Why The Neutralist? The term Isolationist implies a narrow Fortress America outlook and is used as an epithet. The term Neutralist does not indicate someone hiding out from the world. No one calls the Swiss isolationists. The Wilsonian world view is old, tired and wrong. Our interventions have been less and less successful and now the failure can no longer be covered up.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Sunk Costs

I suppose anyone reading this understands sunk costs. You own a factory with a machine that makes widgets at $2 per and you sell at three. Joe buys a new machine that makes them at $1 per and sells them at $2. You either get a similar machine or close, but your old machine is obsolete and you can only recover scrap costs. The costs are sunk, gone.

Ah, but the human condition is to say, I'll get a new machine as soon as I get back my money on the old. Dumb.

Our situation is similar to a friend of mine who owned a tanning salon that was losing money. She asked me if she should close it. I asked her if there were any prospect that profitability would happen. She said no. Obviously, my answer was get out now. Costs are sunk and would never be recovered.

So it is with Afghanistan. Put aside the fact that the concept of victory there as benefiting the US is debatable. The point is we can't win. Costs are sunk. Move on.

Don't believe me. As witness for the prosecution I give you Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith, recently the senior British commander in Afghanistan. Your man said, a military victory over the Taleban was “neither feasible nor supportable”.

Of course he did blather on a bit with some positive spin,

Brigadier Carleton-Smith did suggest that the foreign troops need to stay longer: "If we reduce our expectations then I think realistically in the next three to five years we will be handing over tactical military responsibility to the Afghan army and in the next 10 years the bulk of responsibility for combating insurgency will be with them."

Veteran military affairs reporter Gwynne Dyer begs to differ,

There are two things wrong with this argument.

One is the notion that Western countries are willing to take casualties in Afghanistan for another three, five or 10 years. The other is that the Afghan government is not getting stronger.


Yup, with our economic problems we shall have oodles of cash to throw in to Afghanistan and stay the course.

Mr. Dyer was not done.

In a recently leaked diplomatic cable, the deputy French ambassador in Kabul, Francois Fitou, reported that the British ambassador there, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, told him that the strategy for Afghanistan was "doomed to failure. In Sir Sherard's view, "the security situation is getting worse, so is corruption, and the government has lost all trust." The usual denials followed, but that is exactly what British officials there say in private.

Mr. Dyer finishes,

So it would make sense to announce a deadline for pulling out the foreign troops and start negotiating for a final peace settlement in Afghanistan now. Waiting is unlikely to produce a better deal. Which is probably why President Hamid Karzai said last week that he had asked the king of Saudi Arabia to mediate in negotiations with the Taliban.

Oh, that negotiation word. If the deadline is set, why do the Taliban need to negotiate at all.

In the words of Martin Mull, "It's too hard to say au revoir, let's just say hors d'Ĺ“uvre."

4 comments:

Black Sea said...

In both Afghanistan and Iraq, victory has been made impossible simply by the terms in which it has been defined by our Administration. Afghanistan was providing aid and comfort to an organization that launched the 9-11attacks (assuming one doesn't believe that we're talking about the Bush administration here).

If that regime wouldn't turn those individuals over to the US (which of course they wouldn't), then you invade the country, overthrow the regime, and make it clear that any subsequent regime providing safe haven for terrorists will be similarly overthrown. Then you more or less leave them to sort it out. This is a far more achievable goal than reconfiguring Afghanistan as a democracy, which is of course impossible for several reasons, only one of which is that it is a tribal society.

Contra the conventional wisdom about post-war Japan and Germany, the Allies allowed a great many people who had served in their governments during the war to continue doing so afterward. Hirohito being only the most conspicuous example. McArthur sanitized Hirohito's past, portraying him as puppet manipulated by his generals, only because it was politically useful to the US to do so.

I would also say that both Germany and Japan were unusually amenable to adopting "democratic" forms of government, both due to the extensive devastation of their nations, and to social and political factors that inherent in their cultures.

Afghanistan is not, and never will be, post-war Germany. All we really should have aimed for was the establishment of a regime that didn't openly assist Islamic Jihadists targeting the US. Whether or not they did so covertly would be another matter, because if that were the criterion for invasion of a foreing state, then we should have to invade Saudi Arabia.

Needless to say, I don't believe that this line of though justifies the invasion of Iraq - you'll notice that I've been focusing of Afghanistan - but simply from a pragmatic standpoint, I think the same logic applies. Saddam is now dead, ergo his regime cannot resume power. We, and probably the Iraqis, for that matter, would've been better off had one of his generals stepped to the fore.

There is a difference between defeating a rival football team, and trying to win the allegiance of its fans. If you define the latter as "victory," you're in for a very long game.

Our foreign policy worked better when we didn't expect everyone to love us, admire us, and to aspire to be like us. Or whatever we think they imagine us to be. I blame Speilberg for all this.

Joseph Moroco said...

I agree with most of your post except

"If that regime wouldn't turn those individuals over to the US (which of course they wouldn't), then you invade the country, overthrow the regime, and make it clear that any subsequent regime providing safe haven for terrorists will be similarly overthrown. Then you more or less leave them to sort it out. This is a far more achievable goal than reconfiguring Afghanistan as a democracy, which is of course impossible for several reasons, only one of which is that it is a tribal society."

Certainly, that makes more sense than what we have done. Still, to quote myself, I would have done it this way in dealing with OBL,

The most intelligent strategy I have ever heard was best explained in a letter to the Antiwar.com letters page years ago. It was posted by George D. of the UK, "the terrorists could have been hunted one-by-one by having a special task force that deals with it, like Israel did in hunting the Nazi war criminals, without going to war with the country that provided shelter for them." Of course such a policy would need focus over a long term and could not be a TV war and no party out of power would have been able to resist accusing the administration of doing nothing.

I know I repeat myself.

Black Sea said...

Yeah, after 9-11 I thought about the possibility of "hit squads" going after the terrorists, not that I would know how exactly that might be done. I thought then, and now, that it was reasonable to overthrow the Taliban. I doubt that there was anyway to get at AQ in Afghanistan without doing this, and it does "send a message" to other regimes.

The assassination thing has it risks. The Israelis did that after Munich in 1972. In at least one instance, they wound up killing the wrong guy. I mean somebody totally uninvolved. Of course, people will point out that many more innocent people have died in Afghanistan, as is certainly true. However, there is something to be said for communicating to a regime that if you give these people aid and comfort, we will come to your country, we will throw you out of power, and we will kill you. If whoever picks up the pieces afterward wants to crank up the same regime under a different name and without the terrorist training camps, that will be their affair. But you won't be returning to power, because you will be dead.

However brutal that sounds, this is the way that much of the world works.

Joseph Moroco said...

"However brutal that sounds, this is the way that much of the world works."

In the words of Winston Churchill when Coolidge called the Brits on being deadbeats, "True but not exhaustive."

If we had done the George D. Israeli method and tightened up the border, I posit we would have been better off. Yeah, the don't screw with America or we'll change your regime by ending your life stuff is seductive, but in the end, self defeating.

It is still looking at the symptom and not the disease. To have that as our policy is to require and offensive apparatus that will get the Allbrights of the world asking the Powells what the hell good is it if you don't use it and it will be used.

Anyway, the camps move somewhere else and the cycle starts again.

No, the right response to 911 was to bring about a neutralist foreign policy with the military leviathan made into a true defensive force (and less of a leviathan).

As Harry Browne said pre 911, America has a great offense and no defense.

Res ipsa loquitur.