Afghanistan and The Gordian Knot

Alexander_cuts_the_Gordian_KnotThe top story on the NYT website today is how Afghanistan’s Attorney General released 65 prisoners from the Bagram Airport Prison facility today for lack of evidence against them…and these are 65 detainees who the U.S. military deems terrorists and do not want released.

This article today reminded me of a myth today then regarding Alexander the Great and the “Gordian Knot.” Let me tell it to you and show you how they relate.

As Alexander’s Macedonian army entered the Phrygia at Gordium city-state, a myth resided their where to become the next ruler of the ruler-less city, one would have to untie the “Gordian Knot”: an enormous knot on an oxcart tied in a fashion wherein the ends of the rope were not visible, and therefore enabled to be untied.

(The myth is very similar to the one about Arthur and The Sword In The Stone in English Mythology, if that reference helps.)

So Alexander looked about the knot and found no way to untie it in a traditional sense and then, with suddenness and guile, draws his sword and hacks away at the knotted rope until it becomes “untied.”

Now the most popular interpretation of this mythical metaphor is that it should teach one to think “outside the box” as Alexander did even though he somewhat slighted the rules. In other words, Alexander got the job done in the usually glorious Alexander way and know one was about to argue.

Back to Afghanistan and the Gordian Knot mythology.

In 2001, when the U.S. Army invaded Afghanistan, we metaphorically looked at the Taliban-ruled Nation as a “knot”: It was very complex and seemed to remain tied despite thousands of years of attempted conquest by those characters such as the Russians and Alexander The Great…and they both failed.

But without thinking about it too hard and with extreme hubris we cut and hacked, and hacked and cut at the Afghanistan knot until it was left in pieces. But unlike the myth, those pieces that we hacked apart are now growing back together.

As we move to withdrawal from Afghanistan in late this year, we can metaphorically see the “knot” reassemble and reform. And one of these pieces mending back together is through the release of supposed terrorists right back into society.

So the lesson of Afghanistan know is we should have observed our knot much more than we did.


U.S. Withdrawal Agreement with Afghanistan

Hamid-Karzai_17At talks over an agreement regarding the future U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan was complicated by new demands made by Afghan Pres. Karzai yesterday.

This all just looks like Karzai is more interested in winning the upcoming election more than being concerned with the well-being of his country.

Read Here.




Iraq War a Failure, Afghanistan Now on Its Way

There is very little in the way of a rational argument supporting the idea the Iraq War was in any fashion a success.  By just about any measure imaginable, it was an outright failure.  And the situation in the country continues to get worse, as indicated by just a sample of recent attacks:

And those reports are from the month of July alone.  As one article notes, “more than 2,500 Iraqis have died in attacks since April.”

This is also not counting the legacy of depleted uranium used by U.S. forces in Iraq which is causing huge increases in birth defects in cities such as Najaf and Fallujah where very heavy fighting occurred.

It appears Afghanistan is now headed for the same type of violent situation.  Civilian casualties are on the rise according to the UN, as noted by the CSM:

The report said that Afghan civilian casualties are rising, noting an increase of 23 percent in the first half of 2013…According to the report, between January and June of this year, 1,319 civilians were killed, while 2,533 more were injured. Women and children casualties are also on the rise, increasing by 61 and 30 percent, respectively.

It’s not impossible for these countries to make miraculous turnarounds and be thriving democracies with strong economies one day.  But that day is not in the foreseeable future and it would appear the U.S. occupations of both may have set that day back much further as the level of violence grows in each.

Which now begs the question: should the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan be considered a failure equal to that of Iraq?

Difficult Decision: History Suggests U.S. Should Not Use Heavy Hand in Syria

As the United States mulls its decision on when and how to intervene in the Syrian Civil War, we must ask the difficult question of whether a heavy U.S. intervention is good for the long-term prospects of the Syrian people.  History would suggest this might seem effective and the right thing to do in the short-term but be a mistake in the more distant future.

The problem with any outside influence intervening in a country’s civil conflict is the reality the losing side will assume they lost solely because of that foreign interference.  The opposition will continue to push, often violently, until they have regained power and relative internal “peace” begins.  The United States has had a very heavy influence in many countries in the post-WWII era so a quick look at some of the results should give us an idea of the long-term success.

Should we or shouldn’t we?

In 1954, the CIA supported a coup d’état that eventually led to a civil war lasting over three decades.  During that time the U.S. supported “government forces and state-sponsored paramilitaries [that] were responsible for over 93 percent of the human rights violations during the war…More than 450 Mayan villages were destroyed and over 1 million people became displaced within Guatemala or refugees. Over 200,000 people, mostly Mayan, lost their lives during the civil war.”  Safe to say this was a failure in the long-run for the U.S. and Guatemala would have almost assuredly been better off without our “help”.

El Salvador

During the civil war in this country, the United States chose to support the side that was also found guilty of egregious human rights violations.  The estimated casualty count: “more than 70,000 people were killed, many in the course of gross violation of their human rights…Despite mostly killing peasants, the Government readily killed any opponent they suspected of sympathy with the guerrillas — clergy (men and women), church lay workers, political activists, journalists, labor unionists (leaders, rank-and-file), medical workers, liberal students and teachers, and human-rights monitors.”  And it appears that the side opposed by the U.S. in that war has now taken power in the democratically elected government.  Another failure for the U.S.


Both of these countries fought part (Laos) or all (Cambodia) of their civil wars during the U.S. invasion of Vietnam.  The U.S. became involved in the fighting inside the borders of each while bombing both countries during the Vietnam War.  The U.S. supported the eventual losing side in both of these wars and the casualty counts were six figures in each.  Ultimately, two more failures for the U.S.


The CIA worked to bring about another coup in this country in 1973 which brought notorious human rights violator Pinochet to power.  His estimated damage to the citizens of Chile: “1,200–3,200 people were killed, up to 80,000 were interned, and up to 30,000 were tortured by his regime including women and children.”  Another black-eye on the U.S. record.


Nicaragua’s history contains the familiar story of the United States supporting the losing side in the civil war and that side being in power through elections today.  Afghanistan has been a seesaw for the U.S., at best, and will likely be a very violent place in the years to come.  And the disaster that was the Iraq War might have been the beginning of even more violence to come at a level some are saying will be worse than Syria.  The list seems to continue to grow as the years go by.

Which brings us back to the current question of what to do about Syria?  We all have our own positions on this but one thing seems clear: it is likely to be a “lose-lose” situation for the U.S. government.  If we don’t intervene, a lot of people will die and the world will ask why we did nothing (kind of like how nothing was done to address the recent famine in Somalia that killed 250,000, half of which were children).  If we do intervene, it will fuel the fire of the Syrian government forces, even if they are beaten out of power, and they will likely continue with an insurgent movement long after the power in the country has changed hands.

This situation is a disaster in every way imaginable and whatever decision the Obama administration comes to on this it will likely be the wrong one when we look back on it in the years to come.

More On Afghan Ban on U.S. Forces in Region

JP-AFGHAN-articleLargeAnother good article in The Post on the reaction by the U.S. and NATO forces regarding Pres. Karzai’s ban of U.S./NATO troops from a key region in Afghanistan due to reports of civilian deaths and other abuses.

Read Here. 

Karzai Orders U.S. Forces Out of Region While Citing War Crimes

wardakThis article in The Post reports that Afghan President Karzai has ordered U.S. special forces out of a particular province in Afghanistan citing incidents of torture and murder. Hopefully these reports will not be true and I think this conflict between Karzai and U.S./NATO forces shows that it’s time to leave.

Read Here.

What About “Drone-Strike Courtsd”?

Predator-DroneAn excellent article in The Atlantic on the infeasibility of the judiciary to form a “drone court” to be appealed to by the executive branch before a striking an American citizen(s) suspected of terrorism. The article puts major doubts forward including running up against Article III of the Constitution, citing what criteria for the court to apply, and what occurs, since we’re in a time of war, when quick decisions are required?

Read Here.

Karzia Bans NATO Airstrikes

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has banned NATO airstrikes for Afghan forces after death of ten civilians three days ago.

Read Here.

Greenwald On U.S. Lack of Popularity in Mid-East by Numbers

Gleen_Greenwald-140A great piece in The Guardian by Glenn Greenwald (as usual) showing that study after study shows American disapproval in the Muslim world. He uses studies, graphs, and general data to back up his claims and the conclusion is best summed up in his own words:

In sum, if you continually bomb another country and kill their civilians, not only the people of that country but the part of the world that identifies with it will increasingly despise the country doing it. That’s the ultimate irony, the most warped paradox, of US discourse on these issues: the very policies that Americans constantly justify by spouting the Terrorism slogan are exactly what causes anti-American hatred and anti-American Terrorism in the first place. The most basic understanding of human nature renders that self-evident, but this polling data indisputably confirms it.

Read Here.

New Court for Drone Strike Approval Debated

imagesA good article in the NYT on rather the judicial system should create a new branch to approve or disapprove of targeted drone strikes in an effort to provide more oversight. This report lists many of the pros and cons of such a system. Good debate.

Read Here.