Koran Burning Incident Underscores Dangers of “Advise and Assist”

I thought I would take a moment to comment on the recent events surrounding the burning of Korans by American troops in Afghanistan. The events of this week have reinforced the part of my previous post that mentioned the danger posed to those in an “advise and assist” role from the soldiers or police officers the American soldier is supposed to be advising or assisting. Like many former trainers, I have been extremely distressed by these events because it is easy to remember the time when I was worrying about Afghans turning their weapons on me.

I would guess that I am not the only person who has gone to war that still reads everything they can find about what is happening in the areas where they served. I pay special attention to the areas where I served and to any story involving trainers or advisers in Afghanistan. The two instances of Afghan personnel turning their weapons on Americans have struck really close to home because I was often the only American in a large group of Afghan Army soldiers.  I often walked with only my Afghan interpreter to the Afghan Army base that was adjacent to ours. I was always armed with a pistol, but I was greatly outnumbered. As we walked, we were always approached by Afghan soldiers who wanted to chat about life in America or ask questions about my family or where I was from. These Afghan soldiers were armed the majority of the time. Luckily, none of them turned their weapons on me. I am thankful that my interpreter (an Afghan who I eventually sponsored to move to the United States and who lived with me for two years) had a keen ability to distinguish a potential threat from just a curious Afghan who had never spoken to an American.

I am hoping that the military leadership in Afghanistan is taking precautions to protect the trainers/advisers who must interact with Afghans on a daily basis. The safety of the trainers must trump any political considerations that aim to show that we still trust our Afghan “allies.” I am also hoping that the current administration considers the most recent incidents of Afghans turning their weapons on those in the “advise and assist” role when plotting their next move in Afghanistan.

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About kevinremus

Former active duty Army Officer, strong supporter of veterans and the military, patent attorney.
This entry was posted in Central Asia, Defense, Leadership, Policy, Politics, Terrorism and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

57 Responses to Koran Burning Incident Underscores Dangers of “Advise and Assist”

  1. Moe says:

    Every day this looks more and more like Vietnam. There really is no way out with dignity intact.

    • Moe, that’s always been the danger of setting a date certain for withdrawal – the enemy has something to fight for.

      That said, I think the Afghan surge was a bad idea. Panetta’s expanded use of UAVs on the Pakistani border was always the better part of Obama’s Afghan strategy.

      Rebuilding a place where civilization has failed to completely flower for thousands of years is a fool’s errand today.

  2. middleagedhousewife says:

    I wonder what would happen if we quit apologizing for our actions and defended them instead. Those Korans were being used to transmit information that could be used against us. Destroying them was justified. There is a shadow of hypocrisy hanging over the Muslims who are willing to kill those who they perceive to disrespect their beliefs, but do not respect the beliefs of others themselves. Troops being placed in an “advise and assist” role and their interpreters just might be the sacrificial lambs of the need to project a politically correct, tolerant image.

    • Moe says:

      How exactly should we ‘defend’ those actions. Burning Korans was stunningly stupid. Trouble was absolutely certain to follow and now 40 people are dead. Removing the Korans from the prisoners was absolutely justified, tha’ts all that needed to be done. Destroying them was not at all justified. I doubt we’d sit still if they burned Bibles. Destroying the books was simply stupid.

      But again, exactly how, after 11 years, should we defend this action? And how would that help advance our mission (whatever it is at this point)?

      • Moe,

        I don’t think burning the Korans was stunningly stupid, but I do think letting the Afghans see us burning them was.

        “I doubt we’d sit still if they burned Bibles.”

        Actually, we’ve ignored a heck of a lot worse. Heck, our own people burn the flag. You should see what the Taliban does to Americans they capture.

        I think the fundamental lesson of all of this is that radical Muslims are barbarians and bat sh** crazy. Nothing more and nothing less.

        However, the President and everyone involved had to apologize to put a tamp down on the blowback of all of this. Criticism from the right for their apology is somewhat unfair. If it results in fewer American deaths, then one has to do what one has to do.

      • middleagedhousewife says:

        I know many Christians would be outraged if Bibles were burned, and would speak out about it, but I can’t think of any denomination that would propose going on a killing spree. The blame for those 40 people killed rests solely on the Muslims who killed them.

    • I agree. That said, it was shockingly stupid to let the Afghans see us do it.

      • middleagedhousewife says:

        Sean,
        I understand why the President had to apologize, we have to protect the troops still in country, but it still feels like our leaders are bowing in submission every time they do it. I know that it would stir up one heck of a hornets nest, but it would still be satisfying to here our President or even someone from the “main stream” media have the guts to label radical Muslims as the evil entity that they are.

        • Scott Erb says:

          It all gets tricky. Think of it from their perspective (average Afghans, not the evil extremists). First the Russians, now the Americans. Even those happy to see the Taliban go 11 years ago don’t want us there now. Evil is in the eyes of the beholder. When a NATO bomb kills children, is that evil? That said, I have no problem labeling Islamic extremists who murder and terrorize as evil – the Taliban was an evil regime. I do have real problems if it’s not clear that we’re looking at a subset of Islam that follows teachings that contradict almost all Islamic teachings. Islam isn’t going away, and historically it’s coexisted well with Christianity. The extremists would like to represent the billion plus Muslims of the world, but they don’t — and we shouldn’t do anything to make it seem like their caricature of us as the evil ones doesn’t become more credible in the eyes of average Muslims.

    • VR Kaine says:

      I say go one better and turn the entire country over to its women. Put all the men in jail and put women in charge of everything – government, hospitals, schools, markets, prisons – the whole shebang. Then let the guys out one by one, youngest to oldest, based upon their good behavior towards the women in the prisons, and then have all our troops there to guard and protect them.

      I know it’s a little crazy, but think about it – how could anyone NOT say this was a righteous mission? Imagine the ripple effects it would have!

      • Moe says:

        Vern, you know I like that idea a LOT! 🙂 I really do . .. . we know that wherever women are empowered, good things follow, like more education and less hostility.

        We can go back and forth about the Koran burning and what we think of Muslims, but the serious questions remain – why are we there 11 years on and what do we hope to accomplish?

        Afghanistan is still ‘where empires go to die’.

        • I agree nation-building is a lost cause. The one thing that we have accomplished is that we effectively destroyed al Qaeda. I think a small footprint with lots of UAVs was always the answer. Tens of thousands of US troops taking and retaking towns, however, is a waste of time and resources.

        • VR Kaine says:

          Glad you like it! Unfortunately I don’t think it would ever happen, but it doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea, right?

          I think unfortunately America had one hand tied behind its back from the very start when it came to Afghanistan. I agree with Sean that we smoked out Al Qaeda, but the fact that we’re still leaving acid-throwers behind to do their ill is what I regret regarding any pullout. Plus, that we seemed to have let the Chinese go in there and secure a number of mineral rights as well – insult to injury.

        • Moe says:

          Vern – do you know that not a single US oil company has been able to secure oil concessions in Iraq?

          As for turning Afghanistan over to the women – I am convening a secret meeting of the secret sisterhhood . . . .

      • Moe says:

        Guys – I guess we did do mortal harm to Al Quaeda, at least as it existed in 2001. I hear it’s a very different organization now, more activist, less terrorist. But they still hate the West and especially the US…

        What happened to Al Zawaheri?

      • middleagedhousewife says:

        VRK
        What a great idea! That should be the policy for all Middle Eastern nations where radical Islam resides. I’m sure most of those women would welcome stripping off the burkas. And since those burka clad beauties could be put to death for tempting a man, how about turning it around and letting them hang a man by his hoo-ha if he cheats. 🙂

  3. kevinremus says:

    Outside of the major cities and among the elite like Karzai and his crew, the Afghan people have no interest in building a nation. That makes the situation impossible when it comes to nation-building. The Afghan people care more about their tribes and about living life according to their tribal customs. Unfortunately, whether we are there or not, people will continue to throw acid onto the faces of girls on their way to school and use their children to pay off debts. Tribal justice will always trump any type of court system we try to set up for them.

    I agree that we have destroyed Al Qaeda’s ability to operate in Afghanistan. UAV’s and Special Forces can take the job from here and make sure terrorist organizations do not operate in Afghanistan. The Afghans don’t want a nation to be built, and our government does not have the ability to build one.

  4. VR Kaine says:

    This one seems to be making the rounds on the Internet…

    Written by a housewife in New Brunswick , to
    her local newspaper. This is one ticked off lady…

    “Are we fighting a war on terror or aren’t we? Was
    it or was it not, started by Islamic people who
    brought it to our shores on September 11, 2001
    and have continually threatened to do so since?

    Were people from all over the world, not brutally murdered
    that day, in downtown Manhattan , across the Potomac from
    the capitol of the USA and in a field in Pennsylvania ?

    Did nearly three thousand men, women and children die a horrible, burning or crushing death that day, or didn’t they?

    Do you think I care about four U. S. Marines urinating on some dead Taliban insurgents?

    And I’m supposed to care that a few Taliban were
    claiming to be tortured by a justice system of a
    nation they are fighting against in a brutal Insurgency.

    I’ll care about the Koran when the fanatics in the Middle
    East, start caring about the Holy Bible, the mere belief
    of which, is a crime punishable by beheading in Afghanistan .

    I’ll care when these thugs tell the world they are
    sorry for hacking off Nick Berg’s head, while Berg
    screamed through his gurgling slashed throat.

    I’ll care when the cowardly so-called insurgents
    in Afghanistan , come out and fight like men,
    instead of disrespecting their own religion by
    hiding in Mosques and behind women and children.

    I’ll care when the mindless zealots who blow
    themselves up in search of Nirvana, care about the
    innocent children within range of their suicide Bombs.

    I’ll care when the Canadian media stops pretending that
    their freedom of Speech on stories, is more important than
    the lives of the soldiers on the ground or their families waiting
    at home, to hear about them when something happens.

    In the meantime, when I hear a story about a
    CANADIAN soldier roughing up an Insurgent
    terrorist to obtain information, know this:

    I don’t care.

    When I see a wounded terrorist get shot in the
    head when he is told not to move because he
    might be booby-trapped, you can take it to the bank:

    I don’t care. Shoot him again.

    When I hear that a prisoner, who was issued a Koran and a prayer mat, and fed ‘special’ food, that is paid for by my tax dollars, is complaining that his holy book is being ‘mishandled,’ you can absolutely believe, in your heart of hearts:

    I don’t care.

    And oh, by the way, I’ve noticed that sometimes
    it’s spelled ‘Koran’ and other times ‘Quran.’
    Well, Jimmy Crack Corn you guessed it.

    I don’t care!!

    If you agree with this viewpoint, pass this on to
    all your E-mail Friends. Sooner or later, it’ll get to
    the people responsible for this ridiculous behavior!

    If you don’t agree, then by all means hit the delete
    button. Should you choose the latter, then please don’t
    complain when more atrocities committed by radical
    Muslims happen here in our great Country! And may I add:

    Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering, if
    during their life on earth, they made a difference in
    the world. But, the Soldiers don’t have that problem.

    I have another quote that I would like to
    share AND…I hope you forward All this.

    One last thought for the day:

    Only five defining forces have ever offered to die for you:

    1. Jesus Christ
    2. The British Soldier.
    3. The Canadian Soldier.
    4. The US Soldier, and
    5. The Australian Soldier

    One died for your soul,
    the other four, for you and your children’s Freedom.

    YOU MIGHT WANT TO PASS THIS ON,
    AS MANY SEEM TO FORGET!

    AMEN! GOD BLESS CANADA AND AMERICA .

    • Moe says:

      Actually Sean, I will say somethig very unpopular here: I think this housewife’s words sum up the results of everything we did wrong after 9/11, when 19 men – 16 OF THEM FROM SAUDI ARABIA – attacked us so brutally.

      Of course, we had a moral obligation to respond on behalf of our lost countrymen. And we briefly did. We went to Aghanistan to punish the Taliban – properly – for thier aiding and abetting of Bin Laden and Al Quaeda. And we accomplished that pretty quickly.

      But then? Of almost everything that followed – the stuff she details – we must take some responsiblity. We INVADED Iraq, a soveriegnv country on the flimsiest of excuses and on provable lies. We left Afghaistan to revert to where it was before we went in. We fomented a civil war in Iraq, empowered Iran and turned our attention back to Afghanistan when it was already too late. And if all we accomplised – besides spending a trillion dollars and losing 6000 American soldiers – if all we accomplished was chasing Al Quaeda out off that country and taking down the taliban (briefly), then I”d call it a collosal faillure. I mean that.

      We wasted time and treasure and Iraq and Afghanistan hate us and we never even turned our attenttion to Pakistan until recently – Pakistan, that huge source of support for the Taliban. As for Saudi Arabiaf . . . nuff said.

      • VR Kaine says:

        Hi Moe,

        Sure, we did a lot of things wrong and I’m more in support of the why rather than the how when it comes to the invasions, but I think the political correctness around things like the book burnings are a totally separate issue from the “should we be there or shouldn’t we” question of the war itself.

        In my opinion, just because we screwed up in ways getting there and being there, it still doesn’t mean that we have to ever govern ourselves by their stoning, beheading, or acid-throwing standards. I think the only people in any position to demand civility from us is ourselves, not them, so in that sense I care little about what offends their sensitivities or not regardless of whether we should even be there in the first place.

        Put another way, since we’re already there, we’ll take our own peoples’ counsel on what’s right or wrong to do while we’re over there, not theirs, because ours is a thousand ways more fair, humane, and progressive on how to handle things than their counsel ever likely will be. Their feelings are hurt? Well like the lady says, “Jimmy cracked corn…”

        • Moe says:

          [but I think the political correctness around things like the book burnings ]

          Vern – I dont see this as one of those PC things at all. And that’s not the argument I’ve been hearing or reading and it’s certainlyl not my own argument which I may not have made clear.

          My problem with the book burnings was that after 11 years ‘in country’ it was incredibily, unbeleivably stupid – everything we know about these people told us that disrespecting their tradtitions is dangerous. They aren’t our enemy and it is their country..

          They’re not like us in any way at all. But because we don’t behead our enemies (hasn’t happened in Afghanistan as far as I know, has it?) doesn’t mean we’re better than them. It means we come from a different culture.

          It was just stupid, stupid, stupid. And we’re paying a terrible price.

        • VR Kaine says:

          I agree with you on the book burning part – accident or not we know better and had to be fully aware of the consequences. Based on that I’m not completely convinced it was purely “accidental”, but that’s just my opinion and intent can never be proven.

          To your other point, you said “because we don’t behead our enemies (hasn’t happened in Afghanistan as far as I know, has it?) doesn’t mean we’re better than them. It means we come from a different culture.
          Rather than behead I think the Afghani men prefer to drown and stone instead. 😉 Sarcasm aside, we may just have to agree to disagree here.

          I recommended the doc I mentioned (“Love Crimes of Kabul”) for a couple reasons. One, it shows just how much (or how little) Afghanis care about the actual war which speaks to the stay in/pull out argument. For another, it shows just how twisted and backwards their thinking still is about human rights. http://www.variety.com/review/VE1117945194/

          At the risk of sounding arrogant, in general I believe we are in fact better than them, the religious nuts who rape,maim, drown, stone, and torture as part of their “normal”. For me, I don’t disingenuously try and elevate them to some higher status than they deserve simply based on what could only be some guilt or sympathy on my part like some people on the far left do. Does Manson get the same kind of sympathy, understanding, and elevation that the Taliban gets from the left? How about McVeigh or Kozinsky? Do we give them our empathy like we hear the far left giving the Taliban, offering up that they’re simply misunderstood human beings defending their beliefs?

          Hardly. We don’t plead the “misunderstood” case for these murderers and say they’re just as good as we are because we know deep down that they’re not. So to me, the acid-throwing religious nut Talibani men deserve no better than the weirdos and creeps amongst our own. if the far left doesn’t give guys like Bundy and Gacy their empathy and respect, then they shouldn’t be giving it to the Taliban who commit these same kinds of heinous acts, either, and therefore I think they should drop the double-standard – especially when the Taliban are aggressively (not defensively) killing our troops at the same time.

          Anyways, not saying you specifically have a double-standard (you call things like you see ’em!), but just saying that I’m not as nice of a person and as sympathetic as you are towards these cretins, and my reasons. In my opinion they deserve less that any respect they get, and the slippery slope of us giving them a free pass in the world out of either our guilt or our apathy is something I fear far more than the consequences of us happening to pee on a few of their heads after they’re dead.

        • Moe says:

          Vern – I don’t see any ‘sympathy’ for the Taliban from the left. If I sounded sympathetic I certainly didn’t mean to. It’s more a matter of acknowledging what is. And as I said, they are not our enemy and it is their country. No matter what. They do that stoning thing indeed and so does Saudi Arabia. Again, not saying it’s okay, just saying it is so.

          I made the point ot Sean downthread (I think it was here, damn thread’s so long and nesting so limited I can’t even find your comment to which I am replying here – HEY SEAN, more nested threading please!!) that the West began modernizing after the Renaissance, somelthing the Arab world never experienced. But I think this Arabl Spring may be the beginning of their Renaissance. It could take generations but still, let us hope. It’s not fun to share a world with a billion people.who live in the 17th century.

          I have always heard Karzai referred to as ‘the Mayor of Kabul”. Heard it for ten yearrs. And it’s probably so. You’re correct – the Afghanis will do as they have alwwaays done. They’re a tribal people and we all get in trouble when we try to make them into something else.

        • Scott Erb says:

          It seems to me still a bit strange that more Americans don’t comprehend the Afghan perspective. We’ve gone into their country and destroyed a lot of property, killed a lot of people, and enabled a lot of corruption (not that they needed us to enable it!) It’s been going on for a decade, long after the Taliban was overthrown and al qaeda scampered into Pakistan. Does that not REQUIRE we be sensitive to their concerns and culture? We are the foreign invaders, if we do not win their hearts and minds, we’ll naturally be the enemy. How would we like it if someone invaded our territory?

      • “We INVADED Iraq, a soveriegnv country on the flimsiest of excuses and on provable lies.”

        Moe, I’d think you’d have a tough time “proving” that we invaded Iraq based on lies. The United Nations cataloged Saddam’s WMD in 1991. No one has ever found those weapons since. They went somewhere. They just didn’t remain in Iraq or Saddam destroyed them without keeping any records. So the United States didn’t invade based on a lie. The invasion also inadvertently allowed the United States to kill a lot more jihadhists in Iraq than it did in Afghanistan. By creating a “superbowl of jihad” the United States created a honeypot that drew all the ragging jihadhis to Iraq rather than to the United States. I personally believe this is a key reason why there has not been a major attack against the United States since 9/11.

        Saudi Arabia, well, as you know that’s…complicated. Unfortunately, they have all the leverage (oil).

        • Moe says:

          Sean, I think you know I respect you a great deal, but I would take issue with every single thing you just said in that comment.

          When the Iraq talk started in early ’02, I made it my business to start paying attention. I’d heard the rhetoric before and didn’t trust it at all.

          I watched that Orwellian Office of Special Plans created at the Pentagon, and saw Wolfowitz staff it with the likes of Douglas Feiff. They worked with Cheney to create a narratvie and rework the intelligence to suit their purposes, since what the CIA and military intelligence wouldn’t give them what they wanted. That’s how we got that ‘yellowcake’ story from ‘Curveball’, the guy the Germans and our CIA begged us not to listen to. But Feiff listened. And the word went up and they convinced poor old George W that it was all real.

          Since ’04, I’ve probably read two dozen books by serious journalists who were in either Iraq or the Pentagon before, during and through to today. It’s an ugly chapter in our history. VEry very ugly.

          Sure we killed a lot of jihadists in Iraq, but how does that make any difference – it doesn’t reduce the number of jihadists out there wanting to kill us. They’ve all got little brothers who now hate us more than the ones we killed. There are tens of millions, more likely hundreds of millions, of young Arab men and more of them hate us than before Iraq.

          Measure this war by what it acheived for us. I think the answer is exactly nothing. I think we lost stature and we are more hated and we are less safe.

          • “Sure we killed a lot of jihadists in Iraq, but how does that make any difference – it doesn’t reduce the number of jihadists out there wanting to kill us.”

            That depends. Like any equation, there is one element that increases and one that decreases. Every jihadist we killed reduced the population of the most radical jihadists by one. Not every human being is a sociopath. In fact, only about 2% of them are. So, we would technically have to create 50 new jihadists to replace one sociopathic one. As such, I think we killed more jihadists than created them.

            “Measure this war by what it acheived for us. I think the answer is exactly nothing. I think we lost stature and we are more hated and we are less safe.”

            These people hated us long before the Iraq War. The hated us so much in fact that they flew two passenger airliners into the World Trade Center.

            The bottom line is that radical Islamists will never accept modernity. They will never change. When offered democracy, they elected fundamentalists in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya (they appointed a former member of al Qaeda to their leadership council), Lebanon, and the West Bank. The Arab world understands only one thing: force. Whenever they view America as a paper tiger, they attack. There is a reason they have not attacked since 9/11 – they can’t. We wiped most of them out.

            I admit that Bush made three really bad decisions after invading Iraq that made the conflict extend longer than was necessary. However, we really believed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. I was in the military at the time training the Third Infantry Division for the invasion. A big part of this preparation was using simulated chemical weapons against them in training. My thesis adviser, who is a Democrat who worked in the Clinton administration, and who now occupies a high post in the current administration testified before Congress that most people in the Intelligence community, including himself, believed Iraq had WMD.

          • Moe,

            Here are his words from 2004:

            “I myself applied the same logic to the need for a preemptive war in Iraq. I believed it was safer to assume Saddam Hussein was trying to fulfill his long-demonstrated quest for WMD than to interpret the scanty intelligence available as evidence of a scanty WMD program. I still believe my judgment to support the invasion of Iraq was sound on the basis of the information available at the time. But we now know that the overall picture that information painted was incorrect.

            The matter of pre-war intelligence on Iraq’s WMD is the subject of several ongoing inquiries, and my purpose in raising it is not to anticipate their results but to point to the larger issue of how to improve WMD intelligence in general.”

            http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/publication/3262/overhauling_counterproliferation.html?breadcrumb=%2Fexperts%2F128%2Fashton_b_carter%3Fgroupby%3D2%26hide%3D1%26id%3D128%26back_url%3D%25252Fexperts%25252F%26%253Bback_text%3DBack%252Bto%252Blist%252Bof%252Bexperts%26filter%3D12

            The bottom line is that decision-makers on both the right and left believed Iraq had WMD, and they were wrong. However, no one lied.

        • Moe says:

          Sean, I don’t think you and I will ever agree on what led to the war. We start with very different world views. I think we’re both idealists – you believe in the rightousness of our country more than I do, but that may be age. I once beleived that too; but it began to change with Vietnam. It was so ugly. It killed so many, ruined so many lives.. And when we left, they had won. They went on an internal jihad against internal enemies (and how that differs from shooting them under the banner of ‘war’ I’m not sure) and then settled down to being a stable well run country and a danger to no one. And we suffered 30 years of demoralization and a few million soldiers came home with drug problems.

          But the biggest thing for me, what I see as our greatest global failure, iis our careless use of oil while we spend lives and treasure to protect our access. But when one president – Carter – urged conservation, he was mocked. We waste more oil than we use and say what you will about WMD, it’s always – at its core – about oil when we act in the Middle East. But it seems to be okay for our soldiers to die so Target can leave 100 lights on in its empty parking lot at night and for my neigbors to leave lights on in every room in the house. And we disparage any attempt to re-assign any of the money we spend on protection of oil to development of other energy sources. Until we address our own complicity with our cavalier greed, we forfeit the moral high ground..

          By the way, I see the Arab Spring, despite who they’re electing today, as the possible begining of an Arab Renaissance. We in the West had ours hundreds of years ago and it set us on the path to modernity. It took generations and some wars, but it changed Christianity from a militant force to something closer to what it is today. I hope that for Islam and for the Arabs..

          Shut me up.

          • “I think we’re both idealists”

            Moe, I’m definitely not an idealist. I doubt there are few idealists left in my generation.

            “But the biggest thing for me, what I see as our greatest global failure, iis our careless use of oil while we spend lives and treasure to protect our access.”

            You and I definitely agree here, though my prescription would be more focused on technological innovation than on conservation. Conservation has a part, but it should be driven by market forces. For instance, my California electricity bill is so expensive that I refuse to use air conditioning in the summer even when it reaches temperatures above 100 degrees. It is simply too expensive.

            “By the way, I see the Arab Spring, despite who they’re electing today, as the possible begining of an Arab Renaissance.”

            I hope you’re right. Unfortunately, I’ve seen nothing in my adult life to lead me to the same conclusion.

          • Scott Erb says:

            I’m absolutely convinced that the Arab spring is a necessary first step towards shaking off the 700 years of stagnation brought about by Ottoman rule – military dictatorship alongside a rigidly conservative theology (overturning the Islamic rationalism that led to the golden age before that). It won’t happen quick, it’ll take generations. The West modernized over centuries with wars, repression, slavery, colonialism, the holocaust, etc. But it’s a change they’ll work through – keeping societies there stagnant through petty dictatorships was untenable. The Bush administration was right about that – demographic change and globalization meant that change was inevitable. But we learned we can’t guide it – but we also shouldn’t stand in its way. Renaissance may also be the right word — if they can rediscover pre-Ottoman Islamic thinking such as Avicenna and Averroes (who inspired Aquinas), well, who knows?

        • Scott Erb says:

          I have to agree with Moe here – I made a point to really learn all I could before and during the war because I have to cover it in class. The United Nations destroyed massive amounts of WMD in Iraq, as well as the capacity to make more. The weapons inspection regime was the most successful disarmament program in history. The CIA had lots of intelligence that said Iraq did not have weapons — Cheney and Wolfowitz thought the CIA was trying to undercut their plans and ran their own very dubious intelligence gathering program. Did they know they were making it up (lying) or did they really believe it? I don’t know. I do know that the goal was not based on WMD but a desire to remake the region. The idea was that the regimes there are anachronistic and doomed — and that with a shove the US could start a wave of democracy that would be good for the people, give hope to overcome terrorism and help us secure oil. That kind of logic could not be sold, so they focused on WMD. The French, Germans and Russians all doubted the WMD evidence.

          The US action created more terrorists than the US killed. Al qaeda in Iraq was a minority (most battles were by locals who otherwise would not threaten us), and most of them were recruited because of the Iraq war precisely to go fight — it’s not like there was a set number of terrorists and the war decreased their number. For awhile this helped terrorist recruitment a lot. Now that it’s over, al qaeda’s popularity is in steep decline. Removing al qaeda bases from Afghanistan did hinder the ability of al qaeda to strike again — but Iraq did nothing to protect the US. It was a war that I believe greatly harmed US interests.

          • “The US action created more terrorists than the US killed.”

            Scott, you keep saying that, but you cannot prove it.

            “it’s not like there was a set number of terrorists and the war decreased their number.”

            Of course not. There is a dynamic total number of terrorists with inputs increasing from recruitment and outputs from American weapons. My argument is that we killed more sociopaths than we created that’s all. I cannot prove it, because what I know comes from anecdotal evidence from troops in the field, but neither can you.

            “…but Iraq did nothing to protect the US”

            Remember, we killed Zarqawi in Iraq.

            • Scott Erb says:

              From what I recall, most al qaeda in Iraq came from Syria and were recruited precisely for that position. I’ve never seen any evidence that al qaeda trained folk from Afghanistan or Pakistan came there, except for a few in positions of command. To me the war benefited al qaeda by making it easy to bleed the US, divide the country (after it was so unified after 9-11) and create regional chaos. It’s telling too that al qaeda’s popularity has declined dramatically since the war in Iraq decreased in intensity in 2008. Neither of us can prove our position, but to me it’s hard to see how Iraq benefited the US. I think the Bush Administration had good intentions – they wanted to spread democracy and create a real opportunity for Arab youth — and they were right on the vulnerability of the dictatorships of the region. They saw the dangers of the demographic shifts of the region, and thought US power boldly used could be a game changer. It just didn’t work.

              • Scott, al Qaeda’s popularity declined in Iraq around 2008 because the surge wiped them out. The surge also unified Sunni tribal leaders against al Qaeda.

                I agree with you that Bush Administration thought it could spread democracy to the Middle East. However, I think this belief was the worst argument the Administration offered for going into Iraq. I still don’t believe Arab democracies are possible when the Sharia is always around the corner.

                • Scott Erb says:

                  Al qaeda was never popular in Iraq, I’m talking about their popularity throughout the Arab world. Also, note that what really defeated them was a change in strategy – instead of fighting against Sunni insurgents we coopted them. That was a brilliant shift, I credit President Bush and General Petraeus for that. It wasn’t the increase in US forces that did that, but rather a conscious policy shift whereby we stopped seeing Sunni insurgents as enemies (when such a shift was suggested in 2004 or 2005 there was a lot of resistance, since these were people who had been killing Americans). That doesn’t contradict what you say, but I think it’s unfortunate that the term “surge” gets used since that seems to imply more troops did the trick, when really it was a brilliant change in strategy augmented by more troops.

                  Arab democracies are just as possible as any, but will be hard to construct, just as western democracies were. Sharia is not necessarily bad either – it depends on how it’s interpreted. Islam, Judaism and Christianity are part of the same religious family, and there is no reason for cultures based on any of them to be in conflict or be unable to produce democracy. It’s the politics that gets in the way – and people who abuse religion for political purposes. Unfortunately, there are a lot of those in the Islamic world right now. I don’t think they own the future though.

                  • Moe says:

                    I think too it’s important that we make a distinction between ‘Arab’ and ‘Islamic’. So many of the cutlural practices we abhor are based in tribal Arab cultures and pre-date Islam. Which is one reason we dont see burkas in Indonesia and other majority Muslim countries. And we don’t see stoning or beheading either.

                    And this is where the demogragjccs that Sean and Scott mention becomes important. Modernity is coming at them – and it’s younger people who drive it. Manky of them are urban and not a bit tribal. Social networking is having a huge impact too – it’s so empowering, especially for women.

                  • “Also, note that what really defeated them was a change in strategy – instead of fighting against Sunni insurgents we coopted them.”

                    I agree that this change in strategy was critical to its success (and is often forgotten), though increasing the number of troops in the region was equally important, in my opinion.

  5. middleagedhousewife says:

    I don’t think our military would have put so much emphasis on training and equipping our forces on how to deal with chemical warfare if they KNEW there were no WMDs. I think we made a mistake by not securing the border with Syria. That is where a lot of people think the WMDs went. It’s my opinion that Islam encourages hypocrisy as a tenant of its faith. They demand an unwavering respect for any act they commit in the name of allah while denying a like respect of other cultures.They have a very good understanding of the American belief in freedom of religion and know how to exploit it.

    • Moe says:

      [I don’t think our military would have put so much emphasis on training and equipping our forces on how to deal with chemical warfare if they KNEW there were no WMDs]

      housewife: I agree with that – the military did not know. They were ordered to war and told to expect chemical WMD. Of course they made sure to be prepared for that.

      As for the religion and respect stuff – we’ll drive ourselves nuts if we waste time comparing our values wtih those of a tribal people who pretty much live in the 17th century.

      We don’t belong there. The Russians sure learned that in the 80’s when those very same people pulled the plug on the USSR.

      We’re on a fool’s errand.

      • Scott Erb says:

        To be sure, those people who defeated the Russians did it with massive US aid (as dramatized in “Charlie Wilson’s War”). I still cringe when I see the 1980 video of Zbigniew Brzezinski telling the mujahideen “your cause is just, God is on your side.”

        • Moe says:

          Ever read Steve Coll’s book “Ghost Wars” about the CIA in Afghanistan in the 80’s? It’s a terrific read. Same story as Charlie Wilson,, but larger context.

    • Scott Erb says:

      Islam does not encourage hypocrisy, and in fact demands there be no compulsion in religion, and respect must be shown to Christians and Jews especially (other people of the book), but also others who choose not to believe. When the crusades came to Jerusalem the Christian message was convert or die. When the Muslims retook the city, they allowed Christians to stay and be part of the community.

      There is a point in the Koran where Muhammad is preparing for battle against the Quarysh — that’s the Meccan tribe that wanted to kill him and his followers. He tells them to lie “to the polytheists” (the Quarysh) and kill them in their sleep. This was not a tenant of the religion, but battle orders, knowing that if they lost they could be destroyed. That passage is often falsely cited as being a command in general to all Muslims — something that would contradict almost all other spiritual teachings. Beyond that, Saddam and his followers were a secular Baathist who persecuted Muslim extremists. Osama wanted to take Saddam out back in 1991.

      • middleagedhousewife says:

        “Islam does not encourage hypocrisy, and in fact demands there be no compulsion in religion, and respect must be shown to Christians and Jews especially (other people of the book), but also others who choose not to believe.”

        Scott, That may well be the historic teachings of the Koran, but what we are facing now is a radical subset of Islam that has perverted their own scriptures to justify their Jihad against anyone who isn’t a practicing Muslim. Yes, Christianity has had it’s growing pains, and it’s share of Bible twisting zealots (David Koresh for one). But we are not dealing with a limited group of cultish Islamists. We are dealing with a large, violent group of terrorists whose goal is world domination in the name of Allah. I don’t believe that these terrorists are representative of Islam as a whole, but I wonder why aren’t the more moderate Muslims doing more to separate themselves from the Jihadists? Why isn’t the moderate Muslim leadership speaking out loud and long against them? We can hope that the Arab Spring will herald an Arab Renascence, and bring peace and stability to the region, but if any of the radical Muslim groups, or even more moderate groups that are sympathetic to them, come to power, the whole world will be in grave danger.

        • Eric Hielema says:

          [Scott, That may well be the historic teachings of the Koran, but what we are facing now is a radical subset of Islam that has perverted their own scriptures to justify their Jihad against anyone who isn’t a practicing Muslim.]

          I disagree strongly. It is not a subset of Islam at all. It is a subset of greedy, arrogant, and uneducated men who use an interpretation of their faith for personal gain, not Jihad. The Jihad is just a rallying cry. There are certainly devout radicals that are convinced that these perverted interpretations of the Koran represent the teachings of Muhammad just as their are American Baptists walking around with “God hates Fags” signs. But the hypocrisy there is born of greed.

          And one thing I have not seen mentioned is that the most amazing thing about these people is their pragmatism and their stubbornness. They will never bow to authority. Sure, they do it while a gun is pointed at them. They will also do it when there is green at the end of the barrel. But ultimately they will not be ruled by outsiders. The best thing we can do for them is help keep Al Qaeda in check, help them build schools and hospitals, and keep our distance.

          • kevinremus says:

            From my time in Afghanistan, I learned that the Afghan people really only do respect the power of the gun. This is understandable since the country has been at war for over thirty years. It can also help explain why very few villages or tribes rise up against the Taliban. The power of the gun also makes the job difficult for the military because we follow the Geneva Convention, which is a completely foreign concept to people who have seen warlords and the Taliban terrorize and massacre anyone and everyone who gets in their way.

            I always felt that the Afghans respected us less because they thought we were too nice. One particular incident sticks out in my mind. The Afghan Army managed to take a few prisoners during a mission near Kandahar. They tied them up and had them sitting in a building. I heard about the prisoners and went to see them to make sure they were being treated properly. I told them to give them water, and the Afghan soldiers were furious with me and wanted to know why they should do that. I then asked them what we should do with the prisoners now, and they said we should kill them. I did not allow that and had the prisoners sent to the rear, but the Afghan officer I was working with was not happy with me. When I tried to explain, he gave me the usual Afghan wave of his hand to indicate his disgust with me.

            • Eric Hielema says:

              Very interesting Kevin. It is obviously difficult to argue for humanity’s sake when humanity is not part of someone’s stream of consciousness.

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