Second Chance
The Obama administration can foster a better Afghan government --
if it is willing to commit itself.

Washington Post Editorial, 2009-10-17

[The relevant part is the boxed statement below.]

In fact, if the United States is going to keep troops in Afghanistan --
and Mr. Obama has said that it will --
it has no choice but to build and support the strongest government possible,
both at the national and local levels.
That is far from impossible:

Afghanistan had a working national government
through most of the 1970s and ‘80s.

Such an administration would be welcomed not only by Afghans
but also by Pakistanis who support secular and pro-Western democracy.
Only Pakistan’s anti-Western forces oppose a strong Afghan government.

[The boxed statement is critiqued in the next two items.]

The Washington Post Creates Its Own Facts to Support Afghan Nation-Building
by Melvin A. Goodman
Truthout.org, 2009-10-22

[This is also available at Consortium News,
where it is prefaced with this Editor’s Note (in italics):]

The Washington Post’s neoconservative editorial page is at it again,
using made-up “facts” and dubious logic
to influence a foreign-policy debate
in the direction favored by the capital’s still influential neocons.

In this latest case, the topic is Afghanistan and
the Post’s misinformation
may contribute to the deaths of many more U.S. troops and Afghanis,
as former CIA analyst Melvin A. Goodman explains in this guest essay:


The Washington Post is
creating its own facts
in order to support its argument for
US nation-building in Afghanistan.

In its lead editorial on Saturday,
the Post asserted that
the United States is capable of building a strong government in Afghanistan
at the national and local levels.
The Post claimed that Afghanistan had had
a “working national government through most of the 1970s and 1980s.”
This is simply not so.

Afghanistan has always been a diverse, loosely organized country,
although there was support for King Mohammad Zahir’s reign from 1933 to 1973.
King Zahir was the last Afghan ruler to pretend to play a national role,
but he was a weak and indifferent ruler,
spending most of his time abroad.
He was ousted in a bloodless coup in 1973 by Prince Mohammad Daoud,
who proclaimed himself the first president of the Republic of Afghanistan.
There has not been a stable government in Afghanistan since then.

[You may find this List of Presidents of Afghanistan useful here.]

Daoud lasted until 1978,
when the same leftist officers who had ousted the king occupied the palace
and killed Daoud, his wife and many of his children and grandchildren.
Daoud was replaced by Nur Mohammad Taraki,
secretary of the People’s Democratic (Communist) party,
who was ousted and eventually executed
by a supposedly loyal follower, Hafizullah Amin.
In this period, marked by instability and violence,
there was no evidence of national support for either Taraki or Amin.
The conventional wisdom was that
the Soviets were responsible for Daoud’s coup against the king
as well as the events that led to the overthrow of Daoud.
In fact, it was Iran and not the Soviet Union that was responsible,
as Tehran (with the encouragement of the United States)
had been trying to draw Kabul into
a western-tilted, Tehran-centered security sphere.

In any event, developments were about to get worse,
and Afghanistan was going to move even further from what the Post described as
a strong government at the national and local levels.
On Christmas Eve, 1979, Soviet armed forces invaded Afghanistan,
killed Amin and replaced him with Babrak Karmal,
a Communist who was subservient to Moscow’s wishes.
This marked the fourth Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 54 years,
following small-scale interventions in 1925, 1929 and 1930.
It is not widely known, but
President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski,
sponsored covert efforts in Central Asia
to foment rebellion inside the Soviet Union
even before Moscow ordered the invasion of Afghanistan.
President Carter then
authorized the Central Intelligence Agency to assist Afghan rebels
six months before Moscow invaded.
Following the invasion, CIA Director William Casey
encouraged Afghan rebels to conduct cross-border operations
into the Soviet Union itself
and boasted about these operations in secret talks
with high-ranking members of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI).

Not even the neocons who dominate the Post editorial staff
[That would seem to include
Fred Hiatt, Jackson Diehl, and Charles Lane--see its Editorial Board.]

could possibly believe that
the ten-year Soviet occupation from 1979 to 1989
produced a “working national government.”
Indeed, the Soviet occupation led to the creation of an anti-Soviet jihad
that produced the greatest instability in Afghanistan’s tortuous history.
The CIA worked closely with Pakistan’s ISI during the jihad,
including support for operations in the Soviet republic of Tajikistan.
No one in Washington worried about
the political disintegration of Afghanistan during the 1980s
or the potential repercussions for religious fanaticism
throughout Southwest Asia in the 1990s.
The Taliban created its own chaos from 1994 to 2001,
and the US invasion in 2001 led to another spiral of violence
that continues until today.

[In fact, many other accounts claim that the Taliban,
after it gained control over more than 90 percent of the country,
produced an oppressive but stable government
remarkably free of corruption and crime.]

The recitation of this history over the past four decades
is not only designed to expose the Washington Post’s chicanery
(or simply a lack of research),
but to highlight the chaos and violence that have marked Afghanistan.
This history clearly suggests that
nation-building and institution-building is a fool’s errand in Afghanistan,
where political and economic backwardness and corruption
have been dominant.
We increased forces this summer to provide security for the Afghan election
and to challenge the expanding Taliban presence in Helmand Province.
We failed on both counts and, in the process,
left the northern regions of Afghanistan
exposed to greater Taliban infiltration.
The Taliban have also infiltrated key cities, including Kabul.
It is possible that the repositioning of US and international forces
could protect Kabul, Kandahar, Herat and even Mazar-e-Sharif in the north.
But key Afghan institutions, particularly the National Army and the police,
cannot provide much support
to US forces in sensitive areas in the south and the east,
where the Taliban has access to sanctuary in Pakistan.

According to informed observers,
the Afghan Army is still unable to conduct autonomous operations
with more than 100 troops.
The high level of illiteracy among Afghan military recruits
does not augur well for the future.

[I do not know why so many American commentators worry about
the literacy level of the Afghanistan National military.
Just how literate do they think the Taliban’s forces are?
For the type of guerilla warfare that we are facing,
the guerrillas do not need literacy,
but rather motivation and fighting skills,
which have nothing to do with literacy.
Historical examples:
Note how successful illiterate Afghan tribesmen were
at repulsing the British Army and its colonial auxiliaries
in the nineteenth century
(for a particularly macabre example, see this).
Also note how effective illiterate American forces
(literacy rates were low in the colonial era)
were at defeating British Redcoats
both in the American Revolution and the War of 1812,
notably Andrew Jackson’s win in the Battle of New Orleans.
So the question, again, is:
Why does the current American “elite” think
the literacy level of the Afghan forces
is relevant to
their effectiveness as a fighting force?]

The Obama administration is counting on
the current Pakistani offensive against the Pakistan Taliban
to buy time for the Islamabad government.
There is no indication, however, that the Pakistan Army
would be willing or able to take on the Afghan Taliban
and thus buy time for the government in Kabul.
The notion of sending civilian specialists to Afghanistan
to promote political and economic stabilization would be laughable
if the situation were not so serious.
there has never been
an Afghan government capable of running the entire country,

it is impossible to expect US military and civilian forces at virtually any reasonable level taking on both
a successful counterinsurgency against the Taliban and
the policy of nation-building in Afghanistan.

Melvin A. Goodman is national security and intelligence columnist for Truthout.
He is senior fellow at the Center for International Policy
and adjunct professor of government at Johns Hopkins University.
His 42-year government career included service at
the CIA, State Department, Defense Department and the US Army.
His latest book is
“Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA.”


The following is an excerpt from Ghost Wars by Steve Coll.

[page 132]
“… the notorious torturer Najibullah …”

[page 133]
By 1985,
Soviet and Afghan intelligence operatives
played a greater role in the counterinsurgency campaign than ever before.
Najibullah, the secret police chief,
was elevated to the Afghan Politburo in November 1985.
By the following spring Moscow had sacked Babrak Karmal
and appointed Najibullah as Afghanistan’s president.

His ruling councils were filled with ruthless intelligence operatives.
The KGB-trained Afghan intelligence service swelled to about 30,000 profellionals and 100,000 paid informers.
Its domestic directorates,
lacking cooperative sources among the population,
routinely detained and tortured civilians

in search of insight about mujahedin operations.

End of excerpt from Ghost Wars.

Is that anyone’s idea of a “working national government”?
Anybody besides the Post’s editorial board, that is?

One might be tempted to write the Post’s error off,
since, after all, we all make mistakes.
To err is human, etc.
But I think that error is significant for two reasons:

First, at least for myself,
everything I had ever read about Afghanistan’s government in the 1980s,
following the Soviet invasion of 1979,
made it absolutely clear that it was just a Soviet-dominated satellite,
with a regime opposed by the vast majority of the Afghan population.
In other words, not a regime to be viewed favorably in any way by Americans,
except, perhaps, those on the Post’s editorial board.
So it was not an easy error to make.

Second, this is part of an overwhelmingly clear pattern
we have seen from the Post’s editorial board,
of systematically slanting facts in a direction which would support
continued American involvement with the Afghan governing system.

Dennis Blair’s replacement has problems to solve
Washington Post Editorial, 2010-05-22

THE RESIGNATION of Dennis C. Blair as director of national intelligence
was the product of personal as well as institutional failings.
A retired admiral with a distinguished record of service,
Mr. Blair’s political judgment looked questionable
from the beginning of his DNI tenure,
when he nominated a former ambassador with
close ties to China and Saudi Arabia --
crackpot views about the Israel “lobby”
[The Post links the above to this 2009-03-11 Walter Pincus column;
the word “lobby” does not appear in that column.]
to chair the National Intelligence Council.


[The Post is referring, of course, to the nomination of Chas. Freeman to chair the NIC;
a considerable number of news reports and columns discussing both
that nomination and especially
the virulent and successful campaign of the Israel lobby to derail it
are assembled here;
note, e.g., the article entitled “Intel Council Head Draws Ire of Israel Lobby
by Daniel Luban and Jim Lobe.

But let’s leave those articles and opinion pieces aside,
and also the issue of whether Freeman’s views deserve to be called crackpot.
Let’s address the validity of putting the word “lobby” in quotes
in the phrase Post’s phrase ‘the Israel “lobby” ’
(i.e., denying that an Israel lobby really exists).

Now here is a fact:
In the last few months there have been
a number of full-page ads run in the A section of the Post,
sponsored by Jewish organizations such as
the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations,
the World Jewish Congress,
and the well-known individual Elie Wiesel.
Does anyone deny that those are all Jewish?

What has been the message of those full-page ads?
In at least two cases, the explicit text, in a very large and bold font, was
“We Stand With Israel.”
(Google “We Stand With Israel”, “Stand With (Israel|Us)”)
(For more examples and discussion, see
Israel Lobby Leadership Losing It”, 2010-04-15, by Jim Lobe.)

The context for these ads was
the pressure the Obama administration was attempting to bring to bear on Israel
to halt its expansion into East Jerusalem,
a series of developments chronologically subsequent to
Vice President Biden’s visit to Israel.
The purpose of the ads was clearly and explicitly to request, if not demand,
that the Obama administration in particular, and no doubt Congress as well,
cease and desist from any attempts to pressure Israel.
Does the Post deny the existence of those ads,
or that that was their clear and explicit purpose?

I am not a superexpert on language.
But it seems to me that under any reasonable interpretation of the words,
those ads constituted lobbying for Israel:

Wikipedia defines “lobbying” as
“Lobbying (also Lobby) is a form of advocacy
with the intention of influencing
decisions made by legislators and officials in the government
by individuals, other legislators, constituents, or advocacy groups.”

How can anyone deny that the purpose of those ads
was advocacy with the intent of
influencing decisions made by the Obama administration vis-à-vis Israel,
in particular, to not oppose Israel’s freedom of action?
In other words lobbying for Israel.

Now, if there are people lobbying for Israel,
by definition an Israel lobby exists.]

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