Managing Afghanistan: The Bright Shining Lie?

#1
This blog by the dons of the Kings College Dept. of War Studies is worthy of consideration:

Managing Afghanistan: The Bright Shining Lie?
Monday, 7, September, 2009

Following on from Thomas Rid’s analysis of the debate raging in policy circles over Afghanistan, and Dave Betz’s recent post, allow me to offer my thoughts on the question: “Is it worth it?”

Some may argue that now that we are involved in Afghanistan such questioning is beside the point. Now that we are there, we have no choice but to prevail. While there is a certain charm in this approach, it seems to me to be a one-way ticket to overstretch. States, and most importantly their publics, have a right to now that there blood and treasure are being spent no only effectively but for “good” reason.

The range of good reasons can be (as diplomatic history can well illustrate) quite varied: liberty, manifest destiny, security, ideological necessity, etc. have all be invoked as reasons to justify wars in the past, recent and ancient.

These justifications should not be “one time events”. A constant reassessment of the ends is required, if not by the soldiers involved in the day to day business of “fighting and winning” then certainly by their political masters. Indeed, the chattering classes and opinionati do their best work when they foment this process. As the arch-conservative Victor Davis Hanson admits in his book Why the West Has Won, dissent–even when it is harsh, such as following the 1968 Tet offensive in America’s Viet Nam war–serves to sharpen political understanding and improve the process of the application of force.

Moreover, simply having some “good reasons” to be at war is not the same as being able to implement strategies conducive to their realisation. If Western leaders, such as Gordon Brown, have “good reasons” to be in Afghanistan, they cannot just “have” them, they must articulate them, but then act in a meaningful way so as to achieve their objectives. For example, a state’s national interests include increasing the prosperity of its people. It is not enough to know this, or to say this. A country must design a strategy of making it happen. While there may be several such strategies, a government must choose one, and then get on with it. It is not enough to have a just cause.

The overarching and underpinning reason behind any war sets the boundaries for a whole host of subaltern processes, such as the design of an effective diplomatic, or military campaign. Clausewitz is clear on this topic, and those who choose to ignore his wisdom of the relationship of ends and means do so at considerable peril.

Some, including my good friend and esteemed colleague Dave Betz, seem sympathetic to the idea that the West is locked in an existential battle with radical political Islam. If that is the case, then we have no choice but to fight and win, by almost any means, in Afghanistan…and elsewhere.

Increasingly, though, there are those who question this. Perhaps they agree with the fundamental “good reason” for being in Afghanistan, but overtime are no longer convinced of its applicability or its practical achievability. One such observer is Thomas Friedman, a pundit with whom I have little truck, but this weekend his column in the NYT seems apt:

If this is how our “allies” are treating us in Afghanistan, after eight years, then one really has to ask not whether we can afford to lose there but whether we can afford to win there.

It would be one thing if the people we were fighting with and for represented everything the Taliban did not: decency, respect for women’s rights and education, respect for the rule of law and democratic values and rejection of drug-dealing. But they do not. Too many in this Kabul government are just a different kind of bad. This has become a war between light black — Karzai & Co. — and dark black — Taliban Inc. And light black is simply not good enough to ask Americans to pay for with blood or treasure.

Not only are the “good guys” not unambiguously good, the bad guys seem to be delivering the goods more effectively than we can. According to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs:

Got a governance problem? The Taliban is getting pretty effective at it. They’ve set up functional courts in some locations, assess and collect taxes, and even allow people to file formal complaints against local Talib leaders. Part of the Taliban plan to win over the people in Swat was to help the poor or displaced own land. Their utter brutality has not waned, nor has their disregard for human life. But with each such transaction, they chip away at the legitimacy of the Afghan government, saying in effect: “We can give you the stability the government cannot.”


Not only do they have the figurative trains running on time, now they are calling for human rights inquiries!

What difference does it make? If we believe the cause is correct–if the war is existential, if the cause if so correct as to be John Paul Vann-sure–then the question is one of effectiveness and efficiency. Cracking on, more helicopters, more troops: all these are germane routes of inquiry.

If, however, we believe that the fight is not worth it, then asking how to fight more effectively is not the central question.
http://kingsofwar.wordpress.com/2009/09/

My bold. I would characterize the counter position represented by pundit Friedman rather than a truly principled argument. It is rather more a variation on the theme I have put forward that it is extremely difficult for western nations with representative governments and open societies to wage successful COIN campaigns in today's world.

This is so for a variety of reasons but these nations (including the US and the UK) have populations that are generally relatively "spoiled" in the sense of being insulated from the political and social conditions that usually exist in nations where insurgencies are active. As such, they suffer from incredibly short attention spans and impatience (just consider how we get frustrated now when a download takes a few more seconds than usual or, at least in the US, our fast food order is delayed for even a minute).

It is no wonder, therefore, that such nations begin questioning the worth of a given COIN campaign almost as soon as it begins. This gains momentum and speed as the war drags on and becomes camouflaged with high-sounding reasons why the campaign is now not worth continuing.

I believe that an honest analysis usually shows that the reasons (presumably one or more articulable and legitimate national security interests) have not changed from those that prompted the initial involvement but rather the people (or more likely particular and usually more outspoken constituencies) are beginning to lose patience and interest. Rather than admit it is something as superficial as a lack of patience, these critics invoke things like changed conditions or corrupt government in the nation where the COIN op is being conducted as rationales for wanting to terminate the involvement.

An alternative but even more dangerous response than advocating a total withdrawal is the attempt to marginalize the campaign or do it on the "cheap." This leads to real problems in that the resources needed by the military force may not be made available. This in turn may cause or accompany other dangerous actions by the COIN force government such as inappropriate influence on or direction to military commanders as to strategy, tactics and objectives.

I believe we are seeing some of this now playing out among the coalition partners in Afghanistan and especially in the UK and the US.
 

rampant

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
#2
jumpinjarhead said:
My bold. I would characterize the counter position represented by pundit Friedman rather than a truly principled argument. It is rather more a variation on the theme I have put forward that it is extremely difficult for western nations with representative governments and open societies to wage successful COIN campaigns in today's world.

This is so for a variety of reasons but these nations (including the US and the UK) have populations that are generally relatively "spoiled" in the sense of being insulated from the political and social conditions that usually exist in nations where insurgencies are active. As such, they suffer from incredibly short attention spans and impatience (just consider how we get frustrated now when a download takes a few more seconds than usual or, at least in the US, our fast food order is delayed for even a minute).

It is no wonder, therefore, that such nations begin questioning the worth of a given COIN campaign almost as soon as it begins. This gains momentum and speed as the war drags on and becomes camouflaged with high-sounding reasons why the campaign is now not worth continuing.

I believe that an honest analysis usually shows that the reasons (presumably one or more articulable and legitimate national security interests) have not changed from those that prompted the initial involvement but rather the people (or more likely particular and usually more outspoken constituencies) are beginning to lose patience and interest. Rather than admit it is something as superficial as a lack of patience, these critics invoke things like changed conditions or corrupt government in the nation where the COIN op is being conducted as rationales for wanting to terminate the involvement.

An alternative but even more dangerous response than advocating a total withdrawal is the attempt to marginalize the campaign or do it on the "cheap." This leads to real problems in that the resources needed by the military force may not be made available. This in turn may cause or accompany other dangerous actions by the COIN force government such as inappropriate influence on or direction to military commanders as to strategy, tactics and objectives.

I believe we are seeing some of this now playing out among the coalition partners in Afghanistan and especially in the UK and the US.
I wholeheartedly agree with your statement, I would go further and say on one side we have been somatised (to use the Huxllian term) in our current way of life, it has created a dislocation from reality and the real world. For example those who scream about how vaccines are evil and poison children have no recollection of the terrible suffering that went on here and elsewhere before the impact of mass immunisation. They do not witness the deaths/disfigurements on their doorsteps so they cannot understand.

The French phiosopher Jean Beaudrillard has a lot to say on these issues, arguing that can people no longer differentiate between simulation and reality. That in fact simulation had instead become reality in many minds. Unfortunately, reality doesn't have nice neat endings and the resultant dislocation from reality, or the spoiling in your terminology, means that the public cannot understand or process what needs to be done. Instaed they listen to the shrillest voice, or pithiest quip and turn back to the shopping channel for their instant gratification.
 
#3
rampant said:
I wholeheartedly agree with your statement, I would go further and say on one side we have been somatised (to use the Huxllian term) in our current way of life, it has created a dislocation from reality and the real world. For example those who scream about how vaccines are evil and poison children have no recollection of the terrible suffering that went on here and elsewhere before the impact of mass immunisation. They do not witness the deaths/disfigurements on their doorsteps so they cannot understand.

The French phiosopher Jean Beaudrillard has a lot to say on these issues, arguing that can people no longer differentiate between simulation and reality. That in fact simulation had instead become reality in many minds. Unfortunately, reality doesn't have nice neat endings and the resultant dislocation from reality, or the spoiling in your terminology, means that the public cannot understand or process what needs to be done. Instaed they listen to the shrillest voice, or pithiest quip and turn back to the shopping channel for their instant gratification.

Very astute assessment and said much better than did I. At least in the US we are becoming (if not there already) a nation of overstuffed, self-indulgent and unthinking "sheeple" who, if we continue on this trajectory much longer, will likely get the "big brother shepherd" such beings deserve.
 

rampant

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
#4
jumpinjarhead said:
Very astute assessment and said much better than did I. At least in the US we are becoming (if not there already) a nation of overstuffed, self-indulgent and unthinking "sheeple" who, if we continue on this trajectory much longer, will likely get the "big brother shepherd" such beings deserve.
Yep, Marx got it wrong when he said religion was the opium of the masses, it is in fact shooooes :roll:
 
#5
rampant said:
jumpinjarhead said:
Very astute assessment and said much better than did I. At least in the US we are becoming (if not there already) a nation of overstuffed, self-indulgent and unthinking "sheeple" who, if we continue on this trajectory much longer, will likely get the "big brother shepherd" such beings deserve.
Yep, Marx got it wrong when he said religion was the opium of the masses, it is in fact shooooes :roll:
Well some of us in the US are happy with the latest issue boot but when it comes to firearms, well that is just different. :lol:
 

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