Small Wars Journal

CSIS Report: Military Leaders Must Speak Up To Prevent Another Afghanistan

CSIS Report: Military Leaders Must Speak Up To Prevent Another Afghanistan by Todd South – Military Times

Military and civilian leaders ignored a lot in both the planning and the ensuing 18 years of fighting in Afghanistan. A new report finds the most important thing they ignored was each other.

That’s one of a number of findings that the Center for Strategic and International Studies report “Tell me how this ends: Military Advice, Strategic Goals and the ‘Forever War’ in Afghanistan,” and the subsequent panel held Wednesday.

The eventual picture of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan should look something like what’s happening now in Somalia or Libya, a retired Army lieutenant general who sat on a panel discussing the report said.

Retired Lt. Gen. David Barno said when the United States withdraws it would monitor the situation in Afghanistan along the lines of whatever deal is agreed upon…

Read on.


As to the question "tell me how THIS ends"

a.  Obviously we must look beyond Afghanistan; this,

b.  To adequately address and understand exactly what "THIS" is/to adequately address and understand exactly what we are talking about here.

John Mearsheimer, in his recent "International Security" article entitled "Bound to Fail: The Rise and Fall of the Liberal International Order," seems to do just this.

First, as to what "THIS" actually is, from his major section entitled: "The Liberal International Order: 1990 to 2019:"


After the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union collapsed, the United States was by far the most powerful country in the world. The “unipolar moment” had arrived, which meant that most of the constraints that arise from security competition between great powers were gone.21  Moreover, the thick Western order that the United States had created to deal with the Soviet Union remained firmly intact, while the Soviet order quickly fell apart. Comecon and the Warsaw Pact dissolved in the summer of 1991, and the Soviet Union collapsed in December 1991. Unsurprisingly, President George H.W. Bush decided to take the realist Western order and spread it across the globe, transforming it into a liberal international order. The institutions that had made up the thin Cold War–era international order—the UN and the various arms control agreements—would be incorporated into what Bush called the “new world order.”22 ... 

Creating a liberal international order involved three main tasks. First, it was essential to expand the membership in the institutions that made up the Western order, as well as erect new institutions where necessary. In other words, it was important to build a web of international institutions with universal membership that wielded great influence over the behavior of the member states. Second, it was imperative to create an open and inclusive international economy that maximized free trade and fostered unfettered capital markets. This hyperglobalized world economy was intended to be much more ambitious in scope than the economic order that prevailed in the West during the Cold War. Third, it was crucial to vigorously spread liberal democracy around the world, a mission that was frequently shortchanged when the United States was competing for power with the Soviet Union. This goal was not the United States’ alone; its European allies generally embraced this undertaking as well.27 

These three tasks, of course, are directly tied to the principal liberal theories of peace: liberal institutionalism, economic interdependence theory, and democratic peace theory. Thus, in the minds of its architects, constructing a robust, sustainable liberal international order was synonymous with creating a peaceful world. This deep-seated belief gave the United States and its allies a powerful incentive to work assiduously to create that new order. Integrating China and Russia into it was especially important for its success, because they were the most powerful states in the system after the United States. The goal was to embed them in as many institutions as possible, fully integrate them into the open international economy, and help turn them into liberal democracies.


Next, as to how "THIS" (the Liberal International Order Project) ends, from Mearsheimer's major section entitled "The Liberal Order Goes Downhill, 2005-19:"


Midway through the first decade of the 2000s, serious cracks began to appear in the liberal international order, which have since steadily widened. Consider what has happened in the Greater Middle East. By 2005, it was evident that the Iraq War was becoming a disaster, and the United States had no strategy for stopping the fighting, much less turning Iraq into a liberal democracy. At the same time, the situation in Afghanistan began to deteriorate, as the Taliban came back from the dead and took aim at the U.S.-installed government in Kabul. The Taliban has grown stronger with time, and the war in Afghanistan is now the longest war in U.S. history, lasting longer than the American Civil War, World War I, World War II, and the Korean War combined. Moreover, there is no apparent path to victory for the United States. In addition, Washington and its allies pursued regime change in Libya and Syria, which ended up helping precipitate deadly civil wars in both countries. Furthermore, in the process of helping wreck Iraq and Syria, the Bush and Obama administrations played a crucial role in creating the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which the United States went to war against in 2014.

The Oslo Peace Process, which once seemed so promising, has failed, and the Palestinians have virtually no hope of acquiring their own state. With Washington's help, Israeli leaders are instead creating a Greater Israel, which, as two former Israeli prime ministers have said, will be an apartheid state.40 The United States is also contributing to the death and destruction in the civil war in Yemen, and gave its consent when the Egyptian military overthrew a democratically elected government in Egypt in 2013. Far from incorporating the Greater Middle East into the liberal international order, the United States and its allies inadvertently have played a central role in spreading illiberal disorder in that region.

Europe, which appeared to be the brightest star in the liberal galaxy during the 1990s, was in serious trouble by the late 2010s. The EU suffered a major setback in 2005 when French and Dutch voters rejected the proposed Treaty for Establishing a Constitution for Europe. Even more damaging was the Eurozone crisis, which began in late 2009 and lingers on. Not only has the crisis exposed the fragility of the euro, but it also created intense animosity between Germany and Greece, among other political problems.41 To make matters worse, Britain voted in June 2016 to exit the EU, and xenophobic right-wing parties are growing more powerful across Europe. Indeed, fundamentally illiberal views are commonplace among leaders in Eastern Europe. As a January 2018 article in the New York Times put it: “The Czech president has called Muslim immigrants criminals. The head of Poland's governing party has said refugees are riddled with disease. The leader of Hungary has described migrants as poison … [and] Austria's new far-right interior minister suggested concentrating migrants in asylum centers—with all its obvious and odious echoes of World War II.”42

Finally, a civil war began in 2014 in Eastern Ukraine that involves Russia, which seized Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014, causing a serious deterioration in relations between Russia and the West. Both sides have built up their military forces in Eastern Europe and routinely engage in military exercises that escalate suspicions and tensions between them. This crisis, which largely resulted from EU and NATO expansion, coupled with the West's efforts to promote democracy in countries such as Georgia and Ukraine, and maybe even Russia itself, shows no signs of ending anytime soon.43 Given this state of affairs, Moscow is on the lookout for opportunities to sow discord in the West and weaken the EU and NATO.

Cracks have also opened up in the transatlantic relationship, especially with Trump's arrival in the White House. Trump is contemptuous of almost all the institutions that make up the liberal international order, including the EU and NATO, which he famously described as “obsolete” during the 2016 campaign.44 In a letter sent to European leaders shortly after Trump assumed office, a leading EU policymaker said that the new president posed a serious threat to the EU's future.45 A few months later, just after Trump moved into the White House, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a deeply committed Atlanticist, warned that Europe could not depend on the United States the way it once did. Europeans, she said, “really must take our fate into our own hands.”46 Transatlantic relations have only worsened since then, and the likelihood of a turnaround in the foreseeable future seems remote.

The 2007–08 global financial crisis not only did enormous damage to many peoples’ lives, but it also called into question the competence of the elites who manage the liberal international order.47 In addition to the deterioration in relations between Russia and the West, there are worrying signs of potential conflict with China, which is determined to change the status quo regarding the East China Sea, the South China Sea, Taiwan, and the China-India border. Unsurprisingly, the United States is now more interested in containing rather than engaging China. In fact, the Trump administration recently said that admitting China into the WTO was a mistake, as Beijing's protectionist policies clearly show that it is unwilling to play by that institution's rules.48

Finally, the number of liberal democracies has been declining since 2006, reversing a trend that once looked unstoppable.49 Relatedly, soft authoritarianism appears to have become an attractive alternative to liberal democracy, a development that was almost unthinkable in the early 1990s. And some leaders extol the virtues of illiberal democracy, while others govern countries that are committed to political systems based on deeply held religious beliefs. Of course, liberal democracy has lost some of its appeal in recent years, especially because the United States’ political system often looks dysfunctional. Even serious scholars worry about the future of American democracy.50

In sum, the liberal international order is crumbling.


Bottom Line Thought -- Based on the Above:

The CSIS report we are discussing here is entitled: “Tell me how this ends: Military Advice, Strategic Goals and the ‘Forever War’ in Afghanistan.”

As to the "strategic goals" addressed here (to wit: the "THIS" that we are actually talking about), we must be sure to describe and acknowledge this in "writ large" terms -- and not just in terms of (a) one battle or one battle ground in what, in fact, (b) was a very much larger -- and potentially very much longer -- "war?"