"Pat, On "economic determinism", all I will add to the argument is that I remember recently hearing someone put it most succinctly when it was suggested that saying that the Iraq Wars were fought over oil is like stating that the novel "Moby Dick" is about whaling… … and as for Afghanistan, a small thought experiment is worthy of consideration: how much would the world's oil supply and general economic stability be impacted if a major earthquake shut down all of Afghanistan's LOCs for a good year or two? On the other hand, I am at pains to accept at face value your implication that this is just about Israel. If I am to understand you correctly, you are suggesting that the CNAC types in both the US and Israel consciously cultivated artificial confrontations from the circumstances at hand in both 1990 and in 2000 in order to commit the US militarily in the region while we would remain relatively indifferent to and disengaged from the implications of Israel's expansionism within the West Bank… … though in all honesty, Pat, I'm not sure my greater pain is not the suspicion that you might be correct in contrast with the angst that comes from observing the more vicious reactions that the process can and has inspired (not to mention the personal aspects of those reactions when attempting to discuss them with family and friends on both sides of the matter). As for Obama's defense of strategy in Afghanistan, I also heard the interview with Rory Stewart on NPR yesterday and was wondering whether you would conceptually endorse his vision that a relatively small foreign military presence (~20,000 SF) could be coupled with modest but durable civilian development programs (though without the social/political engineering) to perhaps avert the impending catastrophe of creeping quagmiredom… … and as for myself, I can only hope that Obama's personal reaction to the PPT was the same as ours and that his greatest challenge in that regard is to find a meaningful alternative strategy that can pass political muster both in DC and with the public. PS: Did you (or any of your readers) see the interview of Chuck Hagel and Lee Hamilton on Meet The Press last Sunday? I was struck by the somberness, the lack of ambiguity, and I am equally struck by how little coverage it has received. I also noticed that Senator Kerry did not go to Afghanistan with Senators McCain, Graham, Lieberman, and Collins but that he is going later this month after having undergone hip surgery: imho, this is a good thing because he will not be obliged to speak in relative harmony with them while on foreign soil…"
The "Moby Dick" thing is most apt. My position in regard to the circumstances leading to the US intervention in Iraq has long been established. It was laid out fully in my article "Drinking the Koolaid," Middle East Policy, Summer, 2004. (available on line) In a word, we were "bulldozed" into accepting an unnecessary war with the argument that Saddam's Iraq was an existential threat to the US. It was not. Your description of the culprits as the PNAC crowd both here and in Israel is just about right. At this point it seems apparent that Cheney was a member of this group throughout the Bush presidency. Bush himself? He seems to have been along for the ride in his first term.
I think that the program in Afghanistan should be to secure the capital and a coalition redoubt around Bagram and then use those areas as a base for counter-terrorism operations aimed at truly international Muslim zealot groups rather than the Taliban confederation of rebels. Numbers of our troops in this? 20,000, 30,000, something like that. Forget about building an Afghan nation-state. That task would be so large that it might bleed us dry. Some infrastructure projects would be a good idea but only in the context of an international consortium. Buy the opium crop. Destroy it, use it in the pharma industry, something. The offensive operations against the international terrorists should be intelligence driven and consist largely of raids against specific people and organizations. We should rely on CIA and the Special Operations people in the military. We should take advantage of the "rentability" of many Afghan groups to use them as auxiliaries in this struggle. This would be money well spent, just as it was well spent in Iraq. What is going wrong in Iraq? The fantasy Shia government has given the Sunni Arabs reason to believe that it will not honor the overt or implied promises that we made to them.
Sadly, the price of quiet in both Iraq and Afghanistan will be measurable in dollars spent in "subsidies." pl