For the left in the Bush era, America's two wars have long been divided into the good and the bad. Iraq was the moral and strategic catastrophe, while Afghanistan--home base for the September 11 attacks--was a righteous fight.In a fairly interesting article, republished by CBS here Michael Crowley of The New Republic interviews retired Army Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl about Afghanistan and asks us to think about what we are doing there. John Nagl is one of those experienced combat veterans of the US Army who helped write the Army/Marine Corps Counter Insurgency Manual.
So, now, before President Elect Obama is inaugurated, is when we should ask ourselves one last time--what is our goal in Afghanistan?
Karl von Clausewitz, author of On War, tells us that the first and most important duty of the statesman is to understand the kind of war he is engaged in. Julian Corbett quotes Clausewitz
Hence, says Clausewitz, the first, the greatest and most critical decision upon which the Statesman and the General have to exercise their judgment is to determine the nature of the war, to be sure they do not mistake it for something nor seek to make of it something which from its inherent conditions it can never be. "This," he declares, "is the first and the most far-reaching of all strategical questions."Once we understand the war, we then have to ask ourselves what we are looking for. That is to say, what is our definition of victory. As the title of a recent book about GEN David Petraeus puts it Tell Me How This Ends.
- Is it all about catching Osama bin Laden? If he dies of natural causes, can we go home?
- Is it about destroying al Qaeda? Should we not be following AQ to ghettos of Manchester, England and the Banlieues of Paris and the Southern Islands of the Philippines?
- Is it about preventing the Taliban from re-establishing a regime that blows up cultural icons and squirts battery acid at teenage girls to keep them from going to school? How much security is enough, and can we negotiate it?
- Is it about democracy in Afghanistan? How stable will that democracy have to be?
- Is it about eradicating the opium crops? For how long will Afghanistan have to be opium free before we can go home?
- We pilot reconnaissance drones over Afghanistan from just north of Vegas. Can't we just police that area with airpower?
If we accept that Iraq is now pretty much a success, what does that mean for Afghanistan? In the linked article above John Nagl estimates, based on classic Counter Insurgency (COIN) doctrine, winning will require 600,000 troops (that is Afghani and NATO and some others--we are part of the NATO contingent and are also there independent of NATO). That is a lot of people and a lot of them are going to have to come from the US.
But, we are unlikely to put a couple hundred thousand more troops into Afghanistan to get to the 600,000 number. Further, unless something happens that changes President Elect Obama's mind, we are not pulling out any time soon. In this I agree with the President Elect. So, we need an "end state" and a strategy that allows us to achieve that desirable end state without dedicating the deployable part of our military to Afghanistan. I believe that is possible. For me the key question is, are the American People prepared to follow President Obama into this territory?
Regards -- Cliff