Danny Sjursen discusses America’s absurd Afghan War strategy for the last nearly two decades. Sjursen served in Afghanistan during the Obama surge, seeing firsthand the utter futility of America’s attempt to conquer and rule a country that for centuries has been the graveyard of empires. Scott and Sjursen are hopeful that President Trump will follow through on some of his rhetoric and instincts and actually try to end this war, though they realize how difficult it will be even for a president who seems ready to leave, given all the entrenched interests that would like to stay forever.
Discussed on the show:
- “SIGAR: The Boys Who Cry About Actual Wolves” (Antiwar.com Original)
- “Red Dawn (1984)” (IMDb)
Danny Sjursen is a retired U.S. army major and former history instructor at West Point. He writes regularly for TomDispatch.com and he’s the author of “Ghost Riders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge.” Follow him on Twitter @SkepticalVet.
This episode of the Scott Horton Show is sponsored by: NoDev NoOps NoIT, by Hussein Badakhchani; The War State, by Mike Swanson; WallStreetWindow.com; Tom Woods’ Liberty Classroom; ExpandDesigns.com/Scott; Listen and Think Audio; TheBumperSticker.com; and LibertyStickers.com.
The following is an automatically generated transcript.
All right, y’all welcome it’s Scott Horton Show. I am the director of the Libertarian Institute editorial director of antiwar.com, author of the book Fool’s Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan. And I’ve recorded more than 5000 interviews going back to 2003, all of which are available at ScottHorton.org. You can also sign up to the podcast feed. The full archive is also available at youtube.com/ScottHortonShow.
All right, you guys introducing Danny Sjursen. Again, a regular writer for antiwar.com and a lot of other places too. He wrote the book Ghost Riders of Baghdad, and of course was in the Iraq surge and the Afghan surge both And so yeah, anyway. Welcome back to the show. How you doing, Danny?
Danny Sjursen 1:01
I’m great, man. Thanks for having me.
Scott Horton 1:03
Yeah, happy to have you here. Hey, listen, um, would you give us a short rundown of the different places where you are writing these days? We try to publish everything republish everything linked to everything we can at antiwar.com but Eric complains that he just can’t keep up we have a de luge of Danny Sjursen and pieces constantly. And you’re doing more and more radio interviews and this and that kind of thing all over the place too, which is great. But where can people find your writings on a regular basis, sir? Well, you know so first of all, my website skeptical that calm is a pretty good place just to grab everything that comes in. But you know, since truth dig fell apart. That was my other regular weekly column. I’ve branched out even more so monthly. I’m at Tom dispatch. I’m pretty regular at popular resistance, which is kind of picking up some of the truth dig mantle. Mother Jones more recently. You
Danny Sjursen 2:00
You know that as well as common dreams and other other spots, I’ve really kind of been thrown my work a lot of different places. And I also work with something called the independent media Institute. And what they do is, I don’t know, kind of like syndicate in the left, Alt left circuits. So it’s actually difficult to say where stuff’s gonna show up. But uh, but those are sort of my regulars. But if you check out the site, pretty much everything kind of bumps over there. And it’s, it’s a decent PR, you know, it’s kind of gathering ground but it’s, it’s a busy world and you know, how it works. You know, if, if, if Jake Tapper won’t invite you on, and the New York Times won’t hire you then, you know, you kind of piece it all together and get out where you can, you know, yep. And yeah, it is a good idea to keep your own site where you republish everything there for safekeeping because even an institution like truthdig might fly by night. And so, you know, by the way, I mean, is the site still up? Did we have your archives or the whole thing is just gone now or what?
So the archives are up and I checked on that, actually, Eric from anti wars recommendation because I wrote so much stuff there, including the history book, although that’s mid publication now, but
Scott Horton 3:11
yeah, it’s Wait, what about the history is what publication now?
Danny Sjursen 3:15
Oh, yeah. So So I wrote that 38 part history United States are truthdig based on my kind of like my lectures at West Point. That’ll be publishing with steer fourth press out of New Hampshire, lost early next year. So you have already contracted for that. We’re kind of in the editing right now. But luckily, the editing won’t be as, hopefully as bad as it is for most books, especially since this one’s gonna be like 700 pages. Because it went through that pretty extensive editing with Tom Caswell over at truth, who’s kind of like, you know, been in the business forever. So, but yeah, that’s coming out, but the truth is, stuff is still up. But when you click on the site, it says like that they’re on a hiatus, but the truth is that we all got pink slipped with no notice even those of us who didn’t sign on to the work dispute or the labor spew. And so it’s funny how sometimes the proprietor of a liberal progressive site doesn’t necessarily live out some of those values when it comes to business. But that’s a whole other issue. And people like Chris Hydros are better to speak to that, because they were more involved. But it’s been drama of course.
Scott Horton 4:17
Yeah. All right. Well, anyway, I’m glad to know that your archives are there. And I’m really happy to hear that you’re making a book out of that history series. That’s really great stuff. So and sorry, my levels, everybody. It’s this new board. It’s got no compression on it and no insert hole for my compressor. So the volume on the way it’s working. Anyway. See is way up in the red or it’s way too quiet. goddamn thing. Anyway. So I should ask you about, there’s so many different articles you’ve written lately, but I want to focus on Afghanistan, this thing that you wrote for anti war.com about SIGAR, the boys who cry about actual wolves. And so as I mentioned, you know, a thing or two about The Afghan war having helped lose it. So. And I just love in here, the way you get into the parallels with Obama and Gorbachev and all that, but first of all, tell people about SIGAR. And you know what you’re talking about 47th time’s the charm and all this in here.
Danny Sjursen 5:18
Yeah, I mean, I’ve been writing about Sega for a while. So yeah, SIGAR is the Special Inspector General for Afghan reconstruction. And around the time Obama was coming office, you know, you know, a, sort of like the last quarter of a congress mandated the creation of this and, you know, they were supposed to look into like fraud, waste and abuse and, you know, investigate themselves, you know, so he’s great when the government investigates itself. I mean, in practice, you know, the concepts, not the worst one, you know, in terms of what the war in Afghanistan has been about, and how, you know, we’ve been lied to So the interesting thing about SIGAR is that, you know, look, they’re polite, or they’re owned by the government, whether they’re say they’re independent or not, right. So They’re polite, and their language is Washingtonian. But if you read the reports, and I’m a geek and I read rather quickly, so I’ve read most of them over the last at least two years, they actually have a lot of truth in them. And and they do raise some alarm. And recently, they’ve even gotten a little flippant and some of their language specifically because around 2017, and we’ll get into this the government, the Pentagon, the administration started classifying pretty much every single metric that would tell us how the war is going, as it relates to security, like Taliban attacks, and the, you know, the progress and abilities of the Afghan local security forces and their equipment, which is particularly important because we are being told, you know, all of Vietnamization Nixon, that the Afghan local security forces are the future, right. That’s the key to our strategy. But we’ve gone ahead and we’ve you know, sort of classified made secret, all those things. So the public’s not even allowed to know anything. longer, how the wars going? And of course, that’s the most undemocratic thing I’ve ever heard. It’s, it’s, it’s absurd, actually, it’s worthy of, you know, Kambou absurdity. But you know, the most interesting about this latest report and then we can go whatever direction you want is that for the first time because of you know, COVID and now will those medical recommendations, they’re not even publishing a classified version. So that means that almost everyone in Congress, okay, the people that supposedly represent you aren’t even able to see how the war is going. This is just the other piece with the Afghan war in general in the war on terror. I mean, this level of farce is, it should be an alarm bell in the night. And I don’t think anyone’s reading these reports God except like, you know, you and I,
Scott Horton 7:46
yeah, I honestly didn’t even read this one man. I just been so busy. I saw it It showed up and whoever it was that SIGAR that put me on the email list. I really appreciate that. I’m not sure if just a stranger signed me up for it. Are they actually did it themselves has been a few years ago now. But anyway, no, I actually skipped this one. But you know, and this gets right into the heart of what you’re writing about here in this story is I wouldn’t really mind if they have to do nothing but lie and cover up all the way out the door. Right? In other words, if all the metrics being reported would mean, x, much more political pressure in DC to keep us there, then go ahead and cover it up. I don’t care just in a goddamn war. So I care about but then, as I read your piece here, you don’t seem to think that the deal reached with the Taliban will end the war at all.
Danny Sjursen 8:47
Oh, no, that’s that’s the whole thing. So
Scott Horton 8:49
which I’m sorry, one more thing about that the headline this week is that Trump is saying, forget the peace deal. I don’t want to get out next May. I want to get out right now?
Danny Sjursen 8:58
Yeah, and I mentioned that in myself. social media post about this. Hey, kudos, President Trump, you know, it would be it would actually be a first if, if he did that right for him and for any other president or figure. And I’m not even afraid to say that, you know, of course, I mean, people think I wear a mogga hat when I write my articles these days, which is ridiculous. But, you know, if he means it, and I think his instincts are in that direction, and always have been without much follow through so far, then then let’s let’s do it, because I actually think that maybe I’m giving them too much credit. But I actually think that Trump knows that the peace deal right that he signed was a farce. I don’t think he ever believed that was going to save the war or bring peace to Afghanistan. I think he knew that it was just, you know, a way out basically a sort of a surrender without saying and of course, he’s never going to say that and either as any president, but the reality is, if he really is ahead of timeline like he says he is although the Pentagon and the White House aren’t sure how many soldiers still in Afghanistan one says there’s better Got 9001 says there’s about 7000. Doesn’t matter if we’re trying to get ahead of schedule. Good. Let’s do it. But let’s be but so I think the peace deal is ridiculous. And it’s got enough holes in it to keep the war going forever. But that’s okay. Because it’s the only choice. The facts on the ground aren’t going to change because we signed a treaty that lets the Taliban stay in the field continue to attack. It’s not they’re not even precluded from attacking, it says so when the report like the State Department sent an email to SIGAR, saying, Oh, actually, don’t freak out about this, not just Taliban tax but increase in Taliban attacks a march because the deal doesn’t actually say that they can’t attack the Afghan security force. So in other words, this is Vietnam all over again, right, Paris Peace Accords. We let the South you know, the North Vietnamese Army stay in South Vietnam and they take the capital two years later. Now I’m not going to predict when Kabul is going to fall or if it’s going to, what I will say is that there’s a lot of historical precedent that this war is only going to continue,
Scott Horton 10:58
but in other words, what you’re saying It’s a, the question is which war? The war between the US and the Taliban might be over. But the war between the Taliban and the Kabul government is still going on? Is that what you’re saying? And will sadly,
Danny Sjursen 11:11
yeah, exactly. And I don’t have any problem with that. Because I don’t I try to be clear eyed about this. I don’t think we can influence that are affected. I don’t think we ever truly could. So I’m totally fine with that. I just want us to be honest about what the piece is. Because
Scott Horton 11:25
it’s just like in my book, I mean, time time to end the war in Afghanistan. I’m referring to our war there. I don’t, I don’t think we can end the war there just by leaving, but we can’t end it by staying either, that’s for sure.
Danny Sjursen 11:37
We, America’s history in Afghanistan has always been generally de stabilizing, right, at least since 19. You know, 79, probably 1973. So, I mean, the idea that we’re gonna have any major influence on the outcome after we leave is silly, which is why the tragedy that I point out is that whether we would have left in 2000 to 2006 2008, or you name the The outcome probably would have been basically the same. So I don’t have a problem with Trump’s concept. I just like clear language and being honest about it. Maybe I’m sentimental.
Scott Horton 12:10
Yeah. But you do think that? Well, I guess. So what I’m trying to get at here is loopholes in the actual deal. So if the loophole is that North and South Vietnam are going to keep fighting, that’s one thing. But are there loopholes in here that are going to keep our troops there or not?
Danny Sjursen 12:27
Well, not necessarily, but there is the potential for it. For example, pompeyo made a statement inside of the State Department saying, well, not only is the Taliban not precluded from continuing their attacks and staying armed but you know, were then not prohibited from fighting back so we’re allowed to bomb them if they attack the Afghan forces. So yeah, there is a loophole that allows us to keep fighting but the question is, whether that’s what the Trump administration wants, I like to think, especially of late that they don’t want that that they are ready to cut and run. Yeah, they’ll call it with They call it but I’m at this point, I’m so desperate that we really care what they call it. I mean, I’m gonna write about it. I’m gonna call for some version of like honesty about it. But if they don’t, and I don’t expect they will be clear about it, then. All right, let’s just go. Let’s just go because at this point, I’ll take what I can get as cynical as that sounds.
Scott Horton 13:16
Yeah, seriously. I mean, well, what the hell that doesn’t sound that cynical. I mean, you’re talking about the level of destruction being wrecked on these people by US forces to this day. As well, as you know, all the American troops still going in and out of there and all of the rest of this. You know, I’ll take half a loaf on this, if it means the war there keeps going on. That’s a shame. But it’s certainly the right thing to get out here. And I guess the greatest thing I ever heard in my life was that this President thinks he needs this win for his reelection. And by win, that is acceptance of total failure. He’s willing to go ahead and he he is calculated apparently from the traffic balloons in the press and all this stuff. He has calculated that if he tells the American people on the president that ended the Afghan war, even in failure, that the American people will vote for that. You know, and it makes me think I need to start writing a bunch of books called time to do this and time to do that, because apparently, you’re pretty good at making things come true with my subtitles.
Danny Sjursen 14:23
But yeah, Scott, I blame you. I think I think I think you caused the I think you caused this pivot. But but you actually make a good point. I mean, your book was important. And it’s interesting how this is sort of Trumps calculation now, which I like, is the inverse of like, what happened in Vietnam and Afghanistan ups and Alka so as you know, the argument was always like, I don’t want to be the president that lost Vietnam. I don’t wanna be the president that lost Afghanistan. So there was always like this inertia to stay because you didn’t want to leave and then have the bloodshed that follows and then everyone says, Oh, you lost China, you know, like going back to 1949. But I think Trump has has demonstrated that you know what we’re so far Through the Looking Glass, that at this point, the American people are pretty much okay with admission of defeat, you know, And hey, if he does it, then he deserves to be applauded. And it doesn’t matter how much I love him. I think that intellectual honesty and ethical honesty demands that we applaud whatever he does to get us out of this place, if he does it.
Scott Horton 15:18
Right. Well, it’s also perfect political Judo against the Democrats. Go ahead, Biden attack me and say that no, we have to leave 20,000 troops to fight a counterterrorism campaign forever.
Danny Sjursen 15:28
You know, God, I gotta say that, I mean, you’re right, it actually because I’m so sick of the Democrats. And just as much as I hate Trump I am I would find it almost amusing to watch him and I think you’ll do it place the democrats in a position where they have to defend the forever wars because he kind of did that in 2016. And I think he’s gonna do it in 2020 and it’s gonna be really fun watching Biden’s like you know, intellectual and ethical gymnastics trying to defend these wars it it’s it’s ridiculous, but it’s gonna happen most likely.
Scott Horton 15:59
Yeah. Well, I mean, and the thing is time is sort of running short. But if he would, you know, develop this thought a little bit further, maybe this could be an article for you, you know, Hey, Mr. tall, fantastic, wealthy, successful Trump. Here’s the thing for you that you know how you think we’d like it. If you ended the war in Afghanistan. You’re right. Same goes for Somalia, and Syria and Iraq, and especially Yemen. Think of all the wars you could end between now and November, you want to get reelected. You want to be trumped the great, go ahead and call off the entire project, and then just do nothing but scapegoat Bush and Obama for ruining everything. And after all, it’s true. Right? It’s not like I mean, it is his fault for he could have he should have done this in 2017. But still, he could still just say, look, this is all idiot bush and weakling Obama’s fault. And so we’re calling the whole thing off.
Danny Sjursen 16:58
I mean, I have this image in my head. Almost like a fantasy, you know, it’s a dark one because it’ll get him reluctant. I don’t necessarily want that. But if he was as if he was truly brilliant, like he would fly to Yemen tomorrow, make a speech against the Saudis and hold a brown skinny Yemeni kid, and like, give it a kiss. If he did that. I mean, just imagine, just imagine, you know, all the talk about how he’s like anti immigrant all this is true, right. But I mean, it would be a coup. What would the democrats do with that?
Scott Horton 17:26
Well, I would lay in the whole thing on Obama and Biden’s administration for starting the war. I mean, he’s guilty as hell, but he’s also Donald Trump. So he’s just mister flip flop, but he could just pretend it still all Obama and Biden’s fault and not his and probably get away with that. And I’d probably let him if he was actually ending the damn thing. Again, go ahead and lie just stop the bombing.
Danny Sjursen 17:50
Yeah, that’s where we’re at right now. I mean, and how is Obama gonna look from, you know, Martha’s Vineyard or whatever. When you know, if Trump were to slip you stand in a Yemeni refugee camp like I don’t know if it’s gonna happened. But like, if he’s listening like it would be the most brilliant and like almost. I mean, it would be a brilliant political move, and it will. And if it ended the bombing, it would also be the probably the most humanitarian thing done by a US president in quite some time. And all of this, by the way, I realize is crazy, that we’re even talking about Trump in this way. But hey, the opportunity is there and he could seize it. And if he did, and it was an interest of humanity. I guess I’ll be a little utilitarian on this one.
Scott Horton 18:25
Yeah. No. And look, he doesn’t know the first thing about humanity. He didn’t care about that. We’re talking about good politics. You know, this is good politics, because this is what the American people want and forget it. You many refugee camp stand in the Rose Garden, and just announce that we’re no longer backing Saudis war in Yemen. That’s it. And not only that, we’re sending them wheat to eat, you know, what the hell, why not? And especially again, it’s all just in his own selfish interests that not like this has anything to do with Donald Trump caring about anyone but himself or anything like that, but just if He wants to hold on to the power. It would be nice if he would start to restrain himself on this issue, particularly, and everybody feels this way, and especially after the virus, you know, who thinks that? Oh, yeah, no, we definitely should have spent the 21st century so far killing people in the Middle East, killing 2 million people for $6 trillion. That was definitely a great investment. Nobody believes that you can’t even get the guys at the National Review to support this thing anymore. You know? Well, some of them.
Danny Sjursen 19:30
Oh, yeah. And me and you’re seeing a, I mean, you’re seeing a sort of not not a rebellion, but you’re seeing a lot of wavering within the military ranks. I mean, definitely the mid level and even some of the high level folks from what I’m hearing and also what I’m reading there, you know, no one believes in victory anymore. No one really thinks that this has been a good investment and I’m talking about even most of the channels. Now they will play along because their company man and they want their jobs and all that most of them aren’t monsters, but There’s a lot of rumblings. And that’s, that’s really pretty instructive, isn’t it at this point shows where we’re at.
Scott Horton 20:07
Yeah. And again, the polls, you know, the veterans. It’s, it’s amazing that the American people say we never should have fought the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq, which, hey, at least Osama was in Afghanistan. I mean, we all know they could have negotiated for him and all that. But you would think the American people would say, Well, you know, yeah, we had to do that or so. But no, super majorities of Americans say, we never should have fought Afghanistan or Iraq. And then amazingly, the veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq, their numbers are even higher than the general public’s by a few points consistently. Now, when it comes to saying we never should have fought these wars at all. Not even should we end them now. But we wish we could take back the 21st century so far. Wow.
Danny Sjursen 20:56
This is actually an extraordinarily remarkable thing. You know, As much Trumpy and hyperboles, that is, I was doing just a very vague research and I did look further into poor write it in an article, but my understanding is that the the rates of troops and dependence of those troops families that are against these wars that you mentioned is higher even that at the end of the Vietnam War. I mean, that’s pretty darn remarkable, isn’t it?
Scott Horton 21:20
Yeah. Well, and, you know, it’s pretty easy to see why, right. I mean, take you, for example, you fought in Iraq. Now you’re in the US, and you’re figuratively looking across the ocean back at Iraq, and what’s happened there since then. And what are you supposed to think? Yeah, we sure did a great job over there. You know, I mean, that’s you and everybody else who fought over there with you, too, you know.
Danny Sjursen 21:50
And I’m seeing I’ve seen a huge sea change and like, not to, like personalize it, but just in an anecdotal way, you know, when I started this game, and you know, wrote the book in 2014, and my first time articles I used to get massive hate mail from, from veterans and from from serving members. I would say now it’s, you know, five, six to one positive from that, and military folks. And it used to be probably three to one against. And and and that that’s Dude, that’s a big deal because we’re only talking about four or five years something is afoot. And hey, if the people trust American soldiers now you know that i don’t think that we should be trusted just because of that. I think that’s obscene. But it’s the reality, hey, if people trust the American troops, and seven out of 10 plus their families are against this, then hey, like be vocal because maybe it’ll have some influence.
Scott Horton 22:38
Yeah. And after all, I mean, it’s pretty much undeniable, right? That it’s not supporting the troops to support a war that they shouldn’t be in, where they’re risking their life and limb for a reason that’s less than a perfect one. Right. And so all the people who said support the troops oppose the war. War back then, obviously, we’re right, that you guys would have all been a lot better, you know, marching around at Fort Bliss doing nothing, then over there getting your limbs blown off for nothing, you know?
Danny Sjursen 23:14
You know, it’s got I think you just gave me the idea for maybe my next article, which is, you know, I call it something like chicken Hawk extremists. And the point would be that, like, Is there any better definition of a chicken off than being for wars that even seven out of 10 of the troops against I don’t know that we’ve ever been in a situation like that in American history? Yeah. I don’t know that we’ve ever had those statistics even in a drafty army in Vietnam. I don’t know if we ever reach that point. I’ll look into it. But I mean, that to me is is the logical extreme conclusion of Chickenhawk madness, right? It has to be Yeah, anyway, so let’s get to your Soviet Union comparison here. Since we’re talking about collapsing empires in Afghanistan and everything here, Danny, you really have some great research here about the war in Afghanistan from the point of view of the Soviet Union and, in fact, internal Soviet politics in Moscow at the time so and then the the comparison parallels to the Obama and Trump admin illustrations here with Gorbachev in the 1980s.
Yeah, I think there are really important parallels. You know, I don’t pretend that I’m the best writer in town, but I probably read more than most writers. And so there’s a lot of times that I’ll be reading something and then I jot down like, Oh my god, I got to write about this. And so I was reading some extensive stuff on the internal Soviet Cold War. And I found all these declassified, you know, sort of documents that have now been published, like speeches Gorbachev gave and some statistics from the Soviet war effort. And what struck me was in two particular ways, and kind of three, there are enormous parallels. So Gorbachev comes in and 85. He’s elected on a very almost obAmE and platform at least for the Soviet Union. He’s gonna focus on domestic reform. He’s kind of against these third world crusades, right he right, he doesn’t run, but that’s what he kind of comes to power on. And then his initial move is to actually sort of surge in Afghanistan, which which falls on his face and part of that search, and this is a little bit more trumpian, although also Obama But Trump took it even further. As you know, when that doesn’t work when he doesn’t see the progress with his, you know, Afghan proxies that he was hoping for, you know, when when the surge didn’t create the space and time for the security for political reconciliation. I mean, they use almost the exact same words as Obama and Petraeus did Iraq and Afghanistan. So it’s, it’s, it actually was disturbing. Like, it made me sad, how similar it was because I was like, man, if folks read books that would have helped, like, I mean, policymakers. So then when that didn’t work out, so well, he’s like, well, what we’ll do is we’ll just increase our cross border artillery. barrages, which we can’t do, obviously, because we’re not touching Afghanistan, but airstrikes as well. And so, you know, if that didn’t work, either, right, and it just, it just increased the ire internationally, and then, of course, with the local proxies. And then the final thing that really struck me was that when the Soviets finally decided to leave, they did it sort of unilaterally. I mean, they sort of abandon their people on the ground, and it’s because Gorbachev realized the search didn’t work. The bombing didn’t work. It’s time to go. This this this government in Cuba. is not considered legitimate, just like the one we have now largely isn’t and but to his credit, and I don’t know if Trump has had this conversation, but to his credit, he had a conversation with Bob rock Kemal, who eventually was the president of Afghanistan had to be replaced because he didn’t play ball. And he basically says, You’re on your own. We’ll support you with arms. But that’s it. You’ve got to reach out to the Mujahideen, you’ve got to make peace and broaden your coalition or you’re going down. And he was pretty honest about that. And it was February of 87. So it’s just about two years before he finally leaves. I don’t know if Trump’s had that exact conversation with Ashraf Ghani, or whoever they decide is president, although they did just make a power sharing deal. But it’s it’s remarkably similar. It is disturbing. It’s actually tragic to read. And then as I say, in the article, Gorbachev event eventually sort of speaks at a public meeting where he says, like, what did all these kids die for? He feels hopeless, you know, and he’s torn because he’s like, oh, if we leave, it’s going to we’re going to look weak and you know, the same language we use today. But deep down, he’s like, What in the world of the kids die for how you can explain to the Soviet people this is the Soviet Union, right? This was to be like total totalitarian state. Right.
Scott Horton 29:06
And this quote you’re
Danny Sjursen 29:06
sharing with the people think
Scott Horton 29:07
This this quote is, when he’s justifying staying right, this isn’t him saying, you know, lamenting on the way out the door, this is him saying, we can’t give up now, because of the sunk cost fallacy of the guys, we already got killed. Is that correct?
Danny Sjursen 29:24
That’s right. And it’s and it’s actually a little bit crazier because of it, because the way it’s described, and so the transcript exists, but then it’s also described by other folks in the meeting. And they described him as like, exasperated and desperate like that he was just torn. And so he’s saying, Yeah, we can’t leave because how are we going to explain it to people that we left but then he also was emotionally invested in the idea that he’s like, he knew was wrong, sort of like he knew it wasn’t working. And so he’s got this cognitive dissonance that I think you saw, I’m pretty much all of the American presidents and policymakers so far. And and frankly, if I would have, you know, played a little trick on the reading You know, and just put Trump or Obama in some of these speeches, particularly Obama, I don’t think that most folks would have ever thought that, you know, believe that wasn’t Obama. I mean, it’s that similar and the language is almost stolen. And yet we know for a fact that, you know, they didn’t plagiarize it, we know that even Obama, you know, it was like an intelligent guy wasn’t really studying this kind of level of Soviet domestic, you know, effects on the Afghan war. So they came up with these things independently. And to me, that’s almost even more instructive and disturbing, because they’re so similar.
Scott Horton 30:35
Yeah, exactly. That this is what will happen to the French when they try to take over Afghanistan in 2152, as well, you know,
Danny Sjursen 30:44
it’s gonna play for the same way. Yeah. Right. Or the Chinese, although I think that Yeah, they’re smart enough to do it mostly, like, economically and all that. But yeah, it’ll happen to the next Empire, in Afghanistan or elsewhere, Afghanistan, just like an extreme example of like gray yard of empires, you know, and I know that gets thrown around. I know how many books and articles are titled around it, and I hate platitudes. But like, what do you do when the platitude is true?
Scott Horton 31:09
What is the geography?
Danny Sjursen 31:10
When it’s demonstrably true?
Scott Horton 31:12
I mean, it seemed to me that this was always a matter of geography. I mean, I remember arguing in 2001 that Listen, this country is the size of Texas, it’s completely landlocked behind mountains. And it’s, you know, all mountains and deserts and Badlands and a population with an ancient warrior culture. And so like all these things mean that you cannot take this place over no matter who you are, unless you’re just gonna drop h bombs and kill them all. Come back in 20 years when the radiation dies away, something like that, but otherwise
Danny Sjursen 31:46
Oh, yeah. Oh,
Scott Horton 31:48
what are you supposed to do about it?
Danny Sjursen 31:50
I know we’re getting tight on time if I could just like quickly say like, just from an anecdotal but I think also illustrative perspective like, talk about geography. I was in the Argonaut Valley. Right on most dangerous place in Afghanistan, for the Russians and for us, right, we were proud that we pushed further south and the Soviets like we were proud of that my Battalion, I was like, that’s the most absurd thing to be proud of.
Scott Horton 32:10
Yeah.Back when you would switch sides in the war and fighting the war the Russians had fought anyway, go ahead.
Danny Sjursen 32:16
So then it’s directly to so so the American army thought that the way to win this war was to be near the population center. So we dropped ourselves in the middle of this valley that’s fairly fertile, literally, just to the north of the main road, highway one. There’s mountains that are like impenetrable, literally, just to the south, and we’re talking a matter of a few miles of me is the ridge desert, and on the other side of the desert is Pakistan. And so think about it. Like from the Taliban’s perspective, they’ve got complete safe haven in either direction. Oh, by the way, west towards May, Juan is also pretty desert. So like in three directions, they have complete safe haven where they could hit and run at any time. And we’re kind of like trapped in the valley like rats. And then we’re like, Look, we’re winning because we’re doing population centric coin. Because we’re here, and it’s inverted, though it was like an it was an inverted strategy because we were actually the sitting ducks. And so the idea is that even on a micro level, in like one valley that happened to be a nightmare where like, literally hundreds of Americans have died. It just speaks to the macro of Afghan geography and fall just failed Imperial strategy. It’s staggering when I think about it, actually looking back.
Scott Horton 33:25
Yeah. All right. But so let me devil’s advocate you one more on the way out the door here, which is I this is where the name fool’s errand came from for the book was an interview with Daniel Davis. And when I asked him, okay, but what if instead of the ridiculous fool, David Petraeus would if there had been a competent general? And what if instead of having 140,000 troops, including NATO there would if he had had 300,000, like in the high end estimates, and and so what if he had had more troops, and what if instead of 18 months Ridiculous timeline would if he had had essentially an indefinite timeline, a good 10 years for a competent General, to see through the counterinsurgency strategy, and then, you know, I had asked Lieutenant Colonel Davis, so might that have worked or it still would have been a fool’s errand? And he said, yeah, it still would have been a fool’s errand. But I wonder whether, you know, maybe that’s too pessimistic. And maybe the Hawks are right, that Obama just didn’t. And okay, maybe the Hawks are right that bush should have never diverted all those resources away from Afghanistan to Iraq. And then when Obama put those resources back in Afghanistan, he shouldn’t have put them on such a short timetable. That’s what all the Hawks say.
Danny Sjursen 34:47
You know, I’m with Danny on this Danny Davis, but I will say this. The Soviets never tried 300,000. They topped out at about 120 and Gorbachev surge like Obama surge was time limited, and it announced that it would be in fact, as was 12 months versus 18 months. So here’s what I think the best case would have been. If you flooded the place with 300,000 soldiers. People like me on the ground could have made more of a security difference. But even still, it would have been short term. And let me say why? two things. Number one, flooding the place with troops has the effect on legitimacy of looking even more like an imperial invasion. And we know that the Afghan people don’t even like the Presidents either like the most libertarian people ever, right, in a way like except for their religion thing. They don’t even want the COBOL government down there. Right. So the American foreigners, I probably would have raised the ire now we might have won militarily right for on the ground, and we might have been able to keep security but I think the bigger thing is also geography and also diplomacy until we destroyed the safe haven of Pakistan, maybe Iran, although much less so you name it. The reality is, it doesn’t really matter. How many soldiers we had on the ground? Like I said, we probably if we stay 10, eight more years with a surge of 300,000, I am confident that we would have kept attacks probably almost to a minimum, but it’s a wait and see. And the question is, how long is wait and see. And I do not think you can ever overcome the just the historical block against the ability of foreign occupying troops to impose government at the tip of a band, it tends to always be temporary. And an example of when it was tried with lots of troops is like Napoleon in Spain. And of course, you know, he couldn’t stay forever but he did stay five years with hundreds of thousands of folks right. And it didn’t matter to me pan out and and and understand that the limits of historical analogy, but still, I think that there’s something there. So there’s a legitimacy problem and there’s a safe haven problem, and I don’t see us being able to overcome either of those.
Scott Horton 36:54
What was the maximum number of troops deployed in South Vietnam?
Danny Sjursen 36:58
Yeah, we got up to about five 150,000 soldiers in August I believe of 1969. So like, around the time we’re hamburger hailing it up, you know, in the a shau. Valley, there’s about 550,000 soldiers there on the ground early nixon administration. And that’s another great example and a more relevant recent one, you know, it ultimately didn’t affect the major problem, which was the North Vietnamese safe haven and sort of the lack of international and local legitimacy. So you know, Australia and South Vietnam send some folks to help out. But do you think NATO was going to, you know, kick in the requisite, you know, 90 or 120,000? Now? Of course not. And were we really gonna question the Pakistani safe haven in any real way? Well, probably not. And if the whole thing is a mess, look, South Vietnam, had a lot of the same problems as Afghanistan, except there’s one major difference. Afghanistan, Afghanistan’s almost worse, because South Vietnam at least on one side, there’s an ocean
Scott Horton 38:00
Danny Sjursen 38:01
In Afghanistan You don’t even have that you got you know deserts in Pakistan and you name it I mean, I was put in an impossible situation it’s not what was me it’s just looking back with a little bit more strategic knowledge having read your book and others and you know thousands of others it’s becomes apparent that it’s actually shocking what we allowed to happen to us as soldiers and and also just as an American people, right. It’s it’s really staggering.
Scott Horton 38:26
It is and you know, the thing about it is to is the counterfactuals just right there and not the counterfactual, but the whatever they call the hypothetical thing where you just put the shoe on the other foot and say, What if a posh tune army tried to invade and pacify the population of Texas? It would be hilarious watching the Texans shoot them all to death for daring to try. Give me a break not in 1 million years. So why the other way around?
Danny Sjursen 38:59
I do where like, sometimes Patrick Swayze movies from the 80s have like strategic relevance. It’s the Red Dawn effect is what I would call it right? It wouldn’t play out. And there’s another connection here. Look at the protests, the state houses and lots of other stuff in American history. You don’t want to aim and Bundy and all this. There’s there’s a lot of stuff like, like Afghanistan, maybe slightly less extreme, but like Afghanistan, or people are very well armed. And lots of parts of America don’t particularly love the federal government that has enormous enormous parallels the situation in Afghanistan. It does, and technology and roads and internet hasn’t changed that there’s still a distrust of the federal government here and in Afghanistan sticking to extremists.
Scott Horton 39:40
Yeah. And same thing with the terrain to try to take Colorado from the Americans and see how well that works out when they already have the mountain tops and they’re shooting down at you. No matter who you are. If they sent every last Chinaman over here. Oh, you’re not supposed to say that. If whatever they said The whole population of China, they couldn’t take call Colorado from the Americans ever.
Danny Sjursen 40:06
Hey, look, we’ve talked about it a lot of times I think the Waco effect is important, too. All right. So you got the distrust of the federal government, you got the religious component. Look, Afghanistan has all of that. And look how that turned out. Right? Yeah. Did they win? I don’t know, a couple years later in Oklahoma City, I bet you can make a lot of parallels to some of the bombings in Kabul that really derived from the rural parts of Kandahar.
Scott Horton 40:28
Yeah. Although, unless you just mean because both of those bombings Waco and Oklahoma were both perpetrated by the government. But now I know what you mean. That’s a no, that’s a whole other story, man.
Danny Sjursen 40:39
Right. Yeah, that could be a whole bunch of episodes. I bet. But you know, the, the I just think that your point is really important. And the Red Dawn effect is real. And of course, that’s the movie where like the, you know, Russians and then Soviets and whatever, Nicaraguans come to the United States, and we fight them off, but I mean, it’s real. Yeah. And it proves that Afghanistan was just a, you know, it was it was a fool’s errand Scott right. No, I think you came up with that.
Scott Horton 41:01
And sorry to say it, you know what to? Um I think maybe, just maybe out of all of them, this one may be really wrapping up now. What do you think? Think the first one to end?
Danny Sjursen 41:17
Yeah, a hopeful and cautiously optimistic is where I put myself, you know, I really do try when the facts change, to admit them, you know, it’s easy to bang like an anti war drum sometimes or progressive drama, whatever you have. And then like, not see when there is progress, because you kind of get used to liking how dark and terrible everything is because it gives you a platform. But I actually tried it as best as I can alter my views on the fact change. So, you know, I’m not sure that Trump’s going to end it. But I think there’s a better chance in this moment than there’s probably ever been in the last 18 and a half years.
Scott Horton 41:51
Yeah. Well, and so speaking of which, to, you know, there’s a distinct lack of political rallies and all these things going around. So one way or the other People have to let the White House know and let the Trump campaign know that there’s some talking points we like to hear. Say that some more do that some more. oppose the war in Afghanistan, we’d like that, you know, and let them hear that feedback and know that they were right to think he was right to think that the American people would hastily ratify his decision to get us the hell out of there. If we could, you know,
Danny Sjursen 42:26
it isn’t this guy needs a lot of positive reinforcement, like as a person and I think we should give it to him when it’s appropriate to bring our troops home got us out of the Mountain West, you’ve heard me write about them. They’re there. They’re libertarians. They’re Republicans. So you know, they admit themselves as Republicans and they’ve been doing a lot of great work on their social media and in their congressional like work on saying, Hey, Mr. Trump, great job, you know, and not all of them love Trump. I mean, a lot of them don’t. But they, they’re not afraid to like praise Him when it’s appropriate. And I think that turns off most of the other anti war groups because I have no Notice that I’m like the only guy who, who straddles like veterans for peace and bring our troops home. I’m sure there’s a couple others, but I’m the only one I know. And it’s I think it shouldn’t turn off the lefty anti war groups. I think that they should understand that this is a tactical move, and we need all the Allies we can get.
Scott Horton 43:15
Yeah, absolutely. And unless, you know, it always should have been the case. This has driven me crazy all along that the and this even happened at the last big anti war protests over Iran. They literally you can’t make this stuff up. They actually brought Jane Fonda out to headline and give a big speech at the one in LA. Which is just, it shows just absolutely no imagination whatsoever for trying to persuade anyone for even thinking even considering about who their audience is that you’re going to take the poster child which is is totally unfair what they’ve done to her, but it is what it is. You can take this total hate figure and put her up there when what they should be doing. Bringing up Thomas Massie or bringing up somebody who from from bringing our troops home who leans right and then say, look, even these right wingers agree with us that’s how right we are. It’s a perfect talking point. You have to pretend as leftists that that libertarian and right wing anti war sentiment doesn’t exist why not invoke it to say this is proof that we are the most brilliant geniuses in the world that even these libertarians and conservatives agree with us? That should be all you’d have to do you know?
Danny Sjursen 44:37
Absolutely. Look even if you are completely sympathetic to their arguments and I often them there are there is a strategic calculus right and the left is an apt and you are an apt if you think that bringing out michael moore or Jane Fonda is going to even if they’re right, if you think that’s going to convince a single person who’s not ready convinced then then what you are doing is is it You are like a, you’re so insular. And so self important and self righteous. That’s what you’re being if you think that that’s going to have an influence because it’s not it just it isn’t. And you’re right. Someone like Thomas Massie you like, like if I disagree with him on a whole bunch of stuff, but he’s the bravest voice a lot of times on some of these issues, then I’ve got to be willing to say that even if I’m not a Republican, even if I’m not, you know, with him on everything like this is this is strategy. This is street strategy, and let’s do it right. Let’s be smart.
Scott Horton 45:31
Yep. And that’s the whole thing, right is like, the more you disagree with him, the better. You know, for that matter, right? It just proves that this is a bipartisan consensus, because it’s the truth. Everyone in DC wants war, everyone who’s not in DC doesn’t. That’s the divide. You know, it’s not left versus right. Republican versus Democrat. It’s the people versus the power period. And, and that shouldn’t you know, left wingers or right wingers or whoever should Be afraid of sharing their Thunder with the other side when the other side only makes your thunder louder. It only makes it more important, it only proves that you’re right. You know, you shouldn’t hesitate to share the attention or what you know, whatever it is.
Danny Sjursen 46:16
Well, you know, I wrote that article for antiwar about when I went to DC for like the big conference or bring our troops home. And, you know, one of the things I wrote about was like, you know, this guy Tyler Lindholm from like Idaho. He’s like, literally got a huge belt buckle and a big ass cowboy hat. And he’s like one of our lead spokesman and and he’s, he’s a long term conservative. And like, if a lot of folks that I know who I love to death from other anti war organizations on the left had been there, they probably would have walked out when they saw him. But I looked at him and I was like, This is awesome. This is awesome. That this veteran in a huge cowboy hat from Idaho is in DC to say no more war. That’s the greatest thing I saw all year.
Scott Horton 46:55
Right. And yeah, why should the veterans for peace people be against that, in fact, long as we’re at it, why should the veterans for peace people put we’re leftists, as their highest, you know, messaging when their messaging is supposed to be we’re veterans for peace. Instead, it’s like, What is this about trying to recruit people for your workers union that doesn’t even really exist anyway? Or some some fantasy of a future socialist America? Are you trying to actually end the wars? Because if this is actually an issue based thing, why would you put Tom Morello on your board of directors instead of anti war veterans? You have the guitarist, the Stalinist from Rage Against the Machine up there saying, Oh, yeah, if you hate war, you hate America, because everybody knows those things go together. Let’s go sell that. I know we’ll bring Jane Fonda and have her headline. It’s completely just head up as thinking I don’t know. Seriously, and I like leftist. I could put myself in their shoes and go Yeah, I’m a leftist. Okay, fine. Why does that mean that you put Michael put the guy from Rage Against the Machine on the head of your veterans for peace committee? It makes no sense. Unless you’re just it’s just a self referential thing. You know, like some, like a power bubble like you would have in DC, of people agreeing with each other, but not thinking anything through.
Danny Sjursen 48:24
Yeah, I mean, I, you know, I’m a member of vendors piece, I go to their, you know, I keynote speech at one of their conventions, I’m gonna continue to be a member. But I’ve also even in my speeches in front of these folks pointed out some of the major flaws in in the organization and some of the reasons why. And some folks in the leadership know that some of the younger folks but the potential that like they could almost die out, right, because so many of them are sort of like leftovers of the Vietnam generation. Great. I love them to death, but some of their positioning is actually affecting their recruitment. And so that’s why I think you’re seeing The younger or veterans, it’s a crisis by the way for veterans peace, like recruiting our people so you see them going in the libertarian direction to bring our troops home or you see them go into like about face and you know what used to be iraq veterans against the war on the left. And so the young generation is not really like all about the traditional like Vietnam, Jane Fonda rhetoric, even if they agree with it, right, they go in one of those other two directions. So it is a crisis for that organization.
Scott Horton 49:24
It’s really too bad because, I mean, they got chapters all over the country, as you say, they’re, you know, they’re created in the 80s. But they’re essentially made up of all Vietnam era, guys. And so there’s a huge, you know, background and infrastructure there. And it’s a shame to see them just kind of, you know, sacrifice their potential power and influence there. And by the way, I love Rage Against the Machine, but I’m just saying, you know, it’s just a bad look. Why do it that way, you know, when, when tearing down the whole system Not the point of this group, right? You can have other groups that are for that. But this is supposed to just be guys who’ve been to the war. And so now no better. That’s a really important message. That’s the message that you bring. Right? That’s, you know, and I love your writing, but your writing is twice as important as it would be because you’ve been to both searches and back. And so that is, you know, the, the credibility that they’re essentially sacrificing for no good reason. It seems like to me, unfortunately, you know, not to be critical, because there are a lot of great guys
Danny Sjursen 50:34
trying to, well, you know, Garrett reppin hang his, his up there. He’s a former sniper from like, the post 911 wars. And, you know, he’s a friend and I and I think, you know, from everything I can tell that he, you know, he’s trying to, you know, go in a more inclusive direction and also for the youth. But there’s obviously a ways to go I always joke whenever I speak at VFP rallies, like whether they’re regional or national, I always say like, you know, I love you guys, but I don’t love the fact that I’m the youngest person in this room, you know when it gets a good like chuckle, but I’m like, No, I’m dead serious, you know, right?
Scott Horton 51:07
Yeah. Well anyway, I’m so sorry I can’t end on a positive note Aaron’s just sitting here complaining about these groups, but ya know, um, you know, all these guys are, they’re doing a lot of work. They’re really doing great work. And so I don’t want to just slam him but it’s supposed to be constructive criticism, not just complaining here. But anyway, so I just want to thank you again for all your great work, Danny. I mean, it’s absolutely indispensable stuff. As always.
Danny Sjursen 51:32
Thanks, God, I’m always glad to be on the show and anymore.com you know, it’s the place man it’s you guys are one of the only outlets you don’t change by titles you barely change anything. You let me be free and you don’t tell me what to write. It’s It’s awesome. And it’s rare because the media space man, it’s so a lot of contrived stuff going on, as you all know.
Scott Horton 51:50
Yep. Well, we’re very happy to have you. I speak for all the rest of us too. So Hell, yeah.
Danny Sjursen 51:55
Thanks, man. Well, thanks for having me on. Let’s do it again soon. Absolutely.
Scott Horton 51:59
Aren’t you guys. That’s a great day. arson. He was a major in the US Army now he’s an anti war guy. Here he is at anti war calm SIGAR. The boys who cry about actual wolves. The Scott Horton show anti war radio can be heard on kpfk 90.7 FM in LA. APSradio.com. Antiwar.com, Scotthorton.org and libertarianinstitute.org
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Scott Horton has done over 5,400 interviews with military leaders, whistleblowers, and investigative journalists. Avoid being part of the mob that calls for innocent blood by learning from foreign-policy experts, and spread the message of peace to others.