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Is success possible in Afghanistan?

The firing of Gen. Stanley McChrystal this week capped a string of pessimistic dispatches from Afghanistan — from a spike in casualties to reports that the offensive in Marja is not going well. The counterinsurgency strategy recommended by McChrystal and supported still by President Obama remains controversial. In this, the ninth year of what has become America’s longest war ever, can we say we’re any closer to success?

In this extended web interview, Need to Know’s Alison Stewart talks to Andrew Bacevich, a professor of history at Boston University and a retired army colonel, about President Obama’s strategy for winning the war in Afghanistan. Bacevich served 23 years in the Army, some of them in Vietnam. His latest book is “Washington Rules: American’s Path to Permanent War.”



  • JosephBousquet

    Who is the reporter? She is very good. Why is she not credited for this story?

  • Shelley Lewis

    The interviewer is Need to Know anchor Alison Stewart. You’re quite right–she is very good. And she definitely deserves to be identified for those who haven’t seen her host the program.

  • LB

    Bacevich is exactly right. Is anybody in Washington listening?

    One of his most salient points: victory is now viewed as illusory within the officer corps, contributing to perpetual war. This is a sad indictment. As a free people, our inability to align Clausewitz’s “holy trinity” of governmental resolve, military might, and popular support in order to take war to its logical conclusion is truly pathetic.

    We are so much like Rome in decline that it’s frightening.

  • Juanito TeVault

    I suppose this response column is not a media popularity contest, so I would comment upon the content of the video.
    Simply, there is alot, alot behind what the colonel’s naratve. Most USans have not a clue about military culture nor its influence upon … or rather its integration with the Shadow Government that dominates the US civil government.

  • G Stames

    Bacevich belief that the war against Al Queda should really be a police and that Al Queda is nothing more than a criminal network is utterly delusional.

  • Tomas Marvinsky

    Te Vault writes that the military overlaps, or is, a shadow government. I would correct that, to point out that the military, or rather the mil-industry complex, is just a big lobby-like function. Like AIPAC. it gets what it wants because it can, on the one hand, pour money into campaigns, and on the other, appeal to established national emotion. There’s no great mystery here nor is there any surprise: the US simply isn’t designed to easily overcome its flawed form of democracy. It’s electoral system is very old, and unevolved.

  • kerry pay

    I’ve been a student of world history since 1966 and have followed world events with a passion that most Americans haven’t. I don’t think that there is a single world historian that believes that our war in Afghanistan will ever succeed. Alexander the Great, the British from their occupation of India, the Russians have ever succeeded with converting the local people to support a foreign powers political agenda.

    When you don’t take into consideration a people’s history or culture you are doomed to fail. We are just wasting the money that we don’t have and the lives and futures of our soldiers who are maimed
    and killed for a goal that the Afghans don’t aspire to. All they want is to be left alone with the ability to do their farming and raising their families with safety. They don’t care about our failed “War on Drugs” . They just want to be able to support their families and to be allowed to practice their own ideas of religion (which happens to be a very very conservative Islam), and to keep their women under male dominance as basically slaves to their men and house.

    It is a joke that our army is trying to train the people to form a police force when everyone is illiterate and cannot read.

    The first thing and the only thing that they want from us is to have peace and security so they can earn a living. Only after this is accomplished will they start to think about other things that they would like to have happen.

    Their farmers can make more money growing poppies than any other crop. You have to look at the economics of the country because everything revolves around money to feed, shelter and cloth their families.

    The leaders that are running this war don’t know or care anything about the Afghans history or culture and think that because we think it is important they should think the same way. Why?

    Only when we start treating their culture and history with respect will they begin to listen to our ideas that we have about how we might be able to possibly make their lives better.

    American Christians are so arrogant about how their culture is better than everyone else. Americans need to stop trying to push our culture down other people’s thoats by paying off the corrupt leaders of other countries. All we should be doing is asking the people of other countries, “How can we help you make your daily life better?” and then we need to listen to them tell us how we can help. We should not be trying to tell them how to live their lives and that we know what’s best for them!

    My advice to all Americans is to take some time and to really learn about their regions history. Only then will you have any understanding of what is happening now and why our leaders need to change our foreign policy.

    The so called “War on Drugs” is a horrible failure and has only caused a lot of people suffering, death, created organized crime syndicates and a lot of people locked up in jails all over the world.

    All drugs need to be legalized! You will take away the excessive profits that are being made that fuels the crime syndicates. Half the prison population will be gone and no one will be murdered trying to market the product.

    I’m a Budhist and believe there is a middle path to follow. Everything in moderation. We should spend money on drug rehab if people want it. So much money is being wasted on this War on Drugs when it should be spent on health care, food, shelter and education around the world.

    Just study our history when our government tried to outlaw drinking and passed the prohibition laws. Our government finally gained its sanity and repealed the law. I just wish our leaders would wise up about outlawing drugs.

    My father was a pharmacist and a very pragmatic person. He thought drugs should be legalized and treated just like we do with alcohol consumtion.

    Please study history so you don’t make the same mistakes over and over again when it comes to foreign policy and anything else. I lived thru the Vietnam era and this war is just as stupid as that one was. What a waste of money and peoples lives. The difference today is that we have an all voluteer military so only their families are suffering and making the sacrifices to their lives. The rest of the population has no connection to this war really, but that we hear about it on the news occasionally. During the Vietnam War it was on our news every single night. Over and over and over and we were protesting in the streets, burning draft cards and marching on Washington. What protests are you seeing today by the people?

  • Eugene

    We as Americans should come to understand that just because we were raised to believe in Democracy, Capitalism and Christian values, we do not have the right to force our beliefs on other nations. Most Americans are frightfully ignorant and intolerant of other cultures. It is only by learning about and interacting with cultures different from our own that we truly appreciate the value of human diversity.

    All sovereign nations should have rights equal to other sovereign nations. Justice and Fairness dictate that a nation with nuclear power plants should not interfere with nations wanting to build their own nuclear power plants…a nation that owns weapons of mass destruction can not justify denying other nations weapons of mass destruction.

    The notion of democracy is based on the principle of “one man, one vote”, where the voice of one man has the same weight as the voice of other men. Yet in a democratic organization like the U.N. permanent Security Council members’ possess “veto powers” that ensure that the vote of non permanent Security Council member nations will never have greater “weight” than that of permanent Security Council member nations.

    Peace and Justice for all Mankind will prevail only when the votes all U.N. member nations carry the same weight. In my opinion, the undemocratic “veto power” clause present in the U.N. Charter, leads to corruption,injustice,suffering and war.

    If your neighbor occupies your home, perpetrates violence upon your family and dictates what political, moral and religious channels you may watch on television, then your neighbor would be morally wrong. When a nation occupies another nation and impose its’ own political, moral and religious values on the occupied nations’ people, then no good can come of it.

  • Bill Carruth

    Although a dedicated and complete non-expert in too many disciplines to list, I do have an opinion about our involvements in Iraq and Afghanistan: THERE’S NO WAY IN HELL WE CAN WIN EITHER! We’re up to our gluteus maximus in messes that are – by and large – none of our business unless we except the mantra cum PR-spun excuse that it’s in our national interest.
    In the words of Col. Sherm Potter of M.A.S.H……”BULL COOKIES!” Unless, of course, hawks like pontificating progenchy of unwed parents like Bush and Cheney who never served in combat – consider the untimely and UNNECESSARY deaths of thousands of young Americans “in the national interest.” To which I will be less genteel and say: BULLSHIT!

  • Hugh

    There really are no Americans nor Afghans nor any other nationalities. These are merely regional titles and have no bearing on what is important. Fundamental Human Rights. Global trade, Airplanes, ships, cell phones, internet, etc have reduced our borders to mere fiscal boundaries. The technological advances in the last fifty years are also driving a message to all corners of the world, Everyone is Equal. There are still places in the world where this message is not welcome.

    You do not own your children or your women. You can’t use them as currency. You cannot force anyone to embrace and accept any form of belief system i.e. religion nor can you discriminate or persecute anyone for their beliefs. This is like having “thought police”. Men, Women, Children and the Elderly all have the same basic rights. The only reason someone might dispute this premise is because they were taught to do so.

    The U.N. should be the tool to implement a Global Rights System. Like the States system here in the U.S., you may govern yourselves regionally because it is prudent and specialized due to various factors like population, environment, resources, etc. but you may pass no law that countermands the Federal Constitution. A similar kind of charter should be put in place on a global level. Do what you want… just adhere to this foundation. We are all citizens of the Earth first people.

  • gunter hiller

    I grieves me deeply that, almost every day, American soldiers are killed and wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. I feel deep sympathies for the families of those brave men. I wish we could
    bring about peace there and elsewhere.

    At the same time, I feel uneasy about the views of Col. Bacevich.
    Is it morally right to “get out” of Afghanistan and return the country to the controls of the Taliban?
    What would be the likely consequences after we left? A bloodbath (cf. Vietnam, et al.) and the
    imposition of barbaric practices by the “virtue police” on girls and women?

    Should we ignore crimes against humanity and, out of respect for sovreignty “not meddle in their
    internal affairs” when the Taliban impose their misogynist Shariah laws?

    I remember what happened in Nazi Germany when the world stood by and gave Hitler
    a free hand to do as he wished with “his” Jews.

    I believe that the war in Afghanistan is a testing ground, not only of our military capacity,
    but also of our moral values.

    günter, a Holocaust survivor

  • Theo

    SUCCEED at what? When is success is achieved? And what is this success? No one knows, is the simplest answer.

    This war has nothing to do with the welfare of Afghans. Don’t believe the lie for a second. America has never supported democracy anywhere. America only supports democracy where they can control and manipulate it. First of all, there is no democracy in America. If there is democracy in America, the US Congress will not accepting and pocketing millions of dollars from Corporations and Special Interests. In America, it is disguised with name like LOBBYING, in the rest of the world, it is called BRIBERY. The same thing is going on inside and outside Afghanistan by American corporations.

    It is all about money. If Afghans fell off the face of the earth today, America will not give a damn. Did you hear that Pentagon just announced the discovery of A TRILLION dollars worth of Afghan mineral mine deposits? Only a fool will believe that lie. When did the military start being a mining company? Well, all you gullible Americans, your corporations knew about this years ago, so they bribed your corrupt government who staged the 9/11 incident. And boom, a perfect reason to go to war. Open your eyes, and know the history of the CIA.

    Poor Afghans are the pawns in this dangerous game. And it has nothing to do with their welfare. Democracy, women and girls of Afghanistan are just the perfect excuse for American Military Industrial Complex to stay in business. It is all about money. There is no democracy in America, and there will never be a democracy in Afghanistan, unless US can manipulate the outcome.

  • Matt

    This interview was my favorite part of this week’s show. While so much of the focus this week was on a General being replaced, it missed the bigger issue that Bacevich seems to be discussing.

  • Jerzy

    I wish that someone would question the overall goal of this “war” – to deny a launch pad for attacks on the U.S. Was 9/11 launched from Afghanistan? Was it planned and financed from Afghanistan?
    Could it have been “launched” from Miami or San Diego? Could a similar attach be launched from Pakistan, Yemen or Samolia or other locations in the world? Could explosives training occur only in Afghanistan? Could recruiting occur only from a physical base in Afghanistan? If a physical base was established in Afghanistan, could it be attacked successfully with unmaned drones? Is it possible to train Afghans to fight like we do with our weapons, air forces, communication technologies, when so few are literate and know mostly about farming? Comparisons between Iraq and Afghanistan are foolish. The “surge” in Iraq was probably successful only because of the Sunni Awakening (which we probably bribed some of them to do), Would it have succeeded without the help of the Sunnis (if it has, in fact – to be determined).