Nation Building at the Barrel of an American Gun?
A Short Reply to the Dubik and Kagans' Washington Post Oped
Lieutenant General James Dubik, Dr Kim Kagan, and Dr Fred Kagan, the three authors of a Sunday Washington Post oped titled The Afghan Illusion: Kabul's Forces Aren't Yet a Substitute for Our Own, conclude their Oped with this statement:
"Building Afghan forces dramatically is part of a strategy for succeeding in Afghanistan and permitting the reduction of foreign forces. It cannot, however, be the whole strategy."
And to ask this reoccurring question one more time, what is the "whole strategy"? Although the authors do not come out and say it, armed nation building is clearly the "whole" strategy.
Why do we think nation building at the barrel of an American gun can work in Afghanistan? The authors cleverly tell us at the end of the article that the building up of the Afghani National Forces will allow the Americans to "begin" to reduce their footprint in 2011. But then again, that statement is followed by the idea that building Afghani forces is part of a larger strategy of (implied) nation building which I infer from the piece actually requires a generational effort. Realistically and being blunt and honest how could building an Afghanistan Nation up from what it is now take anything less than a generation?
Again, back to my original question, why do we think armed nation building in Afghanistan will work. Naturally these three authors fall back on the flawed understanding produced by the Iraq Triumph Narrative that underpins current hopes for Astan: It worked in Iraq because we said so, so listen to us, try harder, give us just a bit more, and we can make it work in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan is a country wracked with internal problems; tribal conflict, backwardness, corruption, tension that produces endemic violence, bitter regional disputes, dysfunctional national boundaries, etc. So why do we think we can solve their problems in a matter of a few decades through foreign occupation? Could any outside force have come into the United States in the 1850s and resolved its internal conflicts at the barrel of a gun? Actually, the British tried to resolve internal conflict in North America about 80 years earlier during the American Revolution and lost, or gave up trying because strategy demanded for them that it became not worth the cost of trying to do it.
The question about the efficacy of nation building in Afghanistan is important for strategy because it is the underlying and supremely powerful belief that we can make it work that continues to push us down the present operational path of population centric Coin that we are on. Sometimes it does seem that "wicked" tactical and operational problems in a place like Afghanistan requires not necessarily more experts and "scary smart" army officers to tackle them, but clear, astute, and resolute thinking about strategy and national interests.