years, said Paula Newberg, director of Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, who was an adviser to President Hamid Karzai’s government in Afghanistan from 2002 to 2004.

But, setting aside the question of elections, is it realistic to somehow reconstruct a legitimate -- as seen by most Afghans -- government in Kabul? 

Among the issues to consider:
a) Corruption, corruption, corruption.
b) Tribalism.
c) Religious legitimacy. 
d) Ability to provide security.

Matthew Yglesias is surprisingly dismissive of the corruption issue. 

The justly much maligned Tom Friedman is here the clock that's right twice a day:

[...] For my money, though, I wish there was less talk today about how many more troops to send and more focus on what kind of Afghan government we have as our partner.

Because when you are mounting a counterinsurgency campaign, the local government is the critical bridge between your troops and your goals. If that government is rotten, your whole enterprise is doomed.

Independent election monitors suggest that as many as one-third of votes cast in the Aug. 20 election are tainted and that President Hamid Karzai apparently engaged in massive fraud to come out on top. Yet, he is supposed to be the bridge between our troop surge and our goal of a stable Afghanistan. No way.

I understand the huge stakes in stabilizing Afghanistan and Pakistan. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, our top commander there who is asking for thousands more troops, is not wrong when he says a lot of bad things would flow from losing Afghanistan to the Taliban. But I keep asking myself: How do we succeed with such a tainted government as our partner?

I know that Jefferson was not on the ballot. But there is a huge difference between “good enough” and dysfunctional and corrupt. Whatever we may think, there are way too many Afghans who think our partner, Karzai and his team, are downright awful.

That is why it is not enough for us to simply dispatch more troops. If we are going to make a renewed commitment in Afghanistan, we have to visibly display to the Afghan people that we expect a different kind of governance from Karzai, or whoever rules, and refuse to proceed without it. It doesn’t have to be Switzerland, but it does have to be good enough — that is, a government Afghans are willing to live under. Without that, more troops will only delay a defeat.

I am not sure Washington fully understands just how much the Taliban-led insurgency is increasingly an insurrection against the behavior of the Karzai government — not against the religion or civilization of its international partners. And too many Afghan people now blame us for installing and maintaining this government.


Talking to Afghanistan experts in Kabul, Washington and Berlin, a picture is emerging: The Karzai government has a lot in common with a Mafia family. Where a “normal” government raises revenues from the people — in the form of taxes — and then disperses them to its local and regional institutions in the form of budgetary allocations or patronage, this Afghan government operates in the reverse. The money flows upward from the countryside in the form of payments for offices purchased or “gifts” from cronies.

What flows from Kabul, the experts say, is permission for unfettered extraction, protection in case of prosecution and punishment in case the official opposes the system or gets out of line. In “Karzai World,” it appears, slots are either sold (to people who buy them in order to make a profit) or granted to cronies, or are given away to buy off rivals.

Friedman reverts to his more normal-in-recent-decades state of uttering a caution that's almost impossible to fulfil:

We have to be very careful that we are not seen as the enforcers for this system.

How to do this? Friedman's answer amounts to either invoking vague magic, or leaving:

[...] I would not add a single soldier there before this guy, if he does win the presidency, takes visible steps to clean up his government in ways that would be respected by the Afghan people.

If Karzai says no, then there is only one answer: “You’re on your own, pal. Have a nice life with the Taliban. We can’t and will not put more American blood and treasure behind a government that behaves like a Mafia family. If you don’t think we will leave — watch this.” (Cue the helicopters.)

How we can make take such "visible steps to clean up his government" is utterly unclear to me.  We can't do this for Hamid Karzai without making him even more of a puppet than he is, and if American and NATO are seen as controlling the Kabul government -- as we already effectively are by many Afghans, and rightly so -- we're certainly not creating a legitimate government of and by Afghans.  

Matt Yglesias, commenting on Friedman, dismisses the corruption issue, saying:

[...] This kind of seems like so much pious myth-making to me.  I went and looked up the most corrupt countries on earth at Transparency International and added Switzerland (since Kevin mentioned it) and Denmark (the actual least-corrupt country) for comparison’s sake [....]

Matt reproduces the chart, and concludes:

Afghanistan, as you can see, is pretty corrupt. That said, it’s not really far out of line with local norms. Sundry other central Asian states join it at the bottom of the barrel. And while it’s true that some of the most corrupt countries are anarchic failed states, the examples of Myanmar and Turkmenistan clearly indicate that establishing effective control over your territory doesn’t at all require you to develop good governance or be respected by the people.

What's strangely lacking here is that Matt fails to note such critical differences as that none of these countries is in the throes of a full-stage civil war, none of these countries lacks control over most of their countryside, none of these countries has warlords with sway over much of their countryside, none of these countries have governments seen as puppets of a foreign power, and neither is NATO and the U.S. remotely willing to engage in the brutality Myanmar and Turkmenistan are, brutal as the war we are waging can be. 

I'm going to forgo giving examples of just how corrupt the Kabul government, and the warlords it has nominally put in charge of many provinces, are -- let's take that as read, shall we?  Afghanistan, both in its Kabul government, and its rural warlords, is unbelievably corrupt.

David Kilcullen recognizes the problem:

Counterinsurgency is only as good as the government it supports. NATO could do everything right — it isn’t — but will still fail unless Afghans trust their government. Without essential reform, merely making the government more efficient or extending its reach will just make things worse. 

Absolutely right.  His solution, though?

Only a legitimately elected Afghan president can enact reforms, so at the very least we need to see a genuine run-off election or an emergency national council, called a loya jirga, before winter. Once a legitimate president emerges, we need to see immediate action from him on a publicly announced reform program, developed in consultation with Afghan society and enforced by international monitors. Reforms should include firing human rights abusers and drug traffickers, establishing an independent authority to investigate citizen complaints and requiring officials to live in the districts they are responsible for (fewer than half do).

Other steps might include a census and district-level elections (promised since 2001, but never held), fair and effective taxation to replace kickbacks and extortion, increased pay to diligent local officials, the transfer of more budgetary authority to the provinces and the creation of local courts for dispute resolution.

If we see no genuine progress on such steps toward government responsibility, the United States should “Afghanize,” draw down troops and prepare to mitigate the inevitable humanitarian disaster that will come when the Kabul government falls to the Taliban — which, in the absence of reform, it eventually and deservedly will.

However, most of these proposal seem to me like airy dreams; on the other hand, an inevitable fall of Kabul to the Taliban seems to me not at all the inevitable sole alternative.  A long continued stalemate remains, in my view, highly possible.  But I'll get to possible outcomes, as well as proposed policies, in Part II.

But should the U.S. pay for an indefinite stalemate?  Consider the numbers:

[...] National Security Adviser Jones had to hit the talk show circuit to state that Kabul is not falling, that the Taliban are not "coming back", and that there are less than 100 al-Qaeda jihadis in Afghanistan. Which raises the question: what's the point of the whole war then? Why the super-human need for the extra, "magical", 40,000 troops McChrystal has requested?

All this is played up deep inside a staggering financial black hole. According to Jo Comerford, executive director of the National Priorities Project, the war in Afghanistan has cost US taxpayers no less than $228 billion so far, with $60.2 billion in 2009 alone. The war under Obama is costing $5 billion a month; last year, under Bush, it was "only" $3.5 billion a month". Comerford projects "we'll hit $1 trillion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in March 2010". These $228 billion, Comerford points out, "equal 800,000 four-year university scholarships for US students" (no wonder China is overtaking the US). Not to mention that $228 billion would have turned Afghanistan into Singapore by now. 

The U.S., it should be obvious, can afford to pay only so much money into the Afghanistan project, even if we largely cut back our combat troops. 

Meanwhile, it's well-known that the Pakistani Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has a history going back to the communization of the Afghan government in supporting Afghan religious militias, some of whom morphed into the Taliban and some of whom morphed into their opposition.  It remains an open question just how much support elements of the ISI may still be giving to Taliban and other Afghan resistance forces.  Members of the Afghan government have been blaming Pakistan's ISI for funding and instigating attacks for a long time, and they continue to allege such involvement:

A Pakistani spy agency is helping anti-Western militants mount attacks including suicide bombings in Afghanistan, a reality the West lacks the resolve to confront, an advisor to the Afghan government said on Thursday.

Davood Moradian, senior policy advisor to Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta, told Reuters the motive of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency was to arouse Western concern for stability in neighbouring nuclear-armed Pakistan and use it to obtain financial support for Islamabad.


Moradian said the ISI's involvement had gone far beyond providing hospitality to the Afghan Taliban. "They (Taliban) are functioning, working and organising their activity in Pakistan in the full knowledge and engagement of the ISI," he said.

Asked if the ISI simply turned a blind eye to attacks, he said: "No. It is a strategic direction in choosing the targets, and in briefing the Taliban leadership about public opinion."

Suggesting it was hard for outsiders to deal with different power centres in Pakistan, Moradian said the Pakistani interior and foreign ministries were not involved in Afghan violence because the ISI had a monopoly on national security policy.

Asked what other evidence there was of ISI involvement, Moradian said an assessment written in August this year by top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan General Stanley McChrystal had "publicly and openly stated the ISI role".

An unclassified passage in the report states that senior leaders of the major Afghan insurgent groups "are reportedly aided by some elements in Pakistan's ISI".

In an address to the institute, Moradian said the ISI's involvement in Afghanistan violence was part of a "triangle of terror" that also included the Taliban and al Qaeda.

Meanwhile, after a major kerfuffle between Islamabad and Washington over the language of the bill, Pakistan is getting ever more money from us:

U.S. President Barack Obama quietly signed a $7.5 billion aid bill for Pakistan on Thursday that drew criticism in the nuclear-armed South Asian country because of conditions linked to the assistance.

Obama signed the bill behind closed doors at the White House without a public ceremony before leaving on a trip to New Orleans. The law provides $7.5 billion in nonmilitary aid to Pakistan over five years.

Pakistan's military had complained because the legislation ties some funds to fighting militants and is seen by critics as violating sovereignty.

There's endless incentive for Pakistan to prolong and continue America's war in Afghanistan indefinitely, as has been much elaborated on by many commentators. 

And, of course, attacks coordinated by the Afghan Taliban in Pakistan, via the Quetta shura, grow:

Senior Taliban leaders, showing a surprising level of sophistication and organization, are using their sanctuary in Pakistan to stoke a widening campaign of violence in northern and western Afghanistan, senior American military and intelligence officials say. 


American military and intelligence officials, who insisted on anonymity because they were discussing classified information, said the Taliban’s leadership council, led by Mullah Muhammad Omar and operating around the southern Pakistani city of Quetta, was directly responsible for a wave of violence in once relatively placid parts of northern and western Afghanistan. A recent string of attacks killed troops from Italy and Germany, pivotal American allies that are facing strong opposition to the Afghan war at home.

These assessments echo a recent report by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top military commander in Afghanistan, in portraying the Taliban as an increasingly sophisticated shadow government that sees itself on the cusp of victory in the war-ravaged nation.

General McChrystal’s report describes how Mullah Omar’s insurgency has appointed shadow governors in most provinces of Afghanistan, levies taxes, establishes Islamic courts there and conducts a formal review of its military campaign each winter.

American officials say they believe that the Taliban leadership in Pakistan still gets support from parts of the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s military spy service. The ISI has been the Taliban’s off-again-on-again benefactor for more than a decade, and some of its senior officials see Mullah Omar as a valuable asset should the United States leave Afghanistan and the Taliban regain power. 

Meanwhile, we've been creating endlessly more Afghan enemies:

[...] Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top military commander in Afghanistan, called for the creation of the task force in late August in a strategic assessment of the war that warned that the prisons in Afghanistan, including an American-operated detention center at Bagram Air Base north of Kabul, were breeding grounds for Qaeda fighters.

“There are more insurgents per square foot in correction facilities than anywhere else in Afghanistan,” General McChrystal said in the report.

The prisons mix hardened Islamic militants with petty thieves and other common criminals, often radicalizing and indoctrinating the less dangerous prisoners, General McChrystal said. 

A small good step, but trivial given our history:

The Pentagon is closing the decrepit Bagram prison and replacing it in November with a new 40-acre complex. The military for the first time is notifying the International Committee of the Red Cross of the identities of militants who were being held in secret at camps in Iraq and Afghanistan run by United States Special Operations forces.

I'm sure the prisoners will enjoy being in a much more modern, spiffed up, prison.  But in more thinking that seems quite dreamy:

A senior Pentagon official said Wednesday that the new task force would also advise the Afghan government on how to improve its detention and judicial systems, and that it would be an important part of General McChrystal’s strategy to help reintegrate former Taliban members into Afghan society. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because many of the task force’s specific duties were still being worked out, said: “You want people to come out saying: ‘Yeah, the Americans detained me, but it wasn’t all so bad. We can reconcile with them.’”

Yes, that's what we'd like, but is it what we can get?  How likely do you think this is?

The U.S. now has benchmarks for success

But when you read it, you realize that it's, more than anything else, a wishlist:

Objective 1. Disrupt terrorist networks in Afghanistan and especially Pakistan to degrade any ability they have to plan and launch international terrorist attacks.

Objective 2a. Assist efforts to enhance civilian control and stable constitutional government in Pakistan.

Objective 2b. Develop Pakistan's counterinsurgency (COIN) capabilities; continue to support Pakistan's efforts to defeat terrorist and insurgent groups.

Objective 2c. Involve the international community more actively to forge an international consensus to stabilize Pakistan.

Objective 3a. Defeat the extremist insurgency, secure the Afghan populace, and develop increasingly self-reliant Afghan security forces that can lead the counterinsurgency and counterterrorism fight with reduced U.S. assistance.

Objective 3b. Promote a more capable, accountable, and effective government in Afghanistan that serves the Afghan people and can eventually function, especially regarding internal security, with limited international support.

Objective 3c. Involve the international community more actively to forge an international consensus to stabilize Afghanistan.

Click the link to see the attached (non-classified) metrics for judging how these objectives are being met, but a plan for meeting them is not part of the document. 

McChrystal knows he hasn't much time:

[...] When the briefing was finished, McChrystal looked around the room. “Gentlemen, I am coming into this job with 12 months to show demonstrable progress here — and 24 months to have a decisive impact,” he said. “That’s how long we have to convince the Taliban, the Afghan people and the American people that we’re going to be successful. In 24 months, it has to be obvious that we have the clear upper hand and that things are moving in the right direction. That’s not a choice. That’s a reality.”

In a tour of bases around Afghanistan, McChrystal repeated this mantra to all his field commanders: Time is running out.

McChrystal wants two to four Friedman Units.

Michael Flynn, McChrystal’s deputy:

[...] I asked General Flynn to imagine the future here. “We are going to go in and ask for some resources,” he told me. “If those resources are brought to bear in a timely manner, I believe that it’s probably going to take us three years to really turn the insurgency to the point where it’s waning instead of waxing. To do that we have to fix the Afghan security forces, we have to build their capacity and capability, and we have to absolutely culturally change the way they operate. And then I think beyond those three years, we are looking at another two years when the government of Afghanistan and the security forces of Afghanistan begin to take a lot more personal responsibility. The challenge to us is: What can we do in 12 months? What should we expect? If people’s expectations are that we are going to have the south turned around, for instance, it’s not going to happen.”

What does McChrystal want to do? 

In the military arena, McChrystal wants to put as many of his men as close to the Afghan people as he can. That means closing some of the smaller bases in remote valleys and opening them in densely populated areas like the Helmand River valley. Here, at least, military force will play a central role, at least in the early phase of his strategy, as the Americans fight their way into areas they have not been in before.

“The insurgency has to have access to the people,” McChrystal told me. “So we literally want to go in there and squat among the people. We want to make the insurgents come to us. Make them be the aggressors. What I want to do is get on the inside, looking out — instead of being on the outside looking in.”

“There will be a lot of fighting,” McChrystal added. “If we do this right, the insurgents will have to fight us. They will have no choice.”

And that’s the rub: the population-focused strategy requires more troops — as many as 40,000 more. This is the decision that confronts President Obama and his advisers now.

The other part of the military option is one with which McChrystal is familiar but does not completely control. It’s his old portfolio — killing and capturing insurgents and terrorists. 

More on McChystal's plans.  This includes:

[...] He proposes speeding the growth of Afghan security forces. The existing goal is to expand the army from 92,000 to 134,000 by December 2011. McChrystal seeks to move that deadline to October 2010.

Overall, McChrystal wants the Afghan army to grow to 240,000 and the police to 160,000 for a total security force of 400,000, but he does not specify when those numbers could be reached. 

John Nagl wants that surge of both Afghans and American/NATO forces, but admits:

[...] The first requirement for success in any counterinsurgency campaign is population security. This requires boots on the ground and plenty of them—20 to 25 counterinsurgents for every 1,000 people is the historically derived approximate ratio required for success, according to the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual. That force ratio prescribes some 600,000 counterinsurgents to protect Afghanistan, a country larger and more populous than Iraq—some three times as large as the current international and Afghan force. The planned surge of 30,000 additional American forces to Afghanistan over the next year is merely a down payment on the vastly expanded force needed to protect all 30 million Afghan people.

The long-term answer is an expanded Afghan National Army. Currently at 70,000 and projected to grow to 135,000, the Afghan Army is the most respected institution in the country. It must be expanded to 250,000, and mirrored by sizable local police forces, to provide the security that will prevent Taliban insurgent infiltration of the population. Building Afghan security forces will be a long-term effort that will require American assistance and advisers for many years, but there is no viable alternative.

600,000 counterinsurgents?  30,000 additional American forces merely a down payment? An indefinite commitment for decades?  Is that really the only "viable alternative"? 

How long are we talking about?

[...] Afghanistan is now so dangerous, administration officials said, that many aid workers cannot travel outside the capital, Kabul, to advise farmers on crops, a key part of Mr. Obama’s announcement in March that he was deploying hundreds of additional civilians to work in the country. The judiciary is so weak that Afghans increasingly turn to a shadow Taliban court system because, a senior military official said, “a lot of the rural people see the Taliban justice as at least something.”


Even before the election, a January Defense Department report assessing progress in Afghanistan concluded that “building a fully competent and independent Afghan government will be a lengthy process that will last, at a minimum, decades.”


The Obama administration has been considering other possibilities.  And this has been much written about.  But right now things seem to be on hold, awaiting an answer to the question of whether there will be an Afghan run-off election.

Let's look at some yet different thinking, though.  The ever-insane Michael Scheuer for example.  Scheuer asserts as a rationale for all-out war that:

[...] one has to wonder what can be meant by arguing that the Taliban does not pose a "direct threat" to the United States. Did the drafters of the new strategy bother to ask the intelligence community whom the United States is fighting in Afghanistan? The Taliban and its allies are unquestionably a direct threat to deployed U.S. military forces -- ask the commander of the U.S. post at Kamdesh, Nuristan, mauled on Oct. 4 [....]

So, in Scheuer's view, the Taliban is a threat to the U.S. because they're attacking U.S. troops in Afghanistan.  On that logic, we could put troops into hostile action in any country in the world, and when our troops are attacked, well, the forces in that country are a direct threat to us.  Brilliant.

But of course there's more:

[...] By protecting al Qaeda, incidentally, Taliban leader Mullah Omar's outfit is also facilitating a "direct threat" to the continental United States.

We'll come back to that. 

It is time to face the facts. The Taliban and its allies have waged an eight-year insurgency against the United States, NATO, and the Afghan government that is growing in geographical reach, battlefield success, and popularity in the Muslim world. As long as U.S. forces are in Afghanistan, this reality will remain the same. The only way to create a less threatening Taliban is for the Obama administration to admit defeat and turn over Afghanistan to Mullah Omar, knowing that he will allow bin Laden and al Qaeda to stay in place and that U.S. defeat will have an enormous galvanizing impact on the Islamist movement around the world.

Is Scheuer onto something here?   But no, it's just a setup to conclude:

[...] For the sake of U.S. soldiers and Marines in Afghanistan, let us hope this new strategic formulation is quickly dropped and forgotten and that Washington's focus is refixed on the hard but simple Afghan choice it faces: Because the U.S.-NATO occupation powers the Afghan insurgency and international Muslim support for it, we must either destroy it root and branch or leave. This issue merits debate, but that must wait until McChrystal gets the troops needed to delay defeat. Afterward, only the all-out use of large, conventional U.S. military forces can be expected to have a shot at winning in Afghanistan. Since 1996, the United States has definitively proven that clandestine operations, covert action, Special Forces actions, and aerial drone attacks cannot defeat al Qaeda. It has likewise proven beyond doubt that nation-building in Afghanistan is a fool's errand.

That said, military victory would require 400,000 to 500,000 additional troops, the wide use of land mines (even if Princess Diana spins in her grave), and the killing of the enemy and its civilian supporters in the numbers needed to make them admit the game is not worth the candle. This clearly is not a viable option. We do not have enough troops, and U.S. political leaders, many U.S. generals, and the anti-American academy and media do not think "military victory" is an appropriate or moral goal; their mantra is: "Better dead Americans at home and abroad than criticism from Europe, the media, and the academy."

Overall, then, we are well along the road to self-imposed defeat in Afghanistan, and about the best we can do is give McChrystal the troops he needs to slow defeat. After doing that, we can figure out how to get out of Afghanistan in an orderly manner, while preparing to absorb more al Qaeda attacks in North America.

In short, we should keep fighting, with no solution in sight, and eventually we'll somehow, at some indefinite point in the future, "figure out how to get out of Afghanistan in an orderly manner."

That's one hell of a "solution."

And that "killing of the enemy and its civilian supporters in the numbers needed to make them admit the game is not worth the candle"?  The Soviet Union tried that route, and failed anyway. 

Elsewhere, Bruce Riedel and Michael O'Hanlon (that's the Bruce Riedel who chaired Obama's interagency review of Afpak strategy in March) assert that we can't go small:

[...] The fundamental reason that a counterterrorism-focused strategy fails is that it cannot generate good intelligence. Al-Qaeda and the Taliban know not to use their cellphones and satellite phones today, so our spy satellites are of little use in finding extremists. We need information from unmanned low-altitude aircraft and, even more, from people on the ground who speak the language and know the comings and goings of locals. But our Afghan friends who might be inclined to help us with such information would be intimidated by insurgent and terrorist forces into silence — or killed if they cooperated — because we would lack the ability to protect them under a counterterrorism approach.

Except, as Dexter Filkins reminds us, we can't do that now:

[...] The notion that large groups of Taliban fighters could be persuaded to quit is not new. Previous efforts have ended in failure, often because neither the Americans nor their allies were able to protect people who changed sides.

Earlier this year, for example, a local Taliban commander in Wardak Province named Abdul Jameel came forward with a group of fighters and declared that he wanted to quit. Wardak’s governor, Halim Fidai, accepted his surrender and told him he was free to go home. Two weeks later, Taliban gunmen entered Jameel’s home and killed him, his wife, his uncle, his brother and his daughter.

“We had nothing to offer him,” Fidai told me.

In another case, Gulab Mangal, the governor of Helmand Province, told me that during a recent American military operation he got a telephone call from a Taliban commander. “He wanted to surrender,” Mangal said. And then the military operation was over — and the American troops went back to their bases. “He never called back after that,” Mangal said. 

McChrystal and the other proponents of more U.S. troops assert that the additional U.S. troops would change that. 

But we've already seen that we'd need, according to COIN doctrine, and our own Counterinsurgency Field Manual, FM 3-24 and Marine Corps Warfighting Publication 3-33.5 with forewords by General David H. Petraeus and Lt. General James F. Amos and by Lt. Colonel John A. Nagl, calls for 600,000 troops that we're never going to have.

Moreover, what's really at stake here? Andrew Bacevich explains:

[...] If the president approves the McChrystal plan he will implicitly:

■ Anoint counterinsurgency - protracted campaigns of armed nation-building - as the new American way of war.

■ Embrace George W. Bush’s concept of open-ended war as the essential response to violent jihadism (even if the Obama White House has jettisoned the label “global war on terror’’).

■ Affirm that military might will remain the principal instrument for exercising American global leadership, as has been the case for decades.

Implementing the McChrystal plan will perpetuate the longstanding fundamentals of US national security policy: maintaining a global military presence, configuring US forces for global power projection, and employing those forces to intervene on a global basis. The McChrystal plan modestly updates these fundamentals to account for the lessons of 9/11 and Iraq, cultural awareness and sensitivity nudging aside advanced technology as the signature of American military power, for example. Yet at its core, the McChrystal plan aims to avert change. Its purpose - despite 9/11 and despite the failures of Iraq - is to preserve the status quo.

Hawks understand this. That’s why they are intent on framing the debate so narrowly - it’s either give McChrystal what he wants or accept abject defeat. It’s also why they insist that Obama needs to decide immediately.

Yet people in the antiwar camp also understand the stakes. Obama ran for the presidency promising change. The doves sense correctly that Obama’s decision on Afghanistan may well determine how much - if any - substantive change is in the offing.

If the president assents to McChrystal’s request, he will void his promise of change at least so far as national security policy is concerned. The Afghanistan war will continue until the end of his first term and probably beyond. It will consume hundreds of billions of dollars. It will result in hundreds or perhaps thousands more American combat deaths - costs that the hawks are loath to acknowledge.

As the fighting drags on from one year to the next, the engagement of US forces in armed nation-building projects in distant lands will become the new normalcy. Americans of all ages will come to accept war as a perpetual condition, as young Americans already do. That “keeping Americans safe’’ obliges the United States to seek, maintain, and exploit unambiguous military supremacy will become utterly uncontroversial.

The one thing wrong with Bacevich's analysis that his last paragraph I quote is already the old normalcy, and has been since the Korean war. 

So: what to do?

First we have to distinguish between the Taliban and al Qaeda. Then we have to analyze what threat either actually presents. And then we have to do a cost-benefit analysis of what's the best course of action. The essential war with al Qaeda, both insofar as al Qaeda remains any kind of organization, and, more importantly, insofar as it remains an inspiration to jihadists, is an ideological war, not a military war. The Taliban now have tried a YouTube channel for propaganda. The best way to fight al Qaeda is to fight their ideology, and we're doing okay at that. From 2008:

[...] These new critics, in concert with mainstream Muslim leaders, have created a powerful coalition countering Al Qaeda's ideology. According to Pew polls, support for Al Qaeda has been dropping around the Muslim world in recent years. The numbers supporting suicide bombings in Indonesia, Lebanon, and Bangladesh, for instance, have dropped by half or more in the last five years. In Saudi Arabia, only 10 percent now have a favorable view of Al Qaeda, according to a December poll by Terror Free Tomorrow, a Washington-based think tank. Following a wave of suicide attacks in Pakistan in the past year, support for suicide operations amongst Pakistanis has dropped to 9 percent (it was 33 percent five years ago), while favorable views of bin Laden in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan, around where he is believed to be hiding, have plummeted to 4 percent from 70 percent since August 2007.

We can continue presenting an alternative. Many play up contemporary al Qaeda-Taliban ties, but that's highly questionable, as Gareth Porter writes:

[...] But two former senior intelligence analysts who have long followed the issue of al Qaeda's involvement in Afghanistan question the alleged new intelligence assessments. They say that the Taliban leadership still blames Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda for their loss of power after 9/11 and that the Taliban-al Qaeda cooperation is much narrower today than it was during the period of Taliban rule.


One of the arguments for an alternative to the present counterinsurgency strategy by officials, including aides to Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, is that the Taliban wouldn't allow al Qaeda to reestablish bases inside Afghanistan, The Wall Street Journal reported Oct. 5. The reasoning behind the argument, according to the report, is that the Taliban realises that its previous alliance with al Qaeda had caused it to lose power after the Sep. 11 attacks.

Officials in national security organs that are committed to the counterinsurgency strategy have now pushed back against the officials who they see as undermining the war policy. McClatchy newspapers reported Sunday that officials have cited what they call "recent U.S. intelligence assessments" that the Taliban and other Afghan insurgent groups have "much closer ties to al Qaida now than they did before 9/11" and would allow al Qaeda to re-establish bases in Afghanistan if they were to prevail.

McClatchy reporters said 15 mid-level or senior intelligence, military and diplomatic officials they interviewed had agreed with the alleged intelligence assessments.

But John McCreary, formerly a senior analyst at the Defence Intelligence Agency, wrote last week on NightWatch, an online news analysis service, that the history of Taliban-al Qaeda relations suggests a very different conclusion. After being ousted from power in 2001, he wrote, the Taliban "openly derided the Arabs of al Qaida and blamed them for the Taliban's misfortunes".

The Taliban leaders "vowed never to allow the foreigners – especially the haughty, insensitive Arabs – back into Afghanistan," wrote McCreary. "In December 2001, [Mullah Mohammad] Omar was ridiculed in public by his own commanders for inviting the 'Arabs' and other foreigners, which led to their flight to Pakistan."

McCreary concluded, "The premise that Afghanistan would become an al Qaida safe haven under any future government is alarmist and bespeaks a lack of understanding of the Pashtuns on this issue and a superficial knowledge of recent Afghan history."

The Central Intelligence Agency's former national intelligence officer for the Middle East, Paul Pillar, expressed doubt that the Taliban's relations with al Qaeda are tighter now than before the Taliban regime was ousted. "I don't see how you can say that," Pillar told IPS. "If you look at the pre-9/11 relationship between the Taliban and al Qaeda, in many ways it was far more extensive."

In the civil war between the Taliban regime and its Northern Alliance foes from 1996 through 2001, Pillar observed, "bin Laden's Arabs and money" represented a far bigger role in supporting the Taliban than the one al Qaeda is playing now.

"You can say that there are more groups which have relationships with al Qaeda now, but I don't see any as close as that which existed before 9/11," said Pillar.


Gen. Jones told CNN interviewer John King Oct. 4 the presence of al Qaeda in Afghanistan today is "minimal", adding the "maximum estimate" is 100 foreign fighters. One official critical of the White House position quoted in the McClatchy story suggested the number might be as high as 200 or 250.

Both figures appears to be consistent with the estimate by Western officials of a total of only 100 to 300 foreign fighters in Afghanistan cited in the New York Times Oct. 30, 2007.

Of that total, however, only "small numbers" were Arabs and Chechens, Uzbeks or other Central Asians, who are known to have links with al Qaeda, Seth Jones of the Rand Corporation told Voice of America the following month.

The bulk of the foreign fighters in Afghanistan are Pashtuns from across the border in Pakistan. Those Pashtun fighters are recruited from religious schools in Pakistan, but there is no evidence that they are affiliated with al Qaeda.

Just this month, U.S. intelligence has increased its estimate of Taliban armed insurgents to 17,000, compared with 10,000 in late 2007. Even if all foreign fighters were considered as al Qaeda, therefore, 250 of them would represent only 1.5 percent of the estimated total.

Not much of a threat, and as has been much previously discussed, the terrorist attacks in London and Madrid were launched by Muslim extremists from apartments in England and Spain. The September 11th attacks were launched largely by Saudis in Germany; you don't need a country to engage in terrorist attacks; thinking otherwise was the Bush administration's fixation and a contender for their supreme foreign policy error, hard as it is to settle on just one. General McChystal wants to buy off members of the Taliban:

[...] The idea, he said, would not be to try to flip the Taliban’s leaders — that’s not likely — but rather its foot soldiers. The premise of the program, McChrystal says, is that most of the Taliban’s fighters are not especially committed ideologically and could be brought into society with promises of jobs and protection. “I’d like to go pretty high up,” McChrystal said, referring to the Taliban’s hierarchy. “It could be people who are commanders with significant numbers of troops. I think they can be given the opportunity to come in.”

The effort, McChrystal said, is based on his own reading of the Taliban and of Pashtun culture: most of the people fighting the United States, he argued, are motivated by local and personal grievances. They want more of a voice in local governance, for instance, or they want jobs. “Historically, the Pashtuns are very practical people,” McChrystal told me. “Pashtun culture adjudicates disagreements in a way that mitigates blood feuds. The Pashtun people go out of their way not to do things that cause permanent feuds. They have always been willing to change positions, change sides. I don’t think much of the Taliban are ideologically driven; I think they are practically driven. I’m not sure they wouldn’t flip to our side.”

Here's an obvious problem with that:

In 1996, approximately 40 percent of Afghans were Pashtun, 11.4 of whom are of the Durrani tribal group and 13.8 percent of the Ghilzai group. Tajiks make up the second largest ethnic group with 25.3 percent of the population, followed by Hazaras, 18 percent; Uzbeks, 6.3 percent; Turkmen, 2.5 percent; Qizilbash, 1.0; 6.9 percent other. The usual caveat regarding statistics is particularly appropriate here.

To be sure, that Pushtuns are a minority, though the plurality, of Afghans, is a good reason to think that the Taliban would have trouble in retaking much of the country again; in their last incarnation in power, they never did subdue the largely Tajik, Hazara, and Uzbek Northern Alliance; the Northern Alliance maintained control over 30% of the country. But there remain problems with McChrystal's idea, inspired by the still unsettled and problematic creation of the "Sons of Iraq":

[...] With more American troops, McChrystal told me, he would be better able to squeeze the insurgents into changing sides. “I think a lot of them need to be convinced that they are not going to be successful,” he said.

An example of how badly pay-offs to the Taliban can go came last week:

When ten French soldiers were killed last year in an ambush by Afghan insurgents in what had seemed a relatively peaceful area, the French public were horrified.

Their revulsion increased with the news that many of the dead soldiers had been mutilated — and with the publication of photographs showing the militants triumphantly sporting their victims’ flak jackets and weapons.

The French had been in charge of the Sarobi area, east of Kabul, for only a month, taking over from the Italians; it was one of the biggest single losses of life by Nato forces in Afghanistan.

What the grieving nation did not know was that in the months before the French soldiers arrived in mid-2008, the Italian secret service had been paying tens of thousands of dollars to Taleban commanders and local warlords to keep the area quiet, The Times has learnt.


US intelligence officials were flabbergasted when they found out through intercepted telephone conversations that the Italians had also been buying off militants, notably in Herat province in the far west. In June 2008, several weeks before the ambush, the US Ambassador in Rome made a démarche, or diplomatic protest, to the Berlusconi Government over allegations concerning the tactic.

However, a number of high-ranking officers in Nato have told The Times that payments were subsequently discovered to have been made in the Sarobi area as well. Western officials say that because the French knew nothing of the payments they made a catastrophically incorrect threat assessment.


Two Western military officials in Kabul confirmed that intelligence briefings after the ambush said that the French troops had believed they were moving through a benign area — one which the Italian military had been keen to show off to the media as a successful example of a “hearts and minds” operation.

Another Nato source confirmed the allegations of Italian money going to insurgents. “The Italian intelligence service made the payments, it wasn’t the Italian Army,” he said. “It was payments of tens of thousands of dollars regularly to individual insurgent commanders. It was to stop Italian casualties that would cause political difficulties at home.”

The Italians have denied everything:

[...] Premier Silvio Berlusconi's office called the report in the Times of London "completely groundless." The Italian defense minister denounced it as "rubbish" and said he wanted to sue the newspaper.

But the overall strategy remains questionable:

Whether or not that is true, it points to the biggest flaw in the “bribe the Taliban” argument: What happens when you stop paying?

Once again, the Iraq example is instructive. Responsibility for paying Sunni tribal militias, referred to by the U.S. military as the Sons of Iraq (SoI), was handed over to the government of Iraq, and a certain number of SoI were eventually supposed to be absorbed into Iraq’s security forces. But not all has gone to plan: Earlier this year, fighting erupted in Baghdad after the arrest of Adel Mashadani, a Sunni militia leader and key figure in the “Awakening” movement. As the central government moved to disarm and disband Awakening councils, it prompted concern about a renewed violence in Iraq as U.S. troops packed up for withdrawal.

And Afghanistan presents a much more difficult case. Iraq’s central government can count on a decent stream of revenue; Afghanistan’s government is pretty much broke. Bribery may work to a point, but it seems highly unlikely that Kabul could keep its internal opponents on the payroll when its operating budget is largely drawn from foreign aid and it can barely cover the cost of maintaining its army and police.

What we can do is focus on al Qaeda:

President Obama’s national security team is moving to reframe its war strategy by emphasizing the campaign against Al Qaeda in Pakistan while arguing that the Taliban in Afghanistan do not pose a direct threat to the United States, officials said Wednesday.


The official contrasted that with the Afghan Taliban, which the administration has begun to define as an indigenous group that aspires to reclaim territory and rule the country but does not express ambitions of attacking the United States. “When the two are aligned, it’s mainly on the tactical front,” the official said, noting that Al Qaeda has fewer than 100 fighters in Afghanistan.

Another official, who also was authorized to speak but not to be identified, said the different views of Al Qaeda and the Taliban were driving the president’s review. “To the extent that Al Qaeda has been degraded, and it has, and to the extent you believe you need to focus on destroying it going forward, what is required going forward?” the official asked. “And to prevent it from having a safe haven?”

The officials argued that while Al Qaeda was a foreign body, the Taliban could not be wholly removed from Afghanistan because they were too ingrained in the country. Moreover, the forces often described as Taliban are actually an amalgamation of militants that includes local warlords like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and the Haqqani network or others driven by local grievances rather than jihadist ideology.

What's the nature of these militants?

Nearly all of the insurgents battling US and NATO troops in Afghanistan are not religiously motivated Taliban and Al Qaeda warriors, but a new generation of tribal fighters vying for control of territory, mineral wealth, and smuggling routes, according to summaries of new US intelligence reports.

Some of the major insurgent groups, including one responsible for a spate of recent American casualties, actually opposed the Taliban’s harsh Islamic government in Afghanistan during the 1990s, according to the reports, described by US officials under the condition they not be identified.

“Ninety percent is a tribal, localized insurgency,’’ said one US intelligence official in Washington who helped draft the assessments. “Ten percent are hardcore ideologues fighting for the Taliban.’’


[...] The Afghan fighters use the threat of force to further their own economic interests - extorting payments from people shipping goods through the mountains including, in some cases, even US military supplies coming into Afghanistan from Pakistan, the officials said.

Which is to say, they're criminal gangs. Did you know, by the way, that we have a Treasury Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing? You'd think we'd be against that. (Yes, I'm kidding.) He's in charge of Treasury's Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. You can read more about how that works here and here, if you're curious. Eric Schmitt describes the diversity of Taliban funding today:

The Taliban in Afghanistan are running a sophisticated financial network to pay for their insurgent operations, raising hundreds of millions of dollars from the illicit drug trade, kidnappings, extortion and foreign donations that American officials say they are struggling to cut off.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban have imposed an elaborate system to tax the cultivation, processing and shipment of opium, as well as other crops like wheat grown in the territory they control, American and Afghan officials say.

In the Middle East, Taliban leaders have sent fund-raisers to Arab countries to keep the insurgency’s coffers brimming with cash. Estimates of the Taliban’s annual revenue vary widely. Proceeds from the illicit drug trade alone range from $70 million to $400 million a year, according to Pentagon and United Nations officials.

By diversifying their revenue stream beyond opium, the Taliban are successfully confounding American and NATO efforts to weaken the insurgency by cutting off its economic lifelines, the officials say. Despite efforts by the United States and its allies in the last year to cripple the Taliban’s financing, using the military and intelligence, American officials acknowledge they barely made a dent.


“In the past there was a kind of a feeling that the money all came from drugs in Afghanistan,” Richard C. Holbrooke, the administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said in June. “That is simply not true.”

Supporting this view, in his Aug. 30 strategic assessment, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, voiced skepticism that clamping down on the opium trade would crimp the Taliban’s overall finances.

“Eliminating insurgent access to narco-profits — even if possible, and while disruptive — would not destroy their ability to operate so long as other funding sources remained intact,” General McChrystal said.

The C.I.A. recently estimated in a classified report that Taliban leaders and their associates had received $106 million in the past year from donors outside Afghanistan, a figure first reported last month by The Washington Post. Private citizens from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran and some Persian Gulf nations are the largest individual contributors, an American counterterrorism official said.

But the important takeaway point is this:

[...] Robert Gibbs, White House press secretary, indicated yesterday that the makeup of the insurgency is playing a prominent role in the discussions. “Some in the Taliban have similar agendas that have helped Al Qaeda with safe havens,’’ he told reporters at the daily press briefing. “There’s also a significant number of Taliban that are local warlords that have far different agendas.’’

Indeed, the intelligence reports say the Taliban movement that harbored the Al Qaeda terrorist network before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks is responsible for only a small share of the rising attacks - mostly in southern Afghanistan, according to the officials.

Even the hardline Frederick Kagan agrees that:

“The term [Taliban] has come to have a meaning far beyond what the United States should care about’’ militarily, said Frederick W. Kagan, a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute who is advising US military commanders.

Steve Hynd elaborates:

[...] The UK's DfID study, a recent Senate report and leaks of current US intelligence analysis reveal that most of the insurgency, while it might take training from the Taliban, could care less about the Taliban's ideological agenda.

Between 70 and 90 percent of insurgents are motivated by resistance to occupying invaders or by the ethnic divides - the domination of Tajiks in a government ruling a Pashtun majority - that Nagl says don't exist. The Taliban just pay them to do lip service to their ideology and run under their banner.

See also Nathan Hodge's Winning Over the Taliban? Fat Chance. What could we do instead of Nagl's only "viable alternative"?

Fred Kaplan summarizes:

[... The problem is that protecting all of Afghanistan, or even all the areas that the Taliban now threaten or dominate, would require many more troops than even McChrystal is requesting—by some estimates as many as 500,000 troops.

Under these circumstances, if Obama agreed to send 40,000 more troops next month, it's a safe bet that the generals would request another 40,000 next year.

An alternative approach, then, is to protect not all of Afghanistan but just a few of its largest cities—say, Kabul, Kandahar, and Ghazni—and to throw at them all the resources they can absorb: military, civilian, financial, the works.

The purpose of this would be twofold.

The first would be to prevent the Taliban from taking over the central government, which is the main reason for having Western troops there at all.

The second would be to create "demonstration zones" for the eyes of Afghans all over the country. If these zones really can be secured and supplied, if they are seen as enclaves of relative peace and prosperity, then Afghans everywhere will want the same thing and reject the Taliban (whose strength today stems less from their fundamentalist ideology than from their ability to provide order and services).

Meanwhile, under this alternative approach, U.S. and NATO forces would keep training Afghan soldiers and police, while special-ops troops and air power would continue to take out "high-value targets" such as top Taliban fighters (even pure counterinsurgency advocates don't think counterterrorist tactics should be cut off completely).

It's hard to say how many more U.S. troops would be needed for this alternative approach—but almost certainly far fewer than 40,000. Ideas along these lines are swirling around the community of scholars and soldiers who think about such matters.

Mehar Omar Khan, a major in the Pakistani army and currently a student at the U.S. Army War College, outlined just such an approach in the latest issue of Small Wars Journal.

Four specialists, including David Kilcullen, an Australian counterinsurgency veteran who advises several top U.S. officials and officers, make a similar case—which they call a "triage" or "enclave" strategy—in a recent paper published by the Center for a New American Security.

Another way to put this is go deep, not big. Gareth Porter:

[...] In a 63-page paper representing his personal views, but reflecting conversations with other officers who have served in Afghanistan, Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis argues that it is already too late for U.S. forces to defeat the insurgency.

"Many experts in and from Afghanistan warn that our presence over the past eight years has already hardened a meaningful percentage of the population into viewing the United States as an army of occupation which should be opposed and resisted," writes Davis.

Providing the additional 40,000 troops that Gen. McChrystal has reportedly requested "is almost certain to further exacerbate" that problem, he warns.

Davis was a liaison officer between the Combined Forces Command - Afghanistan (CFC-A) and the Central Command in 2005, just as the Afghan insurgency was becoming a significant problem for the U.S. military.

In that assignment he both consulted with the top U.S. officers and staff of the CFC-A and traveled widely throughout Afghanistan visiting U.S. and NATO combat units. He also commanded a U.S. military transition team on the Iraqi border with Iran in 2008-09.

In the paper, Davis suggests what he calls a "Go Deep" strategy as an alternative to the recommendation from McChrystal for a larger counterinsurgency effort, which he calls "Go Big".

The "Go Deep" strategy proposed by Davis would establish an 18-month time frame during which the bulk of U.S. and NATO combat forces would be withdrawn from the country.

It would leave U.S. Special Forces and their supporting units, and enough conventional forces in Kabul to train Afghan troops and police and provide protection for U.S. personnel. The forces that continue to operate in insurgent-dominated areas would wage "an aggressive counterterrorism effort" aimed in part at identifying Taliban and al Qaeda operatives.

The strategy would also provide support for improved Afghan governance and training for security forces. Davis argues that a large and growing U.S. military presence would make it more difficult to achieve this counterterrorism objective.

By withdrawing conventional forces from the countryside, he suggests, U.S. strategy would deprive the insurgents of "easily identifiable and lucrative targets against which to launch attacks". Typically insurgents attack U.S. positions not for any tactical military objective, Davis writes, but to gain a propaganda victory.


After reading Davis's paper, Col. Patrick Lang, formerly the defence intelligence officer for the Middle East, told IPS he regards the "Go Deep" strategy as "a fair representation of the alternative to the one option in General McChrystal's assessment".

Lang said he doubts that those advising Obama to shift to a counterterrorism strategy are calling specifically for the withdrawal of most combat troops, but he believes such a withdrawal "is certainly implicit in the argument".

And sounding the note that turns up again and again:

[...] In the paper, Davis argues that the counterinsurgency strategy recommended by McChrystal would actually require a far larger U.S. force than is now being proposed.

Citing figures given by Marine Corps Col. Julian Dale Alford at a conference last month, Davis writes that training 400,000 Afghan army and police alone would take 18 brigades of U.S. troops – as many as 100,000 U.S. troops when the necessary support troops are added.

The objective of expanding the Afghan security forces to 400,000, as declared in McChrystal's "initial assessment", poses other major problems as well, according to Davis.

He observes that the costs of such an expansion have been estimated at three to four times more than Afghanistan's entire Gross Domestic Product.

Davis asks what would happen if the economies of the states which have pledged to support those Afghan personnel come under severe pressures and do not continue the support indefinitely.

"It would be irresponsible to increase the size of the military to that level," he writes, "convincing hundreds of thousands of additional Afghan men to join, giving them field training and weapons, and then at some point suddenly cease funding, throwing tens of thousands out of work."

The result, he suggests, would be similar to what followed the U.S. failure to reassemble the Iraqi Army after the invasion of March 2003. Davis also cites "growing anecdotal evidence" that popular anger at the abuses of power by the Afghan National Police has increased support for the insurgency.

He calls for scaling back the increase in Afghan security forces to the original targets of 134,000 Army troops and 80,000 national police. The crucial factor in determining the future of the country, he argues, is not the numbers of security personnel but whether they continue to abuse the population.

If that pattern of behaviour were to change dramatically, Davis says, "the number of Taliban fighters will dwindle to manageable numbers as those presently filling their ranks will no longer be motivated to fight".

And the large point:

[...] Challenging the argument of supporters of a larger war effort that it is necessary to avoid an increased risk of new terrorist attacks, Davis argues that being "myopically focused" on Afghanistan "at the expense of the rest of the world" increases the likelihood of an attack.

The present level of U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan, he writes, will "make it more likely that terrorist organizations will take advantage of the opportunity to plan and train elsewhere for the next big attack."

As Rory Stewart wrote in his must-read July 9th piece in the London Review of Books

[...] Even if – as seems most unlikely – the Taliban were to take the capital, it is not clear how much of a threat this would pose to US or European national security. Would they repeat their error of providing a safe haven to al-Qaida? And how safe would this safe haven be? They could give al-Qaida land for a camp but how would they defend it against predators or US special forces? And does al-Qaida still require large terrorist training camps to organise attacks? Could they not plan in Hamburg and train at flight schools in Florida; or meet in Bradford and build morale on an adventure training course in Wales?

Furthermore, there are no self-evident connections between the key objectives of counter-terrorism, development, democracy/ state-building and counter-insurgency. Counter-insurgency is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for state-building. You could create a stable legitimate state without winning a counter-insurgency campaign (India, which is far more stable and legitimate than Afghanistan, is still fighting several long counter-insurgency campaigns from Assam to Kashmir). You could win a counter-insurgency campaign without creating a stable state (if such a state also required the rule of law and a legitimate domestic economy). Nor is there any necessary connection between state-formation and terrorism. Our confusions are well illustrated by the debates about whether Iraq was a rogue state harbouring terrorists (as Bush claimed) or an authoritarian state which excluded terrorists (as was in fact the case).

It is impossible for Britain and its allies to build an Afghan state. They have no clear picture of this promised ‘state’, and such a thing could come only from an Afghan national movement, not as a gift from foreigners.

Eric Martin wisely quoted this piece at length in a piece also much worth rereading. The entire question of why we should do more in Afghanistan than in Somalia, or various other failed states, is absolutely critical. What might we learn from our recent experience in Somalia? Jeffrey Gettleman:

[...] In 2006, the C.I.A. shoveled a few million dollars to predacious warlords in an attempt to stymie a competing Islamist movement. When that didn’t work, the American government supported Ethiopia, Somalia’s historic enemy, when it invaded.

What followed was a nasty guerilla war that ended only when the Ethiopians agreed to leave earlier this year and the Islamists were allowed back in. Essentially, the 2006 status quo was returned, minus 15,000 Somalis, now dead.

Still, “most Somalis are not anti-American,” said Afyare Abdi Elmi, a Somali-Canadian political scientist at Qatar University’s International Affairs Program. “Most Somalis are pragmatic and they do not inherently oppose America’s involvement in Somalia per se. They reject when such involvement is associated with warlords or Ethiopians. Neither condition exists now.”

This could spell an opportunity, as the Obama administration seems to think. The United States and other Western powers have provided the new Islamist government with weapons, money and diplomatic support. While terribly weak, the government has proven to be relatively moderate, vowing to repel terrorist groups, and seeking a middle path in its interpretation of political Islam.

The United States, for its part, is helping the government in a crucial way, with pinprick counterterrorism attacks like the commando raid that killed Mr. Nabhan; these presumably advance the mutual interest of eliminating Qaeda terrorists and weakening the Somali insurgency, while avoiding civilian casualties.

So a new template for fighting terrorism may be emerging as the United States shows less desire to get involved in the local intricacies of nation building and more interest in narrowing its focus to Al Qaeda. The focus so far has been precise, limited and often covert, with attacks carried out with a parallel diplomatic strategy.

Some talk of a middle way in Afghanistan. But I've yet to see any rumors the administration is considering an actual downsizing path, as Austin Long outlines in detail what a "small footprint" mission could look like:

[...] First, this posture would require maintaining bases and personnel in Afghanistan. Three airfields would be sufficient: Bagram, north of Kabul, Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan, and ideally Kandahar, in the insurgency-ridden south of the country. This would enable forces to collect intelligence and rapidly target al Qaeda in the Pashtun regions where its allies would hold sway. Kandahar, in the heart of Taliban territory, might be untenable with a reduced U.S. presence, so an alternate airfield might be needed, potentially at Shindand, though this would not ideal.

In terms of special operations forces, this posture would rely on two squadrons of so-called "Tier 1" operators, one at each forward operating base. These could be drawn from U.S. special mission units or Allied units such as the British Special Air Service or Canada's Joint Task Force 2. In addition, it would require a battalion equivalent of U.S. Army Rangers, U.S. Navy SEALs, U.S. Marine Special Operations Companies, British Parachute Regiment, or some mix, with basically a company with each Tier 1 squadron and one in reserve at Bagram. These forces would work together as task forces (let's call them TF South and TF East), with the Tier 1 operators being tasked with executing direct action missions to kill or capture al Qaeda targets while the other units would serve as security and support for these missions. In addition, two of the four battalions of the 160th Special Operations Regiment, basically one at each airfield, would be used to provide helicopter transport, reconnaissance, and fire support for the task forces. One battalion might be enough but two certainly would, thus ensuring that no targets get away for lack of lift. Note that according to Sean Naylor's reporting my direct action task forces are structured like the regional task forces in Iraq in 2006 that were tasked to hunt al Qaeda in Iraq.

Both task forces would be capable of acting against targets elsewhere in the Pashtun regions, but al Qaeda operatives would likely only feel even relatively secure in a fairly limited geographic area. TF East in Jalalabad would likely need to operate principally in the heartland of the Haqqani militant network (Khost, Paktia, and Paktika provinces) as this would be where al Qaeda's principal ally in the east could best protect its members, who are not generally Pashtun. For similar reasons, TF South would principally operate against al Qaeda targets in Kandahar, where the Quetta Shura Taliban is strongest, and some of the surrounding provinces such as Helmand and Uruzgan.

In addition to these two task forces, I would retain the three Army Special Forces' battalions and other elements that appear to be assigned to Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan. While TFs South and East would focus purely on direct action, these Special Forces units would partner with local forces to collect intelligence and secure specific areas. These local forces would in many cases be from non-Pashtun ethnic groups (Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras), which would limit their ability to be effective in the Pashtun areaa but would likely include at least a few Pashtun tribes that see more benefit working with the Afghan government and the United States than against them. Rather than serving an offensive purpose against al Qaeda like TF South and East, Special Forces would essentially serve a defensive purpose to secure Afghan allies and reassure them that the United States is not going to abandon them.

This reassurance and support of local allies is a crucial and underappreciated part of a small footprint posture. The non-Pashtun groups were the United States' critical allies in 2001 and remain staunchly opposed to the Taliban and other militants. The Tajiks of the Panjshir Valley, for example, are probably more anti-Taliban than the United States is. With U.S. support, these groups will be able to prevent the expansion of militants outside Pashtun areas. Local allies in Pashtun areas will enable collection of intelligence to support the task force operations. Supporting local allies does not mean abandoning the Afghan government any more than supporting local allies in the Awakening movement in Iraq's Anbar province meant abandoning the government of Iraq. Balancing the two will require some deftness and will be the focus of another post.

Finally, a few more "enablers," to use another military term of art, would be required. First, this posture would need some additional special operations personnel focused on intelligence collection, along with a substantial complement of intelligence community personnel to collect both human and signals intelligence. Second, it would require a substantial complement of unmanned aerial vehicles including Predators, Reapers, and a few other specialized types along with their support personnel. Third, a few AC-130 gunships for air support would be needed, along with combat search and rescue teams from Air Force Special Operations Command.

It should be clear that "small footprint" is a relative term. This special operations posture alone would be roughly five battalions of ground forces, four aviation squadrons, and a few odds and ends, probably in the neighborhood of 5,000 U.S. and NATO troops. In addition, a conventional force component would be needed to serve as a quick reaction force, provide security for the bases, and protect convoys. A conservative estimate for this force would be a brigade or regimental combat team, giving a battalion to each base, another 4,000, roughly. For additional air support, two squadrons of fighter-bombers (F-15E, A-10, etc.) would probably be sufficient, adding another 2,000 personnel.

Finally, my proposed posture would require additional staff, logistics, and support personnel (medical for instance), some but not all of which can be contractors, adding another 2,000 military personnel. This would be a total force of about 13,000 military personnel and some number of supporting intelligence community personnel and contractors. This is a high-end estimate, and some military personnel I have spoken to think this mission could be done with half this number of troops, but the posture described above errs on the side of caution. This is small compared to the current posture in Afghanistan, smaller still than the forces implied in Gen. McChrystal's report, and tiny compared to the peak number of forces in Iraq. On the other hand, it is vastly larger than any other purely counterterrorism deployment, and how we get there from here will be the subject of my next post.

Many, of course, will find even 6,000 to 13,000 troops to be too many. I'm not at all sure that I don't find it too many. But I'm not, whatever I read, any kind of professional military person nor military expert. I'm not going to prescribe any precise plan, tempting as it is to simply recommend that we go down to a Marine guard at an embassy, or not even that. But these notions of demonstration zones and smaller footprints strike me as one hell of a lot more practical, and far less open-ended, than any of the other proposals I've read. And even John Nagl writes of the ink spot strategy:

[...] The alternative requires not just more troops but a different strategy. After an area is cleared of insurgents, it must be held by Afghan troops supported by American advisers and combat multipliers, including artillery and air support. Inside this bubble of security, the Afghan government can re-establish control and build a better and more prosperous community with the help of a surge of American civilian advisers. Since 30,000 more troops won't be enough to secure the whole country, we'll have to select the most important population centers, such as Kabul and Kandahar, to secure first. These "oil spots" of security will then spread over time—a long time.

Let's finish our look at Dexter Filkins's piece:

[...] Last month, I visited Richard Haass, one of the idea’s chief proponents, at his office in New York, where he is president of the Council on Foreign Relations. (Before that, through June 2003, Haass was director of policy planning at the State Department under President George W. Bush.)

Haass is particularly persuasive, in part because he does not pretend to have easy answers. After eight years of mismanagement and neglect, Haass says, every choice the United States faces in Afghanistan is dreadful. The weight of the evidence, he says, suggests that curtailing our ambitions is the option least dreadful.

“It’s not self-evident that doing more will accomplish more,” Haass told me. “And I’m skeptical about how central Afghanistan is anymore to the global effort against terror. I’m not persuaded that you can transform the situation there.”

The bulk of Al Qaeda’s leadership, Haass pointed out, is now in Pakistan. That’s where the United States should really be focused — in Pakistan, with a population six times larger than Afghanistan’s and with at least 60 nuclear warheads. “No one wants Afghanistan to become a sponge that absorbs a disproportionate share of our country’s resources,” he said.

Let's not let Afghanistan continue to be a sponge to soak up a never-ending flow of the blood of our young women and men.

How bad could that get? In August of 2008, Brandon Friedman pointed out:

Afghanistan is now deadlier than Iraq ever was.

When the Iraq War reached its deadliest peak during a 10-week period in April, May, and June of 2007, 308 coalition troops died.  That was 1 out of every 575 troops on the ground at the time.*  It was a terrible period in which even the most die-hard Bush supporters began to question the sense in continuing the occupation.   By contrast, 105 coalition troops have died in Afghanistan during the past 10 weeks.  But because there are only 52,700 troops in Afghanistan, this represents 1 out of every 502 troops on the ground.

The war in Iraq--at its most violent peak--was never as dangerous for our troops as Afghanistan now is. [...]

The fatality rate in Afghanistan during the past 10 weeks would be equivalent to 353 deaths in Iraq at the same time--a rate not even seen during the bloody crescendo of 2007.

Last week:

[...] In August 2009, a soldier in Afghanistan was more than 16 times as likely to get killed as a soldier in Iraq. So far this year, 242 soldiers have died in Afghanistan compared to 128 in Iraq though there are just over half as many troops on the ground in Afghanistan.

In fact, Afghanistan is overall the more lethal conflict for soldiers on the ground, according to the analysis of the ratio of troop deaths from 2002 to September 2009, with an average monthly ratio of more than 42 deaths per 100,000 troops compared to 39 in Iraq.

Though many more troops have died in Iraq -- 4349 compared to 873 in Afghanistan as of Monday -- the ratio remains higher in Afghanistan due to the far-smaller U.S. troop levels in that country. (The ratio still pales in comparison to previous wars -- by some estimates, the Vietnam War ratio of deaths per 100,000 was more than 10 times higher: 667.)

There are charts at that link.

How is our Army holding up, by the way? Sleight of hand semi-conceals the answer:

In fact, however, fewer people joined the Army this year than last year. The Army exceeded its recruitment goals not because recruitment went up but rather because recruitment goals were lowered.

See Kaplan's article for more details.  Meanwhile, journalists prepare to say Goodbye Baghdad, Hello Kabul.    And how's that drone war going in Afghanistan? Up to 320 Civilians Killed in Pakistan Drone War.

And we're still shaky on the intel -- not being so shaky is, you'll recall, one of the rationales for a large footprint in Afghanistan -- resulting in our killing al Qaeda leaders who inconveniently hold press conferences as to how they've alive.

If you'd like to consider an unconventional idea for the Afghanistan problem, how about turning it over to the Chinese?

[...] There's a fair bit to like in such a plan, for almost all concerned. The US gets out of a quagmire intact, China gets resources and the chance to act like a super-power. Russia gets regional stability, the other SCO nations get increased trade and the opportunity to act beneficially on the world stage. Pakistan gets strategic depth. The main losers would be Al Qaida, the Pakistani Taliban and India. The latter would need some pretty big economic carrots from China and America to swallow losing short-term influence in Afghanistan to its Chinese rival. But India would benefit too from removal of Pakistan's reasons to use proxies and in the longer term from the chance to grow into the super-power it should be without having to waste energy on Pakistan or China for at least a couple of decades.

Steve Hynd thinks the Chinese "will propose some solution along these lines sometime in the next 12 months." Check with him to see if he's taking bets. Another option:

[...] US and Western troops should leave. But because Afghanistan will remain dependent on international aid for development and security, troops cannot leave without something to fill the vacancy.

The solution? Muslim and regional states must fill the void.


The Organization of the Islamic Conference, the association of more than four dozen Muslim states, should set up an Afghanistan contact group, led by Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey.

The group would lead a coalition of Muslim states responsible for political reconciliation, peacekeeping, economic development, and governmental capacity building in Afghanistan. Wealthy Muslim states such as Malaysia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates can provide funding.

Members of NATO and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which includes China and Russia, can also contribute donations and offer expertise.

But the military presence must be limited to personnel from Muslim states. Given Afghanistan's problematic relations with its neighbors, peacekeepers should come from nonneighboring Muslim states, including Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, and Turkey.

Many of those nations have valuable experience to offer. Bangladesh, for example, is a leading troop contributor to United Nations peacekeeping missions. Turkey (a NATO member) and the UAE already have a physical presence in Afghanistan. Peacekeeping in Afghanistan would be a natural extension of their present foreign missions.

Egypt, Pakistan, and Turkey have the most developed bureaucracies and armies among Muslim states. They can help train the Afghan civil, foreign, and security services. A Muslim-led mission in Afghanistan would offer middle powers such as Egypt and Turkey an opportunity to revitalize regional leadership roles they once had. It would also provide regional rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia with a platform to constructively resolve a problem integral to their security concerns and interests.

And a number of international organizations, such as the Islamic Development Bank as well as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, should help continue to rebuild Afghanistan's economy.

Yeah, I'm not going to hold my breath on this, either.

But ultimately a huge American commitment of U.S. troops to Afghanistan is unsustainable.

The threat to the U.S. that we're allegedly suppressing is immensely unclear at best.

The cost that is being proposed we pay, in blood, and treasure, is far too high.

And fewer families should have to visit that chapel at Fort Carson.

ADDENDUM: October 20th, 10:36 p.m.: Thanks, digby!

Some other things to note: this Leah Farrall piece at All Things Counter Terrorism on the distinctions between Taliban and al Qaeda groups, that Steve Hynd pointed out to me, is quite fascinating. Newshoggers is a terrific blog, by the way.

Also, I agree with Spencer Ackerman here.

And I've written a bunch more comments on all this here.

ADDENDUM, October 22nd, 10:08 p.m.: Correction to a bit in my post: I cited Fred Kaplan on Army recruitment numbers. Kaplan now writes that he got the numbers wrong.

10/19/2009 02:06:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 3 comments

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