Small Wars Journal

This Week at War: End of the COIN Era?

Obama's Afghan withdrawal speech may mark the end of the U.S. counterinsurgency experiment.

Here is the latest edition of my column at Foreign Policy:

Topics include:

1) By tossing the COIN to Afghanistan, Obama can now aim at Pakistan

2) Are the Pentagon's plans about to become obsolete?

By tossing the COIN to Afghanistan, Obama can now aim at Pakistan

President Barack Obama's prime-time speech on his plan for withdrawing from Afghanistan left no doubt that he intends to run for reelection as the leader who ended two painful wars. Most notable was his intention to extract 10,000 soldiers this year and 23,000 more by next summer, before the height of Afghanistan's traditional summer fighting season. For some analysts, this would seem to be a large military risk, taken for purely domestic political benefit.

Obama may have concluded that conventional U.S. ground forces in Afghanistan no longer provide much leverage over the military or political situation there. Obama realizes that the Taliban have established safe havens in both Afghanistan and Pakistan where they can wait as long as they need to. With those safe havens, he likely realizes that the coalition cannot obtain sufficient advantage over the Taliban to achieve a favorable negotiated settlement. Nor can anyone be sure how permanent the apparent progress in stabilizing southern Afghanistan really is.

The real permanent leverage over the Taliban comes in two forms. The first is Afghanistan's security forces, both the government's and local militias, which will presumably operate long after coalition soldiers have left the field. A favorable outcome ultimately rests not with U.S. combat patrols but with the long-term effectiveness of Afghan security forces, something which remains very much in doubt. For those officers responsible for U.S. military doctrine, Obama's speech would seem to bring to a close another unhappy encounter with counterinsurgency (COIN) theory. But true COIN -- winning over the population through security and better governance -- is not done by an outside intervening power like the United States, but by the host country itself. Although Afghanistan provides particularly poor raw material for U.S. COIN doctrine, U.S. military planners still need to solve the COIN puzzle for future contingencies, at a much lower cost than the United States paid in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Second, if Obama's drawdown decision implies giving up on leverage inside Afghanistan, it also provides him an opportunity to increase his leverage over Pakistan and by extension the Taliban and al Qaeda elements residing there. Obama specifically mentioned safe havens in Pakistan declaring, "that so long as I am president, the United States will never tolerate a safe haven for those who aim to kill us." This was a warning to Pakistan that if its leaders won't do something about the safe havens, he will. But Obama's leverage is minimal as long as he must supply a large coalition army in Afghanistan through Pakistan. Reducing the military presence in Afghanistan reduces dependence on Pakistan and increases Obama's leverage over Islamabad. Obama could then translate that leverage into more military strikes against Taliban and al Qaeda safe havens, actions which may do more for Afghan security than the coalition forces presently there.

The killing of Osama bin Laden provided Obama an opportunity to justify a quicker disengagement from Afghanistan. On this, it seems, he will get few arguments from either his prospective Republican challengers or the U.S. electorate. Pakistan by contrast will not welcome these changes as it loses its leverage over the United States and risks becoming even more of a target for U.S. raids. Finally, U.S. military planners will have to retreat to their offices to rethink their doctrines for stability operations. The American public and its political leaders did not have the patience for stabilization plans that required open-ended deployments of large armies. These planners will need to come up with a new approach.

Are the Pentagon's plans about to become obsolete?

In a recent column I discussed how the U.S. military -- masters of high-tech precision-strike warfare -- should prepare to taste that bitter medicine, which could be delivered by all manner of adversaries, who could soon possess their own precision weapons. U.S. military planners could soon come up against the same "revolution in military affairs" they created and that, during the struggles against low-tech insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, has gone out of fashion among U.S. defense thinkers.

In March, the Rand Corp. released an even darker analysis of the future for U.S. military plans. "Looming Discontinuities in U.S. Military Strategy and Defense Planning" describes a disturbing convergence of several adverse trends that the authors believe could result in the sudden obsolescence of long-accepted U.S. military strategies, operating concepts, and forces.

The first of these trends is the imminent arrival of inexpensive yet sophisticated precision weapons in the hands of states and nonstate actors. Similar to the argument in my previous column, the proliferation of these weapons -- such as precision ground attack missiles, portable anti-aircraft missiles, cyber weapons, and anti-ship missiles and torpedoes -- will threaten the ability of the United States to do basic tasks it has long taken for granted such as flying troops from one forward base to another or shipping supplies into a war zone.

Next, Rand describes how access to cheap but effective missiles and other military technology is particularly threatening to long-established U.S. military doctrines and force structure. U.S. operating concepts emphasize both the deployment of forces at forward bases and the projection of military power into conflict areas. Over the decades, the Pentagon has spent trillions of dollars on warships, aircraft, soldiers, and other equipment to implement its power-projection war plans, many of which are designed to support diplomatic strategies and reassure allies. Yet the emerging weapons technologies described above will favor those defending against power projection and thus threaten the huge military investments made by the United States.

Meanwhile, as planners try to grapple with the implications of these challenges, ongoing counterinsurgency, stabilization, and counterterrorism missions will continue to occupy both the attention and resources of the government and will likely add to the confusion over how the Pentagon should plan for the future.

The Rand report lists some specific tasks U.S. military forces should be able to accomplish in order to prepare for this more challenging future, many of which are beyond current capabilities. Forward-deployed forces should be able to shoot down incoming guided missiles and mortar shells. By contrast, U.S. forces should be able to overcome enemy air and missile defenses. The United States should have long-range aircraft able to search for long periods over defended airspace and then strike targets of opportunity, such as mobile missile launchers or deeply buried bunkers. U.S. naval forces should be able to establish survivable operating bases at sea. And smaller, more efficient teams of U.S. ground forces should be able to dominate adversaries who are embedded within noncombatant populations.

Finally, the report discusses what may be the biggest threat to the Pentagon -- its institutional barriers to reform. Rand discusses "the innovator's dilemma," a common problem across private and public enterprises. It is institutionally difficult for long-established enterprises to heavily invest in technologies and doctrines that could threaten the existing order. There will always be a reluctance by established actors to transform until the need is plainly obvious. But with long lead times for new systems and doctrines, waiting so late could be disastrous. Meanwhile, upcoming rivals, perhaps lacking well-established players, are frequently more nimble and open to innovation.

Rand concluded with a plea for the Pentagon to develop a vigorous experimentation program. The U.S. Joint Forces Command, a center for experimentation, was recently closed in a cost-cutting move. Who in the Pentagon will now advocate for experimentation and innovation remains to be seen.


carl (not verified)

Sat, 07/02/2011 - 10:05pm


Pinpoint strikes in Pakistan will have no effect on the problems there other than resulting in the production of some really cool videos and making us feel good temporarily. There is nothing much in the realm of bombs and bullets we can do to change or disrupt things to an important extent in Pakistan. The Pak Army/ISI has to do it. The trick is getting them to do so.

Anonymous (not verified)

Sat, 07/02/2011 - 6:46pm

Where? In Pakistan or Afghanistan? Do you really think think our investment in Afghanistan is worth the cost of conducting pin point strikes in Pakistan, which we can do anyway w/o a large force in Afghanistan. I don't think anyone would disagree that Pakistan is the most dangerous location currently, but the question remains if we need to maintain a large force in Afghanistan to disrupt it?

Anonymous (not verified)

Sat, 07/02/2011 - 6:00pm

There are no other more important places than where the leadership of Al Qaida and Quetta Shura, Lashkaris etc. are living. That is is the most dangerous place in the world and the biggest threat to the US. That is where the fight should be.

Bob's World

Sat, 07/02/2011 - 11:26am

The real key for the US is to simply step back and reassess our interests in this region, and how they are best addressed; also are interests globally and how this region fits into that picture.

Nothing we say or do will change the perceived interests of all the many stakeholders, state and non-state, who actually live in the region. Better that we reassess our own, and I contend that our current position is over-stated significantly; and the ways and means we have adopted to pursue those over-stated interests actually serve to make them worse in many ways.

We need to debate the right things at the right levels. This in not a matter of tactics; this is not the "fault" of the Pakistianis for not subjugating their percieved interests to align with ours. This is not about COIN vs CT. We've miss-defined this issue and region from the start, and have been drifting ever since in an effort to make that flawed framework work out. It won't.

We have more important things to be doing in more important places, I recommend we get repostured to get about doing that.


Anonymous (not verified)

Sat, 07/02/2011 - 10:19am

really? so 7.5 billion is fair price to allow a foreign country to to attack a soverign country with UAVs? is that a fair enough business deal in your opinion?

Anonymous (not verified)

Wed, 06/29/2011 - 2:07pm

Its pro U.S. foreign policy? Don't confuse a good business deal with pro U.S. foreign policy. They get billions of dollars and only deliver on half their promised services. They already have a relationship with China, China is getting ready to build a navy base there, so no drifting towards China required. Bill

Anonymous (not verified)

Wed, 06/29/2011 - 4:58am

The NSC is reported to have examined the Parliaments resolution and the rising anti-Americanism. Some in the NSC oppose the frequency, and perhaps the wisdom, of drone attacks, particularly at the eve of Afghanistan war. All in the NSC, however, know that Pakistan has few operable options to stop drone attacks. Pakistan cannot shoot down drones for such countermeasures would invite the U.S. Congress to impose economic and military sanctions, in addition to withholding billions of dollars in assistance. Pakistan is also unlikely to withdraw transit facilities for fear of jeopardizing trade and diplomatic relations with NATO states. In no way can Pakistan afford a dramatic breach with the U.S.

Nonetheless, a helpless Pakistan, under intense anti-American pressure at home, may begin to take small steps to drift away toward China, the so-called all-weather friend, and possibly woo Russia, modifying its pro-U.S. foreign policy. A Silk-Route alliance, including China, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asian states, is unlikely to forge anytime soon, but Pakistan, more than China, will be the key to such an alliance. Central Asian states, rich in natural resources, will find the alliance economically appealing. The alliance with Muslim states will effectively eliminate the Uighur secessionist threat in the Xinjiang province, a huge benefit to China. India too is unlikely to fully embrace the U.S. as a counter-weight to the Silk-Route Alliance. India cannot trust the U.S. after the U.S. brutally degrades and abandons Pakistan, a sixty-year old subservient ally. The Silk-Route alliance may thus expel the U.S. from the region.

Courting Pakistans

Ken White (not verified)

Wed, 06/29/2011 - 1:09am


I did say "some" interests, far from all. The nukes are indeed one and headache or no we and they are interested... ;)

I make no apology for the hypocrisy of some in the US government or for the ignorance of most in the US news media -- I dislike those things as much or more as do you. While I do not excuse the governmental lapses I know why they exist. This Nation is too big and diverse, the Political milieu is purposely fragmented to preclude focused approaches to any problem. That is beneficial domestically (IMO, YMMV) but it is a nightmare in foreign affairs. Fortuntately, I also believe in Churchill's comment: "<i>You can always count on Americans to do the right thing - after they've tried everything else</i>." We fumble a lot, an awful lot, however we usually eventually get it a bit right.

I cannot apologize for the media, their sloppiness is inexcusable. <i>The Armed Forces Journal</i> used to be a respectable publication. Then they were bought by Gannett who as an entity have about as much credibility as, say, the ISI (again IMO, others may vary).

RE: Iran and its 'treatment' by the US. While I have not been to Pakistan, I have served in Iran (while the Shah was still about) and have some Iraniha acquaintances to this day. The Persians are interesting folks and their culture has permeated the Middle East and South Asia much of which they dominated for hundreds of years. However, after the departure of the Shah and the rise of the Theocracy (wherein Khomeini killed more Iranians in two years than the Shah had in twenty five...) they got a little antsy and took over the US Embassy due ostensibly to earlier intrusions on our part. We, the US did an atrociously poor job of reacting to that and the situation got out of hand, festered and has teetered back and forth since.

The Iraniha, like the North Koreans, have developed a fine sense of just how far they can push the US and they typically go right up to that line and then back off -- we have been playing that game with North Korea since 1953 and with Iran since 1979. In both cases poorly -- they have continuity in policy and due to US domestic concerns and political turnover at 2, 4, 6, and 8 year intervals, we have virtually no continuity. We used to have continuity in the senior Civil Service persons, the so-called bureaucrats, somewhat like the British 'Mandarins' but in the 1970s, James Earl Carter in addition to blowing the Iranian Embassy seizure also 'modernized' the civil service system and thus destroyed the continuity previously available.

So you're correct in my view, we will not handle the Pakistanis well just as we have not 'handled' Iran or North Korea well, too many in policy positions here do not understand any of those nations and while there are people working for them who do understand, the sound advice is often over ruled due to, not international concerns but solely due to US domestic issues. Dumb but there we are. I suspect there will be little net change in that situation -- but I also do not think, from the standpoint solely of the US that any of those is critical and believe that should one or more turn critical, we will muddle along and, hopefully, get focused and fix it. We have been fortunate in our ability to do that in the past. Whether that will continue to be possible or acceptable in the future is anyone's guess...

I suggest that <b>Bill M's </b> question is in the minds of many Americans. People are getting restless. Basically, we're pretty tolerant, perhaps too much so. Many former adversaries thought we would not react as we did and most of our real wars have been due to such miscalculations. Hopefully that will not occur in the case of any of the nations mentioned in this thread.

Equally hopefully, we'll get our international act together a bit better. That one I'm not betting on...

Bill M.

Tue, 06/28/2011 - 11:45pm

Madhu wrote,

""In the infamous Blood telegram (Document 8), the Consulate in Dacca condemns the United States for failing "to denounce the suppression of democracy," for failing "to denounce atrocities," and for "bending over backwards to placate the West Pak[istan] dominated government and to lessen any deservedly negative international public relations impact against them." [Documents 1-8, 10-11, 26](6)""

Along with several other great points he made, this points out the impact of great power history in the region on the current political calculus. India still doesn't quite trust us, and although the U.S. has been trying (and to some degree successful) to form a more effective relationship with India, memories are long. Not only did we support the circus in Pakistan then, we continue to fund the circus now with billions of our tax dollars. There is really something borderline, or beyond the border, of criminally stupid with our relationship with the ISI and Pak military. Pakistan has shown it true colors multiple times, the genocide in East Pakistan, their sponsorship of the Taliban after that ousted the communist regime in Kabul, their sponsorship of the attack on Mumbai, and a popular figure calling for nuclear war with India, and no apparent backlash or contrary statements from PAKMIL leadership?

When will enough be enough?

Madhu (not verified)

Tue, 06/28/2011 - 10:36pm

<em>If there is a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan, forces of "radicalization" is the low on the list of potential reasons. The most likely in the near term is that US efforts in Afghanistan, having disrupted the balance of deterrence between India and Pakistan, lead to a miscalculation by one of those two parties.</em> - <strong>Robert Jones</strong>

I agree that the rough deterrence of pre-9-11 was upset by our actions. I guess it's a bad idea to support the Taliban who supported bin Laden. The deterrence was tested by operations such as Kargil, groups such as the LeT and Mumbai, and so on. Nuclear weapons plus non-state actors is a mad recipe for miscalculation. The nukes are enough.

India is an existential threat to Pakistan? What supports this assertion? Pakistan is the biggest existential threat to Pakistan. Witness the formation of Bangladesh from East Pakistan (from the National Security Archives):

<em>On March 25, 1971, West Pakistani forces, commanded by General Yahya and the Martial Law Administrator, Lt. General Tikka Khan began a self-destructive course of repressive actions against their fellow Pakistanis in the East. The Martial Law Administrators did not discriminate, targeting anyone from Awami Leaguers to students. Large numbers of Bengalis -- Muslims and Hindus, businessmen and academics -- were killed during this period of martial law. The final tally of the dead, as reported by Mujib was approximately three million.(2)

As a result of the violence and instability caused in East Pakistan by the genocide, an estimated ten million Bengalis had fled across the border to India by May 1971.(3) The refugees were problematic for two main reasons: first, they created a strain on the Indian economy, an economy just coming to terms with development. Secondly, a group of refugees known as the Mukti Bahini, referred to by the Indians as "Bengali Freedom Fighters" were using India as a base from which to launch guerrilla attacks in efforts to fight against West Pakistani oppression.

The refugees became too much for India to handle. Eventually tensions between India and Pakistan grew uncontrollable, and among other things, the lack of a political solution in East Pakistan and Indian support for the guerrilla fighters led to war between the two neighbors. The end result of the conflict was the splitting of Pakistan into two separate states: Pakistan in its present form and an independent Bangladesh.....Cable traffic from the United States Consulate in Dacca revealing the brutal details of the genocide conducted in East Pakistan by the West Pakistani Martial Law Administration. In the infamous Blood telegram (Document 8), the Consulate in Dacca condemns the United States for failing "to denounce the suppression of democracy," for failing "to denounce atrocities," and for "bending over backwards to placate the West Pak[istan] dominated government and to lessen any deservedly negative international public relations impact against them." [Documents 1-8, 10-11, 26](6)
Details of the role that the China initiative and Nixon's friendship with Yahya (and dislike of Indira Gandhi) played in U.S. policymaking, leading to the tilting of U.S. policy towards Pakistan. This includes a Memorandum of Conversation (Document 13) in which Kissinger indicates to Ambassador Keating, "the President has a special feeling for President Yahya. One cannot make policy on that basis, but it is a fact of life." [Documents 9, 13, 17-21, 24-25]

Pakistan's largest existential crisis ocurred because of the behavior of its Punjabi dominated military against the "East Pakistanis."

At any rate, I hope any American cadet would think it a bad idea to subvert an entire nation's governmental machinery, its laws, its constitution, its very moral fiber, on the chance that it might be invaded in the future.

Madhu (not verified)

Tue, 06/28/2011 - 10:19pm

<strong>Ken White:</strong>

In future I should remember to highlight points on which I disagree. In an effort to clarify, here is one passage in your comments that I disagree with:

<blockquote>There's no pretense. Some of our more important interests are the same. The US government is concentrating on those while you are concentrating on others that differ -- of which said US government is totally aware and is willing to tolerate.</blockquote>

I don't agree that our interests are the same. We are forced through circumstance (because of our earlier and continuing stupidity regarding that regime) to help the military secure its nuclear weapons. If you want to call that a common interest, okay. I call that a headache :)

As to some of my other points, I thought (mistakenly) that you were saying because you had been in the military or your son was in the military that you all knew what was "really" going on and that additional factors outside of the military-to-military relationship are unimportant to understanding the region.

I suppose when I see things like this in the Armed Forces Journal, I tend to take it out on you all :)

<em>....Washington can ill afford the risks associated with a failed Pakistan, a situation that could put nuclear weapons into terrorist hands. So while the removal of bin Laden helps bring closure to 9/11 and enables an Afghanistan exit strategy that would have been impossible as long as he was still alive, the long-term fallout could prove to be a nuclear nightmare. Rebuilding this relationship with Pakistan must be a top U.S. priority.</em>

Why must it be a top priority? Because we are helping them secure their nukes? Then if it is such a top priority why did we give them so much military aid and design a heavy footprint campaign through Pakistan? If it is so important to help them with their nuclear arsenal - so important that we tolerate the deaths of NATO soldiers at the hands of affiliated groups - why did we plan things the way we did?

<em>Earlier this month the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, twisted his mouth into the shape of a pretzel to explain why it was okay for the U.S. to support Pakistan's nuclear arsenal but not okay to support North Korea's arsenal and Iran's nuclear ambitions....

Then Americans wonder why Pyongyang and Tehran laugh at Washington's lectures on nuclear proliferation. The leaders of both regimes have been doing clandestine nuke business with Pakistan for decades. They know Pakistan is the biggest nuclear weapons proliferator on the planet -- and so does Mullen, who is the highest ranking military officer in the USA and as such is the principal military advisor to the President of the United States, the National Security Council, and the Secretary of Defense.

That's not the half of the double standard America has practiced with regard to Pakistan. Barely a day goes by that the American news media doesn't warn of the dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran because of the regime's end-of-time religious views, which American news analyst John Batchelor has termed "hallucinatory."

It doesn't get more hallucinatory than the views of Pakistani media mogul, Majeed Nizami, the owner of the Nawa-i-Waqt, The Nation, and Waqt TV channel. During a recent speech at a function given in his honor he declared that Pakistan's missiles and nuclear bombs were superior to "India's ghosts," and that unleashing nuclear war against India was imperative. "Don't worry if a couple of our cities are also destroyed in the process."

That would be the same Nation newspaper that cites the United States government as being behind every terrorist incident in the world, including the Times Square attack.

If you think Nizami is an isolated nut case, you don't know much about him, or Pakistan. He is the true face of the most powerful factions in Pakistan including its military leaders.

But in the view of the U.S. government and news media it's okay for Pakistan's military to hold hallucinatory views whereas it's not okay for Iran's leaders because, well, because.

As to the bone-cracking pressure that the United States has been applying to other governments in the effort to dissuade them from trading with Iran -- Pakistan's gas pipeline deal with Iran was the exception. The U.S. government perfectly understood why Pakistan would need the deal and the only worry was that Pakistan might be hurt if caught up in the sanctions of the United States.</em>

Why does no one articulate it in a way that makes sense? Is it because it must be "clandestine" to work? It's nuclear blackmail, isn't it? And we feel we have to go along but we always screw it up on our end.

This is not an ally by any rational metric and I have no faith in our institutions handling them well. Our Pakistani handlers always get outmaneuvered. And what do you bet our "handling" of a nuclear armed Iran will be different? Can someone explain this to me in a way that makes sense? Serious question.

carl (not verified)

Tue, 06/28/2011 - 5:17pm

Bill M.'s point about India not desiring to be an existential threat to Pakistan is an important thing. India has restrained itself in the face of some rather serious provocations. There does not appear to be any intent to destroy Pakistan. Intent may change rapidly, but since India is a democratic nation, it isn't likely to do so. Even when the next provocation out of Pakistan occurs, the Indians, given their past actions might be provoked to do some serious damage to the Pak Army/ISI but destroy Pakistan, probably not. Doing that damage to the Pak Army might cause them to do something stupid (more than usual) and then all bets would be off. But the thing about this is, that the next provocation will almost certainly be from the west to the east, not the other way around.

For the Pak Army/ISI to maintain such a belligerent attitude toward India is as if Mexico were to build nukes to keep the Gringos at bay since you can never know when they will come over the border. That wouldn't make any sense and what the Pak Army/ISI does doesn't make any rational sense either. I don't see why we have to respect and understand such reasoning. We should call it, publicly, what it is, stupid.

Mr. Jones, it is well to remember that the reason we got involved and began flailing around was because almost 3,000 of our people were murdered on 9-11.

I find it curious that you consider Soviet nukes in Cuba to have been such a minor thing. Yours may be a minority opinion.

Bob's World

Tue, 06/28/2011 - 3:29pm


"intent" can change rapidly, and as you imply we cannot fully assess what the historic and modern issues between the current states of Pakistan and India are, what current or future intentions might be, or what future or current perceptions might be. But any group of cadets could do the math and conclude that a military attack by India could defeat the Pakistani state, while the opposite would be a much more likely affair.

Deterrence is always a balance of provocation and preparation, and the greater the distrust between the parties the more likely to read into any changes in that balance.
Typically when deterrence fails it is because one state becomes stronger and exercises its strength to prevail, or when one is weaker and launches a preemptive strike to prevent such an overwhelming attack by the stronger.

Issues of Hindu and Islam aside, this is a no-trust situation between two nuclear powers and the US has jumped into the middle of this and began flailing around for reasons all of our own with little express concern for how that flailing might impact the balanace of deterrence. It is safe to assume we have changed the equation and that everyone is scrambling to either support or counter our acitons as they think best suits their side of this, and no one truly knows what the new balance point is. This is a dangerous game. Look how a relatively small issue such as Soviet missiles being moved to Cuba almost sent our two nations into major nuclear war. Our disruption of the balance in South Asia is arguably much greater.

It is my belief that Pakistan perceives this to be a huge problem, thus why they shake our hand publicly, but work covertly to maintian the system of deterrence they are comfortable with. Fact is of little consequence, perception is everything. We are making the risk of miscalculation greater by our actions, that I know. How much so? Hopefully we never find out.



Your points are well taken, but I think you are too easily dismissing the underlying fact that Pakistan is founded on religious identity (thanks to our allies, who like us made a number of bad decisions post WWII that still haunt us today). Pakistan sees itself as an oppressed Islamic "nation", instead of a modern State, so Islam clearly plays a role in their decision making calculus. The Pakistan military in my opinion (from far away, and I am no expert on Pakistan) appears to justify its actions using Islam, and their people seem to support it based on the numerous polls we see. I'm not convinced that India is an existential threat to Pakistan. That would imply they have the desire to be an existential threat, versus viewing Pakistan as a pesty neighbor (with nukes) and irregular forces. I suspect Pakistan the state needs India as an enemy, or it wouldn't have any identity to begin with. Again I generally agree with your points, but would just add that Islam (and the so called radical interpretation of Islam) greatly influences Paksitan's decisions, probably more so than say economic matters. Maybe I am giving Islam too much credit, so I will gladly wait on the experts to refute that hypothesis before I take a stronger position on it.

Anonymous (not verified)

Tue, 06/28/2011 - 9:17am

We need insight to understand our own prejudices, to know which prejudices are and which are not. To have that insight one needs to objectively look at oneself and the world.

Bob's World

Tue, 06/28/2011 - 7:50am

If there is a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan, forces of "radicalization" is the low on the list of potential reasons. The most likely in the near term is that US efforts in Afghanistan, having disrupted the balance of deterrence between India and Pakistan, lead to a miscalculation by one of those two parties.

India is a existential threat to Pakistan; Pakistan similarly threatens certain Indian interests, but IMO is in no way an existential threat to India. They had an uneasy balance in place prior to 9/11, and US efforts post 9/11 have been crafted completely from the perspective of US interests and US perceived best solutions, with little regard for what impact on the fine balance of deterrence between India and Pakistan. We agonize over the small chance of a "loose nuke," and in the pursuit of that fear disregard how our actions could create conditions or perceptions that could result in a very deliberate, controlled nuclear exchange between two states we consider as allies.

The right answer does not lie in an American perspective. Nor in a perspective crafted by any one of the several states involved. We need to take our finger off the scale and look at this with a lot more empathy and a broader perspective.

Any positional sentence that includes the terms such as "radicalization" or "terrorism" is probably missing the essential points of the problem.


Anonymous (not verified)

Tue, 06/28/2011 - 6:37am

The problem is they can't control their jihadi militants, so instead of creating strategic depth they opened Pandora's box.

The war between East (now Bangladesh) and West Pakistan is worth of a good article for the SWJ. Typical of our Western centric view to overlook important conflicts that didn't involve the West in large measure.

hungover (not verified)

Tue, 06/28/2011 - 5:26am

Religion has been used as a rallying point against outsiders in Pakistan since its inception in 1947 and not something that started in the late 70's as mentioned above.A committment to jihadi ideology was policy even during the bangladeshi war. I dont see how the idea of "managing militants is strategic depth" is a way to brainwash the masses as madhu said above? Rather is see managing militants part of their policy head on.

Bill M.

Tue, 06/28/2011 - 12:56am

Madhu, in general agreement with most of your comments (maybe all, need more time to consider them). I just want to focus on one of your points, and that is if there is a nuclear weapon attack in that portion of the world, we will be partly to blame? How can you blame the U.S. for the radicalization of the Pakistani people? From what I read, the ISI (with help from partners in the Middle East) used religious radicalization as a tool to facilitate the jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan, and of course radicalization isn't just something you can turn off and on. They did it to themselves for shortsighted reasons, and even if we wanted to oppose the dumbing down of a nation, how would we have done it?

It is time we stop giving Pakistan (and North Korea for that matter) special treatment just because they have nuclear weapons. Our behavior will simply encourage other tyrants to pursue nuclear weapons because of the special treatment they will receive from the rest of the world. If there is a punk with a gun on the subway he has a little power to influence your behavior, but it doesn't change the fact that he is a punk. Have we now created a situation where a punk nation can the hold the world hostage with bizzare behavior because they have a couple of Nuc's? Give me a break, a nuclear strike would obviously be bad but not the end of the world (with their limited stocks). If they're really that irrational then maybe a pre-emptive response should be considered below the level of a strike? We have been rewarding criminally insane behavior in Pakistan for years, and now that child has the car keys and is driving drunk endangering millions of people, to include their own family.

As you point out Kashmir is only a part of much larger problem. I don't know what the answer is, but it doesn't seem that more of the same is right course.

Madhu (not verified)

Tue, 06/28/2011 - 12:14am

One last point. That West Point paper says sectarian tensions in Pakistan have received little attention in the literature to date. That's not strictly true for the Indian literature, is it?

Madhu (not verified)

Tue, 06/28/2011 - 12:09am

Yes, carl, we have a lot of leverage with our European partners (who are increasing aid, btw. Stupid IMO) and with the World Bank/IMF.

We've never played those cards in a concerted fashion. But that is for us civilians to do. We urgently need a policy review for Pakistan so we don't have the old Pentagon-CIA-USAID-State Department ad hockery and we need some strategic vision within which to conduct a serious policy review.

How's that for chutzpah?

Madhu (not verified)

Tue, 06/28/2011 - 12:04am

One commenter in the SWC, M.A. Lagrange, has written a bit about radicalism following Pakistani UN soldiers. Another source of radicalization? Why not. The country has been radicalized via its schools and media and as they travel with the blue helmets and interact with others, they take their values with them.

Nothing conspiratorial. Just the way it is.

Madhu (not verified)

Tue, 06/28/2011 - 12:01am

carl and others (sorry about my sour comments in other threads, btw. Uncalled for on my part).

Afghanistan is also a proxy ground for Saudi and Iran Sunni-Shia positioning.

The Pak Army/ISI plays all sides and always has. Everyone knows it but for short term gain we always blind ourselves to long term strategic disaster. If there is an act of nuclear terrorism from that part of the world, we will have had some part in it because of our long term coddling of the Pakistanis. We turn a blind eye to their nuclear proliferation and always have.

In the process, our own government relies on convenient fictions for the rubes back home. During the Cold War we turned a complete blind eye to nuclear proliferation in Pakistan. They are a proliferator to Iran and a conduit for missiles from North Korea to Iran. Who knows what our own CIA was up to during all of this. We won't find out in our lifetimes, I'm betting.

It may be that some in the Pentagon want to prevent a China-Pakistan-Iran-Saudi "reapproachment" so to speak, because what do we do then?

The Indian strategists saw this long ago, by the way.

That is why I try and read up on the strategies of others. That is why I also think all that stuff about strategic depth is just a bunch of bull. Stories for the masses. It's useful to keep the incurious in line.

Geez, I don't know. Our history in that region has been so awful, so far from core American values, so destructive to our own interests and so destructive to many, many, many innocent peoples in that region that I just don't know <em>what</em> to think anymore.

I've lost a bit of faith in some of our institutions, to be frank. I don't think I'm the only one judging by opinion polls. That was my point in another thread about Abbottabad. Our military has so far escaped the disgruntled public populist mood. I suppose to those who lived through Vietnam this is nothing, though. Point taken. I wasn't around then (well, just a baby for a bit of it) so I don't know.

The West Point Counterterrorism Center has a nice online article on Sunni-Shia tensions within Pakistan.

Sectarian tensions are another reason I don't buy the bull on "solving Kashmir." There are too many other drivers to radicalism in that region. The conventional thinking is not logical, IMO.

And Zardari has visited both Saudi and Iran lately. The whole region (including maybe us? I hope not), are up to no good. I don't trust a bit of it.

As to your stuff about supposed ISI involvement in Africa and Somalia - it need not be ISI or explicitly state sponsored. The Pakistani Navy may be infiltrated to some extent by Al Q (the journalist that recently died wrote about that). I don't know where the Navy travels and what contacts sailors might have.

Anonymous (not verified)

Mon, 06/27/2011 - 11:46pm

Bill M.:

If we cut out of Afghanistan, China and India can't be stopped from doing what they want, or trying to. The Pak Army/ISI can't stop either one and at best can tag along with the Chinese. I don't know if expanded Indian or Chinese influence would be a disaster. Mr. Jones contends that it would. I wonder why too.

By operations, I mean guns, bombs and soldiers. If we did ops in Pakistan (other than the spec-ops pinpricks) we would be going after the Taliban types that are supported by the Pak Army/ISI. We could expect the Pak Army to oppose that. We think we got problems now, just imagine what they would be if we got into a fight with a big conventional army. They would close the Karachi supply line then we would be fighting a big conventional army with minimal supplies. It would be perceived as an attack on Pakistan, which it would be since the Pak Army/ISI wouldn't give us permission to attack their proxies. Pakistani nationalism would be stoked to heat stroke inducing level and given the number of jihadis over there who knows where that would lead. We couldn't do anything but get ourselves into trouble we couldn't get out of without really wrecking Pakistan or without Indian help (which they might give asked for or not). It would be an unholy mess.

That is why I keep arguing for the money and public pressure route.

Bill M.

Mon, 06/27/2011 - 10:28pm


Historically the Chinese and Indians are enemies, hopefully now that has been reduced to the status of competitors that don't trust one another fully. China is Pakistan's best international buddy, has been for years, and the benefits of that relationship for China are a partner that can and does counter/threaten Indian ambitions in the region to some extent. The prize for both Pakistan and India is influence in Afghanistan. The Great Game is still being played out in South and Central Asia, and while we have interests in the region, ours aren't as strong as China's, India's or Pakistan's, but will continue to have influence there. There is no doubt all three will expand their influence into Afghanistan, but does that mean it will be a disaster, or just more of the same (same as it ever was...)? Why do you think expanding operations into Pakistan would be a disaster? I have my reasons for suspected that the return on the investment wouldn't be worth it, but would like to see what you're thinking.

carl (not verified)

Mon, 06/27/2011 - 9:47pm

Mr. Jones:

You said:

"Any expansion of operations in Pakistan would be a disaster. Likewise, any expansion of Chinese or Indian influence in Afghanistan.

We'll see how this plays out, but we may well go from dumb to dumber. We've done it before."

Who on this thread has advocated an expansion of operations in Pakistan?

Why would expanded Indian or Chinese influence in Afghanistan be a disaster for anybody EXCEPT the Pak Army/ISI?

And finally, once we bug out of Afghanistan there won't a single little thing we can do to stop the Indians and the Chinese from expanding their influence if they care to do so. The Pak Army/ISI will try, but all they will succeed in doing is ticking off further people who aren't as understanding of their need for "strategic depth" as we are. In that understanding we've gone from dumb to dumber and are currently exploring the new world of dumberer.

Anonymous (not verified)

Mon, 06/27/2011 - 7:28pm


Okay, I'll give you one. My daughter, who's convinced I'm a Neanderthal at best, says slather them with Greek Yogurt, let 'em sit over night and slice them thinly to perk up a salad. That's two.

So I gotta retract on the Zucchini. Cucumbers, now... :)

carl (not verified)

Mon, 06/27/2011 - 7:17pm


You said "P.S....Zucchini is a really useless, tasteless vegetable with no saving graces of which I'm aware."

You mean you never heard of the annual autumn zucchini shoot? You pile them up and have at it.

Ken White (not verified)

Mon, 06/27/2011 - 1:48am

Summygun. In my haste to over react and provide an unnecessary response, I forgot to sign in at 12:45 AM. :>

Anonymous (not verified)

Mon, 06/27/2011 - 1:45am

<b>Bill M.:</b>

While what you say is true and has been for all the years we've been dangerously dumb about our defense policies, the broader point in my sad humor was -- Should it be true?

I know what is, is -- but I also know that accepting the status quo because it just 'is' leads to stasis -- and we have enough of that without encouraging copycat efforts that cost massive amounts of change and continue to exist because the California Congressional delegation has some clout.

RAND, SDC, all produce some good stuff but they produce a larger amount of dross as well. They are, in their own way, just as bureaucratic and conformist as is DoD or any of the Combatant or Specified Commands. <b>Mike F's</b> "Less is more" applies. ;)

The coming budget cuts need to look at value for money in <u>all</u> the above.

Bill M.

Mon, 06/27/2011 - 12:27am


Actually I caught your humor, but disagreed with it ;-) in this case. RAND has produced some good studies, and while often little is new their papers get noticed and discussed in the halls of power. I remember the paper they did on the lessons learned from the Mumbai attacks, absolutely nothing in it that our guys in uniform didn't assess shortly after it happened, but no one listens to them, so if we want to ensure the lessons are actually read by decision makers we need RAND to make of lot money from Taxpayers to point out the obvious to the oblivious.

In short a necessary evil for informing the Emperor that he isn't wearing any clothes.

Ken White (not verified)

Sun, 06/26/2011 - 11:53pm

<b>Bill M.</b>

Guess I need to stop trying to be a comedian, re: the comment on the author. As an aside on that, Engineers are better than ideologues -- unless they also happen to be ideologues as well...

Actually, I agree with your comment and I agreed with the thrust of the paper. What got lost in that sad attempt at snide humor was my point:

"Perhaps they will listen to RAND since the big money paid them vastly exceeds the cost of the in house Office of Net Assessment who have been saying all that's in this study for many years before RAND produced it."

ONA and Krepinevich's Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments as well have been on that trend for several years, RAND, as always is late to the party...

Mr. Haddick, thanks to the link to the RAND study and your comments on that topic.

Ken wrote, ""Proving yet again that a Ph.D. in Chemical Physics equips one to be among the best and the brightest. No experience required...""

Funny, I had an e-mail exchange with a friend of mine who is a somewhat famous engineer worldwide. We were discussing the economy and what structural changes needed to be made to facilitate a recovery, and his answers were completely void of ideology, just practical solutions to real problems. I wrote back and told him I would love to see more engineers and scientists in Congress instead of the ineffective ideologues we have now. The author of the RAND paper further supports that view.

I only read the summary so far, but generally agree with the authors, and there is no doubt that our's and others' technology (techniques and tools) will proliferate and then be adapted by our adversaries. The worrisome part is that much of this technology is now affordable and relatively easy to adapt for nefarious purposes by both State and Non-State actors. I suspect we won't adapt until the new threats are in our face, then we'll we'll adjust like we did for the submarine threat during WWI, but only after taking great losses.

The authors for the most part talked about the convergence of technological trends and how they'll threaten us (or in more modern terms force the creative destruction of our current DOD structure and processes); however, when you compound these trends with emerging social, political and economic trends the new security environment starts to look even more challenging.

I strongly agree with the authors that one of the most important national security decisions we'll have to make concerning the future of DOD is the degree to which we should prepare for manpower intensive operations. While reforming countries we have defeated may appear to be the best "long term" course of action, if they are not economically and politically feasible, then they are not the right course of action.

The future fight in my view (direct threats to the U.S.) will center more on our opposition's technology than large scale irregular warfare. On a smaller scale irregular threats such as terrorists will also employ advanced technology against us. The threat of nuclear and other mass effect weapons proliferation is a much greater threat to our security than instability in Afghanistan for instance. For these threats we need to refocus on building a DOD with more effective intelligence (what we have is pretty darn good, but there is still room for improvement), Special Operations and General Purpose Forces capable of responding rapidly and effectively (based on old and new threats). To respond rapidly, that will mean a relatively smaller yet lethal force that sent to accomplish a specific mission (not transform a socieity).

For large manpower intensive operations such as stability operations, I think it is possible to outsource several of these missions to developing nations (which we have done) whose economies actually benefit from these UN funded (read U.S. funded) adventures. We can provide funding, intelligence and advisors.

I am not suggesting we dismiss irregular warfare and what we have learned to this point, but that we must realize that tomorrow's fight will not be today's fight and adjust accordingly.

CBCalif (not verified)

Sun, 06/26/2011 - 3:46pm

In his "End of the COIN Era," Robert Haddick succinctly identifies the major (core) problem with COIN operations conducted by this country, noting: "U.S. military planners still need to solve the COIN puzzle for future contingencies, at a much lower cost than the United States paid in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Large scale COIN operations, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan, or in Vietnam morph into nation building and end up devouring far too large a portion of the US military placing the post-COIN war competitive position of our armed force at a technological and force level disadvantage. As an example during Vietnam this nation, as today wasted massive sums maintaining long term non-productive Naval force in the Gulf of Tonkin (on which I served as a line officer) absorbing major losses in planes, pilots, and munitions expenditures with accompanying ship deterioration while disregarding the technical and ship advances and strategic developments needed to project strength against the ever growing Soviet fleet and its improved surface and undersea capabilities. All of which later placed our Naval forces at a great disadvantage during the 1973 confrontation with the Soviet Fleet in the Mediterranean.

A parallel situation is occurring force wide with our spending of hundreds of billions of dollars constructing buildings, electrical power capabilities, roads, etc in Afghanistan. Wasted money vis-avis the US strategic position in a world where Iran is developing long range missile delivery systems and exporting some of its technology to Hezbollah plus acquiring quiet submarines, India is building up its fleet capabilities, Brazil is beginning to expand its military capabilities, China is slowly developing its Navy including the adding even nuclear submarines (I believe) to its fleet along with making moves into the aircraft carrier world. Additionally, next generation fighter aircraft development is proceeding in the Soviet Union and China. Our Navy continues to fly F-18s and the Air Force relies heavily on F-16s, both of which came on line in the 1970s, albeit with added technical features and our Air Force continues to use the B-52 of 1950 and later Vietnam Conflict fame.

As Robet Haddick noted in the second part of his article: "In a recent column I discussed how the U.S. military -- masters of high-tech precision-strike warfare -- should prepare to taste that bitter medicine, which could be delivered by all manner of adversaries, who could soon possess their own precision weapons. U.S. military planners could soon come up against the same "revolution in military affairs" they created and that, during the struggles against low-tech insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, has gone out of fashion among U.S. defense thinkers."

The Obama / Gates Defense Department has effectively early terminated the F-22 program and elected to rely on the later coming on line multi-service F-35 (hopefully not another TFX) and focuses all its efforts and the majority of its funds and strategic thinking on the Iraq and Afghanistan quagmires.

While Mr. Hicks is in all probability correct that our adversaries will acquire precision weapon systems, our defense funding is not sufficiently being directed at the highly achievable defense systems needed to combat those systems. The Israeli led and partially American funded "Iron Dome" system proves these are viable alternatives. Using an electronic based warfare system to successfully shoot down short range rockets out of the air is a major engineering achievement given the complexities of obtaining a fix on short range high speed targets and being able to direct an outgoing response in a timely and accurate manner. Engineering wise it ranks up there with the highly successful Hughes Aircraft Companys 1970s era development of fire finder radar which enabled out Army and Marine Corps to instantly pinpoint the location of an enemy piece firing incoming shells and respond accordingly. The US Navys recent successful test of a destroyer based laser weapon was a great (preliminary) step forward in defensive capabilities and should be speed up with the redirection of funds from what, I believe, will turn out to have been a wasted nation building, i.e. COIN, effort in Iraq or Afghanistan to weapons systems that will be needed in the very near term future.

As has been pointed out in another discussion in SWJ, entitled "Less is Often More," the US has been successful with smaller scale Special Forces type assistance programs in the Philippines, El Salvador, Columbia, etc, and certainly was successful with the Special Forces led efforts against the Taliban in late 2001 validating this type of approach. The continuing elimination of Al Qeada and other terrorist leaders and supporters by Special Operations Groups and Drones validates the suggested light footprint style war recommended by retired Marine Corps Commandant, General Charles Krulak, Contrarily, large scale counter insurgency efforts as a successful military strategy have yet to be validated, Senator McCains as yet unsubstantiated claim of victory in Iraq aside. McCains projected result will only be proven when hindsight viewing the military situation in Iraq after the US has completely withdrawn all of its forces from the country. Personally, I believe that country and its armed forces will break apart into a three way (Kurd, Shiite, and Sunni) civil war with each party being aided by outsiders. Americans do not realize the divide between those groups and others and its level of vehemence.

Regardless, the US needs to pragmatically define its national interests in the middle east, or in any geographical region and accordingly develop cost effective and realizable strategic objectives that will allow it to realize those national interests. We have only two national interests in Mahans entitled, and ever extending, Middle East geographical area of the world, and those are securing the free flow of oil to the industrialized west and depriving terrorist groups such as Al Qeada of a protected base of operation or place of refuge. Defense draining Nation Building / large scale COIN operations are not required to achieve either of those results and should not be utilized.

In addition, as the author notes, reducing our footprint in Afghanistan will also improve our strategic position by eliminating our dependence on Pakistan for a logistic supporting pathway.

Once again, as in the post Vietnam Conflict era, large scale COIN doctrine needs to again be shelved by the Defense Department give its incredibly high costs and poor ROI. Lt. Gen. John Campbell, I believe a COIN supporter, who just handed off command of Afghanistan Regional Command East, the most recalcitrant part of the country, noted for the National Review, in an SWJ liked to article, COIN typically takes a decade or more to work and while "I think its the way to go, ... I dont think we have time," to which he could have added, the available funding for nation building. The Defense Department needs to change its budget priorities and prepare our military for the technical and force challenges we currently face and will face in the soon appearing future.

Ken White (not verified)

Sun, 06/26/2011 - 12:55pm


You respectfully disagree with what? I've read your comment three times and I still do not grasp what, specifically, is the disagreement...

I'm not sure who or what you mean in saying "our interests are not one" but both Robert C. Jones and I seem to think the interests of the US, Afghanistan, India and Pakistan all diverge and do so significantly. I for one, did not in my comment address the interests of Pakistan or any other nation other than to imply differences. So I'd appreciate being told a bit more specifically just where I'm wrong...<blockquote>"In my opinion, you are both very wrong on Pakistan. I believe there is ample public data to poke holes in your arguments and I have tried many times to bring some of that data to this board."</blockquote>Again, some specifics would be helpful -- what, precisely do I have wrong about Pakistan? I'm sure, never having been there I have a great many things wrong but knowing that full well, I have not written anything with any degree of pointedness re: Paksitan.<blockquote>"We are going back to stuffing tons of aid into that region with the hope that the Pakistani Army will help us exit the region and then help us root out internal extremists who challenge the West or their nuclear arsenal.

It won't work because the desire is not there institutionally nor culturally in large enough numbers for this to work.

We are attempting to change a culture and it won't work in Pakistan as much as it won't in Afghanistan."</blockquote>These statements add to my confusion with regard to what your intent is. I totally agree with all of them and thought I'd said or implied as much. In fact, those points quoted are in effect the points I've been making to Carl...<blockquote>"That is a bit bad tempered but I am a bit bad tempered on this subject."</blockquote>Don't know about the temper but I do not understand at all what is your point in the comment. I've long complained about generic US lack of knowledge of other cultures and the very stupid mistakes that stem from that arrogance. My comments to Carl on this thread have been about US stupidity and cupidity -- so what excactly is this disagreement between you and I? If perchance it was my response to you on the Michael Yon thread, which I ended with <i>"A far shorter response to your comment is almost no one with any experience of warfare wants another, however, most of us will go and do -- we just would like it to be for a sensible reason and for real, not politically or foolish humanistically devised, national interests.

Pakistan is not such a case. At this time..."</i> It might be better if you addressed that comment on that thread.<blockquote>"We shall simply have to agree to disagree on this subject. And so it goes...."</blockquote>I have no problem with our disagreeing -- but I would like some idea of the basis of that disagreement...

Bob's World

Sun, 06/26/2011 - 10:49am

Any expansion of operations in Pakistan would be a disaster. Likewise, any expansion of Chinese or Indian influence in Afghanistan.

We'll see how this plays out, but we may well go from dumb to dumber. We've done it before.


Madhu (not verified)

Sun, 06/26/2011 - 10:36am

<strong>Ken White</strong>:

I respectfully but vehemently disagree. Our interests are not one. That is what people like Omar have been trying to tell people named Ken and Robert :)

In fact, at his group blog brownpundits, there is quite an interesting commentary amongst Pakistani and Bangladeshi (?sic) diaspora. It is detailed, interesting, complicated and nuanced.

The ruling interests of Pakistan (the "22 feudal families" and the Army/ISI) have no interest in reigning in their pet jihadis. There may be individuals who are worried and would like to help the Americans, but they function essentially as dissidents.

All the drivers remain and the drivers go back deep into the history of the region. I respect that some of you have worked with the Pakistani military and traveled to the region (thank you for the hard work some of you have done!) but that is not all the knowledge there is to know in the world.

One thing I've learned about this board is that even though many talk a good game about wanting to learn from other cultures and other peoples, in the end, American military knowledge is privileged.

I suppose it is to be expected. That is the nature of institutions and that is the nature of Americans. I may have Indian parents but I grew up here. Americans think they can fly above it all and remain neutral deciders amongst varied peoples. That's just how we think. That's why we think Western international institutions will solve international conflicts in non Western nations.

In my opinion, you are both very wrong on Pakistan. I believe there is ample public data to poke holes in your arguments and I have tried many times to bring some of that data to this board.

And my initial assessments in this thread are likely wrong.

We are going back to stuffing tons of aid into that region with the hope that the Pakistani Army will help us exit the region and then help us root out internal extremists who challenge the West or their nuclear arsenal.

It won't work because the desire is not there institutionally nor culturally in large enough numbers for this to work.

We are attempting to change a culture and it won't work in Pakistan as much as it won't in Afghanistan.

And yet, some make the same category of error with Pakistan as they do with Afghanistan: that our military and aid agencies working with their counterparts in Pakistan will change the essential drivers of that culture.

The jihadi belt will continue to pump out non-state actors. This will continue to radicalize the army internally. Kashmir is a mugs game for the West because there are other drivers besides India and Pakistan to the equation. That is a bit of Georgetown conventional wisdom that is wrong, IMO. Years of effective lobbying by the American-Pakistan lobby has made sure that is what Americans know about the region and there is little intellectual curiosity to delve outside of the conventional wisdom.

Witness this board.

If such groups are used to enrich internal patrons, and to develop internal power politics, then why dismantle them even after a settlement on Kashmir? As some groups are hungry to radicalize Indian Muslims, why stop at Kashmir?

It won't work.

So it is a self perpetuating loop where we give money to a regime that builds up its nuclear arsenal and then we tell ourselves we have to maintain a relationship to keep an eye on that arsenal.

The fiction that I have been talking about is that we have common strategic interests in that part of the world.

No. We don't. Pakistani journalist Ali Chishti, who I already quoted on this blog via Carl Prine's site, made the same point.

So did the Pakistani blogger "majorly profound" I linked above. Do read his site if you are interested. The Omars and Alis have much to teach us.

It is poor logic. The "Asian century" (which is not written in stone) will be very hard for the American military if you dont' start listening to people outside your own little world. And I'm not talking think tankers and academics who translate what the brown people say into "white person speak."

That is a bit bad tempered but I am a bit bad tempered on this subject.

We shall simply have to agree to disagree on this subject. And so it goes....

Take care all. How nice it is to discuss such difficult topics with a certain level of politeness.

Ken White (not verified)

Sat, 06/25/2011 - 11:00pm


Re: politicians and bureaucrats. The bureaucrats do not stay forever, they retire, rotate to new jobs, leave for all sorts of reasons just like everyone else. One of the major problems with the US government is that there is no continuity. That is not a feature of the design, it is a feature of our society today. The continuity that existed up until about 1960 or so is gone, probably never to return and the US political process has not yet adapted to that reality though it is beginning to do so.

That society is risk averse and coddled. You and I may object to that but we are not going to change it and it is a harsh fact of life.<blockquote>"In my view, "10 years of lies" is right on target. If the US gov has been amazingly forthcoming, it is thanks to Wikileaks, not the US gov. I do not find your argument that we do this at the request of other govs persuasive. The US gov's primary responsibility is to Americans, not the sensibilities of other govs."</blockquote>On the first item, we can indeed disagree. On the second that may be true as stated but how those responsibilities are executed is up to our elected Pols and their appointees. Many of them do not seem to agree with your approach to the issue...<blockquote>"I think we have a good hand. You don't. You have your opinion. I have mine. They are both opinions."</blockquote>True. We can see who's more nearly correct at this point from your anger. How it will end remains to be seen -- but I will place no bets on your version and would point out that the best hand at the table can go bust if it's held by a poor player. We are poor players...<br><br>

Here's the crux of our disagreement on Afghanistan and a large portion of our net disagreement:<blockquote>"Decisions made in 2002 and going into Iraq are water under the bridge. What do we do now? And as I said, I don't believe we are constrained in current decisions by past stupidity. We can change things."</blockquote>Not at all correct. Decisions made by Jimmy Carter, much less Iraq, are affecting our efforts in Afghanistan today. Whether you believe we are constrained by past stupidity is totally immaterial -- what the bulk of the policy establishment in Washington believes will rule and all your rants will not change that. They <i>believe</i> we are constrained -- that perception is their reality, ergo we are indeed constrained, like it or not. I don't like it either but I know it's not going to change barring something unforeseen.

Bob Jones was right and so are you -- anger should be directed at the US government for these imbroglios -- but blaming the wrong elements of that government will do no good. The folks today have to cope with the legacy of the past -- you may ignore it, they cannot or will not. One has to target the basic flaw.

That flaw is to think that the US can and should intervene to aid the oppressed and fix dysfunctional governments. You believe that to be the case. So do some in Washington. That flawed belief on their part put us where we are and that is in a no-win situation. It has been doing that since the late 1950s and it's been wrong almost every time. Only on those rare and lucky occasions when the right people and assets were in place and properly employed on a <u>small scale</u> have we been successful; every major intervention has been -- and will be if there are more -- a fiasco. That is true not because no one cares, they do, a great deal -- it's because the system was not designed to do that and it is entirely too consensus driven and cumbersome to ever do it with agility and the proper amount of force. They will always try to do it on the cheap in all aspects and it will always fail due to that. Just as it is today in Afghanistan -- that BTW is 'cheap' on people, force and effort, not cash -- we'll throw Billions down the drain but will not commit to the effort required. That has always been true and it is rarely considered in the development of strategies.

What you want is common sense and competent execution -- you are not going to get that. US Domestic politics will always take precedence over any foreign effort and that is not gong to change. That priority precludes effective major interventions due to the constraints placed upon State and Defense by the WH and Congress -- no matter which party is in power, the other will try to hamstring it and will usually succeed.

You are partly correct in saying "we can change things" because we certainly could -- but we almost as certainly will not. Why? Because there is no pressing need to do so and the net worth of Afghanistan when measured against US domestic political concerns is zip. You can rail about that and it will change nothing.<blockquote>"The consensus may be what it is and it is lamentable that we are bad at strategery, but we play what we got, now."</blockquote>No, we don't -- not the American way. Seriously. It really is not.

Another are of disagreement: Zucchini is a really useless, tasteless vegetable with no saving graces of which I'm aware.

All that beltway guano we can agree on; where we differ is that over a great many years of raving about it, I've finally realized it will only change in existential circumstances. Afghanistan is not and will never be an existential issue for us...

carl (not verified)

Sat, 06/25/2011 - 9:15pm


Politicians and their appointees are indeed targets of my spluttering (spluttering rolls off the tongue better than sputtering). I am surprised that you would think otherwise. However, there is continuity amongst the bureaucrats. Politicians come and go but the 'crats stay forever. One president, I forget who it was, said the most surprising thing about being prez was that he would give orders and nothing would happen. Unless there has been a wholesale firing and rehiring of everybody at the Depts of State and Defense at every election, there has been continuity.

I don't know what important change has come from 10 years of tea with Kayani and others, as you said things now are pretty much as they were in 2002. But you're right, there has been some change, the Pak Army/ISI have more of our money this year than last.

In my view, "10 years of lies" is right on target. If the US gov has been amazingly forthcoming, it is thanks to Wikileaks, not the US gov. I do not find your argument that we do this at the request of other govs persuasive. The US gov's primary responsibility is to Americans, not the sensibilities of other govs.

I didn't say the Pak Army/ISI interests in Afghanistan were irrelevant. They most certainly are since they have gotten a lot of our guys killed. I said they were antithetical to ours.

I think we have a good hand. You don't. You have your opinion. I have mine. They are both opinions.

The Pak Army/ISI does give up a high value target once in a while. Being no. 3 in the AQ chain has been very dangerous. But I read somebody did a timeline showing they happened to give up those targets about 1 week before a vote in Congress on whether to give them more money or not. In any event, things are still pretty much as they were in 2002.

Decisions made in 2002 and going into Iraq are water under the bridge. What do we do now? And as I said, I don't believe we are constrained in current decisions by past stupidity. We can change things.

We have a very good hand in regard to influencing the actions of the Pak Army/ISI if we have the moxie to play it. Things are bad in Afghanistan and our best chance to improve them is to actually pressure the Pak Army/ISI. They are motivated by money and if they don't get it via aid and the Karachi supply line, they will be moved. That is my opinion of course, not a fact (needle alert! needle alert!).

The consensus may be what it is and it is lamentable that we are bad at strategery, but we play what we got, now.

No you can't make chicken salad out of chicken crap, but you can sell it as guano and make a lot of money (especially given the amount produced inside the beltway) or you can use it as fertilizer and grow some nice zucchini.

carl (not verified)

Sat, 06/25/2011 - 7:34pm

Mr. Thomas:

First things first. You are the first person I have ever seen in my whole life make legitimate use of the word "antidisestablishmentarian" in a sentence. You have me beat there and I wish I could top it somehow. That was good and I mean it.

Now, of course the present is a product of the past. That doesn't mean we can't do something because it hasn't been done in the past. We can do something different and if we can't implement the decision right now we can most surely make the decision to do so right now or in the next 20 minutes or week or month. To many people too often use the practices of the past as a rationalization to continue to do the same old thing. That is why I said I don't care about the past; I don't care that we did that or this in the past, I care about what we are going to now. Sorry if I was unclear about that.

Not being privy to the inside, secret, eyes only scoop is not a legitimate reason to accept the boneheaded plays by our betters inside the beltway. What you are saying is "don't worry, they know better than you", when it is apparent through their repeated actions over the years that they don't know a blinkin' thing.

I was quite serious about my statement concerning 5 presidents, aces and dueces. The decisions of past presidents constrain the current President only if he wishes to be constrained. Just because Mr. Bush was a dope for 7 years doesn't mean Mr. Obama has to be a dope. There was no formal agreement to the effect that the US has to give money to the Pak Army/ISI so they can support and cover Taliban & Co., nor was there an agreement that says we have to keep giving them money when they use it to kill us and then formally pretend that this isn't happening. Nor was there an addendum to the agreement saying the only way the Americans can learn what the actual opinion of the ambassador to Pakistan is is through Wikileaks. There is nothing prevent changing except reluctance to do so.

We can choose to change how we deal with the Pak Army/ISI any time we want to. In my view biggest obstacle is the powers that be would have to explain why the change now and not 2,3, or 5 years ago. That would require a little backbone which I know is in short supply inside the beltway; but lack of character is not a good reason for continuing a foolish course.

carl (not verified)

Sat, 06/25/2011 - 7:06pm

Mr. Jones:

In my posts on this thread of 0931 and 0844 of June 25, and my post of 1750 of June 25, I made it very clear that my ire is mainly directed at the US gov. Repeatedly I have expressed the same sentiment in numerous other places. I can't make it much clearer.

Perhaps you would care to respond to what I write rather than what you think I write.

Bob's World

Sat, 06/25/2011 - 1:15pm

This interview with Tony Shaffer from the Center for Advanced Defense Studies last night addresses this issue of Pakistan.

On a related matter, I left my 6 month old puppy unsupervised in the living room for a hour this morning and she chewed up a corner of Carpet. I am not happy that she did that, but I was not surprised either as I know she does such things. I expected (hoped) she would act IAW with my interests rather than her own. I gambled and lost; but at least I am realistic about the dog, she is not in trouble and it is not her fault for being a dog.

Similarly we should not be upset at Pakistan for being Paksitan, but rather at ourselves for unrealistically expecting them to be something else. Carl you need to redirect your anger at the US government, not Pakistan, for that is where the flawed approach was implemented in this equation.


Robert C. Jones
Director of Strategic Understanding
Center for Advanced Defense Studies

Ken White (not verified)

Sat, 06/25/2011 - 11:59am

<b>Carl:</b>Please note that <b>Jason Thomas</b> just above has done an excellent job of illustrating some -- notably your contention that the past should be or even can be irrelevant and that the opinions and actions of other nations are irrelevant.

Add that the majority of inside the beltway targets for your sputtering should be the politicians and their appointees, not the bureaucrat types (thus the continuity of effort you seem to assume and imply has <u>never</u> existed...); the tea with Kayani crack implies nothing has come of those meetings and some change has; the "ten years of lies" is just wrong, the US Government has been amazingly forthcoming about what's going on and most obfuscation is at the request of other nations for various reasons. To suggest those other nations are irrelevant and we can do what we wish without concern to them is equally incorrect.

To say that the Paksitani Army's interests are not relevant and we had and have a good hand is your opinion -- it is not fact.

Those there and who been there do not agree that what the Pakistani Army Hq thinks and does is irrelevant to US Forces IN Afghanistan, to the supplies they get or to border control efforts and to some of the HVT effort all of which they consider important even if you do not.

They do not think after the May 2002 decision to stay and rebuild we had a good hand -- that was in the view of most a poor and very much ill informed decision. Further, the effort in Iraq was allowed to assume primacy (we started a second front / war before finishing the first) and Afghanistan was effectively placed in a holding pattern for eight years allowing the opponents breathing space to regroup and expand. Those are other past actions that cannot be just waved away as irrelevant and which impute that we did not have a good hand there after the Talibs were forced under cover.

They do not think we have a good hand now in part due to the state of training and some operational techniques being used by US Forces and their understandable risk averse approach (one can say those items should not be a problem -- but they are fact, are US domestic politics imposed and cannot be disregarded); due to the overall logistic costs and fragility; due to terrible misjudgment of attempting to impose a centralized state on the fragmented nation that is Afghanistan.

The consensus is that the terrible under estimation of the difficulties, time required versus that likely available and strategic limitations prove the common adage that poor strategy cannot be overcome by any amount of tinkering at this point.

As one put it "you can't make chicken salad out of chicken crap."

carl (not verified)

Sat, 06/25/2011 - 10:31am


Would you care to outline the facts that I have created for my own? And also how and why did the folks who have been there disagreed?


Many of us share your frustrations. We all want our Governments to be more decisive. We are intolerant of the time it takes to implement change. Our international allies are too timid or two faced. The US is criticised if it doesnt get involved and is admonished with more scrutiny than any nation when it does. If it doesnt under write the fiscal requirements of failed states there is a risk that the US and therefore, its strongest friends and allies such as Australia, lose their influence, even if that influence appears peripheral; even if that influence appears to maintain the status quo and barely tolerable. When it does fund failing states then the US taxpayer and ultimately the global economy is affected.

Your frustration may be clouding your logical argument with statements like this:

"I don't care why that kind of stuff happens or happened in Afghanistan. That is a matter for future decisions. I am interested in right now in Afghanistan."

The present cannot escape the past. Especially in a place like Afghanistan where nearly everything in life, survival, loyalty, honour, family, revenge, culture, religion etc is to inextricably tied to the past that you simply say I cannot demand that its all just fixed now!

It is easy to make antidisestablishmentarian remarks about government. Hell I could express the same carotid artery pumping rage about my Government in Australia as well. Yet, I acknowledge that Im not privy to the depth of engagement with governments who either have no interest in our stability or if they are seen to express their support for our political, economic, ideological or cultural hegemony then it will result in their own domestic nightmare - I suspect that Pakistan is in that category. Think about why nearly all of the statements in the Pakistan Parliament by the leading members of the Pakistan Government after OBL was taken out, were made in English.

"They don't have a bad hand but they refuse to see that and play it well. I don't care about how hard their position is and how those previous administrations put them in a bad place. Those previous 5 Presidents are out of power and some of them are dead. The current crop of inside the beltway betters can do something now and they ain't."

That simply cannot be a serious statement. The decisions made by previous Presidents tie current and future Presidents into geo-political challenges that cannot be made via a tabula rasa.

In some way the decisions of the past, regardless as to whether they were well intentioned or not, result in generational consequences. After a half-century of forming new states from former colonies, from the breakup of the Soviet Union, from the end of the Cold War, from shifting alliances and demands on resources, from states in the Middle East with a globally connected frustrated and angry young generation, we are faced with further complexities that will continue to see people like you and I feeling frustrated because of the inability to get the world into a place that we want now.

Ken White (not verified)

Fri, 06/24/2011 - 11:28pm

<b>Carl:</b><blockquote>"And I am not interested in hearing how hard it is. It can be changed. Change it."<br>
"They wanted the job but they still do the same old thing that the old crowd did. No pass on that."
"It might be nice if they actually tried something beyond having endless cups of tea with Kayani."
"10 years of obfuscation and double speak results in a lie, knowingly told. Tell the truth about it at least."
"If my betters inside the beltway can't take some words from a little flyover person, tough. "
"They are bureaucrats and I figure they are doing what the bureaucrats before them did because they figure their careers are safe if they do so."
"Maybe some thing would get worse, but Afghanistan would be better than now."
" * I don't care about being nice to the scorpions at Pak Army GHQ. We have a good hand. We've had a good hand."</blockquote>

My, my. Interesting. No room to discuss but interesting. I've met guys that lost a leg or their sight there and they aren't as bitter and unreasoning as all that. You are, of course, entitled to your own opinions.

However, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, you aren't entitled to your own facts. Significantly, most of the folks to whom I've talked that have actually been there would disagree very strongly with all of your last three sentences, the asterisked item I quoted above.

carl (not verified)

Fri, 06/24/2011 - 9:54pm


This isn't the first time in our history that our betters inside the beltway did things to cause us poor simple flyover people to slap our heads in disbelief year after year. Check our the bombing campaigns over North Vietnam. Be especially alert for the use of the word "signal".

carl (not verified)

Fri, 06/24/2011 - 9:44pm


"That kind of stuff happens when you intervene in places and try to fix things and people that don't want to be fixed. Anyone who espouses such intervention on humanitarian grounds -- as some rather powerful 'betters' inside the Beltway do -- is really asking for big trouble..."

I don't care why that kind of stuff happens or happened in Afghanistan. That is a matter for future decisions. I am interested in right now in Afghanistan. As you state right now little has changed since 2002. That is what I am interested in. Why hasn't it? And I am not interested in hearing how hard it is. It can be changed. Change it.

"Those 'betters' would be they who have put us in this situation in order to do good. Your ire should be directed at them, not he folks who have to try to fix the mess they didn't want..."

My ire is and has been directed at the old crop. But again I don't care if the current crop of inside the beltway betters didn't want this mess. They got it. Nobody kidnapped them and forced them to be policy analysts. They wanted the job but they still do the same old thing that the old crowd did. No pass on that.

"There's no pretense. Some of our more important interests are the same. The US government is concentrating on those while you are concentrating on others that differ -- of which said US government is totally aware and is willing to tolerate. You may disagree with that -- obviously do -- but it's a course that was elected long ago and is not easily changed."

You right. We both have an interest that no nuke war start on the subcontinent. To be more precise, our interests and the interests of the Pak Army/ISI are wholly at odds inside Afghanistan. Our betters inside the beltway may be concentrating on cementing trade agreements but since when can't they concentrate on doing two things. It might be nice if they actually tried something beyond having endless cups of tea with Kayani.

Again I don't care if this course was set long ago. It doesn't work and hasn't worked. Change it. And don't tell me how hard it would be.

"You also keep saying that and I'm unsure why. Surely you don't believe that only you have figured that out? The basic truths are pretty well known, There is the normal diplomatic obfuscation and double speak but that is always present in every international relationship and my sensing is that most in the US are at least vaguely aware of the issues that you find so troublesome."

Most people in New York were more than vaguely aware that the NYPD was bent before the Knapp Commission. They had that figured out. But in order to start the ball rolling on cleaning up the force, it had to acknowledged publicly. A wise smile and knowing shake of the head between insiders has resulted in nothing beside insiders feeling smug about how they much they really know. 10 years of obfuscation and double speak results in a lie, knowingly told. Tell the truth about it at least.

"That's just populist rabble rousing and lends nothing to a discussion. Reading through the totally unnecessary and unhelpful snark, the 'ITBW Betters' are doing the best they can with a bad hand. Instead of spewing at them for something not their fault but a situation they were placed in by poor decisions on the part of five Presidents over a span of 30 plus years, you should go back and address those five guys... "

Call it what you will, it's true. If my betters inside the beltway can't take some words from a little flyover person, tough. I don't care how bad their hand is because they see the aces as dueces. They don't have a bad hand but they refuse to see that and play it well. I don't care about how hard their position is and how those previous administrations put them in a bad place. Those previous 5 Presidents are out of power and some of them are dead. The current crop of inside the beltway betters can do something now and they ain't.

"The folks doing things today are doing what they must because neither they nor you have come up with a better solution that accounts for all the parameters or that can undo earlier and potentially greater damage due as much or more to US domestic political errors over many years."

No they are doing what they are doing because the past x number of guys before them did the same thing and they have neither the imagination nor the moxie to do something different. They are bureaucrats and I figure they are doing what the bureaucrats before them did because they figure their careers are safe if they do so.

"Your solutions would fix some things, they would likely worsen others. If we were dealing from a position of strength and with unity, your solutions could possibly be implemented. We are not so dealing due to mostly US domestic political concerns and issues over the past 70 plus years. As I mentioned on another thread, the difficulty 'fixing the Pakistan problem' so far as the US is concerned is not in Pakistan, it is in the capitals of the West -- we are not the only ones suffering the trials you cite -- where a consensus of what should be done is lacking. Not much is going to be changed until some sort of agreement is reached and that accord is unlikely. So we get to put another intervention in the "Cost too much, did little good " box."

Maybe some thing would get worse, but Afghanistan would be better than now. I am willing to risk the Pak Army GHQ being cross with us. (couldn't resist that line) Deferring action until we achieve unity is an excuse for inaction. The Euros will never come to a consensus about anything. This is our show. We do it or don't do it. The Euros are along for the ride.

"I don't think anyone's lying for them, most of your complaints are pretty common knowledge here in the southeastern US and --based on the correspondence I have from here and there -- throughout pretty much the western world. As for the bullets, most big nations have done that for hundreds of years (the guy I mentioned above who got shot -- that was with a G3 Rifle, 7.62mm NATO cartridge. Note also we are now arming Afghans, some of whom desert simply because they can sell a tricked out M4 for a few thousand...); armed some guys who later turned hostile -- or who were blatantly hostile at the time. At least most of Pakistan isn't blatantly hostile -- yet."

To reiterate, common knowledge is not the same as formal acknowledgment.

There is a difference between losing weapons to the enemy and intentionally giving them money to buy the bullets to shoot us with. The latter has not been common.

If most of Pakistan isn't blatantly hostile, a big if (have you checked the polling numbers in Pakistan?) I will risk them being cross with us if we highlight what is and cut off the funding to the Pak Army/ISI. Sometimes you just gotta' incur the beggars ire. Is that money supposed to buy us goodwill? Hasn't worked.

"Great big Frog, small Scorpion. Because having the power to turn Pakistan into a parking lot places great constraints on us. You often complain about bullies; we cannot be one (well, not too blatantly, anyway, Pakistan hassling and not playing fair with us is not at all a one-way street...)-- we have been in the past and it's caught up with us, we had to quit and be a bit nicer. So, you wanta fix it; go back and undo history. Now we have to play the hand that's dealt using the cards we designed, printed and distributed."

And that even smaller drop of venom from the scorpion's sting kills a few Americans this week and a few next week and a few the week after. I don't care about being nice to the scorpions at Pak Army GHQ. We have a good hand. We've had a good hand. All we have to do is see the aces for what they really are and not what the inside the beltway betters have convinced themselves they are.