The War We Cant Win - Andrew Bacevich (COL, USA, Retired)

#2
Excellent. Just what we need: another phase of American isolationism and national self-absorbed navel gazing. Just like the ones that ended with a bang at least three times before - 1917, 1941 and 2001. :thumright:
 

FORMER_FYRDMAN

LE
Book Reviewer
#3
Canader said:
Excellent. Just what we need: another phase of American isolationism and national self-absorbed navel gazing. Just like the ones that ended with a bang at least three times before - 1917, 1941 and 2001. :thumright:
Why do you assume that the only alternative to a projectionist policy in Iraq and Afghanistan is isolationism and navel gazing?
 
#4
Would one of the boards Intellectuals define WIN to me.
The Brit Army will fight and do it's DUTY as it always has done.
Labour decided to go to WAR with ? in Afghanistan and a British government will one day have to decide when to make peace with ?
john
 
#5
jonwilly said:
Would one of the boards Intellectuals define WIN to me.
The Brit Army will fight and do it's DUTY as it always has done.
Labour decided to go to WAR with ? in Afghanistan and a British government will one day have to decide when to make peace with ?
john
A very good question, but one which will never be answered because “winning” in “asymmetric” campaigns, or what in my day were called “low intensity operations” (and compared to Iraq and ‘stan, they were) is in the eye of the beholder.
 
#6
In Blair's notorious "Five Tests for Intervention" (which I now can't find) the need to define very clearly what the vital national interest was that justified the cost in money and lives of these ops was conspicuous by its absence.
 
#7
NathanHale said:
In short, time is on our side, not on the side of those who proclaim their intention of turning back the clock to the fifteenth century.
Wow - he must know some really modern Islamists. I thought that the seventh century was the target destination (okay, yes, he's talking about the Ottoman Empire but even then many of the fundamentalists were look back to the past through rose-tinted brains.)

It is not so much American isolationism - it is realism and an understanding that there are quite a few bits of the world (UK included) that don't actually want to turn themselves into downtown Baltimore. This would involve the American education system and media actually encouraging the septics to think about anywhere outside the States (Canada counting as hono(u)rary USA as far as the Blue Jays and the Maple Leafs are concerned for the sports' pages only).
 
#8
jonwilly said:
Would one of the boards Intellectuals define WIN to me.
The Brit Army will fight and do it's DUTY as it always has done.
Labour decided to go to WAR with ? in Afghanistan and a British government will one day have to decide when to make peace with ?
"Win" needs to be in the hands of the politicians - it is a strategic set of objectives. "Win" was a very different view of things in the Falklands, as opposed to NI, and in Korea as opposed to WW2.

This, I believe, is what we are actually missing. The initial tactical objective - overthrow the Taliban government - was achieved a long time ago.

Given that strategic objective, the military planners could then set out a series of mil tasks necessary to achieve it and ask for the right force numbers and balance to achieve that task.

It's not where we are. "You can have a reinforced brigade because that's all we've got left". "You have enough helicopters", when we clearly don't etc, etc. So we soldier on trying to "keep the peace" and "support the local population", in a strategy vacuum and equipment shortages.
 
#9
Idrach said:
NathanHale said:
In short, time is on our side, not on the side of those who proclaim their intention of turning back the clock to the fifteenth century.
Wow - he must know some really modern Islamists. I thought that the seventh century was the target destination (okay, yes, he's talking about the Ottoman Empire but even then many of the fundamentalists were look back to the past through rose-tinted brains.)

It is not so much American isolationism - it is realism and an understanding that there are quite a few bits of the world (UK included) that don't actually want to turn themselves into downtown Baltimore. This would involve the American education system and media actually encouraging the septics to think about anywhere outside the States (Canada counting as hono(u)rary USA as far as the Blue Jays and the Maple Leafs are concerned for the sports' pages only).
Many of these people live in such pi$$ poor conditions it scarcely makes any difference to them what century they are in. And sending the Marines with survey questionnaires is hardly likely to improve their lot. The Septics appear unable to grasp that if their notion of free market unrestrained capitalism goes global that many nations and peoples will and do resent the inevitable imbalances which then occur. You do not have to be an extremist to think that the increasing Americanisation of the entire planet is not A Good Thing.
 

FORMER_FYRDMAN

LE
Book Reviewer
#10
Balleh said:
jonwilly said:
Would one of the boards Intellectuals define WIN to me.
The Brit Army will fight and do it's DUTY as it always has done.
Labour decided to go to WAR with ? in Afghanistan and a British government will one day have to decide when to make peace with ?
john
A very good question, but one which will never be answered because “winning” in “asymmetric” campaigns, or what in my day were called “low intensity operations” (and compared to Iraq and ‘stan, they were) is in the eye of the beholder.
Not necessarily. If you defined the mission as denying Afghanistan as an operational base to terrorists, you could measure success or failure quite easily.

The problem arises when the mission is expanded to become denying Afghanistan as a base to terrorists through the development of civil structures and the establishment of democratic government on the basis of human rights and the rule of law. Then it does become confused and, in an Afghan context, probably impossible.

To sell the attack on Afghanistan, it was packaged as a moral crusade (as almost all US conflicts have to be) complete with liberal wish list. That wish list got muddled up with our original reason for intervention and now we are hopelessly confused with no clear mission. As a result, we now face the near impossible task of trying to impose Western values and structures on a society without any sophisticated civil structure and which is pathologically conditioned to resist any outside interference - and has been since the beginning of recorded history.

The brutal truth is that the number of Afghan women who are abused and denied an education makes no difference to our security. Policy makers need to consider that a satisfactory endstate could consist of installing a ruthless b@stard capable of keeping the people in order and the terrorists out, and stop selling the 'hallelujah' option so hard.
 
#11
There have been several articles supporting Andrew Bacevich’s thesis recently. For example see George Will piece in the Washington Post.

However, Max Boot wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal today, which is also interesting. Complete article here, but a couple of extracts

Given declining poll numbers and rising casualty figures, it is no surprise that the chattering classes are starting to bail out on a war in Afghanistan that was launched with their enthusiastic support. From Sen. Russ Feingold on the left to columnist George Will on the right, these born-again doves seem to be chastened by the fact that the Taliban won’t simply stop fighting.

For most of the Bush administration, we relied on unmanned Predator drones and Special Forces to keep the enemy at bay. Afghan Security Forces were too small and ineffective to pick up the slack. Even today there are only 173,000 Afghan soldiers and police compared to 600,000 in Iraq. The result: The Taliban, which had been routed in 2001, staged a disheartening resurgence.

However much advocates of downsizing might want to disguise the fact, there is no alternative to doing the kind of intensive counterinsurgency work on the ground that has paid off in numerous conflicts from Malaya to Iraq. If we don't make a substantial commitment—one that will require raising our troop strength beyond the 68,000 to which the administration is already committed—we are likely to lose.

The Taliban and related groups are tough, tenacious foes but they are hardly invincible. Their Achilles heel is lack of popular support. An International Republican Institute poll of 2,400 Afghans in July found that only 19% have a favorable view of the Taliban compared to 62% who have a positive impression of the U.S. and 82% who view the Afghan National Army favorably. A poll taken earlier this year by the BBC and ABC found that only 4% of Afghans want the Taliban to return to power.
Just thought I would through out an alternative thought piece for consideration. It still appears to me, that both the US and UK governments have failed in a basic way to enunciate the goals and reasons for their taking military action in Afghanistan. If you can’t explain it, then popular support will not follow or be maintained, and there will be increasing pressure to depart the region. If they are really unable to explain the reasons, then perhaps it is time to depart and stop wasting lives and treasure.
 
#12
FORMER_FYRDMAN said:
Balleh said:
jonwilly said:
Would one of the boards Intellectuals define WIN to me.
The Brit Army will fight and do it's DUTY as it always has done.
Labour decided to go to WAR with ? in Afghanistan and a British government will one day have to decide when to make peace with ?
john
A very good question, but one which will never be answered because “winning” in “asymmetric” campaigns, or what in my day were called “low intensity operations” (and compared to Iraq and ‘stan, they were) is in the eye of the beholder.
Not necessarily. If you defined the mission as denying Afghanistan as an operational base to terrorists, you could measure success or failure quite easily.

The problem arises when the mission is expanded to become denying Afghanistan as a base to terrorists through the development of civil structures and the establishment of democratic government on the basis of human rights and the rule of law. Then it does become confused and, in an Afghan context, probably impossible.

To sell the attack on Afghanistan, it was packaged as a moral crusade (as almost all US conflicts have to be) complete with liberal wish list. That wish list got muddled up with our original reason for intervention and now we are hopelessly confused with no clear mission. As a result, we now face the near impossible task of trying to impose Western values and structures on a society without any sophisticated civil structure and which is pathologically conditioned to resist any outside interference - and has been since the beginning of recorded history.

The brutal truth is that the number of Afghan women who are abused and denied an education makes no difference to our security. Policy makers need to consider that a satisfactory endstate could consist of installing a ruthless b@stard capable of keeping the people in order and the terrorists out, and stop selling the 'hallelujah' option so hard.
Great post FF. I have posted here a couple of times about Malaya and the heavy handed sometimes murderous tactics employed by us British to do down the rebels. To be honest, I don't go for this softly softly crap any more. High time to crack down in Helmand, impose curfews, destroy crops the whole hog. Malaya wasn't done by simply hearts and minds, it was a full on brutal regime, where it needed to be. We can shilly shally around forever in Afg with crap kit and insufficient manpower. Starting point being the corrupt figure Karzai. As long as he stays in power the whole thing is doomed.

I wonder if General Richards is fully aware of the brutality of the Malaya Campaign he loves to quote. The following tactics worked, but it is hardly New Labour or Army Intellectual.

Here is a taster;

Malaya: Hearts and Minds?

It is possible to construct very different accounts about the impact of British counter-insurgency in Malaya and from this draw contrasting 'lessons' about the implications of these stories for counter-insurgency practice. Templer's proclaimed 'hearts and minds' campaign in Malaya may serve to conceal the extent to which coercion and repression was used by the British. This included:46

The Briggs Plan (1950) which forcibly resettled 500,000 people, about 25 per cent of Malaya's Chinese population
Mass arrests
The death penalty for carrying arms
Detention without trial for up to two years, between 1948 and 1957 a total of 34,000 people were held without trial for more than 28 days
Deportations (over 10,000 in 1949)
Identity cards and movement restriction
Control of food and shops
Arson against the homes of communist sympathisers
Censorship
Collective punishment in the form of curfews and fines
'the indiscriminate shooting of rural Chinese squatters fleeing army patrols'47
The Batang Kali massacre of 24 unarmed civilians in December 1948
Treating prisoners as criminals and hanging hundreds of them
 
#13
duffdike said:
In Blair's notorious "Five Tests for Intervention" (which I now can't find) the need to define very clearly what the vital national interest was that justified the cost in money and lives of these ops was conspicuous by its absence.
Known widely as 'Blair's Doctrine' They were:

1. Are we sure of our case?

2. Have we exhausted all diplomatic options?

3. Are there military operations we can sensibly and prudently undertake?

4. Are we prepared for the long term?

5. Do we have national interests involved?

I believe that you could safely have said NO to 1 2 and 5 in the case of Iraq and probably all 5 in the case of 'staan.
 
#14
Monty417 said:
duffdike said:
In Blair's notorious "Five Tests for Intervention" (which I now can't find) the need to define very clearly what the vital national interest was that justified the cost in money and lives of these ops was conspicuous by its absence.
Known widely as 'Blair's Doctrine' They were:

1. Are we sure of our case?

2. Have we exhausted all diplomatic options?

3. Are there military operations we can sensibly and prudently undertake?

4. Are we prepared for the long term?

5. Do we have national interests involved?

I believe that you could safely have said NO to 1 2 and 5 in the case of Iraq and probably all 5 in the case of 'staan.
Agreed :)
 
#15
duffdike said:
Many of these people live in such pi$$ poor conditions it scarcely makes any difference to them what century they are in. And sending the Marines with survey questionnaires is hardly likely to improve their lot. The Septics appear unable to grasp that if their notion of free market unrestrained capitalism goes global that many nations and peoples will and do resent the inevitable imbalances which then occur. You do not have to be an extremist to think that the increasing Americanisation of the entire planet is not A Good Thing.
Interesting observations DD (honest-no sarcasm) . I am not sure we as a nation consciously want to Americanize the world but your point is valid that too many in the US look at the world through their own experience and project it onto other cultures where it just won't work. That is one of the problems with "nation building." In "whose" image is the new nation built?

The other dynamic that makes this so intractable is that contrary to the good professor's view, I don't think as a practical matter the US can ever turn inward to the extent he urges in his closing paragraphs. Even if "we" as a nation (and that is probably the first insurmountable problem) tried to do that, internal and external pressures would erode our resolve.

Somalia is a good example where initially Clinton was adamant that the US had no national security interest there and thus would not send ground forces. Then the media campaign (later coined the "CNN Effect") supported by various NGOs showing starving children eroded that resolve to the point he then intervened but in a way that was tentative and dangerous, eventually culminating iun the whole "Blackhawk Down" fiasco.

Like it or not, we have become the world's policeman and paramedic. Of course this will inevitably change as the US fades in its place in the world from internal cancers. It will be interesting to see (not me but later generations) which country (ies) rise to fill the vacuum.
 

FORMER_FYRDMAN

LE
Book Reviewer
#16
nigegilb said:
FORMER_FYRDMAN said:
Balleh said:
jonwilly said:
Would one of the boards Intellectuals define WIN to me.
The Brit Army will fight and do it's DUTY as it always has done.
Labour decided to go to WAR with ? in Afghanistan and a British government will one day have to decide when to make peace with ?
john
A very good question, but one which will never be answered because “winning” in “asymmetric” campaigns, or what in my day were called “low intensity operations” (and compared to Iraq and ‘stan, they were) is in the eye of the beholder.
Not necessarily. If you defined the mission as denying Afghanistan as an operational base to terrorists, you could measure success or failure quite easily.

The problem arises when the mission is expanded to become denying Afghanistan as a base to terrorists through the development of civil structures and the establishment of democratic government on the basis of human rights and the rule of law. Then it does become confused and, in an Afghan context, probably impossible.

To sell the attack on Afghanistan, it was packaged as a moral crusade (as almost all US conflicts have to be) complete with liberal wish list. That wish list got muddled up with our original reason for intervention and now we are hopelessly confused with no clear mission. As a result, we now face the near impossible task of trying to impose Western values and structures on a society without any sophisticated civil structure and which is pathologically conditioned to resist any outside interference - and has been since the beginning of recorded history.

The brutal truth is that the number of Afghan women who are abused and denied an education makes no difference to our security. Policy makers need to consider that a satisfactory endstate could consist of installing a ruthless b@stard capable of keeping the people in order and the terrorists out, and stop selling the 'hallelujah' option so hard.
Great post FF. I have posted here a couple of times about Malaya and the heavy handed sometimes murderous tactics employed by us British to do down the rebels. To be honest, I don't go for this softly softly crap any more. High time to crack down in Helmand, impose curfews, destroy crops the whole hog. Malaya wasn't done by simply hearts and minds, it was a full on brutal regime, where it needed to be. We can shilly shally around forever in Afg with crap kit and insufficient manpower. Starting point being the corrupt figure Karzai. As long as he stays in power the whole thing is doomed.

I wonder if General Richards is fully aware of the brutality of the Malaya Campaign he loves to quote. The following tactics worked, but it is hardly New Labour or Army Intellectual.

Here is a taster;

Malaya: Hearts and Minds?

It is possible to construct very different accounts about the impact of British counter-insurgency in Malaya and from this draw contrasting 'lessons' about the implications of these stories for counter-insurgency practice. Templer's proclaimed 'hearts and minds' campaign in Malaya may serve to conceal the extent to which coercion and repression was used by the British. This included:46

The Briggs Plan (1950) which forcibly resettled 500,000 people, about 25 per cent of Malaya's Chinese population
Mass arrests
The death penalty for carrying arms
Detention without trial for up to two years, between 1948 and 1957 a total of 34,000 people were held without trial for more than 28 days
Deportations (over 10,000 in 1949)
Identity cards and movement restriction
Control of food and shops
Arson against the homes of communist sympathisers
Censorship
Collective punishment in the form of curfews and fines
'the indiscriminate shooting of rural Chinese squatters fleeing army patrols'47
The Batang Kali massacre of 24 unarmed civilians in December 1948
Treating prisoners as criminals and hanging hundreds of them
Agree 100%. As I posted on another thread a couple of years ago (that I can't now find), I suspect that our historical counter-insurgency methods were supported by some very robust background activities, which few were privy to and which are underplayed in the history books, both as a result of their secrecy and because we didn't wish to tarnish our successes.

George MacDonald Fraser's semi-biographical McAuslan series is interesting in this regard. He describes an officer,'Errol', who assassinates a local ring-leader during a riot in Libya. That's probably the closest we'll get to the truth at this distance but it does suggest that we were once more robust and it does raise the question of whether the soft approach works without an underpinning of ruthlessness. Common sense suggests that it does not and I suspect that the full historical record would suggest likewise.
 
#17
Agreed, the closest thing we have to it is alleged SF hit squads taking out Talib Commanders, just as they allegedly worked in Iraq. This tactic (allegedly) has been very effective, would now like to see broader repression and crack down on arms in the province. I don't know General Richards, never worked for him, but from some of his comments he comes across as way too close to the Afghan heart to go for some of the nastier options.

I rather suspect we will end up negotiating and doing a runner and the poor Afghan women who you commented on will be in an even worse position when we leave them to it. At the end of the day, British soldiers should not be sacrificed for education targets or womens rights in Afg, but Labour Govt will have an awful lot of explaining to do.

I'll check out the book you suggested. I also suspect hearts and minds is used as a media friendly term to soften the blow of the brutality of counter insurgency. Time it was debunked anyways.
 
#18
jumpinjarhead said:
duffdike said:
Many of these people live in such pi$$ poor conditions it scarcely makes any difference to them what century they are in. And sending the Marines with survey questionnaires is hardly likely to improve their lot. The Septics appear unable to grasp that if their notion of free market unrestrained capitalism goes global that many nations and peoples will and do resent the inevitable imbalances which then occur. You do not have to be an extremist to think that the increasing Americanisation of the entire planet is not A Good Thing.
Interesting observations DD (honest-no sarcasm) . I am not sure we as a nation consciously want to Americanize the world but your point is valid that too many in the US look at the world through their own experience and project it onto other cultures where it just won't work. That is one of the problems with "nation building." In "whose" image is the new nation built?

The other dynamic that makes this so intractable is that contrary to the good professor's view, I don't think as a practical matter the US can ever turn inward to the extent he urges in his closing paragraphs. Even if "we" as a nation (and that is probably the first insurmountable problem) tried to do that, internal and external pressures would erode our resolve.

Somalia is a good example where initially Clinton was adamant that the US had no national security interest there and thus would not send ground forces. Then the media campaign (later coined the "CNN Effect") supported by various NGOs showing starving children eroded that resolve to the point he then intervened but in a way that was tentative and dangerous, eventually culminating iun the whole "Blackhawk Down" fiasco.

Like it or not, we have become the world's policeman and paramedic. Of course this will inevitably change as the US fades in its place in the world from internal cancers. It will be interesting to see (not me but later generations) which country (ies) rise to fill the vacuum.
I don't believe that Americans consciously try to alter other nations' cultures or Americanise them. I think that this is a natural result of media growth and expansion, e.g there's a McDonald's everywhere that have major TV networks and tourism. This is why Afghanistan will always be as it is. The Taliban will never be eradicated, it's their way of life, their life's blood, their bit of power in a miserable Country. They have something to fight for. There are similarities to the so called Real IRA. The best the Allies can do in 'staan, is to forget winning and police it in the way that Northern Ireland used to be policed and train them at the same time, to do the same. Just my own opinion as asked for by the thread author.
 
#19
Here is a link to the academic paper, "British counter insurgency from Malaya to Iraq."

http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~content=a912750182~db=all~jumptype=rss

Intro;
Abstract
This article introduces this special issue of The Journal of Strategic Studies by discussing the British model of counter-insurgency. General (later Field Marshal) Sir Gerald Templer associated the phrase 'hearts and minds' with Britain's apparently successful counter-insurgency campaign in Malaya (1948-60). The phrase 'hearts and minds' is generally associated with a less coercive approach to counter-insurgency which emphasises the importance of using 'minimum force' in order to win the 'hearts and minds' of the people. This article argues that the phrase 'hearts and minds' does not accurately describe Britain's highly coercive campaign in Malaya. The British approach in Malaya did involve high levels of force, was not fought within the law and led to abuses of human rights. Britain's counter-insurgency campaign in Northern Ireland did not deploy the same levels of coercion that were used in Malaya but, nevertheless, considerable levels of coercion were used which did not succeed in winning the 'hearts and minds' of the local people. The various interpretations of 'hearts and minds' leads to confusion about what degree of consent should be expected from the people and the implication of this for the use of force. While the term 'hearts and minds' does not accurately represent Britain's experience of counter-insurgency in the retreat from Empire; in the post-Cold War period the British military has been generally more 'political' and less coercive in its approach to counter-insurgency in Afghanistan and Iraq than the more conventional US approach to counter-insurgency. The British approach to counter-insurgency has influenced the recent development of US counter-insurgency doctrine but there are still considerable differences in the British and US approach to counter-insurgency which has led to severe tensions in the relationship between these allies. The 'hearts and minds' description of the British approach to counter-insurgency may be useful in public relations terms but it undermines the theory as a guide to operations because it can be interpreted in such divergent ways. The future may be to more carefully and practically specify in what contexts and circumstances the deployment of force is legitimate.
 
#20
Monty417 said:
jumpinjarhead said:
duffdike said:
Many of these people live in such pi$$ poor conditions it scarcely makes any difference to them what century they are in. And sending the Marines with survey questionnaires is hardly likely to improve their lot. The Septics appear unable to grasp that if their notion of free market unrestrained capitalism goes global that many nations and peoples will and do resent the inevitable imbalances which then occur. You do not have to be an extremist to think that the increasing Americanisation of the entire planet is not A Good Thing.
Interesting observations DD (honest-no sarcasm) . I am not sure we as a nation consciously want to Americanize the world but your point is valid that too many in the US look at the world through their own experience and project it onto other cultures where it just won't work. That is one of the problems with "nation building." In "whose" image is the new nation built?

The other dynamic that makes this so intractable is that contrary to the good professor's view, I don't think as a practical matter the US can ever turn inward to the extent he urges in his closing paragraphs. Even if "we" as a nation (and that is probably the first insurmountable problem) tried to do that, internal and external pressures would erode our resolve.

Somalia is a good example where initially Clinton was adamant that the US had no national security interest there and thus would not send ground forces. Then the media campaign (later coined the "CNN Effect") supported by various NGOs showing starving children eroded that resolve to the point he then intervened but in a way that was tentative and dangerous, eventually culminating iun the whole "Blackhawk Down" fiasco.

Like it or not, we have become the world's policeman and paramedic. Of course this will inevitably change as the US fades in its place in the world from internal cancers. It will be interesting to see (not me but later generations) which country (ies) rise to fill the vacuum.
I don't believe that Americans consciously try to alter other nations' cultures or Americanise them. I think that this is a natural result of media growth and expansion, e.g there's a McDonald's everywhere that have major TV networks and tourism. This is why Afghanistan will always be as it is. The Taliban will never be eradicated, it's their way of life, their life's blood, their bit of power in a miserable Country. They have something to fight for. There are similarities to the so called Real IRA. The best the Allies can do in 'staan, is to forget winning and police it in the way that Northern Ireland used to be policed and train them at the same time, to do the same. Just my own opinion as asked for by the thread author.
I lived in the US for a few years, and I believe the main problem is that the majority of Americans believe that the rest of the world want to be just like America.

Indeed, I know people in the US who are convinced that most countries in the world are either just like the US or want to emmulate it. :roll:

It isn't necessarily the fault of these people - the US media very rarely reports on World Affairs, unless they can put a US spin on it. Their news programs are completely one sided - always showing the US in the best light - and as the Saviours of the world.

It probably has something to do with being a Super power - total and utter self-belief that everyone wants to be like you... In the days of the British Empire, we probably believed the same thing - but didn't have the same media hype that there is today, with constant 24hr news channels etc...

When (not if - as everything eventually has to come to an end) the US no longer holds the same power and wealth that it once did, it's views on itself will change.
 

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