A Third Way in Afghanistan

President Obama is currently pondering the most difficult decision of his young administration: our country’s future direction in Afghanistan. His choice has often been portrayed in the media as binary: should he pursue the counterinsurgency strategy (COIN) proposed by General McChrystal, or should he follow the counter-terrorist strategy advocated by Vice-President Biden?

Media reports indicate that Obama is unsatisfied with the choices he has, and he should be. Both approaches are fatally flawed. Before I say why that is the case, and what a better strategy might be, let’s review why we’re in Afghanistan at all.

What are our interests in Afghanistan? If the Taliban returns to power, it would likely provide a haven for Al Qaeda to launch terrorist attacks against us. There is a legitimate controversy as to how important safe harbor is for an organization like Al Qaeda, with many pointing out that in the past attacks have usually originated in European cities, and that Al Qaeda is now functioning under a ‘cloud’ model that obviates central command. This is true, but it is undeniable that allowing them to reconstitute a sheltered and functioning command and control would be an operational and propaganda victory for them.

If this were the only risk, it would not be sufficient reason for us to stay. The more serious risk we run is that a Taliban victory in Afghanistan might provide moral encouragement, financial assistance and tactical support to an insurgency in Pakistan. Pakistan has a large and capable military, but it is badly infiltrated, and the Pakistani population is the most radicalized in the region. Given that Pakistan has around 50 nuclear weapons, a radical fundamentalist regime next door is simply an unacceptable risk. The claim that is sometimes made about the Iranian leadership – that they are so fanatical they are willing to take risks that threaten their existence – is probably not true about them, but has proved true of the Taliban. In 2001, they threw away power and risked their lives rather than give up their Al Qaeda cohorts; that is a symptom of fanatical – and undeterrable – ideological commitment.

Preventing a Taliban victory, however, is a daunting task. In his recent resignation letter, U.S. Diplomat Matthew Hoh spelled out the difficulties. One doesn’t have to agree with his prescriptions to admire how well he frames the challenge:

If the history of Afghanistan is one great stage play, the United States is no more than a supporting actor, among several previously, in a tragedy that not only pits tribes, valleys, clans, villages and families against one another, but, from at least the end of King Zahir Shah's reign, has violently and savagely pitted the urban, secular, educated and modern of Afghanistan against the rural, religious, illiterate and traditional. It is this latter group that composes and supports the Pashtun insurgency. The Pashtun insurgency, which is composed of multiple, seemingly infinite, local groups, is fed by what is perceived by the Pashtun people as a continued and sustained assault, going back centuries, on Pashtun land, culture, traditions and religion by internal and external enemies. The U.S. and NATO presence and operations in Pashtun valleys and villages, as well as Afghan army and police unites that are led and composed of non-Pashtun soldiers and police, provide an occupation force against which the insurgency is justified. In both RC East and South, I have observed that the bulk of the insurgency fights not for the white banner of the Taliban, but rather against the presence of foreign soldiers and taxes imposed by an unrepresentative government in Kabul.

So when General McChrystal, in his August 30 assessment, writes:
ISAF’s [International Security Assistance Force’s] center of gravity is the will and ability to provide for the needs of the population “by, with, and through” the Afghan government. A foreign army alone cannot beat an insurgency; the insurgency in Afghanistan requires an Afghan solution.

He is giving away the very Achilles heel of the operation. The Afghan forces are as much invaders to the Pashtun tribes as the Americans are. The tribes see them as a force they’ve been fighting for decades: a Kabul-centered government that takes much, imposes much, and gives back nothing. Even if Kabul were squeaky-clean instead corrupt, and duly-elected instead of illegitimate, it would still not command the allegiance of the Pashtun tribes that have resisted their rule for decades. The Pashtun do not like the Taliban either, and they resent their interference – but at least the Taliban is Pashtun. Hoh rightly calls this sentiment ‘Valley-ism.’ The Pashtuns value affiliations of family, tribe, and proximity far more than they feel the bonds of nationality. That at this stage, we do not understand the nature of the challenge ahead of us is uncomfortably reminiscent of Vietnam, where we mistook nationalism for ideological fervor.

Conversely, the problem with an counter-terrorist strategy is not that it is impractical, but that it doesn’t address our interests adequately. Aerial strikes on terrorist targets would make our presence unpopular to the local population, and might hasten a fall of the government. The U.S. might be able to prevent the building of training camps in Afghanistan, but that is all we would prevent. An ideological movement threatening our vital ally, Pakistan, would remain unchecked.

We need to take a step back and ask ourselves: Is the end state we are envisioning – a stable and democratic Afghan government with control over all its land – necessary for the achievements of our goals? The answer is no. We are trying to give Afghanistan something it has never had before, something we do not need in order to defeat the Taliban.

Our recent experience in Iraq might hold some lessons for us. The key to the dramatic turnaround in that country was not the small increase in troops called “the surge,” or the change in strategy to COIN (which since it depends on a change of attitude in the population, would certainly have taken far longer to show such dramatic results.) The reversal was due to the Anbar Awakening: smart U.S. officers on the ground recognized a rift between Al Qaeda and the Sunni insurgency and intelligently exploited it. They backed and coordinated with Sunni brigades called “Sons of Iraq” that employed disaffected former insurgents. This is a strategy that bubbled from the ground up, and it caught everyone by surprise. We didn’t need to defeat our enemies; we could, in effect, hire them.

Perhaps something similar is possible in Afghanistan. Major Jim Gant, a decorated Special Forces officer, was stationed with seven other U.S. troops in a small Pashtun village near the Pakistani border. He writes about it in this paper, and corroborates much of what Hoh wrote:

Afghan tribes always have and always will resist any type of foreign intervention in their affairs. This includes a central government located in Kabul, which to them is a million miles away from their problems, a million miles away from their security.

But Gant goes on to describe how he developed close relations with the village chieftain, whom he affectionately called "Sitting Bull." He was audacious enough to arm and supply the village's fighters, probably breaking many rules but winning their trust and allegiance and gaining access to valuable intelligence. It is this approach - a tribal engagement strategy - that he advocates for the country as a whole. He calls the fighters Arbakai, a tribal militia that would protect their neighbors from Taliban intimidation. These could be the Afghani equivalent of the “Sons of Iraq,” grass-roots warriors defending their own tribal interests, with the U.S. as their ally – not imposing a central government on them, but giving them what they want: security, their tribal traditions, and the right to be let alone.

I will go farther than Gant does. Instead of envisioning an end state where Kabul dominates all of Afghanistan, we should be striving for Kabul + Largely Autonomous Tribe Lands. The Karzai government would control the heavily populated areas in the east of the country, and as best they could the border areas with Pakistan. They would have nominal sovereignty over their country, as previous Afghani governments have. The Pashtuns would be empowered to defend themselves from the Taliban, but they would largely be free of Kabul too. Provincial government structures would have to be developed in order to resolve inter-tribal conflicts and law-and-order issues, but largely, governance would come from nearby.

Obviously, bringing about this end state is an extraordinarily difficult task. We would need a lot of men like Gant: smart, highly trained, with a ravenous cross-cultural appetite and a keen emotional intelligence. These people would have to develop close relationships on the ground and would need to attain a granular view of local politics. It would be a war won not so much by force as by micro-diplomacy. Despite the complexity of the task, this might be the only way to achieve our objectives. It is foolish to fight a war that requires winning the allegiance of an inherently conservative people while also attempting to re-engineer their society. As Gant writes:

We will be totally unable to protect the “civilians” in the rural areas of Afghanistan until we partner with the tribes for the long haul. Their tribal systems have been there for centuries and will be there for many more. Why should we fight against not only what they have been accustomed to for centuries, but what works for them? They will not change their tribal ways. And why should they?




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A defiant Abdullah Abdullah?


Michael Crowley at "The New Republic"

I just heard Abdullah on NPR and he was trashing Karzai, saying that the president bore the blame for the chaos of the past eight years.

So, Obama may be forced to carry on with an illegitimate partner in Kabul. That is a fundamental taboo of counterinsurgency doctrine. But that illegitimacy doesn't have to be permanent. If Karzai can make some quick and visible shows of reform, the situation could be salvageable. It's also worth recalling that the Maliki government in Iraq wasn't particularly legitimate when the surge began, either. There may be hope yet.


The proper balance between defense and welfare are the tectonic plates that lie beneath our political discourse.

I'm sure we'll hear all about...

Desidiosus's picture

...how allying with a leader who obviously and blatantly rigged the election on his behalf is totally in line with COIN doctrine shortly.

"Assent, and you are sane."


We're way past that

HankP's picture

now the US is supposed to deal directly with the tribes and provide many of the functions that a central government normally would.

I blame it all on the Internet

Abdullah Abdullah is a warlord too. No improvement on Karzai.


He was in bed with Rashid Dostum and all the rest of them. I met the guy when he was in Pakistan, working at a hospital in Peshawar. He's just another little English-speaking Islamist, there must be about a dozen more like him, and every damned one of them more useless than the rest.

He's an ophthalmologist. So's Bashir Assad.

I am not saying AA would be better than Karzai


I am saying having AA snipe at Karzai's leadership and legitimacy makes the entire project considerably more difficult.

The proper balance between defense and welfare are the tectonic plates that lie beneath our political discourse.

Well, yes, that too. Just pointing out Abdullah is no better.


We're always trying to find a Hero in this situation. Abdullah has a certain amount of cred, what with his MD and such. But mostly, the USA is looking for an English Speaker.

The very idea we'd have to do business with some tribal bumpkin puckers the sphincters of the Usual Suspects over at the State Department. Heaven forbid Afghanistan should be run by someone who might actually represent their people, and not our idea of what these people might actually want for themselves.

It's so goddamn depressing. Watching Hillary and Holbrooke and the rest of those ninnies in bespoke suits running around. Karzai and Abdullah should be on our payrolls directly, helping us find the right people. But the USA isn't really very clever, though it certainly thinks it's clever. Seven, eight years in the Wilderness of Clusterfuggstan and we still haven't figured out how to use English-speaking proxies.

The runoff is canceled.

Desidiosus's picture

Enough already; it's time to come home.

"Assent, and you are sane."


What if the Northern Alliance becomes an


insurgency against Karzai?

Would our former allies in overthrowing the Taliban back in 2001/2002 now be our enemy?

The proper balance between defense and welfare are the tectonic plates that lie beneath our political discourse.

We'd link up with the NA


'cause, so we've been told, the real center of gravity in Afghanistan is with the local militia/tribes/villages.

When do we get to go home?

Desidiosus's picture

If I can hear a real answer to that, I would consider looking at a plan behind that answer.

"Assent, and you are sane."


Not for at least another 10 years


Political will is a problem, and I don't think it would be responsible to launch an action that is not politically sustainable.

However, I think this President has got the juice to bring Americans with him. If we reverse the momentum over the next number of years, then the political pressure will subside.

I think this kind of program can be piloted in low-intensity fighting areas and wouldn't require a large commitment of troops.

"I don't want us to descend into a nation of bloggers." - Steve Jobs

To put it another way,

Desidiosus's picture

unless you trust President Palin to get 'er done, bring the troops home.

"Assent, and you are sane."


Then we leave now.

Desidiosus's picture

The Russians lost two empires in Afghanistan. Can we please not be stupid forever?

"Assent, and you are sane."


Never. We are a de facto empire and enforcing


a Pax Americana is all that prevents World War III. Our deeply stupid military adventures, like Iraq, obscure the larger fact that we are currently the world's 800 lb. gorilla, and as 800 lb. gorillas go, we're not so bad. We mostly just want to sell people iPods and cheeseburgers.

"Hell is truth seen too late." --Thomas Hobbes

"It is foolish to fight a war


that requires winning the allegiance of an inherently conservative people while also attempting to re-engineer their society."

Best distillation of the quandary I've seen thus far, Wags. "Victory" for US-NATO forces involves nothing more & nothing less than leaving Afghanistan a country unwilling to interfere with other countries, be they Pakistan or attacks against the West.

"Hell is truth seen too late." --Thomas Hobbes

I agree, Jordan


This is a superb explanation of the quandary:

"It is foolish to fight a war that requires winning the allegiance of an inherently conservative people while also attempting to re-engineer their society."

And for us to make the attempt exemplifies the anti-thesis of a conservative world view.

The proper balance between defense and welfare are the tectonic plates that lie beneath our political discourse.

There is a conservative worldview?

Desidiosus's picture

I thought they just hated hippies.

"Assent, and you are sane."


Not much to disagree with, Wags

Bird Dog's picture

Gant provided a pretty nice template, and there isn't a lot of difference between Gant and McChrystal. Afghanistan has never been ruled by a strong central Kabul-centered government, nor will it. It will be--for decades to come--a loose confederation, with the center of gravity at the district and town levels.

Bing West just got back from another tour and he has some observations. Call it the Fourth Way.

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009

I think Bing West


Is not offering a fourth way, but adjustments to the McChrystal strategy. I will add that the problem he outlines -- that tribes just aren't choosing between the Taliban and us -- might be clarified if the tribes weren't treated as bystanders.

Have you seen the PBS Frontline program Obama's War? In it a marine sargeant is seen trying to gain intelligence from a crowd of villagers, and he does so quite ineptly. It's hard to see how the tribesmen would not feel emasculated and resentful when a soldier from far away comes and offers to protect them if they will tell him where the bad guys are.

Here's an interesting perspective, from the same site as the Gant piece. It's one of a 5-part series:

"I don't want us to descend into a nation of bloggers." - Steve Jobs

I saw the Frontline piece

Bird Dog's picture

The Marines were clearly frustrated. A key measure of success will be our ability to get actionable intelligence. Gant did it, and so are the Marines in Nawa.

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009

Don't your people have to learn the local language?

mmghosh's picture

And what's the point of that, exactly? How is a knowledge of Pushtu advance a long-term career in the USA?

And because of that it is unlikely that, apart from a few cases, there will be enough intelligence gained. I cannot see a worthwhile US interest served by staying on in Afghanistan. You should ask yourself, would you move to Afghanistan? And if you wouldn't, then why would any of your countrymen - unless there was a lot of money to be made, or a great deal of honour to be gained?

There's value for us and for China for the US to be in Afghanistan. But why should that influence your policy?

Bird Dog, you would have loved Mountstuart Elphinstone.

freedom is a fundamental value that does not need to be justified in terms of some other value like efficiency

It wasn't like a lot of Marines knew Arabic,

Bird Dog's picture

yet they were able to get considerable intelligence when they partnered with the tribes. But that said, the more who know the local language the better.

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009

I think more people in Iraq speak English

mmghosh's picture

than do in Afghanistan.

Here is a report on the mass literacy program in Iraq in 1981.

freedom is a fundamental value that does not need to be justified in terms of some other value like efficiency

Gant doesn't want to piss off his superiors


He sounds like a man trying to maintain his viability, and who can blame him? Because of that, I think he elides over the political difficulties of partnering with the Afghan army. As for McChrystal, perhaps you've read something, but I see no indication that he's prepared to embrace a tribal engagement strategy as Gant describes it: advising, arming and supplying the Pashtun tribesmen.

McChrystal has mentioned that he doesn't see the need to control all the Afghani territory, but that's a completely different thing than affirmatively seeking to foster semi-autonomous tribal lands by partnering with the tribes.

And McChrystal insists on taking Kabul with him. I just don't see how the tribes would accept us if we partner with their long-time enemy.

I realize there's problems to this strategy, some of which have already been discussed in this thread. I will add another one, and it's a domestic political concern: that we would be portrayed as now backing a Taliban Lite, since some of the folkways of the Pashtun tribes will be disconcerting to a Western audience. I have limits to my conscience too, but ultimately, we do not send our soldiers to other countries because we do not like how they treat women. That's not why we're there.

"I don't want us to descend into a nation of bloggers." - Steve Jobs

Trouble with Bing West is the same as with Gant: the Long Haul


There's got to be an end to this at some point. What both West and Gant are proposing is not one whit different than what the USSR did in Afghanistan: deal with the Bastard du Jour. Their BDJ was Najibullah, a much tougher customer than this smirking weasel Karzai.

Now it might have worked, the USSR's plan. Unfortunately for the Afghans, fortunately for everyone else, the USSR collapsed from within. But we'll elect another president, things will change, they always do in the USA, that's our system and that's our way. What then? Everyone with a clue understands Afghanistan will not be changed from the outside. We might be able to prop up some semblance of an Afghan regime, and that looks to be in the cards, Karzai has won the bet: he cheated, we let him, Abdullah left in a huff, and we're stuck with Karzai. Big whoop. There's our Democracy for you.

It's all a crock of merde. We have far more pressing issues at hand. Somalia and Yemen are the new Al Qaeda hot spots and we don't have the resources to deal with either. Pakistan is still just as stupid as ever, they'll do nothing about their Taliban. Oh, they'll go off into the hills and get whacked, just like us. They're no more in control of the situation than Afghanistan is in control of its own rogue elements.

This is a police action, no longer a military action. We're playing right into Osama bin Ladin's hands: this is the battle he wanted us to fight. All these quasi-military dumbasses, Bing West leading the charge, are hell-bent on sticking it out forever in those badlands, like our troops chasing Pancho Villa around in Mexico.

When Mexico had its civil war, more than a million people died. The USA did not intervene. We knew better than to take sides in that mess. The best strategy for the USA is to pay the Somalis a visit and give them a good whack, then pull back to bases, preparing for more short-term whacks. The Fourth Question of Strategy asks "What resources do we have at our disposal?" and the USA does not have what it takes to control Afghanistan on the ground.

So y'all go on and enumerate the Nth Way to Victory in Afghanistan. There's no shortage of integers, folks. But the real integers, the only integers which matter are Time and Cost. There is no military solution to this mess. Anyone who thinks so is an idiot, and is playing right into Al Qaeda's hand. We have not only failed to pacify Afghanistan, and may I add Iraq in that bargain, we have come to be seen as no better than our enemies. Great going, eh?

It seems that this is sorta like what we did with the Hmong


I don't mean attacking laos but in getting local help. It would seem that we would need long special operations deployment. I thought this was part of special operations anyway. Their must be other barriers at play besides this one.

Ask courageous questions. Do not be satisfied with superficial answers. Be open to wonder and at the same time subject all claims to knowledge, without exception, to intense skeptical scrutiny. Be aware of human fallibility. Cherish your species and yo

Special ops


Gets this kind of training, yes. It's not something alien to our military culture.

However, the overall strategy has to be there from up top.

"I don't want us to descend into a nation of bloggers." - Steve Jobs

We do not want to recreate the Contras from our Pashtun allies.


You're off to a good start, but the problem with all this is, Gant is going back to the USA and someone else will replace him.

The only way this could possibly work is if Gant and others like him (who are rare as hen's teeth) were to live there permanently and be able to hand out goodies and ammunition to all those who sided with him. In a sense, Gant would be the warlord. That's what he is anyway, that's the way he's seen.

No, this is just another naive and ultimately meaningless twist to a well-understood problem. Until we've got an exit strategy from Afghanistan, and Sitting Bull and all the others like him realize they're going to be in for a terrible time if they don't get with the plan, everything we've done is for nothing.

I agree that...


Continuity is a problem, and finding the talent to scale up is a problem. I don't think they're insurmountable problems.

I think being seen as the warlords of our tribes is a plus.

I wish I could say the problem was well-understood. I read McChrystal's assessment and he seems to be convinced that forging a nation from this mess is possible.

"I don't want us to descend into a nation of bloggers." - Steve Jobs

An American warlord? I really liked "Blood Meridian"

mmghosh's picture

especially the character of the Judge, a true American hero.

Maybe frontierism is a part of the American psyche?

freedom is a fundamental value that does not need to be justified in terms of some other value like efficiency

Americans make interesting warlords, but not good ones.


Inevitably the American turns the show over to some group of well-meaning local idiots, who promptly lose control of the situation and a generalissimo ends up in charge.

How many times has the USA been in and out of Haiti and Central America? It never works. Democracy can only arise from within, it cannot be imposed by Americans. It must take the form of the people's will, and that of necessity cannot be an American will.

There is another outcome: Puerto Rico and Guam. These territories exist as neither states nor true countries of their own. They never get anywhere, on and on it goes. Half the Red States are on the dole: receiving far more than they contribute to the government.

There is an even worse outcome: France is in the same predicament with its old colonies, forever dealing dirty with them. France's intervention in Rwanda was one-sided and an entirely filthy enterprise.

We are at a sorry pass in Afghanistan: Hobbes once said:

The obligation of subjects to the sovereign is understood to last as long, and no longer, than the power lasteth by which he is able to protect them.

Mountstuart Elphinstone was one such

mmghosh's picture

I've always thought Bird Dog might be a descendant or relative (and don't disturb the myth with facts, please!)

I linked to his bio above. We read him here, still, of course, but here's a small article about him in the West.


Two hundred years ago this month, in the middle of the Great Indian Desert that separated British India from the uncharted lands to the northwest, British soldiers encountered Afghan warriors for the very first time.

The British force, led by a Scottish diplomat with the splendidly imperial name of Mountstuart Elphinstone, consisted of several hundred near-mutinous sepoy (native Indian) troops, a handful of white officers, 600 camels, and a dozen elephants loaded with gifts.

Elphinstone, the first European diplomatic envoy sent to Afghanistan, had been dispatched from Delhi to coax the “King of Caubul” into an alliance against Napoleon, to explore this terra incognita, and - in the unlikely event that he survived - to report back to London on the “wild and strange” land beyond the mountains.

For a month Elphinstone slogged through the desert wastes, encountering bandits, warring clans and ferocious tribal chiefs off their heads on opium and alcohol who could be spoken to only in the early afternoon, that being the “interval between sobriety and absolute stupefaction”. For guidance, he had to rely on accounts of Alexander the Great's expedition, written more than 2,000 years earlier.

Just inside the border of what is now Pakistan, on November 21, 1808, Elphinstone was met by a body of 150 Afghan mounted troops, riding two to a camel, terrifying bearded figures each carrying a glittering matchlock musket. “Their appearance,” he recorded with fine Scots understatement, “was altogether novel and striking.” No one in his party could understand a word that they were saying.

So began the first formal contact between the British crown and the fractured state of Afghanistan. The latest chapter in that story will be written today, when the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, arrives in Britain for the Prince of Wales's birthday party.

Astonishingly little has changed in the intervening two centuries: the Afghans are still regarded by Britain with a strange mixture of awe and incomprehension. The histories of our two countries are entwined like no other, yet that history has been routinely and tragically ignored or forgotten.

At 29 years old, Mountstuart Elphinstone was absurdly young, entirely fearless and very slightly mad. But he was also highly intelligent, fluent in Persian and Hindi, and profoundly observant. His book about his Afghan adventures - An Account of the Kingdom of Caubul - remains one of the most perceptive surveys of Afghanistan yet written, with such sublime chapter headings as “Rapine - how occasioned”.

In many ways, the society he described has barely changed.

The first meeting between the British diplomat and the Afghan King took place on February 25, 1809, in Peshawar, east of the Khyber Pass. As David Loyn recounts in Butcher and Bolt, an excellent new study of British engagement in Afghanistan, Elphinstone was stunned by the opulence of the Afghan king's outfit - “one blaze of jewels” - and the huge diamond, the cursed Koh-i-Noor, hanging from his wrist.

The British visitor was also intrigued by the Afghans' strenuous fitness regime, and one exercise in particular. “The performer places himself on his hands and toes, with his arms stiff and his body horizontal... he then throws his body forward, and at the same time bends his arms, so that his chest and belly almost sweep the ground.” This special form of exercise torture has been inflicted on soldiers and schoolchildren ever since. Elphinstone had discovered the Afghan press-up.

But he also noted something more profound. For all the finery, Afghanistan was chronically unstable, and about to tear itself apart. He compared it to ancient Scotland, a place of complex tribal animosities, clansmen raised on mountain hardship and bloodshed, riven by untraceable feuds and alliances, where central authority barely extended beyond the royal palace gates.

As so many British observers have been, he was drawn to the Pashtuns, with their fierce code of honour. “Their vices are revenge, envy, avarice, rapacity and obstinacy; on the other hand, they are fond of liberty, faithful to their friends, kind to their dependants, hospitable, brave, hardy, frugal, laborious and prudent.” They spent most of their time fighting each other, but they swiftly combined to repel any outsider and were ever “ready to defend their rugged country against a tyrant”.

freedom is a fundamental value that does not need to be justified in terms of some other value like efficiency

What's the problem with Puerto Rico and Guam?

mmghosh's picture

Don't they contribute to the USA, net, net?

And why are the red states on the dole...is this a Civil War devastation legacy? What is this - price paid and accepted?

I've just completed McPherson's Battle Cry for Freedom - utterly fascinating.

freedom is a fundamental value that does not need to be justified in terms of some other value like efficiency

Red States on the dole are a legacy of our constitution.


Each state, however small it may be, has two senators. This was put in place early on to give preference to the rural populations. What came of it obeyed the Law of Unintended Consequences: rather than provide the voice of the farmer and landowner, the rural states became the recipients of Congressional largesse far out of proportion to their contributions.

Curiously the largest recipient of unearned tax dollars is Washington D.C. itself, which is not a state.

The National Zoo is amazing.

Desidiosus's picture

As is the Smithsonian and Library of Congress.

"Assent, and you are sane."


Not really. They're both still dependent on subsidies


and the benefits of being duty-free zones. Oddly, Puerto Rico can vote in the Democratic and Republican primaries, but not in the general election. Technically, Obama is their president, but PR has a governor, popularly elected. PR benefits from Aquí y allá = here and there: New York City has many people go back and forth to PR.

Guam is a militarily-significant mound of coral. As the US military withdraws from Okinawa, they're moving to Guam.

Thanks to BD


For including the Gant link in a previous diary. See, somebody reads your links.

"I don't want us to descend into a nation of bloggers." - Steve Jobs