Small Wars Journal

A False Dichotomy and an Exit Strategy

In the current issue of Armed Forces Journal ("A False Dichotomy") Dr. Nadia Schadlow writes that critics of the Army's counterinsurgency focus ignore world and war realities. Dr. Schadlow is senior program officer for the Smith Richardson Foundation, where she identifies strategic issues that warrant further attention from the U.S. policy community and manages and develops programs and projects related to these issues. She was a member of the Defense Policy Board (September 2006--June 2009) and writes frequently on issues related to the U.S. Army. She is writing a book on the Army's approach to war and political stabilization.

Also in AFJ is Dan Green's take on President Hamid Karzai's exit strategy. Green writes that the Afghan president's goal is survival, not victory over the Taliban. Dan Green is a visiting fellow at Aeneas Group International. He recently completed a tour with the Navy in Afghanistan as the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command liaison officer to the U.S. Embassy's Office of Interagency Provincial Affairs.

And more at Armed Forces Journal.


Bob's World

Wed, 09/15/2010 - 6:48am

If limited to two words they would be "reconciliation" and "constitution."

Reconcile: Afghanistan is essentially facing at 2-tier insurgency. The bulk of COIN is focused on the lower tier, which is largely a resistance movement of the rank and file who fight because we are there, they get paid, and because they are Afghan. I do not believe that the insurgency can be resolved by engaging the bottom, only mitigated or suppressed. The upper tier is the leadership, and this is much more a politically driven Revolutionary movement. They do not recognize the legitimacy of Karzai, and they are excluded from legal venues to challenge his government. This leaves little option other than insurgency. They in turn pay and motivated the populace to support their efforts. Address their real concerns through reconciliation, and the lower tier will fade away naturally far faster than we can "defeat" it through COIN, be it threat-centric or Population-Centric either one.

The constitution, like the US articles of confederation, was designed to prevent what was seen as the problem going in. In the US it was to prevent a strong central government like the king, so we vested all sovereignty in the states and invoked almost pure democracy. It was an over-reaction to an oppressive monarchy and no democracy. In Afghanistan it was Militias, Warlords and lack of centralized control that was seen as the problem (by the West, not by Afghans), so we led them to a Constitution designed to prevent those things. This led to the current Ponzi scheme, where you have a King in Presidents clothing with all power, political and economic linked directly to him. This incentivizes the massive election fraud and economic corruption that have become legend in Afghanistan.

In the US, by the summer of 1787 the same elite who had won the insurgency realized they were losing the counterinsurgency. Rebellions were springing up, taxes and inflation were through the roof, the government was ineffective, and these same elites realized that as a very small minority they were doomed in a pure democracy. We realized that things were not so bad under English rule and that we had over-reacted. No going back, so instead they came together in Philly and debated all summer as how to fix this mess. In the end they replaced a ruling framework designed for insurgency with one designed for COIN. Afghanistan needs to do the same thing, also with all stake holders involved, but to do so on their terms and their culture.

The problem is that for either or both of these to occur the West must be willing to relinquish control of the outcome.

So my final two words: Relinquish control!

The author of "A False Dichotomy" expressed some supportable arguments, but on the other hand I think she was reaching a bit with some of her observations. Reaching to the point this reads more like a propaganda piece for our COIN doctrine than a serious article on the value of COIN in the national strategy. Those who continue to frame the debate as pro and anti-COIN are clearly missing what the debate is actually about, and that is balance.
COIN is clearly a needed skill set, and one that many military organizations and leaders performed poorly, especially in the earlier stages of the war, so it was "painfully" obvious that we needed the push to "re-learn" COIN and explore irregular warfare. Furthermore, and as the SECDEF stated, these lessons and the associated education needs to be institutionalized to ensure we don't once again lose these hard earned lessons. In general there is agreement with the above, but the rub is when we see a push to view the world strategically as a world full of insurgents that are counter our national interests, so we must transform our Armed Forces to intervene around the world to conduct COIN (instead of FID) to deny safe haven to terrorists. This view is deeply flawed on many levels, and is a missionary view versus a strategic view. One can be opposed to that view without being labeled anti-COIN.
Back to the balance issue, there are legitimate and rational concerns that our extended involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq has degraded our higher end combat skills. The real world is full of threats that are not insurgents, and they are a more serious threat to our national interests than insurgents in another country in the majority of cases. However, if you suggest that in the COINdista crowd youre labeled a heretic. A COINdista has an irrational faith based view of the world where theyre Gods little Angels coming to undue all the unfairness and evil in the world. Disagreeing with this, doesnt make one anti-COIN, simply anti-irrational. Most still understand the importance of COIN doctrine when you have to engage in COIN.
She had a couple of hanging arguments that didnt seem to fit with her paper. She criticizes those who claim that COIN can't be waged humanely, but she doesn't demonstrate that it can be. I'm not aware of any "humane" counterinsurgency efforts. In all of them there was killing involved. Don't confuse maintaining legitimacy and following the rule of war with humane, it isn't. Then she tried to use George Washington's comment about being prepared for war to preserve peace, but he (especially GW) didn't imply we should be prepared to engage in other countries' internal struggles.

What we want to avoid is a situation faced by anyone who wants to question climate change - they are labelled a climate change skeptic.

Similarly, if we want to challange COIN as it is being applied to Afghanistan, we do not want to be labelled a COIN skeptic. That kind of thinking leads to the psychology of military incompetence.

Im not sure Dr. Schadlow intended for this inference but there is a hint of this in the article.

Yet, what Dr Schadlow seems to have overlooked is overwhelming force is what will drive the insurgency to change side, negotiate or disappear into the hills. Yes, this needs to be combined with the development, improvements in governance etc but the military can force the political to face reality.

The other factor missing is that the U.S is not the only military player in Afghanistan. From my experience working with them many of the Coalition forces are pretty poor at implementing COIN.

Karzai is being out-governed by the Taliban and a kinder, gentler approach to corruption by Karzai, now starting to be quietly accepted by the US State Dept and some elements in the Military, on top of a perceived departure of US forces by next year (real or otherwise this is the word on the street in Afghanistan) will ensure the conditions for insurgency remain.

There is no doubt US troops are doing an outstanding job and General David Petraeus is the best man on the planet to take on this gargantuan task. Yet, the success or failure will not be because the Coalition have won in a military perspective. Neither side will achieve that kind of victory. It will be because the fundamental foundations of governance have been undermined by the Karzai Government and the Taliban have out-governed in the villages and districts where power from Kabul does not go.

kdog101 (not verified)

Tue, 09/14/2010 - 11:55pm

Bob you said:
"the key is to address the conditions of insurgency that exist within the populace in a manner that allows this diverse, distrustful collection of populaces and interests to collaborate in a manner that does not exclude any one half to the betterment of the other, and that allows them the stability required to move forward."

How would you do this?

I would like to work with everyone too, but is this feasible or a good idea? Not everyone shares our interests, or has our trust. Why not work with those that show promise, that we can trust, and have goals and actions that we see as worthy. I would think one good ally is better than many bad ones.

I think a problem with any of this intervention is our lack of good principles. We would do our self a good service by understanding the ideas that Madison and Jefferson built our country on, such as right to have arms, personal freedom, checks and balances, limited government. Unfortunately, from my perspective the military, our congress, Obama, and the Taliban seem headed in the same direction in this regard. They seek control of people, rather than seeking freedom for people.

At some point I think you have to promote the people that support these ideals over those who want something else. At least that is progress in my eyes.

Rob Thornton (not verified)

Tue, 09/14/2010 - 11:25am

I like the thrust of your logic. I think from those types of conditions one could develop:
- the MoEs to see if those conditions are changed or brought into existence
- the tasks required to change or create those conditions
- the MoPs to tell you if the tasks are being done well enough to meet a requirment
- and the capabiltiies required to do those tasks.

As you note, there is a fair bit of work to get it more right, but there is a payoff in linking all of it together.

Best, Rob

Bob's World

Tue, 09/14/2010 - 8:58am

Success in Afghanistan should not be premised in the survival of Mr. Karzai's presidency, nor the physical defeat of the Taliban organization either one. Both may go, or both may stay, the key is to address the conditions of insurgency that exist within the populace in a manner that allows this diverse, distrustful collection of populaces and interests to collaborate in a manner that does not exclude any one half to the betterment of the other, and that allows them the stability required to move forward.

Success for the US is simpler still. It is the establishment of conditions that allow us to know with reasonable certainty that Afghanistan is not being used as a base to host the development of the capabilities of any organization to conduct acts of international terrorism against our interests.

As is the case so often, less is more, and is best served by not seeking to control specific outcomes, nor in defining success in terms of the "victory" or "defeat" of particular organizations.