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Samizdata quote of the day

We’ve already killed all the dumb terrorists, so all that’s left are the smart ones.

– I heard an American voice saying that, in connection with the ongoing war in Afghanistan, while I was transferring a recording I had made of a show called The World’s Deadliest Arms Race (shown in the UK about a month ago on Channel 4 TV) from my TV hard disc onto a DVD.

One of the best things about recording TV shows, as opposed to merely watching them, is being able to wind back and find out exactly who said something of particular interest, and exactly what it consisted of. The above words, I quickly learned, were spoken by a big, tough guy in a black T-shirt by the name of Marine Staff Sergeant Jack Pierce. They come right near the end of the show, which lasts just over forty five minutes.

Ssgt. Pierce was reflecting on how he and the rest of the crew of the vehicle they were all in were subjected to attack with an I(mprovised) E(xplosive) D(evice). Six of the crew were badly wounded, including Ssgt. Pierce who is now paralysed from the chest downwards. The other two died instantly.

23 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Slartibartfarst

    Staff Sergeant Jack Pierce would probably know very well what he was talking about.

    But they are legion. Whilst I suspect there is still a veritable ocean of “dumb” terrorists who could be put forward as the proverbial cannon-fodder, it is more than likely that the potential death-toll could be reduced if the “smart” terrorists were put in the gunsights sooner, rather than later.

    The smart ones will always be careful not to get caught/killed whilst they prime and prepare the dumb ones for their missions.

    Some people might say that the US should stop prevaricating and start addressing the issue of terrorist leadership and funding at its heart – we know who and where they are. These countries and people are probably “the elephant in the room” in this regard.

    If this is not done, then the maiming and/or death of people like Jack Pierce and his colleagues would seem to have been a cynical, avoidable and pointless wasting of human life/potential.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Agreed, Slartibartfarst.

    Brian–Thanks for the links.

  • Runcie Balspune

    Some people might say that the US should stop prevaricating and start addressing the issue of terrorist leadership and funding at its heart

    I’d ask why the US is wasting it time supporting an anti-liberal government in the first place, wasting talented and brave individuals in the process.

    I don’t think any westerner should die protecting a country where this sort of thing happens:

  • Laird

    I’m not sure how much longer we will be allied with Pakistan, if this is any indication. But I think that the country to which Slartibartfarst was referring is Saudi Arabia, not Pakistan. And he’s correct.

  • willis

    “Some people might say that the US should stop prevaricating and start addressing the issue of terrorist leadership and funding at its heart – we know who and where they are. These countries and people are probably “the elephant in the room” in this regard.”

    Sadly, the largest such country is the US and the one doing the funding of terroism is its president. Think “Fast and Furious.”

  • Morton Doodalag

    The smartest terrorists are either imams in Mosques around the world, royals in palaces across Arabia, or wealthy Muslim businessmen located virtually everywhere.

  • Mike H.

    Totally agree Morton Doodalag. First target, any imam. Then princes and businessmen.

  • XRay

    Can’t fully agree with Doodalag. I’d say his list is of the funders of the smartest. They hire such help for the actual acts. Or, perhaps, it is strategy vs. tactics, both smart in their way.

  • Diggs

    There is a phrase used (often overused) in the military to describe that from which the enemy gets their strength. It is the “center of gravity”. For islamists, the center of gravity is the radical imam(s). The money is important, but not foundational. Until we recognize the need to be targeting and eliminating the radical imams, we are simply pissing in the wind.

  • Eric

    Bah. This whole nation building nonsense was a horrible mistake, at least in Afghanistan. I agree with Darbyshire – what was really called for was an exercise of good old fashioned gunboat diplomacy. We ought to have put them on the receiving end of a saturation bombing campaign for a month or so, went home, and then let it be known we’d be back if there was any more trouble.

    I always believed we would succeed in Iraq, and I’ve likewise believed Afghanistan can only fail, because we’re not just replacing one (mostly) functional government with another. There’s never been a country in that place. Not in the sense that the state has a monopoly on power, or in the sense that the people share a common culture or language.

    It would take decades to put Afghanistan to rights, and nobody is going to spend that kind of time to do it.

  • Eric is right in his analysis of the problem. I disagree with his solution. Leaving aside the morality of the situation how do you bomb the stone-age back to the stone age? Even in 2001 a USAF spokesman described the ‘stan as “Not a target rich environment”.

    The fundamental problem going way back is cosying-up to the likes of the Saudis and the USA being “pals” with Pakistan which was part of a Cold War “great game” involving Russia, India and China. It is the wheel coming off realpolitik as it always does eventually that we are seeing. Should have got frakking years ago and left the Al-Saud family to wallow in it’s one crapulence. Should have left Pakistan/Afghanistan descend into chaos and left the Sovs to sort it out. We are not going anywhere in this war because it is in a very real sense not our war.

    Nation building can work and it clearly worked in West Germany post 1945 but you can’t make an apple pie out of a shit-sandwich no matter how much you “surge” or build primary schools or dig wells…

    Eric says “decades”. I think he’s being optimistic. The same bearded fuckers will be in charge in the ‘stan when we’re living on cities on the moon. Just look at the “infrastructure” or the homes. The weird thing I think when I see ’em on TV is that those mud-brick gaffs are almost part of the natural landscape. That hints at the scale of the task.

  • Mark in Texas

    I disagree with Eric.

    We want nothing from Afghanistan. Specifically, we want to more terror attacks emerging from there but the larger issue is that nobody else wants anything else from Afghastanistan that is worth the cost of operating there. That means that the Afghan culture will continue essentially unchanged and the place will continue to be a long running implementation of “Lord of the Flies” on a national scale.

    The only way to destroy the toxic Afghan culture is to change the facts on the ground in Afghanisan. The only thing they have there that is not more easily obtained elsewhere is their location. If there were a decent transportation system, Chinese goods could be transported by rail across Afghanistan and on to Europe. Oil from the Caspian could be transported to China and India.

    Instead of schools we should build railroads. Then we should leave. If the Chinese benefit from a peaceful Afghanistan, Afghanistan will be peaceful. At least along the rail lines. The Chinese are not squeamish about doing what it takes to make that happen.

  • Mark,
    If India/China really wanted those things they be in the ‘stan now doing the heavy-lifting. You really suggesting that NAto builds transcontinental infrastructure for India and China (and indeed Russia)?

  • We want nothing from Afghanistan.

    Some would beg to differ.

  • Eric

    Instead of schools we should build railroads. Then we should leave.

    The day we stop protecting them the railroads will be blown up and sold for scrap. Both because the people in charge like things the way they are and because you can get money for steel rails. I think you’re underestimated just how far to the “dysfunctional” side of the scale Afghanistan resides.

  • Laird

    We shouldn’t build railroads or schools. We should just leave. We’ve been there long enough (far too long, actually) and are no longer accomplishing anything remotely “useful” for anyone, including ourselves.

  • Mark in Texas

    Yes, I am advocating that NATO or just the US build transcontinental infrastructure in Afghanistan that will serve mainly to benefit China and India. I advocate that because Afghanistan is such a profoundly screwed up place that there is almost no chance of improvement arising from there internally so that any positive change will have to come from outside.

    While Americans are very good at tasks like building railroads in difficult terraine, sticking it out in the long term is not one of our national strengths.

    There have been many who have pointed out that the President of Afghanistan is really not much more than the mayor of Kabul. Improving the transportation network in Afghanistan helps to expand the city limits.

    Once the railroads are in place long enough for politically important constituencies in surrounding countries to wish them to continue in operation, they will have the motivation to keep them going. They are just as ruthless as the people in Afghanistan who don’t want any change and the outsiders will have access to a lot more resources.

  • Laird

    Utter wishful thinking. As Eric has already pointed out, the track will be pulled up and sold for scrap the day after it’s laid. For the US to guard it until the political environment stabilizes (which hasn’t happened in the last 5,000 years and certainly won’t occur tomorrow) would mean a permanent, large-scale presence of the US and/or NATO. Not acceptable.

    And the US is not “very good at tasks like building railroads in difficult terraine”; individual private companies are good at that. If Afghanistan wants railroads I’m sure those companies are available for hire. China and India can pay for it if Afghanistan can’t, but I certainly won’t.

    Frankly, I don’t care that Afghanistan is a “profoundly screwed up place.” Of course it is; it has never been anything else. That’s a product of a dysfunctional culture and an anti-human religion. Well, they made that bed and they can lie in it. Not my problem.

  • Mark in Texas


    You overestimate how much I care about the welfare of the Afghans. I would be content to leave them in their Hobbesian state of nature if there were not the substantial risk that their disfunctionality would emerge again to kill thousands of my fellow citizens.

    My own religion requires that we make a serious effort at a more humane solution (condemning the Afghans to Chinese domination and eventual Uighur like status) before we reconfigure their land with a surface of radioactive glass or fill their skys with autonimous flying killbots.

    The world is too small and connected to leave places like Afghanistan alone any more because they will not leave us alone.

    Like I said, we want nothing from them but I don’t think that they can deliver that.

  • Laird

    So your religion “requires that we make a serious effort at a more humane solution”? That’s irrelevant to me, but if it’s important to you then you pay for it. Don’t tax me to salve your conscience; mine is doing just fine.

    The risk that their dysfunctionality might again emerge to wreak havoc in the west is a more substantive argument, but it is not suffient to justify expending more American treasure (and undoubtedly more blood as well) on Afghanistan. We just need to keep an eye on them. If some odious Al Queda (which seems to be largely wiped out now) or Taliban group pokes its head up, we can play whack-a-mole for as long as necessary. That’s why we have Predator drones.

  • Mark in Texas

    Predators require assets on the ground to gather information if you want to play whack a mole. Some of those assets are going to die in very ugly ways.

    Ultimately, I don’t think that whack a mole is likely to be all that effective of a strategy in the long run.

    People who live in a place with a life expectancy of less than 50 years and with a religious faith that promises them paradise for killing infidels are unlikely to be deterred by the threat of death.

  • Paul Marks

    Mark in Texas (and others) neither war or aid is going to solve the Afghan situation.

    I am not a dogmatic anitinterventionist.

    Indeed (for example) my American intervention in World War II opinions get me cast into the outer darkness by a lot of people.

    However, intervention in Afghanistan (either peaceful or violent) is NOT GOING TO WORK.

    It will not work in Pakistan (or most of the rest of the Islamic world) either.

    So the big wars are an error – but so are at efforts at humanitarian aid.

    Kill terrorists when possible (if there is hard evidence they are comming after us) – but otherwise leave these places alone.

    “But that means they will still attack, and people will still die in Western cities”.

    Of course they will.

    Just because something is bad does not mean government can stop it.

    There are limits to what both governments (and voluntary associations of human beings) can do.

    Also give up on the absurd “security checks” (which just irritate and delay people – they would not stop a real terrorist) and the civil liberties destroying “Patriot Act” and so on.

    The best policy for Muslims is to CONVERT them (not oppress them).

    Not possible in the Islamic world (as converting is a capital “crime”), but possible in the West.

    If Christians (and others – such as Randian Objectivists) are not interested in converting people (or are unable to do so) then the West really is doomed.

    By the way – do not fall for the “they drink and chase women and ….” argument.

    Nonbelief is not a bar to Islam (or anything else).

    Eventually people need beliefs to fill that empty void inside them.

    That need not mean religious beliefs (I have already given an example of a nonreligious philosophy), but to say that a population can live without a belief system (long term) is an error.

  • Mark in Texas


    But government, at least the government of the United States, does have the capacity to stop it by exterminating great numbers of Muslims much like the bulk of the native Americans were expunged from the face of the earth. If the Muslims pull off another Afghanistan originated attack as successful as the 9/11 attack, the political pressure to react with extreme violence will be enormous and possibly irresistable.

    Understand that what I am proposing is not aid to improve the lives of most Afghans, although I think that is likely to be a side effect. What I am proposing is to destroy the Afghan culture by changing the environment in which it flourishes. Think of it in terms of Saddam Hussein draining the marshes in order to end the way of life of the Marsh Arabs. Building railroads will end the isolation of big chunks of Afghanistan and connect them to the outside world far more than they have ever been in all known history. I don’t think that the traditional Afghan culture can survive except in isolation. Think of it as converting them to another way of life if it makes you happier.