Can We Win in Afghanistan, III

Sorry for all the dead time, moving is awful.  We’re back and hopefully posting will be heavy in the days to come.  We have some big stuff in the pipeline, and its great to be back in the saddle.

In earlier posts I have laid out my strong opinion that the war in Afghanistan is of less strategic importance than the Obama administration investment of resources would indicate.  While I still feel that it is not in the long term strategic interests of the United States to have a significant presence in Afghanistan, and the possibility of failure is very real, I have begun to wonder if most of the claims about Afghanistan are normative rather than positive.  In other words, whether or not we should be in Afghanistan is secondary to what is the best real world way forward given our commitments and obligations.

For example, I am dubious about the wisdom of sending additional troops to Afghanistan and believe that a strategy that focuses on counterterrorism instead of counterinsurgency would satisfy our appropriately limited goals.  However, President Obama was elected on a promise of an increased focus on Afghanistan, including more troops, so if he did the opposite it would be seen as both dishonest and defeatist.  Reframing the war so that having less troops, even if there is still unrest in Afghanistan, is seen as success instead of failure will take time and careful communication.  While I am skeptical of any justification for additional resources founded on just not losing, which is the strategic equivalent of a dog chasing its tail, it seems clear that it is better to win than to lose.  Thus, giving the new administration the time necessary to fully implement its new strategy is warranted.
That said, I think the communication on the war should focus less on new tactics, as crucial as they may be, and begin to explain exactly what our goals are.  That the administration has not been able to do so already is the source of much concern, but perhaps it is also an opportunity; because only tactical changes have been clearly defined as yet, drastically limited the goals will not seem like settling defeat.  So what should the goals of the war in Afghanistan be, and how should they be communicated.
The first and most important goal has already largely been successful, namely the removal of al-Queda from Aghanistan.  Any acclaim for accomplishing the primary goal of the war in Afghanistan has been lost because al-Queda was allowed to reconstitute itself on the other side of the Pakistani border and because the U.S. continued to fight in Afghanistan with the Taliban.  The Taliban must be understood as a significant segment of the Afghan citizenry, and thus not an enemy but a hostile group that must be placated.  I believe that bribery might be very effective to that end, but fundamentally the problem stems from viewing the Taliban as a unified threat, rather than an alliance of convenience among many disparate regional warlords.  Some of them would certainly be receptive to changing sides on the right terms, and even if that was not the case, attempting to defeat all of the warlords in Pashtunistan militarily is a fool’s errand.  Refocusing the war as primarily about al-Queda instead of about the Taliban sho

In earlier posts I have laid out my strong opinion that the war in Afghanistan is of less strategic importance than the Obama administration investment of resources would indicate.  While I still feel that it is not in the long term strategic interests of the United States to have a significant presence in Afghanistan, and the possibility of failure is very real, I have begun to wonder if most of the claims about Afghanistan are normative rather than positive.  In other words, whether or not we should be in Afghanistan is secondary to what is the best way forward given our commitments and obligations.

For example, I am dubious about the wisdom of sending additional troops to Afghanistan and believe that a strategy that focuses on counterterrorism instead of counterinsurgency would satisfy our appropriately limited goals; a much smaller committment of forces consisting primarily of intelligence and special forces could no doubt keep al-Qaeda from ever reconstituting itself in Afghanistan.  However, President Obama was elected on a promise of an increased focus on Afghanistan, including more troops, so if he did the opposite it would be seen as both dishonest and defeatist.  Reframing the war so that having less troops there, even if there is still violent unrest in Afghanistan, is seen as success instead of failure will take time and careful communication.  While I am skeptical of any justification for additional resources founded on avoiding the appearence of losing, which is the strategic equivalent of a dog chasing its tail, it seems clear that it is better to leave victorious than with your tail between your legs.  Thus, giving the new administration the time necessary to fully implement its new strategy is warranted.

That said, I think the communication on the war should focus less on new tactics, as crucial as they may be, and begin to explain exactly what our goals are.  That the administration has not been able to do so already is the source of much concern, but it is also an opportunity; because only tactical changes have been clearly defined as yet, drastically limited the goals will not seem like settling for defeat.  So what should the goals of the war in Afghanistan be?

Tomorrow, I’ll tell you my suggestions.

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2 Responses to Can We Win in Afghanistan, III

  1. shuggerdog says:

    I am reading a book on this very subject right now.

  2. carrbomb says:

    Obama seems to be vacillating on Afghanistan as he is with healthcare, refusing to take control of his party and pandering to both a schizophrenic Congress and the absurdly misguided and stultifying Mass Media.

    High unemployment rates should provide more bodies for an increased troop presence in Afghanistan, provided Pakistan can somehow avert its seemingly inevitable future as a failed state, Iran remains preoccupied with its own problems, and the conflict in Iraq remains largely geo-political; but the Obama Administration needs to realize that a prolongued war promises even more regional destablization and thereby an increase in the scale of US military presence, possibly eventually extending from Damascus to Islamabad.

    I agree that normative issues are almost moot at this point. We need to either end the war or stabilize the region quickly, or we may wind up in a situation our bankrupt economy is unable to resolve: total regional warfare.

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