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Wrong War, Wrong Policy, or Wrong Tactics?

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Wrong War, Wrong Policy, or Wrong Tactics?

Book Review by F. G. Hoffman

Download the Full Article: Wrong War, Wrong Policy,or Wrong Tactics?

Bing West, The Wrong War, Grit, Strategy, and the Way Out of Afghanistan, New York: Random House, 2011, 307 pg, $27.95. (maps and photographs)

The Long War against extremism has spawned an explosion in books on global terrorism and America's interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. While Operation Enduring Freedom was the first counter-blow, following quickly on the heels of 9/11, it has not garnered as much attention as the larger Iraqi conflict. In contrast, the protracted contest in Mesopotamia generated George Packer's Assassin's Gate, Tom Ricks' superlative Fiasco and The Gamble, and Linda Robinson's Tell Me How This Ends among others.

Afghanistan has produced some notable exceptions. Sean Naylor's Not a Good Day to Die topped the field until Sebastian Junger's War was issued last year. The former was an operational history of the ferocious fight against Al Qaeda in the Shahikot Valley during Operation Anaconda in March 2002. Junger's micro-epic focused more narrowly on a small unit over a longer period of time in 2008 in the Korengal Valley.

The imbalance in our bookshelves is starting to become rectified, and Bing West's latest book tops the list. Mr. West, a former Marine, Pentagon policy official and noted author, brings much insight and no small amount of prior experience to this particular subject. During the Vietnam War, he had the opportunity to closely examine creative approaches and political complications of modern conflict. His first book, the renowned The Village, captured the complexity of American efforts to provide local security assistance to a foreign population beleaguered by a fierce conflict.

Download the Full Article: Wrong War, Wrong Policy,or Wrong Tactics?

Mr. Hoffman is a retired Marine Reservist and frequent contributor to Small Wars Journal.

About the Author(s)

Frank G. Hoffman is a Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Strategic Research at National Defense University (NDU).     This essay is the author’s own conclusions and does not represent the views of the Department of Defense or the National War College.


Bill C. (not verified)

Sat, 03/26/2011 - 9:36am


Especially when one consider the consequences of not developing, adopting and implementing a comprehensive "Follow-Through" strategy and commitment, to wit: failed states/failed great powers -- or aberrant one (ex: Nazi Germany after WWI?).

Bill C. (not verified)

Sat, 03/26/2011 - 9:12am


a. As with Germany and Japan after World War II (Marshall Plan),

b. Same-same re: China and Russia after the Cold War (Globalization; Engagement and Enlargement),

c. And Iraq and Afghanistan today (whatever)

The "Follow-Through" or "Follow-Up" strategy and commitment -- that is developed, adopted and implement after the wars -- are as important as the strategies and commitments that wins these wars.

Bill C. (not verified)

Fri, 03/25/2011 - 5:07pm


Although I am probably not up to the job (and I did not specifically use the term "globalization"), I believe that I may have made something of an argument re: the use of America's instruments of power in the service of globalization at the "Did State Get The QDDR Right" thread now present in the comments section.

This argument may help explain the perceived connection between globalization, obsticles thereto, America's vital interests and the use of United States power to secure same.

I would appreaciate your thoughts.


Fri, 03/25/2011 - 3:54pm

nowhere in my oath of office does it mention " and defend globalization through the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic...".

We are obviously in an era of globalization but that doesn't necessarily mean every backwards looking, banana republic, or otherwise authoritarian country that doesn't buy into it is a threat to our vital national interests.

Any politician that describes vital threats to the US in terms of obstacles to globalization should be immediately recalled. One has absolutely zero to do with the other. The past 20 yrs aside when we seem to think the M in DIME is the answer to all our problems, I for one have never heard a valid argument of the appropriate use of force to secure globalization.

Bill C. (not verified)

Thu, 03/24/2011 - 8:45pm


Thus, do we believe that we can accomplish the mission (convince and transform individual, groups, states and societies such that they support globalization -- or at least do not stand in its way) via such concepts and methods as "containment" and "counter-terrorism," when such approaches as these would appear to have more in common with the idea of "maintaining the status quo" than with achieving globalization's basic requirements for the 21st Century; to wit: more rapid -- rather than more slow -- meaningful, comprehensive and fundamental individual, group, state and societal change.

Bill C. (not verified)

Thu, 03/24/2011 - 7:24pm

I note that, in Pres. Obama's opening letter to the 2010 National Security Strategy, he highlights the defining paradigm as that of globalization (mentions it no less that twice in the introductory paragraph alone and, in paragraph #9, actually uses the term "era of globalization" to describe the current age and its challenges).

And, whereas, we may believe that we do not need to force globalization, we do seem to define/describe our enemies in terms of threats, obsticles or obstructions to globalization, and describe what actions we need to take (for example: stability operations; nation-building), likewise, along fix-this-to support-globalization lines.

Thus, it would appear that it may not be so much a matter of who does not support globalization, as it is who and what entities (individuals, groups, states and societies) would, by their make-up, philosophy, etc., tend to stand in globalization's way.

Thus, our primary problem with Karzai being that he has not implemented our nation-building-in-support-of-globalization plan and has, instead, adopted something akin to a taking-care-of-Karzai-and-his-cronies concept; this having the obvious potential to completely undermine our in-support-of-globalization- designed nation-building effort.


Thu, 03/24/2011 - 5:37pm

I'm sorry - "globalization" is mentioned only 3 times in the most recent US National Security Strategy, and not as something we need to force.....but rather something we must learn to deal with. The "globalization project" isn't something the world is waiting for America to force-feed them.

Furthermore, if <i>"'the enemies of the United States today' are perceived more as those individuals and groups, states and societies, who/which are not organized, ordered, configured and alligned so as to optimally provide for the wants, needs and desires of the globalization project...,"</i> then we've got a whole lot more pressing sh!t to deal with than Afghanistan.

Simply defining an enemy of the United States as someone...or a group...who does not support globalization is either extremely arrogant or US hubris at its best. Either way, it in no way requires the M in DIME to force.

Finally, the Afghans haven't been part of globalization since, well, forever. As such, no one depends on Afghanistan to be part of any larger globalized community. Pursuing that fool's errand will solve none of our security concerns because it's a false assumption...and faulty think that what the Taliban do internal to AFG has any bearing on our vital interests. GIRoA can squander all of the governance, rule of law, transparency, anti-corruption regulation, and development we've wasted here trying to build. They are and ultimately it doesn't matter. It's much easier to contain this cancer and execute CT than anything otherwise. 10 yrs of failed hearts and minds BS and 'the population is the COG' should have told us that by now.

Bill C. (not verified)

Thu, 03/24/2011 - 1:00pm

It is becoming clear that "the enemies of the United States today" are perceived more as those individuals and groups, states and societies, who/which are not organized, ordered, configured and alligned so as to optimally provide for the wants, needs and desires of the globalization project -- and, through this project, the wants, needs and desires of the American people -- today and especially looking forward.

This explanation would seem to address both of the thoughts noted above:

(1) "Were not fighting enemies of the United States."

If today's "enemies of the United States" are perceived as I have outlined above (those individuals and groups, states and societies, who/which not organized, ordered, etc., so as to optimally support globalization and, thereby, America's citizenry) then the Taliban would, indeed, seem to qualify as such an enemy.

(2) "(So) Why does someone have to nation-build for the Afghans?"

My explanation above (what is necessary and required for the expansion and security of globalization is also considered necessary and required to address America's vital interests); this explanation would also seem to answer/address this question. (The Afghan's, et. al., being perceived as being unable to do this themselves; especially within the time frame globalization -- and the world's citizens that now and in the future will depend upon globalization -- require.)


Thu, 03/24/2011 - 1:38am

<i>"If the Afghans don't end up with a nation, they end up with no army, no way to defend themselves, and little to defend. They will be taken over by those with dominant will and organization, and that is the Taliban, or the warlords, or both."</i>

Not to be snarky, but so what? We're not fighting enemies of the United States. Why does someone "have" to nation build *for* the Afghans?

All I can say is... someone has to nation build. If the Afghans don't end up with a nation, they end up with no army, no way to defend themselves, and little to defend. They will be taken over by those with dominant will and organization, and that is the Taliban, or the warlords, or both.

We may not be able to nation-build for the Afghans, (though if it had been properly pursued from the start ...), but they have proven (at least in the person of Karzai) to be unable to do so either. Who does that leave?

Bill C. (not verified)

Tue, 03/15/2011 - 10:28am

The strategic goal of "Expanding the Franchise of Freedom" represents a clear and present danger -- because it obviously equates to:

a. "Unseating the Status Quo,"

b. "Shaking Things Up,"

c. "Transforming the World" (more to our liking).

Such thinking as this -- and actions taken along these lines -- would seem to cause (and accept as part of the overall concept) a period of instability, danger, uncertainty and chaos -- during the perceived transitional phase(s).

Is this not what we are seeing today?

Does this strategic goal (Expanding the Franchise of Freedom) not also inform our approach to Afghanistan? And help to explain why things are so difficult there?

Thus, in Afghanistan -- and elsewhere throughout the world today -- could the problem be more properly identified as -- not Wrong Strategy, Wrong War, Wrong Tactics, or Wrong Policy; but, more correctly, "Wrong Strategic Goal?"

Bill C. (not verified)

Tue, 03/15/2011 - 12:14am

Wrong War, Wrong Policy, or Wrong Tactics?

Or, as I have suggested, The Wrong Strategic Ends? (To wit: To Expand the Franchise of Freedom) which can, has and will get us into much trouble?