Brad Delong gives very good explanation of Rice's actions. I think this is a large part of the truth. The other part (as mentioned above) is the Saddam obsession not to mention the missile defence obsession and the general frozen in amberness.
One weak point is
"The Taliban were clients of Pakistan's ISI: if we armed the Northern Alliance against the Taliban, would the ISI react by giving nuclear technology to Iran?" This would be an odd response to aid to the Northern alliance, since Iran was an enemy of the Taliban and a de facto ally of the Northern alliance.
The case against aid to the Northern alliance which was actually made in the deputies meetings was that they were ethnically unrepresentative (Tajiks and Uzbecks) so a long term solution to the Afganistan problem implied finding non Islamic loony anti-Taliban Pashtuns nilatps. This is a real issue (see last weeks news from Herat province).
I would say that, to me, the one true impressive accomplishment of Bush administration was to find one nilatp -- Hamid Karzai. I'm sorry to say that I find this accomplishment all the more impressive because I sometimes have the despicable racist impression that he is the only one.
The problem with Clarke's approach is clear from the problem with the much more radical post 9/11 assault on the Taliban. By 2001 Afganistan was in such horrible shape that it is very hard to put it back together again. The genuine urgency of the al Qaeda menace (correctly perceived by Clarke) justified rushing it. Also the fact that seeking nilatps is not finding them and, of course, that talking about seeking nilatps is not even seeking them.
Another concern with aiding the Northern Alliance is that it might provoke Pakistan to increase support for Kashmiri sepratists increasing the risk of a war between two nuclear armed powers. I think Tthis concern was actually raised I think in the April 30 2001 deputies meeting. Actually that is a charitable interpretation. I have certainly read that it was argued that al Qaeda had to be addressed as part of a comprehensive approach to issues with Pakistan and South Asia generally. This might just mean "let's bury this proposal in paper". The charitable interpretation would show a very unusual focus on diplomacy in the true diplowimp tradition in which the fact that the Pakistani government is doing many evil things means we shouldn't do anything they don't like.
I would say that the ISI can not possibly be our friends. The only sensible approach to dealing with them is to follow Caligula and say "I don't care if they hate us so long as they fear us." The ISI will hate us in any case. posted by Robert
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