Shocker: The War in Afghanistan Was a Bad Idea

Imagine you have a friend who wants to stick their tongue in a light socket. You tell them, “bad idea. It’ll hurt and that’s not necessary if you want to learn about electricity.”

But sure enough, they do it anyway. I’ve learned from other people’s mistakes so I don’t need to test it myself, but I can tell them that it’s going to hurt for a while, but they need to stop doing that, and the pain will go away and the lights will come back on. Instead, they tell you it’s a matter of pride and public perception, and keep doing it for another 17 years. Eventually, it is discovered that they kept detailed lab notes in which they document in exquisite detail that they knew it was a bad idea all along. Note: their tongue is still in the light socket.

The US had no strategy for what to accomplish, so it vaguely came up with a theory of “nation-building” and said that was the strategy. At that time, everyone who knew anything about Afghanistan told them “that won’t work.” I wonder if, to a certain degree, the “it won’t work” crowd made a mistake: often they added, “it’s been tried by the Achemanids, Alexander of Macedon, Genghis Khan, the British, and the USSR.” It has always seemed to me that a certain amount of the problem was US dirty warriors – the CIA murderers who failed in Vietnam – saying “we got it this time!” It’s as if they mistook people calling Afghanistan “The Graveyard of Empires” as a challenge rather than a warning.

I recall at the time, when they were talking about Bin Laden being in Tora Bora (it turns out that he literally walked out past US special forces) and my view was that the US should have deployed the 101st Airborne in a great big show of force, thoroughly investigated Tora Bora, and then left. Sort of a great big “no knock” warrant. There was no need to invade the country and replace its political system because anyone with knowledge of the area stepped back and said, “what political system?” The whole nation-building idea came along because there are companies like Halliburton and Brown and Root and Blackwater that make a lot of money attempting nation-building, and failing. They needed their turn at the trough.

Good thing you left all your bling at home, your highness!”

So now we know that the US government and miliary knew it was a failure all along. Now, there has been a huge dump of documents indicating that the Afghanistan war was known to be pointless all along; the US is only there, …why? Well, it’s a great big way of justifying a lot of money being spent on the military, and it’s a field where the Iron Crosses of military glory grow. Look at the succession of clowns who have danced briefly across that stage: Stanley McCrystal, David Petraeus, Prince Andrew. The special forces guys got to sneak around in the dark playing Call of Duty with real splashes of blood, and the aviators got flight hours dropping fire out of airplanes onto Medcins Sans Frontieres hospitals. What the US got was a massive tumor-like growth in its military, and now the patient may bleed out if anyone tries to cut it back.

The New York Times’ coverage of the story is, to me, a litany of “stuff we already knew for a decade.” [nyt] but if you do know any militarists you can tell them “were you wondering where your national infrastructure projects went? They were turned into high explosive and jet fuel and dropped all over Afghanistan.”

Hectares of Opium Cultivated in Afghanistan 2017: 328,000
It’s a quick crop: you can make a bunch of money off it and it’s higher profit than stuff like rice that require a larger and more stable infrastructure for profitable growth.

Honestly, if I were on the receiving end of the US/allied assault (and was lucky enough to survive) I’d see shipping lots of future heroin to Europe and the US as a form of revenge. Shoot Afghanistan into your veins, you corrupt bastards, and die gasping in your own vomit.

The US response is straight out of the Vietnam War:

Despite billions of dollars to fight opium poppy cultivation, Afghanistan is the source of 80 percent of global illicit opium production.

Spend more, get less.

The other part that seems odd to me is that the US police state tried to create a baby police state in Afghanistan, without there being a state to police. Consider:

$87 billion to train Afghan military and police forces

That’s a lot of money. Just to give you a perspective: NYPD’s annual budget is $5bn. Realistically, Afghanistan’s problems are not a policing problem; they are losing an insurgency to the various tribal rulers and the Taliban; policing comes second to that. Policing is also a problem when historically there is no line between police and military. There’s a lot of cultural foundations there that can’t support the weight of a functioning police-state.

$24 billion on economic development

And that is the number I wanted to eventually bring down. 4 times more money being spent on military/police than on reconstructing a country that has been repeatedly bombed flat.

I can’t accept the idea that there are people in the US Government so stupid that any of this is news. I conclude then that it’s an ongoing scam: an attempt to jam the money-valve in the open and unlocked position. And, as usual, the money is really being spent on what matters: ourselves.

$1.4 trillion on veterans that have fought in post-9/11 wars by 2059

Those numbers are shockingly disproportionate. American heroes aren’t the only people getting blown up by friendly fire and IEDs. The Medcins Sans Frontieres casualties don’t even show up in that number, nor do the local casualties. That’s just what the US is willing to spend on its own self-inflicted wounds.

Taken all together, the recent report documents that the US Government are a bunch of dumb and sneaky motherfuckers. In a reasonable world, there would be 2 million protesters jamming Washington until the entire apparatus steps down. What is shocking is that this has been going on so long and there are still Americans in congress who don’t want to “cut and run” and who see this entire situation through the eyes of a high school boy with bad self-image problems and a severe dose of toxic masculinity. Everyone in the US is in on this, from the government to the media (which dutifully wrote articles about this “surge” or that “surge”) to the military (who blinged up on medals) to the chucklefucks on Main St who thank veterans for their “service.” Service? Service means you accomplished something politically significant beyond guarding some farmer’s opium poppy crop as part of a “political stability” operation.

US Marines wading through opium poppies

Over at Daily Kos they describe the increase in poppy production since the US took over: [kos]

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC) 2018 Afghan Opium Survey, Afghan farmers were cultivating about 60,700 hectares of opium poppies in the late 1990s, but around 121,400 hectares a year in the mid-2000s.


As the US occupation dragged on, opium cultivation generally climbed throughout the 2010s, peaking at more than 323,700 hectares in 2017.

Another massively successful US war on drugs.

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I was surprised to learn that Afghanistan produces a total of about 9 tons of raw opium. That seems like not very much. I know the stuff is extremely potent and the milk from a poppy is mostly water; I once got some fresh poppy milk and rubbed some of the alkaloid on my gums – my mouth immediately went numb and stayed that way for an hour or so. Interesting stuff.


  1. says

    Where did you find the 9 tons production level?
    The Guardian (via the UN) says they produced 9000 metric tons in 2017

    What they should have done with the poppies is tell the Afghan farmers: “Grow all you want of opium! We’ll buy as much as you can grow at $x per kilo” where x is twice what the drug lords are paying.
    Would have quieted the population considerably and even at the low low price of $1000 a kilo would only be $9 Billion a year (assuming 9000 metric tons of production)

    Hell they could sell it at a profit to the Sacklers afterwards.

  2. says

    I’m sure some will be tempted to say “at least one positive thing came from it, LGBTQIA people can serve openly”. Don’t.

    The only reason Obama and the military changed policy on LGBTQIA people was a shortage of warm bodies to replace cold corpses and a drop in recruitment. The cishetero binary suckers who signed up early (2002-2008) learnt the hard way, and the teenagers who followed realized what was going on and refused.

    It would have meant something to change policies during “peacetime” (like the US has ever been at peace since 1900… 9_9). Changing only because the US was short of cannon fodder was a sign of desperation, not decency. The fact that the LGBTQIA people did their jobs competently without being a “threat to morale” is intentionally ignored as Cheetolini and the military look to get rid of them.

  3. says

    I wonder how much of the increase in poppy production was for the consumption of coalition troops in country, and how much of it ended up shipped hither and yon in the duffle bags of troops heading home.

  4. says

    My main comment is a question: Do you think there’s any chance that the US government might act differently in the next 60 years than it has in the last 60? Imperial competition with the USSR didn’t result in any race-to-the-top for treating people well. There may be an imperial competition between the USA and China for the next decades, but it seems hard to believe that that has any chance of sparking a race-to-the-top if the US Government has so much successful experience in racing to the bottom while crafting a positive PR message.

    As an aside though:

    Medcins Sans Frontieres

    I have to mention that despite the pronunciation your “Medcins” should have a second “e”, like so: Medecins.

    The accents I don’t worry about – that kind of thing is routinely skipped when rendering French for English audiences, but I thought I’d point out the 2nd “e” in case you considered it helpful.

  5. says

    The article at Kos had the 9 tons figure:

    As the US occupation dragged on, opium cultivation generally climbed throughout the 2010s, peaking at more than 323,700 hectares in 2017. That equates to about 9 tons of raw opium produced that year

    That does seem wrong. 9000 tons might make more sense.

  6. Pierce R. Butler says

    Crip Dyke… @ # 4: Imperial competition with the USSR didn’t result in any race-to-the-top for treating people well.

    Most serious histories of the US civil rights movement point to a desire to counter Soviet propaganda as a significant incentive for the top-down attempts to ameliorate Jim Crow in the ’50s and ’60s, as well as major (& somewhat successful) efforts by CP-USA to help organize grassroots campaigns by and within black communities.

    Whether any corresponding pressures had to do with the Kremlin’s push at that time to raise women’s status, I dunno; and it seems little to nothing went on then regarding conditions for ethnic minorities in the Soviet Union. So I wouldn’t call it a “race” on either side, except possibly for influence in the “third world”, but we can see some carrots among the forest of sticks that comprised the Cold War.

  7. bmiller says


    I am skeptical that the main reason for allowing LGBTQ service was warm bodies per se. The portion of the population is relatively small as a percentage. But sure, on the margins it might matter. Especially in the skilled technical and educated positions?

  8. says

    Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden@#4:
    Do you think there’s any chance that the US government might act differently in the next 60 years than it has in the last 60?

    I am not being funny; I am – seriously – giving you a thoughtful and respectful answer, not snark.

    Something’s got to give because on the current trend-lines if something doesn’t break, Jeff Bezos will own the entire planet in 60 years.

    Inequality is setting up for a sort of “global Jim Crow” in which the rich have all the stuff and own all the decisions because they own all the assets to make decisions about. Everyone else will be part of the gig economy. That’s one end-state. The other is that the people rise up and do the pitchforks and torches routine. For my money, that should be sooner rather than later because it’ll be faster and less nasty if happens sooner.

  9. says

    (#7) – I don’t know how good a source The Outline is, but if its statement of 6.1% LGBT out of 1.3 million in the US military, that’s over 79,000 people. I can’t find a source saying how many are in Iraq and Afghanistan, but if it’s again 6.1% of those in Afghanistan (13,000 in 2019), that’s 800 people.

    NY Times, 2007, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Translate”, on the firing of gay people qualified as translators of Arabic:

  10. says

    I am skeptical that the main reason for allowing LGBTQ service was warm bodies per se.

    I agree.
    The military used to be one of the few guaranteed paths up from poverty in the US. I think that’s an artifact of the military becoming a great engine of social mobility following WWI and WWII. Note that white America, after WWI, did a lot to reduce the military’s potential for social mobility. But the Vietnam war brought a lot of people of color in to the military (and many of them wound up in government service after the war) – I believe that what we’ve been seeing is the tail end of the vietnam-era servicepeople who wanted their military to remain a conduit for bringing people of all kinds into service.
    What we see now is a bunch of draft-dodging crackers who saw people of color in the military, in high ranks, e.g.: Colin Powell, and started moving in little ways to make that kind of mobility stop happening.

  11. lumipuna says

    (Inspired by the last photo, and the poem “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae)

    On Helmand roads the IEDs blow
    Between the fields where poppies grow,
    The yield that we reap; and in the sky
    The drones, still bravely cruising, fly
    Beyond the reach of guns below.

  12. jrkrideau says

    I think the major reason there was a war in Afghanistan was it the powers-that-be in Washington wanted a war. There were fairly reliable reports just before the invasion that the Taliban was perfectly willing to hand over bin Laden and other members of Al-Qaeda to an acceptable Islamic country if the USA provided any evidence that Al-Qaeda was responsible for the attack on 9/11. And later after Tora Bora, apparently the Taliban were more than happy to get rid of Bin Laden but by then the USA was not interested.
    Just how accurate these reports are I’m not sure, but to be honest they sound quite plausible. There just is no convincing reason why Taliban would want an invasion over a few Saudi terrorists.

  13. says

    Oh, no!

    Some welder’s gonna lose his bonus, for sure. That ship is going to get a reputation for bad luck, in additional to being a smokebucket. I doubt it’ll ever sail again.

    I’ll track the story and see if it’s worth a posting. Note: that accident is almost a year to the day after the previous accident. Maybe we’ll have to declare “Kuznetsov Annual Disaster day”

    Kuznetsov is diesel-powered, so a fire aboard is a serious thing.

    The area currently ablaze covers 120 square meters (1,292 square feet). Diesel fuel is currently burning, and firefighters are using foam to try to bring it under control.

    Oh, boy.

  14. jrkrideau says

    @ 14 timgueguen
    I do not think Kuznetsov is in dry-dock. The dry-dock was wreaked/ sank some time ago with Kuznetsov in it.

    I am beginning to think that Kuznetsov is not a lucky ship.

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