Is the War in Afghanistan in the Interests of the United States and its Allies?

Is the War in Afghanistan in the Interests of the United States and its Allies?

by Major Jeremy Kotkin

Is the War in Afghanistan in the Interests of the United States and its Allies? (Full PDF Article)

Is the war in Afghanistan in the interests of the United States and its allies? If so, at what point do the resources we are expending become too high a cost to bear? What are the strategic limitations of U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine and operations? And if the war is not in the interests of the United States and its allies, what are U.S. and allied interests in South and Central Asia -- and how do you propose to secure them?

Beyond the hyperbole that Afghanistan is a graveyard of empires, current misconceptions and conventional 'wisdom' could certainly lead the United States to a similar fate as our Victorian British or Soviet predecessors. Aside from 1842 or 1979 allegories, neither US policy nor grand strategy in 2009 can justify long-term military (General Purpose Force) presence in Afghanistan. Plainly put, creating, defending, and institutionalizing top-to-bottom cultural, governance, or humanitarian reforms in Afghanistan are not vital national interests to the United States. With those ends outside the precepts of stated US policy, there is no justification for any of the ways and means of armed nation-building, security or stability operations, or anti-drug operations conducted by the US military in Afghanistan.

The only hypothesis that can begin to explain the continued military presence in Afghanistan is the theory that defense of the homeland begins at the Hindu Kush; we fight them there so we don't have to fight them here. The immediate corollary being to prevent another 'strategic shock' like the events of 9/11, we must secure and stabilize the ungoverned, radical breeding ground from which they were hatched and could once again return to set up shop anew. There are multiple flaws in this argument which, taken at face value, yields a slippery slope of never-ending military engagements for anyplace we find an 'ungoverned space' or anywhere we find extremist elements which violently disagree with US policy or presence. Furthermore, this "strategy" to use the term loosely, will forever keep us on the strategic defensive, letting the 'enemy' call the shots while not enabling us to see beyond the tactical, threat-focused lens of the Cold War's dead-and-buried paradigm.

Is the War in Afghanistan in the Interests of the United States and its Allies? (Full PDF Article)

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he endless repetition of "training the (Afghani, Iraqi, Pakistani) police and army" is one of the biggest lies of all. There's not even an attempt to make it believable. You can't "train" people to fight against themselves. Why do people keep falling for this BS?

However, there is a telling line in Englehardt's piece about the Pentagon's hiring "mostly local" contractors. These may be the nascent fascists, "trained" for four or six years, starting very young, that the U.S. hopes to unleash to take over Afghanistan some years down the line. They've done something similar in Iraq. Don't know how the "Iraqi green berets" are doing though.

Jeremy:

Thanks for the good response. A few added thoughts for your consideration. From your essay, let me revisit the last paragraph with an item count added by me:

"Today, tactics and operations are underway in Afghanistan with no solid answer to what strategy they follow (1). We do not know what our end-game in Afghanistan is (2). We do not know what that will look like to define when we can expect to leave (3). And there are certainly other national priorities to pay for (4). As the British eventually found out after a failed strategy in the 19th century, it will be cheaper and leave us safer in the long run to simply use our military in a punitive manner if and when non-state groups, or the government of Afghanistan itself, again display a threat to US vital interests (5). The current war in Afghanistan is not justifiable by the definition of a vital national interest (6).

Some really good points there -- but I think you'll acknowledge that the paragraph does set the stage for departure sooner rather than later...

With respect to the items; (1) Was true, possibly still is and may remain so. Interventions are like that, as you elsewhere state. So yes, true but not a determining factor. (2) I agree that little thought was given to that before now but I suspect that issue is coalescing in Kabul as we speak. Indeterminate at this time but that leads in to (3) which I believe is a recent realization that we are not going to reform Afghan society and governance in the time we're likely to have and thus an effort to determine what we might realistically achieve. I certainly agree that is long past due and, as I initially said, had we fully considered it and the senior leadership, military and civilian not blown off the people who tried to tell them, it could have been different. It was not; regardless of fallacious thinking, we are still where we are. (4) As always. No Armed forces and no conflicts would be better. But... (5) Absolutely agree -- I and others have pushed this for well over 40 years. The problem is risk averse politicians who in turn make DoD senior leaders risk averse and who have created risk averse Armed Forces. Fortunately, the people in the Force are not all risk averse so there may be hope... (6) We agree it is not a vital interest; we disagree on its importance at a lower level.

So we agree on much. Few minor disagreements, most of scale. From your latest post here:

- it is material because we are there. We cant simply wish away the uncomfortable questions to continue down a road we might now know we took by accident/negligence/misunderstanding/mission creep.

Yes and No. Yes it is important for future planning but nothing we now do there will undo what has been done and long expereince with our government taught me that to revisit earlier sins with the sinners is not one bit conducive to getting your point across...

Better to concentrate on what can be done to fix it without casting blame.

Mission creep is inherent in the US Armed Forces and it is engendered by the way we are funded and supported by Congress and by the services cultural milieus. First, one must be seen doing something. Second; if one gets money, one must spend it in order to get at least the same amount next year. There's more but you get the picture -- there are ALWAYS wheels inside of wheels. If the Armed Forces and the Government operated on pure logic, life would be great. Unfortunately, there are humans involved so everything becomes distressingly complex and flawless logic is not enough to carry the day...

Im not sure I understand whats 'disingenuous about trying to address a set of flawed assumptions that underpin a current strategy. Just as (I personally feel) we were wrong to prosecute OIF based on misrepresented, misleading, and flawed assumptions, we lost more national credibility and influence in the region by having done it in the first place, and furthermore, stuck it out ignoring the reality of what got us there even when we, and the world, later knew it was wrong.

Disingenuous was not a good word, my point goes back to what I said above -- do not try to get a policy changed by telling the policymaker or his friend that he erred. If one accepts that -- and one is certainly advised to do so -- then referring to 'who shot John' is counterproductive. My original choice of words was predicated on the fact that I didn't think Old Blue made a reference and thus you were moving the goal posts -- but that is also history; the major point is do not tell the policymaker's peers that he had no clothes.



With respect to "misrepresented, misleading, and flawed assumption" I suggest that the publicly stated things were all that. I do not know that the actual reasons were those things and I quite strongly suspect they were not. Also, with respect to the Middle East, do not assume that they will come to the same conclusions you and other westerners do on either statements or actions. They seldom say what they mean and thus are quite accustomed to dissembling, misrepresented, misleading, and flawed statements. They also are extremely pragmatic. They can hate you and work with you at the same time if there is mutual benefit; they can love you but can and will work against you if it is to their benefit. All that is to say I strongly believe this is incorrect:

The current state of Iraq ... will now forever be looked at, rightly or wrongly, as just another illegitimate apostate regime in the region, one as corrupt and dependent on US succor and defense as Afghanistan, the oil states, or Israel.

Afghanistan's problem to the Arabs and Persians is that those two consider the Afghans to be barbarians and Afghans are despised -- they return the feeling in spades -- what the US does there is of interest only as it impacts Iran or the Arab states. The Oil states have their problems but they are a source of money so the relationship is quite complicated. Israel is more political whipping boy and cause celebre than a real issue to most in the ME. All in all, I think that is the western Arabist academic approach and I disagree that it is valid. Nothing in the ME is as it seems.

Thats the strategic view were feeding right into; the talk about whos got the better IO campaign is moot - we feed right into their's by doing the same thing over and over again... .and not having the intellectual courage to stop, look back, understand what we have done, and see the real enemy in the region. Hint: its not al Qaeda and its definitely not the Taliban -

We know that's what they say. However, if you're going to plan things in that area, do remember -- again -- that nothing in the ME is as it seems. What is said for western consumption versus what is said for local consumption will differ; what is said and done in public (zaher) and what is said and done in private (batin) will almost always differ. Those habits came from the Persians who ruled the area on and off for several millenia -- not years, millenia -- lot of habits got thoroughly embedded.



In one sense there is no real enemy in the region. There are a number of people who gather in little cliques who have some potential to be dangerous but few are dedicated enemies. there are some state who don't like us but that's true all over the world to include in North America. Thus I don't lose much sleep over that issue -- nor do I over out IO losses; we have a rather ignorant media who are prone to attack anything they don't understand or that doesn't fit their views so we're always going to be caught by those who can feed that media what it wants hear. Not a major problem; an annoyance and little more.

However, the main take-aways that the world understood from them wasnt that we were quitters, but rather that we only continually reinforced for them how we constantly misjudge the systemic operating environment; that we cannot see how we, and the governments we support, continually ride roughshod over the populaces we give lip-service to, and we, in fact, go to war to maintain the poorly-governed realities that create the disenfranchisement to begin with.

That's parlty true but the 'quitter' reputation is also quite true -- it is not bruited about in the polite Academic stragegist world because it's rather base -- but it is quite real among the non-academics of the world at large and the ME in particular. You may discount that -- but I believe you may come to regret it if you do.

The strategic reality is that OEF and OIF and our current policies across the region only serve to address symptomatic causes (combating terrorism, stabilizing governments, etc) while in the long run, only make us less secure because it foments the same issues that brought us 9/11 and everything that led up to that point to begin with.

Agree totally that they address symptoms and not the problem. Do not fully agree that the fomentation effect, which I acknowledge exists with some, is very significant. While I agree we should not have done what we did the way we did it (and only the way we did it -- something along the line was long overdue) we in fact did it. The ME and the South Asians all are pragmatic, they can do nuances better than we but they also are grounded in a harsh environment and do reality far better than most westerners. Regardless of why we are there, they know we are there today and they will know the circumstances under which we leave. They also have long memories, much longer than ours.

...its about a holistic approach to national security, one that doesnt center around (or cater to) the DoD. And the other instruments of national power that are more effective in that systemic approach.

Totally agree. We finish what we erroneously started and then we avoid such stupidity in the future...

I'm on your side. I agree with what you want to do -- however, I'll give you the same cautionary I give Bob Jones; this nation doesn't do Grand Strategy; the political system and the election cycle won't support it but you can embed long range policies and get almost the same effect.

The actions we have taken up to this very moment in time put us worse off strategically - even if we 'win the war in Afghanistan - than if we soberly and honestly reassess what we are doing, why, and how... .at the grand strategic level.

I'm not sure that's correct. We have not enhanced our net position strategically by a great deal but we have achieved some strategic gains that effectively more than compensate for the losses so I don't thnkwe're at a loss, we're at only a light gain where, had we been smarter, we could have had a major gain.

If you assume we were at a strategic 85 at the end of WW II, dropping to 75after the draw in Koreak, we tapered down to a 40+ at the end of the Viet Nam war, slowly wandered back up to around 75 or so in 1991 and then declined down to about a 60 through the 1990s. We're up to about a 65+ today (would be higher lacking the economic fiascos the politicians from both parties have foisted on us) with a potential of slight gains if we get a bit smarter strategically -- on that you and I can agree.

We have flogged this nag adequately, I guess, thanks for the article and the responses. I'm old and what I think will make little difference, you're working at it and can make a difference -- all I can do is suggest you certainly don't have to agree with my positions but they are grounded in long and sad experience including much interchange with denizens of the ME so take them for what they're worth.

What you can do for all of us is insure that what you recommend is grounded in reality, not theory and can actually be achieved as opposed to being ideal but not implemented. As that ancient Oriental Philosopher once said "Best is the enemy of Good Enough."

Take care.

Ken,
I appreciate the response. The Socratic Method is what I find truly helps in maturing my own views on a subject. Im feeling a little handicapped though by some of my arguments you found fault with... .but more on that soon.
Re: the issue of immateriality of the causal issues involved in *this* war (the State of Afghanistan didnt attack us nor were the perpetrators Afghani) - it is material because we *are* there. We cant simply wish away the uncomfortable questions to continue down a road we might now know we took by accident/negligence/misunderstanding/mission creep. If were 'there because were there and we cant look back and honestly address larger issues, I find that more damaging to our national credibility than pulling out... .but thats not what I proposed and, again, more on that shortly.
Im not sure I understand whats 'disingenuous about trying to address a set of flawed assumptions that underpin a current strategy. Just as (I personally feel) we were wrong to prosecute OIF based on misrepresented, misleading, and flawed assumptions, we lost more national credibility and influence in the region by having done it in the first place, and furthermore, stuck it out ignoring the reality of what got us there even when we, and the world, later knew it was wrong. The current state of Iraq, because we set it up, protected it, and stood it on its own two feet (which I still unfortunately think the results of the surge are a temporary peaceful anomaly) will now forever be looked at, rightly or wrongly, as just another illegitimate apostate regime in the region, one as corrupt and dependent on US succor and defense as Afghanistan, the oil states, or Israel. That is the legacy were leaving - a long term strategic legacy that goes far beyond if we tactically 'quit or not. We know this is the reason al Qaeda is fighting us anyway, isnt it? Because were there, its perceived that we 'control puppet regimes, we keep illegitimate rulers in power who are only concerned with lining their own pockets while chipping away at their states own Islamic culture? Thats the strategic view were feeding right into; the talk about whos got the better IO campaign is moot - we feed right into their's by doing the same thing over and over again... .and not having the intellectual courage to stop, look back, understand what we have done, and see the real enemy in the region. Hint: its not al Qaeda and its *definitely* not the Taliban - its what gives rise to them and allows an insurgent to have such a large pool of disenfranchised people for easy recruitment. This gets to my point I had put away for later:
I never called for an 'abrupt departure, in my original essay nor in the comments that followed on this blog. What I tried to have the essay lead into was that we need a national-level refocus on grand strategy and a re-emphasis on what 'national security means, what other forms of national power are more appropriate, and what the importance of building credibility really is. I had written that down in a second essay which, unfortunately, SWJ didnt post as a follow-on to the first.
As you said, we made many, MANY mistakes btw 1979-2001. However, the main take-aways that the world understood from them wasnt that we were quitters, but rather that we only continually reinforced for them how we constantly misjudge the systemic operating environment; that we cannot see how we, and the governments we support, continually ride roughshod over the populaces we give lip-service to, and we, in fact, go to war to maintain the poorly-governed realities that create the disenfranchisement to begin with. The strategic reality is that OEF and OIF and our current policies across the region only serve to address symptomatic causes (combating terrorism, stabilizing governments, etc) while in the long run, only make us less secure because it foments the same issues that brought us 9/11 and everything that led up to that point to begin with.
My 2nd essay, and I hope it gets posted because this is what I see as causing a lot of the problems with the issues I tried to make, addresses the necessary change (from what were doing in Afghanistan and why) that we must make in the way we look at the world and these interconnected issues. Again, I personally feel its not about threats, ideology, or even the Taliban or al Qaeda; its what gave rise to them and the fact that we: a) still cant connect the strategic dots, or b) continue to use a 'strategy of counter-terror operations thinking it will make us globally or endemically safer. Its not about CT or COIN, its about a holistic approach to national security, one that doesnt center around (or cater to) the DoD. And the other instruments of national power that are more effective in that systemic approach.
So no, I dont think we should 'cut and run - but we need to reassess ourselves as much as we do the operating environment and understand that no actions are discrete or linear. By using the military as the national centerpiece of our "fix the world" strategy, we only reinforce our thinking that linear actions will solve our problems because that is what the military does - it solves linear problems by eliminating or defeating the threat. The actions we have taken up to this very moment in time put us worse off strategically - *even if we 'win the war in Afghanistan* - than if we soberly and honestly reassess what we are doing, why, and how... .at the grand strategic level. Only that will enable us to build back up our account of usable credibility and influence. All talk of finding a better COIN strategy is cart before the horse and ignoring the unfortunate realities of what got us there. If we consistently ignore those realities, we'll make the same mistakes as Iraq and now tentatively Afghanistan, well, over and over again for a long, long time.

Jeremy Kotkin:

I said earlier I agreed with much of your article. Still do. I also said your principles should be applied in the future. Still believe that. However, I suggested you were possibly incorrect in advocating an abrupt departure from Afghanistan.

You responded to Old Blue:

"Afghanistan did not attack us on 9/11 nor did any of the hijackers come from a failed state. They came largely from US partner nations and planned the attacks within the borders of US allies. Your argument (since you 1st broached the Vietnam analogy) is a slippery slope requiring us to therefore fix any failed or quasi-state simply because of the assumption that 'ungoverned spaces' are bad. So then, Lebanon? Hezbollah, is as I'm sure we can all agree, are more of a threat to Western interests than the Taliban."

He broached Viet Nam only in the sense of quitting and leaving others as we said we would not do and he raised it as a cautionary to avoid doing it a second time. I agree.

I also suggest that a couple of your comments quoted here, one, that Afghanistan did not attack us and the second pertaining to 'fix' ungoverned states and citing Lebanon are both sort of disingenuous. I agree those points are applied with validity to the future.

I strongly disagree that they are applicable to Afghanistan today. Why we are there is at this time totally immaterial. We are there. We are not there to defeat an existential threat anymore than we were in Viet Nam to defeat another. We can either leave after we do what we said we'd do -- 'fix it.' Or we can leave early and give ourselves another black eye. I doubt we'll be able to say we stumbled into the door...

I think you significantly misread Old Blue's comment in several respects, your response to him doesn't seem to address his points but to make others of your own. For example, you say:

"And this definitely isnt about 'quitting. Its about knowing what youre getting into, knowing the environment youre operating in, and knowing the Ends before you plan out Ways and Means. I submit NONE of those things occurred after the initial stages of OEF when the war became a new war for something else."

It is not yet about quitting but we are approaching the point where that is being considered and it is what you recommend. That would be a mistake. Your comments that it was / is poorly planned are accurate -- they are also immaterial as they those errors cannot be undone. We are where we are. Old Blue acknowledges this but you seem to be intent on rectifying some wrongs with another.

Then this:

And sadly, we didnt "quit" in Viet Nam. We lost. There is nothing more black and white than the strategic failure that was our Viet Nam experience. ... How long should we stay in Afghanistan fighting the wrong war? Its not quitting now any more than we 'quit in 1973."

We didn't quit in 1973, we left then and South Viet Nam was in reasonably good shape to contain any insurgency remnants -- and that's all that were left, remnants -- and we told the Viet Namese that we would help if an external threat appeared.

In 1975, that threat did appear and we started to provide the logistic support we had promised. A pusillanimous Congress pulled the plug and refused to fund fuel and ammunition. Perhaps we should not have promised but we did. So you may couch it as you please but to the rest of the world -- we quit.

You also said:

"Furthermore, trying to parallel our failure in Viet Nam as a causal effect of the Iranian Hostage crisis, or anywhere else we face those that would challenge us, is unsupportable."

I broadly agree, however, there are others who have tied the various problems in US performance together. You and I may agree that they are discrete actions and bear little relationship. Unfortunately, you and I are not world opinion -- particularly not ME and South Asia opinion. There, those things are emphatically linked in the minds of most -- and they are linked as US failures to follow through.

That's what Old Blue said. He was a nice guy and didn't throw in a few others but I'm not nice so I can toss them in the pot: The Tehran Embassy, 1979 -- the Bierut disasters (multiple) in 1983 followed by a host of probes and provocations from the Middle East to which we did not respond adequately thus encouraging them to continue and escalate with obvious consequences in 2001. They were aided in reaching the conclusion we would not adequately react yet again by the Viet Nam departure which was nothing like media reports -- but which entered the consciousness of the world only through those reports.

Add to that Desert Storm when the first Bush administration rightly or wrongly did not depose Saddam -- this isn't the place to argue that but it did cement in the eyes of the Middle East that we were not serious fighters because any of them given a chance would have chopped of his head; Saddam's post war propaganda helped embed that idea.

Then Mogadishu, followed by handwringing but no action over Rwanda, the Kurdish debacle of 1997. So you can say there is no connectivity and as a westerner, I agree -- but as one who lived in the area for a couple of years in peacetime and spent time talking to many people, I know that they operate on a different time scale and they do very much connect all those things into a pattern on which they judge us. To them, we have a reputation for quitting when it gets tough. Rightly or wrongly it exists. In their eyes from 1979 to 2001, we quit, responded ineffectually or even ran in every case. It astounded them that we did not do so in Iraq. It will astound them even more if we do stay in Afghanistan a bit longer. It'll never be the Cost Rica of the Hindu Kush but it can be left better than we found it -- which is what, probably wrongly in my view, we said we would do.

In the eyes of westerners, this 'quitting' thing is not a significant issue, it's simply being smart and cutting your losses. This technique is also practiced in the Middle East and Afghanistan. With a twist...

Through out the area, haggling is a blood sport and a national pastime. If they decide to leave, that is reasonable and proper-- however, in the eyes of those from the Middle East or Afghanistan (the two are far from synonymous) if anyone other than they decides to leave early; the departees will be roundly condemned as spawn of camels -- and quitters who are ripe for defeat.

You have to base your strategizing on those with whom you deal. Some knowledge of the thought processes of the area residents is beneficial but lacking that, simply bearing in mind that they are not westerners and have different mores and attitudes (not bad, just different) and that they are extremely tough and shrewd bargainers to whom a concession is a sign of weakness is truly imperative.

Thus,in the current case, an abrupt departure from Afghanistan would outweigh the tenuous benefit we have won by sort of prevailing in Iraq. Leave Afghanistan early and the Iraq effort goes from a conditional win to a total game loss in the minds of most in the area and thus we are right back where we started.

Be careful what you wish for, you may get it.

Thank you, Major Kotkin, for a most perceptive article. (As a pacifist leftie, I don't usually rate military-speak, so that's more than just a compliment).
I have just finished reading (for the umpteenth time) George McDonald Fraser's 'Flashman' which chronicles the debacle of Britain's First Afghan War, 170 years ago. And also, Michener's view on Afghanistan 'Caravans'.
Good stuff for the great Afghan War.

To Old Blue - remember Diogenes

I am hesitant to address this persistant story but - Any previous pipeline such as proposed by UNICOL, probably has become a pipedream. Since the late 80's early 90's, the Caspien Sea Basin oil reserves have been proven to be more myth than reality. Had energy been the moving force for invading Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, and its substantial, but less than predicted reserves, would have been a much easier target.

Though I shouldn't enable, a better conspiracy would be that the Taliban government represented a center for unifying Islamic fundamentalist opposed to U.S. control of the Middle East.

Gentlemen, we are hardly in Afghanistan to allow for the creation of a liberal, modern democratic State. Any more than we were in Viet Nam to do so. While the author gets a lot right about how little our actions match up with our stated purpose, and how even our stated purpose isnt worth the life of a single Pomeranian grenadie, te ONLY reason we ARE there is because our miitary is being used to secure oil and gas pipelines for private enterprise.
Its a public war for private profit, & the peasants are getting it in the neck. Again.
Look at the roster of thugs & lunatics we have on the payroll over there. Nothing good will come of this, for the Afghans, or us.
Some $ will be grubbed, however.

Major Kotkin advances a good thought on our future global strategy. He is also correct that Hezbollah, who operates in our own hemisphere in the triangle region of S. America, poses a more imminent threat than the Taliban does toward the U.S. An organization that has more American blood on its hands previous to 9/11.

The geo/political reality is we are in Afghanistan, and as Mr. Ken White stated, we did say we'd fix it. "That is important for our strategic credibility --" I concur.

What will be equally important: that we know when that may no longer be viable and a strategic withdrawl is in order. I think the Taliban know we can project one continuous headache on them from afar, should it become necessary.

May I point-out, though many will say no one ever wins in Afghanistan, one need not win to be successful. An example being the stable state India, that still fights a two front internal insurgency, but is able to contain the violence. Something I believe will only be as good as it gets in Afghanistan - on a good day.

It will be interesting to see the administration's response to Gen. McKrystal's assessment and future request for more labor force. It would also be interesting to know if there has been any thought to post-conflict security and developement, i.e. a mini-Marshall Plan?

Surely we plan on being successful - or is this just one final effort to say we tried?

To Jeremy;

Appologize but since you are from Rutgers could not help bringing Newark as it has its well known areas of abandonment.

Your point over action to be taken in the 'ungoverned' space is profound. At some point, an area needs to be declared as 'without sovereign' and sovereigns then have the right to restore order for protection even if the order is a vacuum. It may be also that the organizism that we call society in such areas may genetically be without interest in establishing such sovereign states.

Placing a standing force in these areas as you have noted is drain of blood and treasure in a time when the drain in treasure is a self imposed strategic defeat to be viewed approvingly by well financed or debt iou holding competitors and sovereign states.

Bill, Of course I wasn't promoting suspension of Posse Comitatus; I was simply saying that wherever AQ (or anyone claiming to be a card-carrying AQ punk) is found to reside, we can take more circumspect and efficient means, other than wholesale invasion, to kill, or in the case of Newark, NJ, capture/arrest them. I was trying to make the point that we do this everywhere else; why is the 'ungoverned' space of Afghanistan any different?

Old Blue- you bring up some strong points and I'll try and address them from the perspective consistent in my article.
Regarding your first point that failed or failing nations breed and enable non-state actors who perform acts of violence; Afghanistan did not attack us on 9/11 nor did any of the hijackers come from a failed state. They came largely from US partner nations and planned the attacks within the borders of US allies. Your argument (since you 1st broached the Vietnam analogy) is a slippery slope requiring us to therefore fix any failed or quasi-state simply because of the assumption that 'ungoverned spaces' are bad. So then, Lebanon? Hezbollah, is as I'm sure we can all agree, are more of a threat to Western interests than the Taliban. Should we invade Lebanon because LH is the non-state actor providing governance in the quasi-state of southern Lebanon? And then Yemen and Somalia and Sudan and North Korea and....the list is lengthy. To bring that argument to its next logical step, we would then need to combat 'ungoverned spaces' b/c they breed and harbor terrorists. Ungoverned spaces aren't the problem - I don't see many terrorists in Greenland, large portions of Australia, or Montana for that matter. 'Poorly' governed spaces are the source of disenfranchised youth who are easily turned to insurgencies. But again, the definition of 'poorly' governed comes from the population of that state, not us, because when we try and fix it according to our definition, its then viewed as even more illegitimate than the original problem government....and rightly so.
Unfortunately, all your valid points about how to successfully nation-build after that are irrelevant to Afghanistan because the initial premise - that the failed state itself was the threat which created 9/11 - is not true. We captured, we killed, we removed the ruling regime from power way back in 2002. Everything since then is a different war; a war in which we let the Powell Doctrine get the better of us when in reality, we didnt break it and therefore, its not ours to fix. At that point, we started chasing different enemies and let the true targets become something of a secondary effort to the overall campaign. After disrupting AQ, had we ensured the leaders of the Taliban who were in power on 10 Sep 01 were killed or removed, our job would have been done. Life in Afghanistan would have went back to the way its been for a millennia and local and regional tribes would have regained their power and provided their form of good governance which they had been up to the invasion. It most likely would have been what we would consider a backwards, fundamental regime, but then again... so what. Its not our place to play god. Threats can be targeted and threats can be removed. Building something from where there was nothing is best left to the people of that region because theyre the ones that will be left with it after our job is done.
And this definitely isnt about 'quitting. Its about knowing what youre getting into, knowing the environment youre operating in, and knowing the Ends before you plan out Ways and Means. I submit NONE of those things occurred after the initial stages of OEF when the war became a new war for something else. And sadly, we didnt "quit" in Viet Nam. We lost. There is nothing more black and white than the strategic failure that was our Viet Nam experience. So, in trying to understand your line of reasoning and equate it to the current situation, the reasons that McNamara and Johnson used to keep escalating (fighting to prove we can fight, Gradualism, and pride), we should not have left Viet Nam as we shouldnt leave Afghanistan simply because weve already committed and spent blood and treasure? How long do you propose we should have stayed in Viet Nam fighting the wrong war? How long should we stay in Afghanistan fighting the wrong war? Its not quitting now any more than we 'quit in 1973. What makes this so painful is that we have not learned one single strategic lesson from Viet Nam. We cant identify the real COG now as we couldnt then. Were misunderstanding the basic nature of war. Were limiting ourselves, both domestically and internationally, with artificial constraints. And were fighting the wrong war. The American taxpayer and voter will decide if and when it is the wrong war - not the military. Obviously, the American voter is become aware of the discordance between OEF and the nation-building exercise now underway. Furthermore, trying to parallel our failure in Viet Nam as a causal effect of the Iranian Hostage crisis, or anywhere else we face those that would challenge us, is unsupportable. The world is full of challenges and always will be.
As far as IO campaigns, the Taliban might be on to something. GIRoA is only solvent because of the billions of dollars we spend there and the American blood that is still spilling in its defense. This could also be said of other governments that we maintain and protect - from their own populaces - because of the poor governance which we turn a blind eye to. Id be more worried if I was a citizen of a government which might be fundamentalist, authoritarian, or just plain contrary to US values and principles, that the US will come and bring me democracy more than anything else. Thats the fear we have to allay; thats the perception of us that we need to stem. This gets to a larger issue that is being talked about now in the whole of government - that the US Governments "cornerstone" of strategy after 9/11 - the 7500 series of plans - is past its culminating point. Youre absolutely right in that this cant be a military led or centric effort - the other pillars of national power must be in the lead. But we must understand what the real problems are, where they come from, and realize that the natural political evolution and selection must occur and it must be their choice.

Will take on Blue's logic of never quitting...there is always a concept known as strategic retreat. Think what an effect a pull back from Stalingrad might have created.

Note that a domestic site in domestic USA, Newark, NJ is cited for military action. If bin Laden and his franchised organization can establish itself there then we have an existential failure in governance. True Mother Teresa's NGO functions there and in the Bronx; Harlem; Brooklyn; Chester, Pa; New Orleans and Washington, DC but these are results of societal deterioration on a local basis and a virus in the compassion of greed.
No need for the UVAs or suspension of the Constitution.

This line of reasoning completely dismisses the concept that, in the globalized world, failed or failing nations breed and enable non-state actors, either affiliated groups or groups discrete to that failed state, to perform actions of violence that were traditionally only within the capabilities of state actors. It treats September 11, 2001 as a mere hiccup; an anomaly. It also presumes that any work to enable movement along the spectrum from failed or failing nation towards stability as being necessarily military. All three assumptions are invalid.

A failed state with a radical regime provided aid and comfort to al Qaeda in its quest to destroy the United States. 9/11 was the culmination of a series of concepts to bring down what was, to Osama bin Laden, a symbol of America. This had been attempted before, and terrorists were finally successful. The same group has promised repeatedly to do the same or worse. The failed nation of Afghanistan provided this "homeland," offering shelter and space to operate without external pressures.

We already have a solid example of how this can happen. It has happened. The Major asks us to dismiss this as an unrepeatable anomaly instead of a change in capability that remains as a consideration going forward.

What was begun in Afghanistan, years ago now, was an initiative to develop a stable, governed country from the ruins of over thirty years of war. What we have discovered is that, intrinsic to this end, we must also have the ability to build civilian capacities. We have discovered that it is not just a military job. We have discovered that the military can assist in providing security and our biggest success has been the effort, largely led by small teams of mostly National Guard officers and NCO's, to build the ANA. Now we have realized that the reason for the success of the ANA is the result of mentoring and empowering. We are about to apply the same success-producing techniques to the ANP.

These are military efforts which the civilian organs of our government are working to replicate. Mentoring and advising, not just money, maneuver and killing are absolutely indispensible in buiding governance and economic capacity. These are the capabilities that the State Department, USAID and others are building that will help to serve as a diversion program for failed or failing states.

We are all tired of fighting and repeated deployments. Anyone who seriously believed that this was a sprint and not a marathon was short-sighted and either ill-informed or delusional. Our American capacity for tiring and then talking ourselves out of it is similar to the internal argument that occurs in a runner's mind as he begins to head up Heartbreak Hill in a marathon; "I can quit. This isn't in my best interest. No one will think any less of me. I tried. I don't have to prove anything to anyone. I can quit."

Echoing Maj.Gen. Dunlap's argument that this is not an immediate existential threat, and that because of this mission abandonment is therefore acceptable and even preferable, is that side of our runner's mind; "I can quit. I tried. I don't even know why I started this anymore." It is coccooned thought. It ignores the second and third order effects of quitting, of accepting defeat. Many who write these days did not suffer the after effects of quitting in Vietnam. They were children during the time that the rest of the world looked at us as quitters. And they did. Would the Iranian hostage crisis have occurred had we not run away from Vietnam? We will never know, but is it possible that our perceived weakness emboldened our enemies? No, of course not.

Many Afghans whom I have spoken with are aware of this failure... another second or third order effect of failure to succeed in Vietnam. We are not trustworthy. Our word cannot be accepted. It means nothing. We like to start a project and then leave everything a mess when we get tired and quit.

For those on our side, it is the biggest fear. For the Taliban, it is part of their IO message to the Afghans. "The Afghan government is only propped up by the Americans. When the Americans tire, they will abandon you just like the Vietnamese. The rotten house of GiROA will collapse. Those who have participated in this will then be judged and pay the price." It's effective. It keeps Afghans afraid to commit. Rhetoric like this article only reinforces this message and makes it nearly undeniable.

This is not our first marathon. It would not be the first time we have quit, either. It's easier to quit the second time... it's become a part of our national character. "I'm tired. I want to quit. I can't remember why I started this. What was I thinking about? This serves no purpose. I can quit..."

Our friends are not surprised when we quit. We have quit on others before. Our word, when we begin running, means nothing to them. And we're okay with that, because there is no national interest in integrity. It is not a national value, much less an interest. It all starts with that little voice in the back of our head... "I'm tired. I can quit."

Seaworthy- I think that's exactly the right question and you're spot-on that no one's asking it - its become somewhat of a 3rd rail for some inexplicable reason. I suppose I clumsily tried to address it by showing the strategic differences between the limited (initial) war of OEF-A and the currently unlimited, wholly different war we are currently prosecuting. OEF-A, like Desert Shield, was nice and tidy and had a clear set of objectives. Somewhere down that road, however, we lost sight of them and now, as you pointed out, the 'enemy' is now: both little t and big T Taliban, organized crime, poppies, government corruption, Pakistani Taliban, poor civilian infrastructure and economy, ideology, etc, etc, etc. Somehow, we must have decided to creep our objectives to cover fixing all of those problems as well. I think Congress and the American public must've not been paying attention because I'm sure we would have noticed that debate. ;o)

The great game has gone on in Afghanistan since Alexander the Great and nobody, but nobody has managed to beat the Pushtans. So, we need to find a leader for the Taliban who is willing to give up the traditional Pushtan control of Afghanistan in exchange for a rump state with pusthan autonomy. Down the road, it would behoove the ruling Punjabi in Pakistan to give up some of the NW territory to this rump pushtan land in exchange for a lasting peace. The stick in this arangement is to continue assasination of Pushtan Taliban unless this agreement is agreed to. A centerpiece would require the Taliban to forgo their alliance with Al-Qaida.

The facts are clear in the historical record. The Pushtan live in Afghanitstan and Pakistan. The British made a tactical decision to split the tribe into two parts and as they did in other lands, they managed to make things worse, rather than better. Not their fault really, as colonial times meant homeland bureaucrats were often responsible for resolving boundaries which often meant no more reflection than drawing a pencil down a poorly defined map.

If any democratic nation state has the will to do this, you will end up with a pushtan homeland with autonomous power and a smaller Afghanistan that will be ruled by someone other than a pusthan and perhaps, just perhaps, you will have a lasting settlement in the Hindu Kush.

I find myself now relocated back on U.S. terra firma after some years absence. I admit, due to my recent focus, I'm not up to speed as many I see contributing to this fine venue - a venue sadly unavailable during my time in uniform.

That said, I have to ask a question that I've either missed, or hasn't been asked: who is it we are now engaging as the enemy in Afghanistan? Initially we set out to attack those that attacked us on 11 Sep 2001, along with their enablers. Are we still prosecuting a war against those same entities - in Afghanistan that is?

Have we inadvertantly allowed mission creep to involve us in fighting what could be seen as a domestic insurgency that is really none of our regional business?

Well I kinda cheated. I started the thread. Thanks though.

Thanks Zack, good catch on a Council discussion concerning this issue. - Dave

Check out our thread discussing this here:
http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/showthread.php?t=8230

While I agree with Major Kotkin on many elements of his essay, I believe there are two errors of perception.

"Casualty Avoidance and the American Public" is replete with conventional wisdom but I believe the premise is badly flawed. While the presumed educated elite and the news media will certainly trend in the direction the author of the monograph indicates, most Americans will not. The majority of Americans will accept casualties -- all they ask is that something be gained in return. Casualties will not be a major political problem with most unless they perceive that a net loss is going to be the result. Thus American politicians can go to war without broad public support -- but they had better produce good results and that fairly quickly. I'd also note that much objection to casualties in the media is essentially politically motivated; the adherents of the Party not in power doing most complaining.

The second misperception is that there is no significant national interest to be served there. While I totally agree there is no vital interest; that the probability of a new Switzerland in South Asia is quite slim; that the end result of a stable Afghanistan and Pakistan is unlikely to be realized; that even if it was realized, there would be no guarantee of no future support or gestation of terrroism; and that the 'strategy,' the goals at any rate, in Afghanistan have mutated and not favorably, we are there and there is in fact a critically important (if not vital) national interest to be served. We probably should not have said we'd stay in Afghanistan and 'fix it.' However, we did say that. So I disagree with the position that we can now leave, we have an obligation to do that 'fix it' bit to better effect than we have to date.

That is important for our strategic credibility -- particularly in that a lack of such credibility almost certainly put us in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the first place. We have restored our credibility to an extent; we need to completely restore it and we can then implement Major Kotkin's excellent advice before getting foolishly involved in such efforts in the future.