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Archive for the ‘Military Strategy’ Category

A halfway intelligent lance corporal knows that the Afghans are sick of our presence, are united by xenophobic nationalism, and that a great many are skeptical of the kleptocratic Afghan government and military.  So the following exchange with General Petraeus suggests a man whose demand for precision ebbs and flows with his desire for a particualr conclusion:

When asked whether nationalism is putting down roots in Afghanistan‘s tribalized society, Gen. David Petraeus is judicious: “I don’t know that I could say that.” He adds, however, that “we do polling” on that subject. When his questioner expresses skepticism about the feasibility of psephology — measuring opinion — concerning an abstraction such as nationalism in a chaotic, secretive and suspicious semi-nation, Petraeus, his pride aroused, protests: “I took research methodology” at Princeton.

Some things can’t be put into a powerpoint slide.  They just are known intuitively, based on long experience with the people involved.  We lack this experience in Afghanistan.  We lack this experience in Iraq.  We are trying to do some good things, and we are doing them honorably on the whole, but the payoff in terms of national security is hard to see.  The alternative–the occasional punitive raid–seems more easily accomplished and more consistent with the primitive conditions of these nations, as well as the limitations of the American government and American military.

I certainly respect Petraeus’ intelligence and his broader view than many of his peers.  That said, his apparent penchant for statistics in the inchoate realm of counterinsurgency suggests a certain hubris.  He is understandably unlikely to announce when the strategy and overall mission are destined to fail.  He is an impressive “can do” person.  That said, the mediocre results in Iraq have been redefined as a great victory, even though Iraq is securely in Iran’s orbit and is still a violent, unfriendly place.  His remarks on “methodology” in particular reminded me of something John Lukacs wrote critical of certain tendencies in academia in his book Historical Consciousness:

For the image of the people-obscured as it is by rhetoric and obfuscated by statistics–is an elusive phenomenon. We live in an age of democracy, of popular sovereignty, of popular rule: but who are the people? Intelligent opponents as well as some of the proponent of modern democracy recgnized that of Aristotle’s ‘s three principal types of government–monarchy, aristocracy, democracy–the last one, government by the people, by the many, is the most difficult. But there more to this. Rule by “the people” is not only difficult; it is also the most complex; and the most abstract. It is abstract, because while it is possible to find out, and later relatively easy to reconstruct, what a certain ruler wanted, or even what a ruling group wanted, who can say what “the people” wanted–with any reasonable degree of certainty.

General Petraeus needs to consider this.  We don’t know Afghanistan.  Polling of the smallish number of accessible Afghans in the city won’t change that.  We don’t know Afghanistan, in part, because of the failure to train up specialists in the relevant languages that could help us know what the hell these people are saying, thinking, writing to one another, and the like.  We are, in spite of ourselves, the arrogant, ugly American, giving people what they don’t want and surprised when they turn around and want to kill us and our proxies.

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Pretty amazing revelation that when the White House started discussing McChrystal’s proposal, that there seemed to be no awareness of the details of the March strategy by Obama or that it expressed a goal of defeating the Taliban:

In June, McChrystal noted, he had arrived in Afghanistan and set about fulfilling his assignment. His lean face, hovering on the screen at the end of the table, was replaced by a mission statement on a PowerPoint slide: “Defeat the Taliban. Secure the Population.”

“Is that really what you think your mission is?” one of the participants asked.

In the first place, it was impossible — the Taliban were part of the fabric of the Pashtun belt of southern Afghanistan, culturally if not ideologically supported by a major part of the population. “We don’t need to do that,” Gates said, according to one participant. “That’s an open-ended, forever commitment.”

But that was precisely his mission, McChrystal responded, enshrined in the Strategic Implementation Plan — the execution orders for the March strategy, written by the NSC staff. . . .

“It was clear that Stan took a very literal interpretation of the intent” of the NSC document, said [Former USMC General and NSA advisor] Jones, who had signed the orders himself. “I’m not sure that in his position I wouldn’t have done the same thing, as a military commander.”

My God. If generals have to “read the boss’s mind” in Afghanistan when his orders go through many layers of review and calibration, we are totally screwed. I mean this is as bad as the kind of stuff you see at a Kinko’s or a law firm. Oh, when I said send so and so that letter I really mean to check with me before you sent it, because I was having a conference call before that. Didn’t you check with my calendar? Uh, no, I was doing what you said.

Generals at the top echelons, like Jones, are pretty unimpressive and highly political creatures. For most of them, honor goes out the window after they pin on a star. The Van Ripers of the world are rare. More often you get the half-nonsensical and half-destructive Joneses and Wesley Clarks.

Obama is a huge moron in plain English. Either that or he’s totally callous. Or both, which is most likely.

It should have been obvious in March when he said what to do in Afghanistan was to continue to fight the Taliban and al Qaeda and build up Afghan forces that he was, in effect, calling for a surge. Why? He was calling for recommitment of resources, we just had a surge that was perceived as successful in Iraq, and one of the aspects of the COIN Manual that Petraeus and company produced is the importance of security and training, both of which take lots of troops.

Obama’s half-serious campaign stance of “the ‘good war’ in Afghanistan” is catching up with him. It would all be kind of funny if his zombie-like pursuit of this war would not needlessly cost a few hundred, possibly several thousand, bright young American lives.

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Not much to say. It seemed like he was channeling George Bush’s invocation of 9/11 coupled with a few bones to his buddies in POKEESTAN. I especially laughed at his “direct address” to the “Afghan people.” I’m sure they’ll get the executive summary by smoke signal within a fortnight. Otherwise, it was just more of the same: nation-building, a surge. Not much “Rah Rah” inspiring talk about turning these bastard al Qaeda into a pink mist. Winston Churchill, he is not.

His speeches are making me weary. They don’t inspire. They lack any appeal to the emotions. The only proto-emotions he displays are vague self-worshiping references to “hope” and a very abstract celebration of America’s late 20th Century “global cop” role. He has trouble connecting with ordinary Americans and their concerns. We don’t care about torture or GITMO or that the UN approved the attack on Afghanistan. Only the hardcore anti-American Left cares about such things. We don’t think our moral right to self-defense hinges on how we treat KSM and company. We believe in our right not to be mass murdered, that’s enough. We hate these people and want a leader who hates them too. They killed our people; we want their people killed in turn.

I thought his alibi about the delay on the troop augmentation was weak, and his talk of limiting the commitment of troops because of the national debt was utterly tone-deaf. If this is an essential war to prevent mass terrorism, it’s worth nearly any expense, correct? If McChrystal says time is running out, six months of delay is kind of serious right? And, along these lines, there was a bit too much emphasis on the end-date for the U.S. commitment. But what if things aren’t better in two years? What if it costs a lot but it’s an absolutely vital expense?

This speech is not a game changer. The troop surge won’t be either. And for a guy running $1T stimulus packages, his grave concern over $30B a month–pocket change in comparison–is quaint. Insulting, really.

I still think this is the wrong strategy (as I wrote last June), even if the people we’re engaging deserve to be whacked. Why? Because we won’t be able to do much to reform Afghanistan’s military. The Afghan security forces don’t operate in a vacuum. They serve a state to which many people are lukewarm. The Afghanistan’s government and traditions are the problem, and over those we have had and will continue to have little influence. Second, Pakistan is still highly divided internally over who the bad guys are, and the gravy train for their government depends upon dragging this out. Pretending they’re this great “partner” glosses over more than a little. Finally, the end state we’ve achieved in Iraq is nothing to write home about. Saddam’s gone. Good thing. But that was true five years ago. They still have a guerrilla insurgency and daily terrorist attacks and a not-terribly-pro-US foreign policy. Plus various anti-American terrorist organizations still roam its streets. If this is the success we’ve achieved some two years after Bush’s surge, we’d be in little worse shape if we had quickly left then.

Our comparative advantage is to engage enemy nation-states when they harbor terrorists overseas and to be more careful about whom we let in domestically. These tasks we can accomplish effectively with far less cost, far less loss of American life, and far more success than we’ll have in the quixotic Afghan nation-building campaign among a gaggle of violent subsistence farmers.

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There is an innovative plan afoot for arming tribes in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province to fight Al Qaeda.  The idea is to replicate the strategy that has apparently worked in Anbar.  This may work, and I’m glad to see people thinking creatively.  But let’s consider the differences:  Iraq is a Shia-majority country, where the Sunnis had good reason to cooperate with Americans, even though they were initially angry about being ousted from power by the dethroning of Saddam.  In addition, al Qaeda radically overplayed its hand in Anbar and committed various atrocities and forms of disrespect that the locals were finally fed-up with.  Also, the Iraq operation was largely in the hands of Americans and not Iraqi proxies, unlike whatever is envisioned for Pakistan, and thus operations could be more easily kept aligned with America’s strategic goals.  Finally, much of the Taliban is ethnically the same as the tribes in the NWFP, with the “Afghan Arabs” excepted, whereas the vast majority of al Qaeda in Iraq was made up of foreigners without ethnic ties to the locals. 

I do think the tribes need to be brought on board to root al Qaeda from Pakistan, but, frankly,  it doesn’t particularly matter if al Qaeda’s cadres are dead, in prison, or hiding in a cave, so long as they’re militarily and operationally ineffective.

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