Afghanistan – a dismal tale of failure and folly

The resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, where they recently mounted a major military operation in Helmand province in the south and where throughout the rest of the country they are increasingly active, is emphatic evidence that NATO’s prolonged military mission there has been a dismal failure. This failure is not however a measure of the failure to impose a liberal democracy in the country but in the lives destroyed in the attempt.

As is the case all across the UK in 2015, homeless people are a regular fixture on the high street close to where I live; to the point where you can’t walk for five minutes in either direction without coming across one sitting on the pavement begging for change.

One of the regulars – let’s call him David – is an ex-soldier. Until recently I would come across him sitting on the pavement outside the same mini-supermarket each early evening rush hour, trying to make enough money to pay for a night at a hostel. In front of him he would have a piece of cardboard with his army service number written across it, hoping it would garner a more positive response.

David’s story is an all too common one. In his early twenties, with a young wife and two kids to support, he was made redundant from his job after serving his apprenticeship as a vehicle mechanic. Unable to find work he decided to join the army. He signed up for the minimum term of four years and in that time served four six-month tours of duty in Afghanistan. The experience left him damaged and unable to cope emotionally and psychologically with normal life once he came out. His marriage collapsed and for want of support from the state and not enough help from the various hard-pressed charities that are set up to help ex-servicemen like him, he ended up on the street.

Recently he disappeared and I stopped seeing him. I subsequently learned that he was in prison after selling heroin – heroin that likely originated in Afghanistan – to a young girl who died from it.

This spiral of despair and tale of wasted young life describes the reality of Britain’s military interventions over recent years. In Afghanistan, as with Iraq, young men such as David were thrown into a country they had no business being in to fulfil a military operation that was ill conceived, planned, and organised, lacking resources, equipment, and anywhere near enough manpower.

Where Britain is concerned we are talking war on the cheap, which in the case of Afghanistan was unleashed by Tony Blair after 9/11 to help US president George W. Bush vent revenge for this terrorist atrocity on one of the poorest countries in the world. The results, fourteen years later, are all too predictable.

Make no mistake, the Taliban are destined to be part of Afghanistan’s future. They are Afghans who inarguably enjoy wide support among the majority Pashtun population in the south of the country and are considered by the communities in which they operate to be fighting for the country’s liberation and independence. Consequently, the most grievous indictment of British and US policy is not the resurgence of the Taliban; it is instead the recent emergence of ISIS in eastern Afghanistan. It comes as more proof that instead of making the situation better, the presence of British and American troops in the Arab and Muslim world has only made it worse.

At its peak the number of British troops and service personnel in Afghanistan reached 9,500, the bulk of which were deployed to Helmand. The number killed stands at 456 while over 7000 have been injured or maimed. As for Afghan deaths, according to a study published by the Watson Institute at Brown University in the US, 26,000 Afghan civilians were killed between 2001 and January 2015. As for the number injured or maimed, there are no reliable figures available but you can draw your own conclusions.

The only victors to emerge from this military and foreign policy debacle have been corruption and the heroin trade. In October the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime published its 2015 Afghanistan Opium Survey. It reveals that 66% of the country’s opium cultivation takes place in the south – i.e. Helmand. While overall there has been a decrease in overall poppy-cultivation compared to 2014, the number of poppy-free provinces in the country also decreased. In other words, Afghanistan and heroin are now two sides of the same coin.

Apologists for the US/British/NATO role in Afghanistan point to the achievement in leaving a country behind in which far more people have access to basic medical care and education than they did under the Taliban. While this may well be true the cost in wasted lives and corruption surely undermines it. This is without referencing the inescapable fact that the Taliban are stronger now, today, than they have been since 2001, prior to the invasion and occupation. Here Leo Tolstoy’s dictum that ‘The two most powerful warriors are patience and time’ receives ironclad validation.

Returning to the plight of David, a young man facing a bleak future of perennial despair, those who sent him and thousands like him over to Afghanistan to kill and be killed no doubt enjoyed their usual sumptuous Christmas this year. In a just society they would be the ones in prison and the Davids of this world would be where they rightly belong at Christmas – at home with their families looking forward to the future.

49 comments on “Afghanistan – a dismal tale of failure and folly

  1. This is a powerful article John, drawing as it does on the human cost and futility of war.

    Can I ask about your figures for British wounded though. I did some research into this a few years ago (unfortunately now lost after Jim Jepps deleted the original Socialist Unity Network website).

    It is an interesting issue, as in the past, in wars before air evacuation and high tech medicine, the number of surviving wounded was in a ration of about 3 to 1 compared to deaths. Now the ratio of surviving wounded is much higher, but includes a new category “unexpected survivors”

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/afghanistan/7278645/Thousands-of-British-troops-wounded-in-Afghanistan.html

    Up until the end of 2009 there had been 245 deaths, 75 “unexpected survivors”, and 168 severely maimed but functional.

    From what I remember of the research I did before, the ratio of wounded to killed for the army of a first world power is now about 1 to 9. So I would expect the number of British wounded to be a total of around 5000 (though your figure of 7000 is not implausible)

    But if around 75 “unexpected survivors” had come back by 2009, then the figure during the rest of the war, given high casualties in 2010 to 2012, would probably be nearer 150.

    Without being too explicit, many of the “unexpected survivors” do not have a high quality of life. And my heart goes out to their families and loved ones.

    With regard to the Afghan injured, as they have a much more rudimentary health provision after being wounded, then if we accept the figure of 26000 civilians killed in military action, then the number of wounded survivors could be reasonably estimated at about 75000 based on past conflicts.

  2. non-partisan on said:

    Very well written and timely piece. Is it too much to expect JC to make statements in this vein, I’m pretty sure there is very little he wouldn’t agree with in this. ( OK maybe the jailing of those responsible would be a bit close to the bone for him.)

    I know they are doing policy reviews, and that these statements will be out in due course, but clear emotionally resonant pieces like this are what can really hit home, be shared on social media etc if issued in the name of JC. Am I being niave? missing something here?

  3. Andy Newman: Can I ask about your figures for British wounded though. I did some research into this a few years ago (unfortunately now lost after Jim Jepps deleted the original Socialist Unity Network website).

    It is an interesting issue, as in the past, in wars before air evacuation and high tech medicine, the number of surviving wounded was in a ration of about 3 to 1 compared to deaths. Now the ratio of surviving wounded is much higher, but includes a new category “unexpected survivors”

    Well, obviously statistics on wounded is open to interpretation. Are we talking permanently maimed or do we include those who suffered minor injuries? Too, do we restrict this stat to those wounded in actual combat or are we talking those wounded both during and outwith combat?

    This ITV News report from 2014 is an example of what I mean http://www.itv.com/news/2014-10-26/british-troops-and-the-conflict-in-afghanistan/.

    ‘A total of 7,346 British personnel were treated in field hospitals during the campaign.’

    Even those wounded or injured while not engaged in combat were on active duty in Afghanistan, which means I believe they can and should be included in the total.

  4. John,

    It is a good point you make, after all just being in the army, and being posted overseas has its own dangers, related to drunkenness, fighting (of the pub variety), car accidents, drugs, etc.

  5. As many will have seen from regular features in the Morning Star and elsewhere, there is a weekly protest outside Ashton-Under-Lyne (Greater Manchester) jobcentre against benefit sanctions and other attacks on claimants.

    The last one before Christmas last year and this took the form of a commemoration of all those who have died as a result of such attacks, and a wreath laid outside the office.

    This year it was then placed at the local war memorial, to symbolise the war against the poor and, (partly to avoid offending those whose names are carved there, and partly to symbolise the way that these casualties are hidden) around the back of the most recent cenotaph wall.

    Of course it was also felt to be fitting because of the huge number of homeless ex-service people.

    Particularly sobering was the space next to the most recent names (killed in Afghanistan needless to say) for new additions.

  6. Well, this article is as good an illustration of your “anti-imperialist” hypocrisy as any. Haven’t you heard that the Taliban are “Islamo-fascists”? Or that there is a poll out there claiming half of the Afghans want the “US to play a greater role” and that there is majority support for the current government in Kabul? Nonetheless: “Make no mistake, the Taliban are destined to be part of Afghanistan’s future.” As for Syria: “exterminate all the brutes … Syrians love Assad … glory to the Russian air force”. Come on guys and gals, at least be consistent.

  7. of course your first responsibility to criticize and struggle against your own govt (per Chomsky) , but you have to understand that people in other countries have exactly the same right and responsibility. It’s also not necessarily true that *everything* British, American and (insert imperialist lackey du jour here) elites can do in Syria will run contrary to the interests of the local population. That howver is a debate for another day.

  8. Andy Newman on said:

    maxim,

    “Islamo-fascism” is just Marxobabble which signifies little beyond exposing the ignorance of the person using the term.

    The Taliban are a complex phenomenon, and I would certainly recommend reading Ahmed Rashed on them.

    The issue of whether they will ultimately participate in Afghanistan’s government again is not a moral judgement or even a political choice, it will be decided by what compromise will resolve the military reality, and once the attention of the Americans is distracted, the drivers will be from Islamabad

  9. Andy Newman,

    Andy, I am not faulting your analysis of what’s going wrong in Afghanistan. I am faulting you for your double standard. It can also be viewed as a single standard: Atlanticism is evil and its supposed rivals are always better. That’s basically the foil of “my country, right or wrong”, and just as silly. If it was “my class, right or wrong” it would at least be understandable, although not necessarily excusable.

    regards,
    “louis”

  10. maxim: I am faulting you for your double standard. It can also be viewed as a single standard: Atlanticism is evil and its supposed rivals are always better. That’s basically the foil of “my country, right or wrong”, and just as silly. If it was “my class, right or wrong” it would at least be understandable, although not necessarily excusable.

    You failed to read the article properly I think. Syria has been invaded by 1000s of religious extremists from outwith the country intent on turning it into a graveyard for Syrian minorities. Their success up to this point has been largely a consequence of the West’s nonsensical policy of drawing an obscene equivalenc between the Assad govt and the forces loyal to it, and ISIS and other jihadi permutations. This has only prolonged the conflict and, with it, suffering of the Syrian people.

    In Afghanistan, meanwhile, you have a broadly popular indigenous Pashtun insurgency, whose success after 14 years of Western occupation is reflective of the corruption and atrocious mistake in attempting to impose a western-style democracy on a country by force. The point I make re the Taliban being an inevitable ‘part’ of Afghanistan’s future is one shared by Sir Richard Dannatt, former head of the British Army.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/afghanistan/8594075/Former-head-of-Army-Taliban-will-be-part-of-Afghanistans-future.html

    You really believe that the Taliban do not enjoy wide support in the South? This is the same as asserting that the Viet Cong didn’t have popular support in Vietnam. It is simply untenable.

  11. John,
    I really do appreciate the reasoned response John. But it skirts the fundamental questions. The only proper response is to abandon doublethink and move to a more nuanced position, away from reflexive “anti-Atlanticism”. You are no longer talking about anti-imperialism, never mind Marxism and basic human decency. It’s a very provincial way of thinking and it rots your brain no less than ra-ra patriotism.

    There is no evidence that the Taliban enjoy support in Afghanistan as whole. That means they are not “broadly popular”. And according to polls they are not any more popular than the Americans – almost certainly less so. Perhaps you have some evidence to the contrary? Or do you cite only those polls which you can construe as supporting evidence for your provincial world view? Afghan fundamentalism relied heavily on support of the ISI, CIA and foreign Jihadists. The Soviet invasion helped as well. None of this is a call to “exterminate all the brutes”, which seems to be your position on Syria. Of course, Assad and the Russians should do the exterminating (that way extermination acquires an “anti-imperialist character). The only meaningful distinction between the Taliban and Al-Nusra et al is that …. oh right the US is bombing both. But it feels that its only the the former, right? Talk about truthiness.

    Once again, the Islamist elements of the Syrian opposition (or proably the entire opposition) is being defined as “jihadi permutations” of ISIS. Also, do you call them “jihadi” and not “jihadist” to appeal to the readersip of The Sun? Looks like some sort of party line. You might want to turn off RT for a while, it’ll do you some good.

    Happy new year folks!

  12. John: You failed to read the article properly I think. Syria has been invaded by 1000s of religious extremists from outwith the country intent on turning it into a graveyard for Syrian minorities. Their success up to this point has been largely a consequence of the West’s nonsensical policy of drawing an obscene equivalenc between the Assad govt and the forces loyal to it, and ISIS and other jihadi permutations. This has only prolonged the conflict and, with it, suffering of the Syrian people.

    In Afghanistan, meanwhile, you have a broadly popular indigenous Pashtun insurgency, whose success after 14 years of Western occupation is reflective of the corruption and atrocious mistake in attempting to impose a western-style democracy on a country by force. The point I make re the Taliban being an inevitable ‘part’ of Afghanistan’s future is one shared by Sir Richard Dannatt, former head of the British Army.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/afghanistan/8594075/Former-head-of-Army-Taliban-will-be-part-of-Afghanistans-future.html

    You really believe that the Taliban do not enjoy wide support in the South? This is the same as asserting that the Viet Cong didn’t have popular support in Vietnam. It is simply untenable.

    Just like Assad is the Abraham Lincoln on our time? The only thing that’s untenable here are your analogies.

  13. maxim,

    maxim: And according to polls they are not any more popular than the Americans – almost certainly less so.

    Of course “support” is not a matter of one man one vote. That’s a caveat with any poll. The supporters of the Taliban are certainly more militant than the supporters of continued American presence.

  14. maxim,

    Surprised you want to dispute our use of the English language. A Jihadi is a person participating in armed Jihad, a Jihadist is someone who ideologically promotes the doctrine of Jihad. They are not the same thing.

  15. maxim,

    The points you raise do address the essential failure of US policy in Afghanistan, that even where Obama wants to withdraw the US are unable to do so.

    The paradox is, as Sarah Chayes, has argued relating to the recent capture of Kunduz by the Taliban is that the US failure to tackle corruption, warlordism and poor governance means that while Afghan civilians wish the US armed forces to remain, they may prefer to actually be governed by the Taliban, who tax less and are seen as less corrupt.

    Incidentally, ISIL are fighting against not with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

  16. Andy Newman,

    You are free to to make that distinction if you find it convenient, but there is no practical difference between “jihadi” and “jihadist” in common usage. Furthermore “jihadi” is an Arabic word, whereas “jihadist” is standard English. But “jihadi” does have more of a ring to it and sounds more derogatory. Hence “jihadi John” makes for a better moniker than “jihadist John”. Sort of like “commie” as opposed to “communist”. Or did those terms also hint at the subtle distinction between theory and practice?

    Your Baathist friends would certainly disagree on the importance of polls. If you look at their search history, you’ll probably find a hundred variations on “Syrians support Assad poll”. They finally found a serious poll from Orb International, which unfortunately did not show majority support for Assad (unlike the dubious or downright fraudulent “polls” they’ve touted over the years).

  17. Andy Newman: Afghan civilians wish the US armed forces to remain, they may prefer to actually be governed by the Taliban, who tax less and are seen as less corrupt.

    That “may” be true , but such statements usually require evidence. Closeted majority support for the Taliban would be highly surprising. That may change once the Americans leave: people tend to “support” whoever appears to be winning. However that’s projecting very far into the future and nobody knows what the balance of forces will be when it happens.

    Andy Newman: Incidentally, ISIL are fighting against not with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

    I had a good laugh there. Somehow that’s important to know about the Taliban, but completely irrelevant when it comes to Al Nusra.

  18. maxim: Just like Assad is the Abraham Lincoln on our time? The only thing that’s untenable here are your analogies.

    One of the mistakes that people analysing historical events is failing to understand the role that the prism of time has in forming our analysis many years, generations, and centuries after they take place. The common consensus with regard to Lincoln and his place in history today is not the same as it was during the time he lived. Then he was roundly described, in both North and South, as a ‘dictator’, ‘tyrant’, and a ‘monster’. He was accused of being responsible for needless slaughter and for threatening to destroy the Union.

    Consider this from Lyon Gardiner Tyler, son of US President John Tyler, in 1932: “I think he [Lincoln] was a bad man, a man who forced the country into an unnecessary war and conducted it with great inhumanity.”

    Not only was Lincoln subjected to opporbrium in the South but also throughout the North, by radical abolitionists and constitutionalists, who railed against him for being soft on slavery in the former case and for suspending habeus corpus and underming state’s rights in the latter.

    http://quod.lib.umich.edu/j/jala/2629860.0004.103/–anti-lincoln-tradition?rgn=main;view=fulltext

    Now nobody can tell how Assad will be regarded by historians 100 years from now. But I don’t think it is so unlikely that some may well describe him as a man who saved Syria and the Syrian people from the abyss of sectarian slaughter and religious fundamentalism.

    This is of course assuming that we are all agreed that this is what ISIS, Nusra, and others are fomenting in Syria.

  19. John: But I don’t think it is so unlikely that some may well describe him as a man who saved Syria and the Syrian people from the abyss of sectarian slaughter and religious fundamentalism.

    John, it’ll be much easier if you these silly analogies and stop romanticizing the Assad regime. It’s only works when you’re preaching to quire.

    “Some” certainly will, though there will hopefully be less of them than there are today. More likely, he will be remembered as a particularly brutal and obstinate defender of crumbling Arab despotism. The human and societal cost of his revanchism, which includes the emergence of sectarianism and fundamentalism in Syria, are likely to be remembered as well. Certainly he will not be remembered as someone who stood on the side of historical progress, his purported “non-sectarianism” and his wife’s keen fashion sense notwithstanding. in a few decades the Arab despotisms will all be gone. Regardless of what takes their place (up to a point), they will not be missed. I’ll give you an analogy and you can tell me if you think its silly. Lots of people disliked society that emerged after 1917, not without reason. But only the most brain dead elements on the Russian right actually romanticized the moth-eaten Czarist system as a credible and desirable alternative to Bolshevism. As tempting as it is to simply turn back the clock, reasonable people understand that doing so only compounds the problems that exist, at great human cost.

  20. Andy Newman on said:

    maxim,

    This argument assumes that we can only know what happens in Afghanistan from guesswork. In fact the reasons for the revival of the Taliban are much discussed by experts with fitst hand and recent knowledge.

    Nor is the permeability of the civilian population to Taliban support some hypothetical projection to the future, they recently captured the northern city of Kunduz.

    You seem to have some foolish idea that we are proselytising for the Taliban. Not at all. The revival if the Taliban is a tragedy, but it is a tragedy based on US policy failure.

    Back ten years to 14 years ago, the Americans had an opportunity to build capacity for good governance, and they had the capable and honest figure of Hamid Karzai to work with.

    Instead, the US occupation brought the warlords back from the edge, toletated cronyism and corruption, and they degraded the power of the Kabul governent. Gen Petreus brought in the disastrous Afghan Local Police policy that integrated sectarian and ethnicly based warlord gangs into the state’s forces without any accountability or balance, and Afghans experience the state as repressive and corrupt.

    We also know that the Taliban tax less than the overlapping tributes taken by the warlords police and regional governors.

    The Americans have also failed to contain the practical, military and diplomatic support the Taliban receive from thr ISI, the security service of their own ally, Pakistan.

    So US military policy, despite continued 20k troops has become air strikes and commando raids by special forces that are almost irrelevent to outcomes on the ground.

    But this is combined with a total and deliberate policy failure to improve governance infrasyructure and capacity. And total and deliberate failure to confront its own ally about supporring the Taliban.

    After 14 years the pattern is completely clear, and this is why we know US policy in Syria will fail, as the non-ISIL rebel areas exhibit a pattern of poor governance and corruption that makes them open.to take over by ISIL. The US concentrates on air strikes not promoting good governance. Meanwhile the US does nothing to restrain its Turkish ally from supporting ISIL.

  21. maxim,

    If we were projecting “so far into the future”, why would Obama be making decisions right now to maintain US troops after the date he had promised to bring them home.

    I do get the imprrssion that you are debating hete without having checked the facts

  22. Maxim: John, it’ll be much easier if you these silly analogies and stop romanticizing the Assad regime. It’s only works when you’re preaching to quire.

    The reality when it comes to Syria at this precise moment in its history, the concrete reality that cannot be avoided, is that it is either Assad or ISIS. There is no liberal democracy or Third Force waiting in the wings to take power in Damascus. Indeed the very idea is the product of either ignorance or mendacity.

    Whether you or I like him or not, Assad enjoys the support of the majority of the Syrian people at this point in time. Eighty percent of the Syrian population lives under government control and the Syrian Arab Army, comprised of Sunnis, Shiites, Christians, and Alawites, which has withstood a battering which no other army in the region could have, continues to fight and die for his government.

    Too, of the 6.5 million Syrians internally displaced by the conflict, the vast majority have sought sanctuary in government controlled areas.

    The aformentioned information is laid out without factoring in the reality of the disasters to befall Iraq and Libya, brilliantly analysed by Andy Newman in his recent article, as the fate that would befall Syria should the Assad government be toppled.

  23. #23 Which presumably is why Maxim / Louis has not attempted to answer the basic question-what acually existing possible alternatve is preferable to the survival of the current government?

  24. #24 This is the best he can do: “…in a few decades the Arab despotisms will all be gone. Regardless of what takes their place (up to a point), they will not be missed.”

    Sloppy, unscientific and cavalier in the extreme. A “left” Mini-Me of the neocons and Blairites.

    “Up to a point”? Ffs!

  25. Andy New: You seem to have some foolish idea that we are proselytising for the Taliban.

    I don’t know how can make it any clearer: I object to the hypocrisy and doublethink that has poisoning your blog. Your opinions about the Taliban are of secondary importance, although there are some areas of disagreement have emerged in the comments section. FWIW, the article itself is fairly reasonable.

  26. John,

    An absolute majority? That’s ridiculous. Go back to the Orb poll, that some Baathists have been touting. Of course if your source is the Le Monde “poll” or Teheran’s “Nato study” ….

  27. #29 You’re so much cleverer than me Louis. After all, I’ve never even wrote a book.

    Not clever enough to answer a simple question though.

  28. Andy Newman,

    Andy, I’ve discussed this hypocrisy at length, in a substantive way. I sensible way to respond would have been to concede some points and dispute others. Instead you and John have chosen to talk about something else, sometimes with little regard for facts (which is also something I have brought up).

  29. Maxim,

    You are boring me now. Classic trolling to keep bringing the debate back to your own agenda, failing to engage in the substantive debate, and each time a point you make is answered you simply repeat it.

  30. Vanya,

    I’ve answered this question before. I support a settlement between the regime and the rebels (including the jihadis) because I realize that the rebels cannot conceivably defeat the regime militarily. I also realize that Assad is an vicious asshole who would rather slaughter half the country than personally step down (like Nicholas II). So the settlement would have to include him too, as a candidate in a free election. Either that or have somebody kill the bastard. You’d naturally rather kill everybody opposed to Assad. What can I say, we have different values. But putting values aside, the logistics of killing one guy are certainly simpler than those of permanently pacifying a rebellious population and giving the Baathist monarchy a new lease on life.

    I am completely opposed to Russia’s policy of bolstering the regime in general and Assad in particular and pummeling the savages into submission. Unlike the Americans, the Russians have not focused the firepower on ISIS, but rather on its enemies. Does that shit not fucking bother you, at least a little? I’ve brought up plenty of other inconvenient facts. Assad and Russia pursuing the goal of military victory over the opposition is PRECISELY the status quo that has turned Syria into a wasteland and lead to the capture of territory by ISIS. This is also the status quo that YOU have been a shrill advocate for. I bet you sleep like a baby.

    Side note: when it comes to Ukraine you are a fool and hypocrite. Irrelevant you say? Not in the least. The only reason you oppose the Ukranian regime is because it’s in cahoots with NATO. Ah if only it was in cahoots with Russia, it would be a whole other story….

    Did I answer your question?

  31. Sure. I hope I answered Vanya’s question. I can’t stand the thought of leaving him in the dark.

  32. Maxim: I support a settlement between the regime and the rebels (including the jihadis)

    Including the jihadis? You seriously believe that the Syrian govt should sit down and negotiate the future of Syria with Chechen, Saudi, Egyptian, German, French, and British takfiris? Really?

    You mean we’ve actually wasted precious minutes of our lives debating with someone whose solution is to reach a settlement with people whose objective is a final solution?

  33. John,

    Evidence based debate at its finest. My position coincides with that of Gilbert Achcar. The advocate for the “final solution” here is YOU. And I’d advise you against throwing that terminology around, unless you want to sound like Bush or Putin, both noted “anti-fascists”. But hey if you to compare everybody from Al-Nusra to the Maidan crowd to Himmler, be my guest. All it does is ruin your credibility. God John, you really do become shrill when pushed.

  34. maxm,

    And what happened to sitting down with the Taliban? I mean, do you ever just take a moment to self-reflect? Or is that too mush to ask?

  35. John,

    Well the Vienna process does open the door to negotiations with the opposition, including some unpleasant characters. What is interesting is that the Russian military action has pushed the non ISIL rebels into both moving to make themselves look less extreme, but also taking part in the Riyadh conference.

    So some talks between the Assad government and those representated at the Riyadh conference is likely, the objective of which will be to consolidate government control of “useful Syria” and leave the Jihadist fighting over control of sand and rocks.

    The interesting thing is that in parallel to the Riyadh conference has been an alternative conference of armed groups and Kurds, in Kurdistan, as Turkey insisted the Kurds who control territory with a population of 2 million are not allowed at Riyadh, and the Kurds themselves are closer to the politics of the Damascus govt than they are to the rebels I’m Riyadh.

    A third conference has taken place in Damascus , with the blessing of the government of those groups aNd individuals who are deeply opposed to Assad and Ba’athism but who would prefer government victory in the civil war followed by reform. Quite possibly the majority view amongst Syrians.

    The Riyadh conference has been stormy as some of the groups attending support the Russian bombing of ISIL, and the most pro Turkish groups have refused to sign the joint statement.

    It is unclear what will come out of the Vienna process, but already the Russian military action has created diplomatic space and both military and political retreat by the rebels.

    Turkish exclusion of the Kurds could be a huge miscalculation if Russia brokers a deal between the Kurds and Assad, which makes both military and political sense. (It would also be an exquisite embarrassment for Anglo ultra left’s)

  36. John,

    Incidentally, I did laugh to see a recent post on Louis Project’s blog quoting as authorative an article about Jihadi groups as if it were still current that was written almost 3 years ago!

    In the wise words of Dwight Yoakum : well baby things change.

  37. Andy Newman: Well the Vienna process does open the door to negotiations with the opposition, including some unpleasant characters.

    The opposition, yes, but not sectarian Islamists and certainly not those from outwith the country. I’m not sure the Russians, Syrians, or Iranians are interested in negotiating with Saudi sponsored terrorists. They do recognise what they have described as ‘legitimate opposition’, and indeed we know that the FSA remnants have been actively helping coordinate Russian airstrikes in the North.

    Russia is intent on trying to bring what is left of the FSA in from the cold, so to speak, to the point where they join with pro govt forces in fighting Nusra, Army of Conquest, and ISIS. On paper this seems a logical and sensible objective, however given how brutal and long lasting the conflict has been, I can only imagine that for many Syrians even negotiating with the FSA will prove a bitter pill to swallow, esp knowing the extent to which the FSA have been cooperating with Islamists.

  38. John,

    Yes. A consequence of the Vienna process is that the opposotion have to take responsibility itself for putting together its own negotiating team, and that wont be easy for them, especially with Turkey and the Gulf states having a less than constructive agenda.

    However, overall the Vienna process, combined with effective military pressure from the government forces and the Russians, squeezes the non ISIL rebels in a vice, with no prospect of military victory, and recognition dawning on them that they are in a political cul de sac

  39. Btw the silly person Maxim whose company and intellectual depth we’ve recently had the privilege of experiencing has carried the tale over to Louis Proyect’s ‘Marxmail’ discussion forum. He’s trying to paint himself as a latter day Albert Camus who deserves credit for tussling with us nasty ‘Stalinists’ over Syria, Ukraine, and NATO. This is coming of course from a left wing apologist for NATO, which as we know is a role to which Louis Proyect has recently signed up to with the zeal of a new convert. Here is Maxim on his recent foray into the breach on here:

    ‘This might be tangentially relevant. I’ve just had the pleasure of “debating” some of the Socialist Unity crowd recently, on topics ranging from Syria and Ukraine. It was certainly a one of a kind experience. They really do circle their wagons around Putin and Assad. Some of the arguments were truly bizarre. Sometimes Assad was the Churchill or our day, other times he was Abe Lincoln. The Islamist rebels were naturally the SS, who should be exterminated mercilessly. The rest was just transparent hypocrisy. Not ONE word of criticism levelled at Assad or the Russians. The consensus is that what they say goes.

    Interestingly enough, they all assumed I was Louis Proyect. So when I replied in Russian to show I was someone else they blocked precisely those comments and then the IP. Many of the people there are as shrill and naïve as a five year old, and really can’t take a joke or a jab. Figures. But they are probably right that Star Wars sucks, although their ideal seems to be a Sergio Leone “Western” monstrosity.

    Fun crowd. They’ll shower any “enemy of NATO” with praise. I wonder what would happen if they lived in say Russia. Those contrarians would probably be singing praises to NATO.’

    As for Proyect, this is his prescription: ‘People like Wight need to read Trotsky.’

  40. John,

    Childish I know, but I was enjoying pretending that Maxim was Louis, whereas he actually seems to be only a Proyect mini-me.

    maxim is young, he might grow up. Louis is beyond redemption

  41. #34 But if the rebels could conceivably defeat the government militarally, can you explain why you think that outcome would be an improvement on what’s already in place? Positively that is. Not merely with reference to any negative features of the Assad government.

  42. John,

    I have been reading through Louis Protect’s thoughts about Syria, and he seems to be bigging up jaish al Islam as “moderate” alternative to Nusra.

    Protect’s view is based on a 2013 article by Hassan Hassan. His scholarship is improving as Hassan doesnt write for the NY Times, but Protect is still prepared to consider his views. Obviously all true Trotskyists like Proyect know that the world can be completely understood with the sole two sources of the NY Times and the theoretical works of a Russian who died 75 years ago.

    In the real world, the moderation of Jaish can be judged by their aim of expelling or killing all the Shia, Druze, Christian and Allawites in Syria.

  43. maxm,

    You are becomming increasingly juvenile.

    The fact that the Taliban will surely reassert themselves in Afghanistan is not an outcome to be desired, but it is the product of US failure.

    Others can speak for themselves, but my opposition to US and Western military intervention is not based upon “Leninism” or even particularly on “anti imperialism” but on the fact it is so useless and also that the Americans are so bad at it.

    there is a pattern to a rush to war, before other options are exhausted, then failure to ensure that the outcome results in a sustainble peacetime society.

    The US failed in Afghanistan because as occupying power they neglected to create stable government, failed to stabilise the economy, revitalised the warlords who had been defeated by the Taliban, failed to bring together a stabilising working relationship with regional powers, and failed to constrain their own main regional ally, Pakistan, from funding and supporting the Taliban.

    Forgive me for being skeptical about the US capability to do anything useful in Syria.

    Now it is interesting why the US seems ideologically commiited to destroying states without regard for the consequences, and why they assume constitutionailty and rule of law will arise out of anarchy. But i have yet to see a convincing account of it.

    What is also mysterious is why people like you and Gilbert Achcar seek to put a leftist spin on these disastrous adventures

  44. #34 Btw I wonder if you could point to anything I have said that suggests I want to see everyone killed who opposes Assad.

    It’s as silly (and needless to say offensive, although obviously that was the intention) as would be me suggesting that you’d like to see everyone in Syria who supports Assad beheaded, even if some of the people you support by default clearly would do this if they had the opportunity.