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November 17, 2009

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The latest comedy routine from the Afghan front has the massively corrupt in every department and at all levels government investigating itself for corruption. A real kneeslapper

This is (honest to God) a quibble, unrelated, in effect, to the question of what we do in Afghanistan, but:

"History shows that occupation by foreign armies with the intent of changing occupied societies does not work..."

This largely depends upon what the occupier is willing to do -- the Romans left quite a mark, as did the Spanish, as did the other colonial empires. I also think it's unlikely the Nazis and the Japanese would have failed to shape their realms if not for the counter-invaders, who did succeed.

But they did these things with incredible brutality; the horrors that made the world as it is today are not something we as a country are, or should be, ready to repeat ourselves, except in the utmost necessity.

But like I said -- a quibble...

Funny Point, I thought of clarifying that with something along the lines of: "At least the parameters within which we would be willing to conduct an occupation." So, yeah, I agree with your quibble. I also think that Gentile was just taking a shortcut, but wouldn't quibble with your quibble.

The trouble with quibbles is that they're born pregnant.

But they are cute and fuzzy

Haha... tribbles.

I'll see your Algeria and Vietnam and Iraq (methinks the Iraqi case is still far from settled) and raise you a Dominican Republic 1965; a Cambodia under Vietnamese occupation; and a Philippines under U.S. occupation and then again under Magsaysay.

tequila:

"At least the parameters within which we would be willing to conduct an occupation."

That's the key phrase. We could easily reshape and form Afghan society if we were to e.g., use our occupation of the Phillipines as a model. But if you're honestly suggesting we do so rather than simply quibbling to muddy the waters, I can't say I'd have any reason to take anything you say on the subject seriously.

In addition to what NV said about tactics, Cambodia would have the geographical proximity/cultural familiarity part of the equation in their favor.

The only way the use of colonial force to alter social structures is EVER "successful" is if the invaders stay long enough to assimilate into the conquered people...

Right, because citing successful examples of foreign forces intervening in a civil conflict is just 'muddying the waters.'

The differences between Afghanistan and Vietnam, and Afghanistan and Algeria (which Algerian civil war are we speaking of here?) are legion, but I don't see you criticizing Gentile or Eric for citing them.

Also I would seriously question whether Vietnam and Cambodia are all that compatible on the cultural scale. Sure, the Vietnamese had long experience in Cambodia, but as most Cambodians will tell you there is also a long history of mutual dislike there that inclines most Cambodians against sustained occupation by the Vietnamese.

Again, what about the DR and LBJ's intervention in 1965? Can that not count as a successful intervention in a civil conflict?

Also: Britain in Malaya, of course, and more recently Sierra Leone. Guinea also provided significant support to LURD, the insurgents who finally ended the Liberian civil wars.

Woody - Not really. The British never assimilated into India, but they did stay for hundreds of years and radically altered many of the social structures of the multiple societies of SW Asia.

Again, what about the DR and LBJ's intervention in 1965? Can that not count as a successful intervention in a civil conflict?

Perhaps, but I'd have to study it closer. It certainly isn't half way around the globe, nor was it a country as awash in arms or as populous and large (area wise) as Afghanistan.

Britain in Malaya, of course, and more recently Sierra Leone. Guinea also provided significant support to LURD, the insurgents who finally ended the Liberian civil wars.

Sierra Leone? Which intervention was that? As for support for LURD, what kind of support?

Also I would seriously question whether Vietnam and Cambodia are all that compatible on the cultural scale. Sure, the Vietnamese had long experience in Cambodia, but as most Cambodians will tell you there is also a long history of mutual dislike there that inclines most Cambodians against sustained occupation by the Vietnamese.

Just to clarify, I didn't actually say "culturally compatible" - nor is that necessary in the sense you are implying. I'm talking about knowledge such that the outside power can at least find its way around the local nuances, power structures, allegiances, etc.

As much as the Vietnamese were not loved by Cambodians, it would be hard to say that the US is loved by the Afghan people (that is, when you look at all the Afghan people and not just the factions we're supporting)

Sierra Leone intervention by the British:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Palliser

Some important differences there being the duration of the effort (a few months) and the scope of the goals (constrained).

It was fairly successful in ending the fighting for a while, but it wasn't a permanent solution.

Came across a link to an interesting article in the course of that: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disarmament,_Demobilization_and_Reintegration

It's almost a perfect description of what has not been accomplished in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan the attempt has been made to militarily subdue the armed groups fighting against the government, rather than to bring them into a political settlement accompanied by disarmament. That reflects our own interests, in that we wish to punish the Taliban for reasons that are irrelevant to the actual inhabitants of Afghanistan. But because a political reconciliation with Taliban elements has been ruled out by the US the only allowable option is total military destruction. And unfortunately for us, doing that in a country with the geography and politics of Afghanistan is extremely difficult.

Some wars demand total conquest and unconditional surrender, with the obliteration of the war-supporting political elements. For instance, WWII, when the aggressive political parties in Germany and Japan were destroyed to prevent their resurgence. But most of the time when wars end it is because a political reconciliation or compromise is reached in which not-fighting becomes a more attractive option than fighting. Our approach in Afghanistan (and previously in Iraq) has been to treat it like WWII, where the total obliteration of the offending party was the only acceptable outcome. If we had funded and manned the attempt, perhaps that might have been acceptable in Afghanistan, where a legitimate grievance with the Taliban government on the part of the US existed. (I don't think so, but at least an honest case for it can be made.) But we didn't do that, we tried to do it on the cheap, and we didn't obliterate the Taliban, and yet we haven't done much to work on a political settlement, or even to provide a better alternative to fighting. I don't see any sign that 40,000 more troops are going to make it possible to obliterate the Taliban, or to make it the kind of country where not-fighting has much appeal. I suspect that the 40,000 number stems entirely from the recognition that what we have there is inadequate but that asking for enough troops to actually do the job is politically impossible. Sending twice as many people and spending twice as much to screw things up in exactly the same way doesn't sound like much of a plan to me.

"If we had funded and manned the attempt, perhaps that might have been acceptable in Afghanistan, where a legitimate grievance with the Taliban government on the part of the US existed... But we didn't do that, we tried to do it on the cheap, and we didn't obliterate the Taliban, and yet we haven't done much to work on a political settlement, or even to provide a better alternative to fighting."

This is certainly a fair point, and the source of a lot of ambivalent feeling on this, at least for my part.

with the mention of Gian Gentile, this Spencer Ackerman pieceabout the debate between him and Yingling seems balanced. (as an aside, the previous thread has died out, but the Ackerman piece that you cited has been almost completely retracted (by him.)

Ironically, Gentile's takeargues that we should concentrate on killing the enemy and that the forces in Afghanistan should be more lethal rather than less. But I come to this more with the opposite opinion. ALso, Gentile's criticisms seem to originate with the surge in Iraq, and are then imported into Afghanistan.

A lot of this water is getting recycled under the bridge, and I am bumping into the link limit for comments, so I will leave it at that.

@tequila:

Right, because citing successful examples of foreign forces intervening in a civil conflict is just 'muddying the waters.'

The differences between Afghanistan and Vietnam, and Afghanistan and Algeria (which Algerian civil war are we speaking of here?) are legion, but I don't see you criticizing Gentile or Eric for citing them.

That's some mighty fancy footwork there.

But, for the record, let me unequivocally state that, when the day inevitably arrives and Eric cites a genocidal invasion to assert colonial rule over a nation that had just won independence from another colonial power (which "gave" the invadee to the invader) as a counterpoint to prove the feasibility of continued American intervention in a civil war... I assure you I'll be roundly criticizing him.

Cambodia is a pretty special case, I think you'd have to say. But here, we also have to recognize that it's not October 2001. We're not talking about coming in the replace a genocidal (or even unpopularly strict) regime: that's long over. It's about whether we can make a people reconcile to a particular regime.

I don't know why there's any doubt on Iraq. Iran won that one long ago. Fortunately, it suits Iran's allies in Iraq that we draw down more or less peacefully.

tequila,

I think Magsaysay was somewhat exceptional as a political leader. The only Afghan I know of who might have filled that role was Abdul Haq, who died at the hands of the Taliban -and pretty well abandoned by the US - in 2001.

So two quibbles - extreme brutality, or exceptional indigenous leadership.

LJ: As a military doctrinal matter, Gentile is definitely not a COIN enthusiast. But as to the mission in Afghanistan, are you sure he favors a continuing occupation?

Point's point is more than a quibble, it just doesn't apply in Afghanistan. Almost the entire thrust of history is that of invading armies, or mass tribal migrations, seizing and remaking territory and peoples in their images. Sometimes the invader is assimilated, usually not. England went through four identifiable phases in less than 1200 years: Celtic, Roman, Anglo-Saxon-Danish and ultimately Norman.

Islam spread exclusively by the sword for centuries, in each case the invading army recasting society on a purely Islamic model. Likewise, the colonization of the Western Hemisphere is remarkably similar and just as bloody in execution as was the spread of Islam.

Japan and Germany are more recent examples. The single common element is a totally victorious invader and a totally vanquished host population.

As Eric notes, no one is interested in making this level of commitment in Afghanistan and I am not so sure, short of genocide, that the US totally mobilized could ever subdue the Afghan people. Since we aren't and never will be in the genocide business, I have no clue as to how to let go of this tiger's tail.

But as to the mission in Afghanistan, are you sure he favors a continuing occupation?

My point isn't about Gentile's opinion on the occupation, it is that he feels that COIN is misguided because it doesn't place an emphasis on killing the enemy. Yet, if I understand you correctly, you feel that one of the main problems we face with COIN is the lethality of our armed forces. While theoretically, it is possible to have a military that is more lethal, yet is only lethal to 'bad guys', practically, they are actually opposed to each other. Gentile may support your ultimate end, but the way he wants to get there is completely the opposite of what you are arguing.

On the point about the "40,000" number being what is politically possible rather than what will actually get the job done, here is Spencer Ackerman on the problem being that there may not even be 40,000 troops to send:
http://washingtonindependent.com/68174/army-data-shows-contraints-on-troop-increase-potential

And my suspicion is that the request for 40,000 troops is not based on a real belief that that will do the job, but on the belief that that's the maximum it is possible to get. I think the dangers are obvious here. If I think that getting something done will actually take 10 people 2 years, but I think you will refuse more than 5 people and 1 year, I am very likely to tell you that I can get it done with 5 people in 1 year. I might even start to believe it.

That doesn't make it true. I don't mean this even as a criticism of McChrystal. His job is to get this done, and from the sound of things he has much more of a clue about how to get it done than previous commanders. But it's why I don't put much credence on the 40,000 number, and why I don't buy this idea that there is a rabbit that can be pulled out of the hat as long as Obama kicks in another 40k troops.

That would be throwing another 40,000 people into the meatgrinder just because we are too afraid to admit that we made a mistake we can't fix.

Gentile may support your ultimate end, but the way he wants to get there is completely the opposite of what you are arguing.

Yes, that may be true. But I'll take the best and leave the rest from the good Colonel.

On the same level, I share a similar outlook with people like Daniel Larison and Andrew Bacevich on the wisdom of committing to a massive military occupation of Afghanistan for the next quarter century-plus. However, we probably disagree on a lot of related and unrelated rationales/policies.

I'd prefer that they all (and you;)) subscribe to my outlook 100%, but I'll take what I can get.

Sure, and I am very conscious that I've got the WSJ op-ed board in my corner, which is unpleasant to say the least. Life would be a lot easier if there were people or political parties for whom simply choosing the opposite will give you the right answer (though if you do that with me for yen-dollar exchange, you would be batting close to 1.000).

But I understand why they are arguing for a similar position to mine and I feel comfortable rejecting their premises even if they are supporting my position because I know that their premises are not fundamental to my position. When you key in on Gentile's opposition to COIN, you can't really reject the premises he holds concerning what the armed forces are supposed to do and then hold up his being on your side to strengthen your argument. Well, you can, but there is some cognitive dissonance there.

Also, I've not argued for a 'massive military occupation...for the next quarter-century plus", though I can see how one might think that this is what I am for. You can argue that following the McChrystal report means that the occupation will inevitably happen, but the connection between what the McChrystal report does and what follows it is, I suspect, where we have our greatest differences. The pushback against the idea of any troop increase seems on the level of guerilla warfare, in that all of the reported proposals that have been relayed to Obama include some troop increase, and those you are arguing for a withdrawal are forced to make claims about people participating in discussions when they are not. This doesn't make them (or you) wrong, but given things like this and this seem to show the way the wind is blowing.

When you key in on Gentile's opposition to COIN, you can't really reject the premises he holds concerning what the armed forces are supposed to do and then hold up his being on your side to strengthen your argument. Well, you can, but there is some cognitive dissonance there.

I don't agree with your premises, or conclusion.

While I agree with Gentile that COIN is not the panacea that it is made out to be (and that is the only reference to Gentile and COIN that I made) - I didn't "key in" on his overall opposition to COIN. In fact, I only "keyed in" on his opposition to continuing and expanding the occupation of Afghanistan.

Along these lines, he thinks the military should be used more sparingly. I think the military should be used more sparingly. I agree with Gentile that trying to win another country's civil war is a fool's errand that most likely will result in a tremendous loss of life and treasure (so far, vindicated on both fronts in two different theaters).

On the other hand, he thinks that when the military is used, it should be more concerned with lethality than population protection. Here we disagree. But that is a tangential point since I wasn't keying in on COIN issues (other than a fleeting reference to panaceatic qualities), but rather the wisdom of trying to win Afghanistan's civil war.

those you are arguing for a withdrawal are forced to make claims about people participating in discussions when they are not

What does this mean? What is "forced"? Are you referring to Ackerman? He made a claim about a request for timetables. If that claim was wrong, that doesn't much matter because I wasn't using the claim as evidence that my position was correct.

I was merely noting its occurrence in the hope that Obama might be opting for a smarter policy. But the wisdom of the policy is impacted 0.0% by whether or not Obama asked for timetables or not - as Obama is not the arbiter of wisdom.

I have long feared that the winds are blowing against me. But then, that's a familiar feeling. I was also opposed to the invasion of Iraq and caught endless flak for it at the time and was perhaps to quick to look for signs that the invasion might be averted.

Also, I've not argued for a 'massive military occupation...for the next quarter-century plus", though I can see how one might think that this is what I am for.

I don't know if I accused you of that directly. The McChrystal plan and the conclusions of CNAS and the COINdanista intelligencia is that to succeed, we will have to be in Afghanistan for the next 10-20 years. When you add the 8+ years of occupation thus far, and the lag time before the preferred plan would even be implemented, you get to the quarter century mark.

Further, people like Nagl and Kilcullen and McChyrstal have argued that troop increases short of the 40,000 mark (or thereabouts) would not succeed. Kilcullen said it would be the worst of all worlds.

If you disagree with the McChrystal/CNAS plan, huzzah!

But what is your preferred course?

The McChrystal plan and the conclusions of CNAS and the COINdanista intelligencia is that to succeed, we will have to be in Afghanistan for the next 10-20 years. When you add the 8+ years of occupation thus far, and the lag time before the preferred plan would even be implemented, you get to the quarter century mark.

I think you are really stretching it here.

Afghanistan will require substantial assistance for years, absolutely. But a 100-140k foreign troops for the next 25 years? No.

I understand you are cheating by adding in the eight years we've already been there, but we haven't been there with a "massive occupation" for most of those years. Hell, that's why there's a problem now.

Assuming the 40k plus up, I think it's much more realistic to see the end of the major Taliban insurgency in the south and east in five years, IF we can get the Pakistanis to continue what they've done so far in S. Waziristan.

In five years, we can probably get the Afghan Army up to around 100-120k or so, and at that point we can begin to draw down as they become more independent.

Hopefully we can have be back down to 40k or so in six or seven years.

The CNAS report says 10-15 years more. McChrystal and others are using dates like 2015 for when the Afghan security forces will be mature. That's at least 5 years.

I'm not sure "cheating" is the right word when counting the actual years of our very expensive occupation in the total number of years thereof. Seems like all years of the occupation should count.

I mean, would you call the price tag small for those 8+?

While I agree with Gentile that COIN is not the panacea that it is made out to be (and that is the only reference to Gentile and COIN that I made)

When it is the first line in the post, you might see how I might take it as your primary notion in the post.

If you disagree with the McChrystal/CNAS plan, huzzah!

The general process of internet debate is to try and paint your opponent as an extremist, unable to accept facts, so that you then occupy what is apparently the middle ground, but it is not. Every one of the proposals delivered to Obama includes a troop increase, why do you think that is? Do you think that the people making those recommendations are driven by the same hubris that led us into Vietnam? Or perhaps they see a set of circumstances similar to what see, where they know that we will somehow be involved in the region, and we have to stabilize the situation. Given that you have argued for revised ROE and some sort of strike force, be it boots on the ground or raptors in the air, you also seem to acknowledge that we can't make a full and complete withdrawal, so the logic of your position is that you want an occupation where we don't risk anything. It would be nice if we could get that, but wishing doesn't make it so.

While I agree with Gentile that COIN is not the panacea that it is made out to be (and that is the only reference to Gentile and COIN that I made)

When it is the first line in the post, you might see how I might take it as your primary notion in the post.

Yes, but when you read the rest of the post, you can see quite clearly that it isn't. Perhaps I buried the lede ;)

Regardless, there's a big difference between a discussion of the preferability of the tactics Gentile advocates and COIN, and a discussion of whether or not COIN is a panacea. My first sentence dealt with the latter point, which, to repeat myself, is quite compatible with my citation of Gentile, and doesn't create the dissonance you said existed.

Every one of the proposals delivered to Obama includes a troop increase, why do you think that is?

Have you ever heard of the MICC? I mean, are you suggesting that every foreign policy decision made by the US in the modern era was the right one because there was a consensus amongst a small subset of advisors (I assume we're leaving Eik out of this).

Do you think that the people making those recommendations are driven by the same hubris that led us into Vietnam?

That is quite possibly the case. At least, it can't and shouldn't be discounted. And the rhetoric and public statements offer the opposite of comfort.

Given that you have argued for revised ROE and some sort of strike force, be it boots on the ground or raptors in the air, you also seem to acknowledge that we can't make a full and complete withdrawal, so the logic of your position is that you want an occupation where we don't risk anything.

Well, I'm open to a number of scenarios, and am interested in seeing those options fleshed out. I think there is an over the horizon capacity that would not equal an occupation at all. Which is the best form of risk.

I mean, are you suggesting that every foreign policy decision made by the US in the modern era was the right one because there was a consensus amongst a small subset of advisors (I assume we're leaving Eik out of this).

Again, trying to equate this debate with every mistaken foreign policy decision in the modern era is precisely that kind of internet argumentation that obscures rather than enlightens.

I assume that your invocation of the MICC is to explain that the military industrial complex wants us in Afghanistan and wants us involved in COIN for the long term. I have a hard time seeing how the people who argued for the Crusader and the F-22 are now wanting us to invest in the sorts of things that the McChrystal report argues for. In fact, the absence of any real change in procurement and provisioning strategies is precisely the reason why taking the position that COIN is impossible is dangerous for the future. To return to Gentile, he argues that the underdog status of the COINistas is a myth, because they are actually in power. But for COIN to work, it is not simply enough to have the top brass support it, any number of deep and substantial changes need to be made, from weapons procurement to rotation policies to training. Arguing for an over the horizon capacity rather than some sort of human intervention is, to my mind, is precisely what has all those defense contractors salivating.

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