Five Questions for America to Answer about Afghanistan, the Arab Spring, and Nation Building at Home

Author's Note: This paper is based on ideas that are more fully developed in Slaikeu, K.A., Counterinsurgency (COIN) Handbook: The Oil Spot Plus Model in Practice (in preparation).

Weariness after a decade of war fighting, including a spate of disastrously negative events in 2012, has led many to conclude that it’s time to speed up the American exit from Afghanistan. As we did in Iraq in 2011, we should cut our losses, get out, and get on with nation building at home, where we really need it.

There are, however, a few flies in this ointment. If Afghanistan, like Iraq, falls back into sectarian conflict after US forces leave, then the loss of lives and money in both countries will have been in vain. Deaths from Taliban retaliation following our departure will add to the body count.  And what of America’s credibility in a world where citizens are fighting to wrest control from dictators, such as in Africa and the Arab Spring countries?  On the heels of our departure from two countries where we launched and waged war for a decade, leaving behind a stability that is tenuous at best, the world community will rightly conclude that the sleeping giant can start a war and knock out a dictator such as Saddam Hussein or a terrorist like Osama bin Laden, but has no clue what to do after that.

Peeling the onion on the debate, Americans typically argue about three distinct topics when it comes to the subject of the wars that followed 9/11:

  • Whether we should have gone to war in the first place in both Afghanistan and Iraq; this includes the sub-debates about the “bad” war in Iraq as being a distraction from the “good” war in Afghanistan, and whether waging either war truly advanced US interests and protected us against external threats.
  • How the wars were waged, which includes the critique of no plan for reconstruction after “shock and awe” in Iraq, to the debate over counterterrorism vs. counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan?
  • What should be our future course in Afghanistan, Arab Spring countries, and even Iraq, where renewed violence has followed the American withdrawal of troops at the end of 2011?

Reflecting on our personal experience in America’s war on terror—one of us an American civilian embedded as a social scientist with U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and the other an Afghan citizen who taught Afghan Culture and Language Studies to Coalition Forces deploying to the war zone—we have seen much to praise and much to cause alarm in the American effort. Equally important, we have witnessed a striking lack of clarity on a handful of key questions that underlie the topics listed above and bear directly on our future course in Afghanistan, and how we respond to unrest in Arab Spring countries and elsewhere.  

We believe that lack of rigor on the questions addressed in this paper is one of the root causes of American missteps in Iraq (the folly of “Mission Accomplished” in 2003, and departure in 2011 with no plan for future support) and Afghanistan (prematurely and publicly declaring our intention to exit in 2014, resulting in allies feeling deserted and enemies watching the clock). 

We frame our questions as grist for the mill in the foreign policy debate in the 2012 election year.  Answering them well, we believe, will lead to better decisions about the future course in Afghanistan, and about how we relate to struggles in Arab Spring and other countries. 

Leave Afghanistan, Soon

Let’s begin with a closer look at the argument that we should get out of Afghanistan as quickly as possible:

  • At the ten year anniversary of the war (2011), over half (52%) of the American people reported believing that, considering the costs and the benefits, the war in Afghanistan had not been worth fighting; one in three post 9/11 military veterans agreed with this view; by the spring of 2012, 60% of Americans polled said the Afghan war was not worth the cost.
  • Simply put, we cannot, and never could, afford nation building in Afghanistan; by the end of 2011 we had spent over $560 billion on the war and the annual tab had evolved into $110 billion per year; we need that money at home.
  • Nation building is a faulty concept at best; at its core it means imposing the U.S.’s Jeffersonian democracy on other countries, which is an arrogance that denies the reality of local culture.
  • Most Muslims, at least those who have the upper hand in Afghanistan, want their religion built right into the fabric of their governance, which is a far cry from the separation of religion and state that Americans (who have funded most of the war effort) value.
  • We’re very sorry about the way the Taliban treat women and little girls, but that’s not a problem we can solve.
  • Osama Bin Laden is dead; enough said.
  • The place that really needs nation building is the United States of America; even “flat world” visionary Thomas Friedman believes we need to focus our resources on educational and economic development at home, and let Afghanistan go.
  • As to the counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy that worked in Iraq, Afghanistan is different; our troops have been spread too thin; we’ve won way too few hearts and minds, and security is a joke when the International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) can’t even protect its own in Kabul.
  • The word on the ground is that the members of the Afghan Local Police (ALP) are still loyal mainly to warlords, not the government.
  • Forget about meaningful negotiations with the Taliban; they know full well that in 2014, when American and Coalition Forces leave, they’ll pick up right where they left off in 2001, on the same model as when the Soviet Union left in 1989; history is on their side, not ours.
  • Pakistan makes the US to be a fool and that likely won’t change any time soon;  their leaders take our aid, and behind the scenes support the religious extremists who are our enemies, all to advance their agenda of a weak and unstable Afghanistan serving as a buffer against their real enemy, India.
  • For all the good it did him, Osama Bin Laden may have been right about one thing: namely, that the USA would bankrupt itself trying to play “whack a mole” with the insurgents in Afghanistan.
  • In sum, it’s high time that we cut our losses in entanglements that were misguided from the start; Bush never should have taken us to war in Iraq, and we never should have taken on nation building in the graveyard of empires that is Afghanistan.
  • The best thing to do, as Obama has already done with his move to leave Afghanistan by 2014, is to declare victory and get out.

Five Questions

While these points seem to make a compelling case for cutting our losses and extricating ourselves from Afghanistan as soon as possible, they offer no comparable specificity about how to improve America’s performance in the future, nor how to relate to countries where democracy is trying to break through, including Iraq and Afghanistan after we leave. We believe a Plan B is needed and is achievable, but can be formulated only if we do our intellectual homework by addressing five key questions.

  • The first question is: Do we believe that encouraging democracy is a good way to achieve peace in the world?
  • Second, is democracy possible in Islamic countries? 
  • Third, in light of answers to these two questions, what should be the chief features of American foreign policy in the 21st Century? 
  • Fourth, does counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy hold any hope for achieving a durable peace and sustainable stability in Afghanistan and elsewhere? 
  • Fifth, how do we pay for nation building abroad, especially when we desperately need the money for nation building at home?

Question 1: Do we believe that encouraging democracy is a good way to achieve peace in the world?

For a number of reasons—most notably that the concept became tainted in the controversy over the Bush Administration’s changing rationale for the Iraq War—democratic nation building as a way to world peace has fallen from intellectual favor in the US and allied countries.  We believe it’s time to revive it.

Controversy over the launch of the Iraq war, no plan for reconstruction after “shock and awe,” mistakes like the firing of Saddam Hussein’s army and bureaucrats, misreading insurgents for “dead enders,” and the controversial shift of focus from Afghanistan to Iraq led to suspicion about the (1) true motive and (2) overall strategy in the American and allies’ global “war on terror.”   A prime example is the BBC 2004 three part series, “The Power of Nightmares,” which discounted the idea that al Qaeda posed a global threat and postulated instead the American neoconservative need for a new post Cold War enemy to replace the Soviet Union, a role conveniently filled by Islamic extremists. Charles Ferguson’s documentary, “No End in Sight” and Ahmed Rashid’s “Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia” similarly chronicled failed U.S. strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan, respectively.

Lost in these critiques, we believe, has been sufficient attention to a set of ideas that might have achieved support from both the Left and the Right had the context for debate not been the missteps in the “George Bush and Tony Blair wars,” namely, the proposition that democratic or representative governance that includes protection of the rights of minorities is a better political system than authoritarian governance or dictatorships, and that encouraging and supporting democratic nation building provides a path to peace, one country at a time.

Whenever the subject has been raised as having even a partial role in the expensive efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the core ideas have been drowned out with related, albeit separate, points about: America’s hypocritical past support of dictators like Mubarak in Egypt and authoritarian regimes such as Saudi Arabia; the past role of oil (vs. democratic ideals) in guiding American foreign policy; European colonialism and post-colonial hangover in the Middle East and Africa; critiques of American “exceptionalism” and the arrogance of America trying to impose its own democracy on others, the futility of the US attempting to be “policeman of the world”, and variations on these themes.

Missing has been either a working hypothesis or even an operational definition capable of debate on whether democracy, customized to address local culture, is a good thing for world peace, or not.

The claim of democracy adherents is that democratic countries tend not to go to war against each other, and the exception to this statement proves the rule. Authoritarian countries, on the other hand, with no accountability to the people they govern, and with an unquenchable need for resources to maintain their autocratic power, look outside their borders to claim what they need by force. The more democracies the better, or so the argument goes.

Also framed as “idealism” (variously defined, yet adhering to participative governance and justice that protects the rights of minorities) vs. “realism” (being guided by self interest, which includes partnering with despots under the guise of “he may be a bastard, but he’s our bastard”), the democracy adherents point out that with the Soviet Union gone there is now no need cozy up to dictators for fear they will go to the Soviet camp if we don’t befriend them. Instead, America is free to turn its attention to supporting countries who want to develop their own democracies, thereby advancing the cause of world peace. This path, of course, assumes that America will extricate itself from dependence on oil that is under the control of the authoritarian governments it hopes to see replaced. The fact that America has not done so has clouded, if not negated, talk of democracy and nation building for the past several decades.

A full treatment of this argument is well beyond the scope of this paper. Our point is that among our leaders, to say nothing of the voting public, we see neither consensus nor even thoughtful debate of the democracy hypothesis.  If the democracy hypothesis or argument is true, it provides a way to critically examine potential partners and adversaries, and allocate our valuable resources.  While there need not be a hard and fast rule, we would tell countries abroad that “insofar as you have participative governance as your goal, we view you as a safer friend than if you do not.”  We would use this criterion as a critical component in deciding how to spend our resources, and, as we shall note below, use it as a key negotiating template for supporting groups that step away from authoritarian governance and toward democratic governance. We might still enter alliances with autocrats in some circumstances, but nothing like we did during the Cold War and in the years since (e.g., Mubarak in Egypt, the House of Saud in Saudia Arabia).

Here is the call to action on Question Number One: let’s examine available evidence and debate the democracy question. Include sub-questions such as these:

  • In the war of ideas, what is the historical evidence that democracy favors peace and that authoritarian government leads to war?
  • What are the defining elements of democracy?  See Sharansky’s Case for Democracy for a compelling presentation of a cross cultural “town square test” where democracy means you can speak your mind in public without being shot or thrown in jail for doing so, including support for minority rights and religious freedom, instead of simply using elections to select leaders.
  • What do these core elements look like when they are customized for culture, so that the American version will differ from the Egyptian, for example? 
  • What has been “the good, the bad, and the ugly” that has occurred in America and other countries under the rubric of democracy (everything from treatment of Native Americans, slavery and lack of civil rights for African-Americans to US support for dictators in Latin America and elsewhere)? How do these forms measure up against definitions such as Sharansky’s town square test?  With transparency about our past, what lessons have we learned, what restitution and corrective action is yet to be taken, and what are the implications for a new American foreign policy?
  • As a part of this discussion, address clearly this question: besides war fatigue preceding exit, what are the differences between the US war effort in Viet Nam (Cold War context) and Afghanistan and Iraq (post Cold War)?  If there is a difference, do the American people understand it?

Question 2: Is democracy possible in Islamic culture?

Some note that adherence to Islamic law—particularly Sharia law with its subjugation of women, limits on education for girls, honor killings, and genital mutilation—are all incompatible with democracy. If this is the case, then it follows that all other attempts at democratic governance, infrastructure, economic and educational reform will fail.  

There are others, however, who believe that Islam and democracy are compatible. Muravchik notes that critics thought democracy could never work in post World War II Germany and Japan because their respective cultures would not allow democratic governance.  A strong authoritarian tradition in the first instance, and historic allegiance to an emperor in the second, would doom any efforts at representative democracy.  History proved otherwise. Maybe it will in the case of Islam as well.

“Customized for culture” means adherence to a people’s central values and expressions of these values, which may change over time. Ayan Hirsi Ali, a Somali refugee who took asylum in the Netherlands in 1992, advanced her education, served in the Dutch Parliament, and then became an international champion of women’s rights, has called for an Islamic Enlightenment that parallels the European version, thereby opening the door for the peace-loving elements of the Quran to take precedence over the aggressive elements.

Turkish Muslim educator and visionary Fetullah Gulen and his followers have championed interfaith dialogue and tolerance across religions, and sponsored partnerships for education in the US and other countries, all in support of democratic principles of governance.

The recent elections in Egypt, with struggles between the Muslim Brotherhood, the military and those favoring a more secular form of government are a prime example of a testing ground for the proposition that various forms of Islam are compatible with democratic governance that has features defined by Sharansky and others (e.g., freedom of speech, religious pluralism).

Here is the call to action for Question Number Two: on the following questions, collect data and debate findings in order to create working hypotheses that can be used to guide foreign policy: 

  • What is the historical evidence in Muslim writings and practice that supports democratic governance? Authoritarian governance?  
  • What are the current manifestations of the desire for freedom and the struggle against authoritarian forms in Afghanistan, the Arab Spring and other countries?
  • What is the current state of democracy customized for Islamic culture in Turkey? Indonesia? Iraq? Afghanistan? How might democracy look in Libya, Egypt and other Arab Spring countries?
  • How does this compare with democracies in the West and non-Muslim cultures?  In particular, what are the similarities and differences on key dimension such as freedom of speech, rule of law, and protection of minority rights?  How can these be framed in Muslim cultures where there is no “wall of separation” between church and state as framed by Roger Williams in the US and then fully advanced by Thomas Jefferson?
  • What steps (future action research, cultural exchanges and partnerships) might be taken to advance the core elements of democracy in these different cultures, with support across religious, ethnic, and state lines?
  • As to countries in the West, what are the lessons learned about success and failure in integrating multiple ethnic cultures into an overarching national democratic governance?

Question 3: In light of answers to the first two questions, what should be the chief features of American foreign policy in the 21st Century?

Critics have faulted the Obama Administration for having no recognizable foreign policy and no way for American citizens to know what our goals are for participation (or not) in the struggles occurring around the world.  

Addressing the US role in the Arab Spring country of Egypt, Husain states the case bluntly:  “It is American conventional wisdom to believe that the fall of Arab dictators, particularly Egypt’s, weakens American leverage in the Middle East. And this thinking risks becoming self-fulfilling prophecy unless the US government finds its backbone and recognizes that US power is not limited to backing tyrants.  The current trajectory—of dancing around developments, leading from behind and expressing defeatist thinking—needs to stop.”

During the Bush Administration, critics saw the US as imperialists who needed oil and would go to war under the guise of “protecting our freedoms” to get it.  Until 9/11, George W. Bush’s public posture was against foreign involvements, and nation building was not on the radar screen. By the time of his second inaugural address, the “freedom agenda” was fully in play. Flash forward to 2012, and Fouad Ajami notes that President Obama “gave George W. Bush’s ‘diplomacy of freedom’ a quick burial” as he sought to repair relations with Syria and Iran.

We have now ended the war in Iraq with no agreement or plan for either security or developmental support of the democracy that cost 4500 American and over 100,000 Iraqi lives and $800 billion from the US Treasury. And we are at a “decision point” in Afghanistan, where “without . . . continued spending and military aid, the war in Afghanistan is certain to be lost.”

If we aim to protect hard won gains in both countries, and if we are to reasonably support people who are putting their lives on the line for democracy in other parts of the world, then we need to re-visit what is central in the American national identity and how this should show itself in our foreign policy, as well as our domestic policy.

Put another way: even with our failures, what does our two hundred and thirty plus year experiment in democracy lead us to value most at home, and what are the implications for how we relate to others abroad?

Beyond supporting Israel, what do we care about what happens in Yemen, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Bahrain, to say nothing of Ghana, Liberia, the Sudan and other hot spots in Africa?  How about China?  Beyond the scary specter of the country’s great size and economic clout, do we care how China treats its people, and whether the Chinese have religious freedom? 

Building on answers to the first two questions stated in this paper, if democracy customized for culture is the best path to advance world peace, and if we believe that Islamic (and other) countries can fashion their own versions of representative governance, then the chief policy question should be “how can American foreign policy best support emerging democracies?”

The call to action for Question Number Three is this: invite foreign policy experts and, in an election year, presidential candidates to address the following:

  • Beginning with a definition of American interests that includes protection of the core elements of our way of life (as summarized in our own constitution) against both internal and external threats, what do we call such a policy?  How do we define it in such a way that our middle school students can explain it to their parents?  Maybe we will call it a new American “idealism” that will enjoy the support of both left and right leaning Americans?   Perhaps we can draw on historical words from Democrats like John Kennedy (who saw himself as an “idealist without illusions”) to Republicans like John McCain (who tried to promulgate “realistic idealism”) as frames for a policy that moves past the idealism vs. realism debate of the Cold War era to something new in the 21st Century.
  • In framing a policy to encourage democracy building abroad, can we define our terms to acknowledge the intellectual premise that doing this involves attention to what the US Army and Marine field manuals term “stability tasks” and “lines of effort” (LOE)—governance, infrastructure, security and economic development—not only in the emerging democracies but also in the US, and not only at the national level but also at the village, district and province/state levels?  Doing so might give us an intellectual framework for linking nation building at home to nation building abroad.
  • Might we then redefine American exceptionalism to mean acknowledgement and pride in America’s unique form of democracy, with humility about our own errors and sins of the past, dedication to correction and improvement, and a willingness and responsibility to partner with others who are conducting their own experiments in democracy?
  • Address the role of “carrots and sticks,” diplomacy and force, in a foreign policy that promotes democracy customized for culture around the world. On the assumption that we don’t need to start a war to help launch a new democracy, what are the circumstances in which we participate in forcible regime change, and can we thoughtfully analyze our experiences in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and other countries to create a logical continuum of intervention options that the American people and citizens in other countries can understand?   
  • As to the debate over the launch of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, invite academics and subject matter experts to put their historical analysis of the post 9/11 world on a fast track. Engage in thoughtful post mortems on the build up to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, thereby helping the American people and international partners separate truth from fiction, instead of the steady stream of political posturing from both the Left and the Right on this subject.    
  • As a result of these analyses, and as a part of a new foreign policy, can we acknowledge for all to hear—enemies and friends alike—that if US takes on regime change, it does so as a long term player. With Japan, Germany and South Korea as models, perhaps we can punch reset on our future support of Iraq, even as we integrate this principle into negotiations to support Afghanistan after our troops leave. Simply put, offensive action may last for a night, but defensive and stability operations last for generations.
  • For immediate attention, look deeply at what is happening in Arab Spring countries and how we can support representative governance that protects the rights of all citizens (including freedoms of speech and religion), not just the group that wins the election. Challenge the idea that simply overthrowing dictators and replacing them with authoritarian governance is by definition an overnight triumph for freedom. Be wary of exchanging one form of oppression for another?
  • Drawing on the lessons of many countries, bring practical and pragmatic definition to timelines tied to particular goals. For example, if we know that democracy building in other countries has been a three generation matter (Japan, Germany, South Korea), then what must our message be to the people of Afghanistan?  Surely it must go beyond troop draw down in 2011 and transition out in 2014.
  • In sum, define the foreign policy that will guide the strategy, operations and tactics that are so important to our troops on the ground, their State Department colleagues, and local partners.                                        

Question 4:  Can we win a durable peace by using a counterinsurgency strategy to wage war?  

One feature of the debate over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has been the pitting of counterterrorism (CT) against counterinsurgency (COIN) as a strategy to protect America from terrorist attacks both abroad and at home. The former (kill terrorists) is deemed to be less costly, and the latter (partner with local nationals to make the environment inhospitable for insurgents, while killing as many terrorists as needed along the way) is seen as unrealistic, taking too long and costing too much money.

We believe it is time to review the lessons learned and examine results in light of how each strategy, CT and COIN, plays into the American foreign policy we have called for in this paper.

Our personal conclusion is that COIN doctrine is sound, though it has been distorted and applied unevenly. COIN is fully capable of including CT within it, as one part of full spectrum operations (FSO). The two need not compete with one another. We now have solid examples of success and failure of both strategies, enough so to consolidate lessons learned into a new strategy that can serve as a guide for operations in war zones around the world, including Afghanistan in the years leading up to the 2014 transition, and beyond.

Accordingly, the call to action on Question Number Four is for our best and brightest to address the following issues:

  • Looking critically at Afghanistan, how did COIN morph into “protecting the population”, where the worthy goal of minimizing collateral damage became the lead descriptor instead of an important feature of the model, thereby letting the entire enterprise fall prey to the critique of COIN as “armed social work” (West, 2011)? 
  • Track carefully the cost of violating the order of COIN steps (clear, hold, build, one “oil spot” village at a time) by building schools, repairing wells and refurbishing mosques in insecure areas, with the result that the enemy sabotages the projects and reaps information operations (IO) gains that ultimately hurt the war effort.
  • Instead of protecting the population, why not reaffirm COIN in the context of full spectrum operations with a focus on:  (a) eliminating die hard enemy combatants (Offense), (b) defending the force and certain areas of the country (Defense), and (c) partnering with locals to accomplish mutually agreeable stability tasks that create an environment where the grievances of insurgents, and the needs of the people, are resolved enough so that the war can end (Stability)?
  • Revisit and redefine what it means to win “hearts and minds.”   Clarify whose hearts and whose minds. Acknowledge that some Taliban will never turn to support the government, and that the offensive part of FSO will be the lead strategy with that segment. Save the label “hearts and minds” for local nationals who are deciding which side to support.
  •  Unbundle the psychological and cultural processes by which local nationals’ hearts and minds are “won.”  Are we talking simply about bribes—buying people off with jobs and cash and “quick impact” projects that “show the love?”  Or does it go deeper: negotiating and implementing stability packages that honor local culture and village requirements, including religious practice, so that life under the new government is perceived as better than what the enemy can offer?
  • Introduce the phrases “advances the people’s interests” (defined through direct conversations with them) and “sustainable stability” to replace “protecting the population” as the acid tests for COIN effectiveness. Viewed side by side, and negotiated with input from all segments of the area of operations, the outcomes of rigorous COIN in a village will win hands down over Taliban versions of justice, education, protection of religion and citizen participation.
  • Acknowledging the role of education for all local nationals, boys and girls as well as adult men and women, perhaps edit the FM 3-0 stability task list to feature categories that will be readily understandable to individuals, families, clans and tribes: (1) security (community based policing customized for local culture), (2) basic services (water, food, medical), (3) education (children and adults), (4) governance (participative, from local tribe and village to district, province and national) and (5) jobs (private sector primarily).
  • Critically evaluate our efforts in both Afghanistan and Iraq in light of the dictum that nation building must distinguish between countries that require “reconstruction” and those that need “development.” Considering stabilization initiatives in both countries, to what extent did the US Army, State Department and USAID speak with one voice in COIN phases, beginning with planning in Phase Zero shaping activities, and what are the lessons learned for future engagements?
    • For Iraq’s Anbar Province, see the detailed accounts of solid work by marines and soldiers led by GEN Conway, LTC MacFarland and others.
    • For COIN in Afghanistan, see the excellent case material from Chandrasekaran, Exum (also here), Jolis, Junger, and others. 
    • Capture the numerous stories and lessons from dedicated and street smart soldiers, marines, and civilians who drew on their own experience back home on American, Canadian and European farms, schools, businesses and civilian government service to launch stability initiatives in Afghanistan. 
    • Examine as well the steps that missed the mark and translate them into lessons for COIN in the future: for example, as noted above, areas cleared but not held, and then “built” with the result of the Taliban blowing up schools; or putting the walls of the Forward Operating Base (FOB) around a local school and mosque, and using them for Coalition Forces offices, thereby guaranteeing that the locals could not use these buildings, instead of placing the FOB close by, in enough proximity to protect these fledgling and critical institutions of local stability so that as security improved the locals could use them with the protection of the Coalition Forces and the newly mentored Afghan Local Police. 
    • Capture and learn from the high gain events (soldiers, marines and civilians bonding with local nationals) and the high loss events (Quran burning, urinating on enemy corpses) in both Iraq and Afghanistan, building the lessons into continually improved training in tactics, operations, and strategy. 
  • As a part of the retrospective look at case studies, what are the most important components in the non-kinetic tool kit for soldiers, marines, and civilians in the stability operations part of COIN?  Our personal experience points to the utility of negotiation and mediation tools that can be used by military, civilian, and local national partners to address common COIN challenges, such as:
    • How to achieve consensus among key players in fashioning the components and the order of steps to implement “Stability Packages” in the area of operations.
    • How to define and implement terms of the reintegration and reconciliation of insurgents in a new and evolving security, governance, and development picture (including the use of a two-track approach that complements offensive operations with rigorous, ongoing back channel negotiations, a model first promulgated for use in American dispute resolution by Roger Fisher and fully capable of customization by soldiers, marines, and their civilian partners for use at all levels and in all phases of COIN operations).
    • How to define and facilitate transitions that lead to sustainable stability after foreign troops leave and hostilities cease.
    • In sum, how to use negotiation and mediation tools to bring new meaning to the goals of winning “trust and confidence” and “hearts and minds” in each phase of COIN operations.
  • Building on the lessons in Afghanistan and Iraq, define a New COIN to show a clear link between local tribe, village, district, and province activities and democratic nation building in the country as a whole. Built on a foundation of offense, defense, and stability, the New COIN might put an end to the “either/or” of COIN (“growing grass”) vs. CT (“pulling weeds”)

Question 5: How do we pay for nation building abroad, especially when we desperately need the money for nation building at home?

Perhaps we do it by spending our money more wisely, and by linking nation building abroad with nation building at home, instead of keeping them separate and making them compete with one another.

Few would argue that the $560 billion spent on the War in Afghanistan, and even more important, the loss of life by Coalition Forces, Afghan soldiers, and Afghan citizens caught in the cross fire, is a huge human and financial cost. And few would argue that America needs to put its own economic house in order.   

The financial numbers are all the more compelling in light of Ahmad Rashid’s suggestion that if the U.S. had begun nation building in Afghanistan soon after the 2001 launch of the war, the financial tab would have been $5-6 billion per year, a fraction of what the effort has consumed in recent years.  Looking ahead, Cordesman has suggested that support after 2014 might fall in the $9-10 billion annual range.

Putting a fine edge on the American debate, U.S. Senator Claire McCaskille—citing military assessments that Commanders’ Emergency Response Program (CRRP) funds have not led to gains in sustainable stability, and that projects in Iraq (power plants, medical facilities) now lie abandoned after the US exit—has introduced legislation to limit CERP funds marked for Afghanistan in order to spend the money instead on American roads and infrastructure.

Cutting Costs and Building to Last

If we tighten COIN as suggested above—building only in areas where we have a partnership with local nationals to secure their villages, using each new oil spot as a reference for the next—we will achieve a far greater return on investment (ROI) in both money saved and lives protected. We will not have to cancel and therefore lose our investment in road projects for lack of security. We will not have schools blown up by the enemy. The new schools, businesses and infrastructure will last because the people themselves will protect them.  This will be possible, of course, only if we adopt a foreign policy that acknowledges long term partnerships and commitments that continue after military operations cease.

Expanding the Economic Pie

It is not a given that we are playing a zero sum game where dollars spent on nation building abroad mean fewer dollars for nation building at home, and vice versa.

In a global economy where everyone needs manufacturing and trading partners, why can’t we advance both causes by linking development in America to development in “favored nation” emerging democracies? 

The challenge of Question 5 is to mobilize our best and brightest to help us expand the pie in order to create jobs and economic recovery at home, even as we help our partners do the same thing in emerging democracies, perhaps along the following lines:

  1. Redefine the field of play by creating stability blueprints for American cities and towns. If the need for improved public schools, infrastructure repair and other priorities—also known as “nation building at home” —is a fact of American life, why not bring the same rigor and measuring sticks to these initiatives as we do to stability operations abroad? Using the same templates our soldiers and marines use for local partnerships in Afghanistan, encourage American and other Coalition Forces’ cities to create and publicize goals for local improvement in: (1) security, (2) basic services, (3) education, (4) governance, and (5) jobs creation. These should be consensually validated stability “packages” that provide a concrete vision of what we are trying to achieve in terms of economic development, infrastructure, and other dimensions of LOE in American towns and cities. It will put us on the same page at home as our soldiers, marines, and civilians who are engaged in stability operations abroad. It will give us common cause with Afghan and Iraqi citizens. While our individual goals will vary, our framework in a democratic context will be shared and allow us to visualize better end states for sustainable stability in settings as varied as: a Mexican border town fighting drug lords; an American city dealing with gang warfare and crumbling highways; or an Afghan village in the process of training its first community based police force.
  2. Using new technology tools, collect baseline data and look for synergistic opportunities for economic development in both American “oil spot” cities and villages/cities in favored nation partner countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and any country that has declared a commitment to create democratic governance (the Sharansky test noted above). Create computer models that pose a series of provocative “what if” questions about the needs and opportunities in our partner democracies, such as: “What if ABC district had DEF farming expertise and equipment?  How many jobs could be created in that district?”   With transparency and involvement of educational institutions whose students and faculty can conduct research and publicize findings, expose the opportunities for partnerships in manufacturing, shared knowledge, development of new markets, and trade. Present all data from this market research by using the shared LOE framework, so that in every city/village it will be clear that jobs occur in the context of and linked to security, basic services, democratic governance, and education, not in isolation.
  3. Encourage entrepreneurial activity over government sponsored programs.  Isn’t it a truism that jobs created by the private sector cost less public money than jobs funded by the government?  If so, let’s apply this logic to nation building in emerging democracies, even as we try to honor it in recovery of the US economy at home.  This fits with initiatives already underway by the US State Department under the leadership of Secretary Clinton’s “Partners for a New Beginning.” “America’s culture of entrepreneurship is not only one of our country’s greatest assets, it’s one of our easiest exports to sell.”  What we have not done, however, is link entrepreneurship abroad with entrepreneurship at home.  Following the vision of Carl Schramm and colleagues, the next step is to identify and remove barriers to entrepreneurial activity both at home and as a part of COIN operations. See also Jim Clifton’s The Coming Jobs War for inspiration and guidance on an entrepreneurial approach to linking job creation and stability in the US with job creation and stability in emerging democracies.
  4. Offer tax advantages to companies that can implement business plans that create private sector jobs in the US and in developing countries. Such a policy would link nation building at home with nation building abroad, especially if the jobs were created in the context of all other LOEs.  For example, in the US studies show that each 10% increase in the penetration rate of 3G and 4G wireless technology leads to more than 231,000 new jobs added to the American economy within a year. Add this to the Khan Academy mission to help people all over the world “learn almost anything for free” via on line education, and the result could be an exponential advance toward both jobs and educational targets in American cities and emerging democracies.
  5. Tighten expectations for multi-national businesses to support local LOEs. While this is clearly not a new idea, it is well within reach to create standards whereby winning bids must include detailed plans, created in cooperation with local nationals, for how energy, mining, and other activities will support the LOE that are underway in each area of operations. Dow Corning Corp., PepsiCo Inc., FedEx Corp, Intel Corp., and Pfizer Inc. currently send teams of employees to developing countries such as India, Ghana, Brazil, and Nigeria to scope out business opportunities in emerging markets.  In Afghanistan, the China Metallurgical Group Corporation, a Chinese government owned company, recently beat out bidders from Australia and India to mine copper deposits in Afghanistan over the next 30 years.  In addition to launching businesses that benefit parent companies, pay royalties, and hire local workers, what if the winning bidders were also required to implement plans that document how they will also advance local Stability Packages (where all LOE are addressed)?
  6. In US cities and in war zones where our soldiers and civilian personnel are involved in stability operations, mobilize negotiation, and mediation teams to help the private and public entities create and implement consensual plans that advance economic development in the context of LOE. Use culture experts as a part of government sponsored negotiation and mediation initiatives to help private and governmental entities identify and honor local sentiment and values (e.g., entrepreneurial spirit in Afghanistan) that will be the foundation for the success of new activities in the shared LOE. Using best practice collaboration and conflict resolution tools that have been proven effective in many cultures (e.g., organizational ombudsman), help parties at all levels, from village to district, province/state, and national, create consensual plans that advance each element of the LOE for that area of operations, including plans for resolution of the predictable conflicts associated with implementation (thereby addressing the “devil in the details” head on).
  7. Encourage partner city relationships involving Coalition Forces and emerging democracies. Tie the LOE initiatives together via partner city programs where, for example, Detroit (MI), as it grows to a new future for use of city land, and Travis County (TX), as it deals with water shortages, will work hand in glove supporting similar efforts with partners in emerging democracies, each utilizing a common LOE template, with local features that can be shared for educational and other activities. Through multinational conferences and publication of results, track progress in the development of representative governance, community based policing, education, and economic development in the democratic partner countries.
  8. Define the LOE partnerships as outlasting military occupation. Following a foreign policy that gives preferred nation status to emerging democracies, let countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq and other countries know that, as long as they stay on the path of democratic governance, they will be treated as “special” to the US and its allies.  To those who question U.S. resolve, refer to Japan, Germany, and South Korea. Complement the commitment to end military presence (2011 for Iraq and 2014 for Afghanistan) with an equal and enduring commitment to continue the LOE partnerships with “no end in sight.”  

A Vision for America and Afghanistan

We began this paper with a summary of the argument for American and other Coalition Forces leaving Afghanistan as soon as possible.   We stated that lack of clarity on five key questions was keeping us from achieving a better outcome in that country as we move toward the year 2014 and beyond, and from knowing how to respond meaningfully to uprisings in the Arab Spring countries.

Let’s take it a step further. What might be possible for America, Afghanistan, the Arab Spring countries, and others, if the American people answered our five questions in the affirmative? What if we said yes to: (1) democracy as a way to world peace; (2) the idea that Islamic countries can customize the basic principles of democracy to fit with their religious and cultural heritages; (3) a foreign policy that aims to help other countries go democratic via “realistic idealism”; (4) a New COIN model that aims for achieving stability one village at a time; and (5) paying the tab by expanding the economic pie, with links between job growth in American cities and Afghan villages?

We might see an entirely new approach to waging war and paying for it. Following Ahmad Rashid’s analysis, we would never launch regime change unless we had partnerships for nation building in mind from the start, at a cost that would be one tenth of what we have spent in Afghanistan.  The reduced costs of waging a COIN war might change forever the narrow debate over the defense budget, which now revolves around zero sum arguments on funding the capability to wage “two wars vs. win one and spoil one.”

A yes to the five questions would mean that our presidential candidates and political parties would have a template to describe the link between their respective foreign and domestic policies.

As noted above, LOE blueprints for enhancing and in some cases rebuilding American cities and towns would put our citizens on the same page with their soldier and marine sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews who are working to bring stability in war zones.

The common templates would give us a conceptual model—a New COIN based on an integration of counterterrorism with rigorous stability initiatives—for dealing with African dictators and Mexican drug cartels, to name a few. 

Favored nation status—with barriers to entrepreneurial activity removed and tax incentives to encourage business ventures in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other emerging democracies in place—will create jobs in America and our democratic partner counties. Instead of a forced choice (“nation building at home, or abroad, take your pick”), the expanded pie will bring an entirely new meaning to American exceptionalism. It will come to mean that just as we value our own experiment in democracy, we know that its future in a flat world involves respect for educational, cultural, and economic trading partners dedicated to similar principles. Juxtaposed against China, Iran, and others that do not demonstrate this commitment to representative governance customized for culture, this will indeed look exceptional.

With multinational companies writing and negotiating their contributions to democratic LOEs in countries where they want to extract oil, minerals and other natural resources, these companies will now have a way to protect their investments (security) and contribute to the public good at the same time. Their new business plans—with attachments on how their particular commercial ventures aim to advance education, new local business formation, basic services, and democratic governance—will become the new model for international business in the 21st century.  They will engage academics from the social sciences, business and education to help conduct applied research on how best to adjust operations to honor the requirements of local culture. These new field research initiatives in anthropology, community psychology, entrepreneurship, and management will grow the body of knowledge in many fields and enrich public and private education in the US and abroad.

Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) in foreign lands will have a way to link to positive and transparent governmental LOEs, and in many cases to receive new sources of funding through the international businesses whose own plans depend on the success of the NGO efforts to help the local people achieve medical, dental, educational and other features of a better life.

Finally, answering our five questions in the affirmative will make it possible to address a host of related social and political problems—elephants in the room that have heretofore been an embarrassment to democracies worldwide—such as: a failed “war on drugs” in the United States that parallels failed poppy eradication in Afghanistan; the need for immigration policies that support the international partnerships in democracy; shared approaches to combating corruption in government with judicial models that integrate cross cultural standards with local features of participating countries.

Call for Debate

We hold no illusions about how others may view our vision. Among colleagues who read a pre-publication version of this paper, we heard responses ranging from “terrific . . . should be read by all the War Colleges, Academies, and State Department”, on the one hand, to “unrealistic . . . the extremely expansive foreign policy prescriptions [are] extremely troubling”, on the other. 

With the intellectual pump now primed, we call for debate on a Plan B for Afghanistan.  It is not too late to negotiate what happens up to and after 2014 in light of the questions framed in this paper.  This includes restricting development resources to areas where a security partnership with local citizens allows it. 

Democracy customized for culture in Afghanistan and Iraq will mean two fewer totalitarian countries breeding instability for their neighbors near and far.  Equally important, an America that debates the five questions raised in this paper will become stronger as it critically examines its own side of the street, using the same mirror for itself that it encourages for others who are in the early stages of developing representative governance.  From school children and their parents, to teachers, business leaders and elected officials, our citizens will see that their efforts support more than one experiment in democracy.  And finally, our military, which has been the primary player in the “war on terror” for entirely too long, may no longer have to fight these battles alone.

 

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"Encourage partner city relationships involving Coalition Forces and emerging democracies. Tie the LOE initiatives together via partner city programs where, for example, Detroit (MI), as it grows to a new future for use of city land, and Travis County (TX), as it deals with water shortages, will work hand in glove supporting similar efforts with partners in emerging democracies"

This is pure insanity. Why should the most afflicted cities in the USA be given the extra burden of aiding the developing world? If you were going to allocate this task on a city-by-city basis - which you really shouldn't - wouldn't it make most sense to give the job to the least troubled cities? Anyone trying to turn around Detroit already has enough to do without worrying about Afghanistan's problems.

You can only call this shallow. For example, that famous record of democracies being at peace only is actually a record of interlinked economies being at piece under an unassailable hegemon. And "Can Muslim nations be democracies?" isn't the important question in Afghanistan - that's "Can a tribal, ethnically split society, on terrain which makes development of transport infrastructure prohibitively expensive, become a democracry in a time that sanely means anything in military operations - i.e. years rather than centuries?"

To me it seemed there were too many assumptions or alleged truisms, like private sector jobs cost less public money. A recent small business tax law would create 10,000 jobs at a cost to taxpayers of $46 Billion. That is $1 Million per job (http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2012/04/eric-cantor-tax-cut-jobs.php). Two others are that external forces can build democracies through encouraging changes in local policy in exchange for preferred status. The World Bank has been trying this for years with limited success. Also, the assumption that democracies are less likely to go to war, or at least engage in wars of choice rather than wars of necessity, is also questionable especially since the United States invaded Iraq.

I'll take a stab at this:

Q1: Do we believe that encouraging democracy is a good way to achieve peace in the world?

A1: Our primary objective is not to achieve "peace in the world." Rather, our primary objective is to transform states and societies such that they might better provide for themselves and better provide for the more-modern/modernizing world. Thus, the rationale for and utility of promoting democracy must be judged against this latter standard.

Q2: Is democracy possible in Islamic states?

A2: Yes.

Q3: In light of answers to these two questions what should be the chief features of American foreign policy in the 21st Century?

A3: American foreign policy must be pragmatic. It should promote democracy in those cases where democracy would tend to help us achieve our objectives (see A1 above). American foreign policy, however, should be prepared to offer, support and accept alternative arrangements in those cases where we believe democracy might run counter to our interests (result in certain states and societies becoming less-cooperative, less-open, less-accessable, less-useable, less-stable, less-viable, etc.).

Q4: Does counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy hold any hope for achieving durable peace and sustainable stability in Afghanistan and elsewhere?

A4: Again, as with question Q1 above, our primary goal -- in Afghanistan and elsewhere -- is not to achieve peace and sustainable stability. Our primary objective, in these cases, is to achieve state and societal transformation. With such a goal as this, we understand that peace and stability -- at least in the near-term -- is not likely. Thus, in order to evaluate the usefulness of COIN, one must measure and evaluate it against the standard of: "Is it at excellent tool for achieving state and societal transformation?" Herein, the cost v. benefit results do not look that promising.

Q5: How do we pay for nation-building abroad, especially when we desparately need the money for nation-building at home?

A5: We don't. The "nation-building abroad" project must probably be put on hold.

Concluding questions of my own:

Must states and societies have a democratic form of government in order for us to achieve our objective (states and societies ordered, organized, oriented and configured such that they might optimally provide for both their own needs and for those of the more-modern/modernizing world)? Or can "requiring democracy," in certain instances, tend to do us more harm than good re: this initiative?

Flashes of excellence but overall just strange.