American-style counterinsurgency does not work. It has failed in Iraq and it is currently failing in Afghanistan. In war, strategy should look to policy—which gives war its direction—and then apply the tools of war, like military tactics, to achieve policy aims in the most cost effective way in blood and treasure.Getting to the heart of the issue, Colonel Gentile gives us the quick review:
IN AFGHANISTAN today, American strategy has flunked Sun Tzu. America’s core policy goal from the start of the war in 2001 up to the present—remembering that policy gives war its overall direction and purpose—is focused on disrupting, disabling and eventually defeating al-Qaida. It is actually a quite limited core policy goal that makes infinite sense since it was al-Qaida that attacked America on 9/11. But in order to achieve that core policy objective, American strategy has sought to use a maximalist operational method of counterinsurgency—armed nation-building—to achieve it. It is like using a sledgehammer to drive a nail through a soft piece of pine wood when a carpenter’s hammer would do the trick.So to outline it, we have:
- Policy, leading
- Strategy, leading
With that background, here is the heart of the issue:
There is the idea that emerges from the American Progressive Era during the first years of the 20th century that human reason carried out by experts empowered by governments can fix any problem that society confronts. For example, back then Progressives thought that poverty could be tackled by experts in social engineering and human behavior who could tweak attitudes among the working classes.There you have the critique.
There is also the idea that emerges after the American experience in World War II that never again in the future could the US supposedly “isolate” itself as it had in the 1930s from the rest of the world’s problems—thus resulting in the rise of Nazism. Yet the US was never truly isolated from the rest of the world during the years between World War I and World War II. Still, this line of thinking has resonated forcefully over the years because it assumes that American power, if applied correctly by smart people throughout the world is limitless.
This leads to the last causative factor in American history that has helped shape the current impulse to “change an entire society” in Afghanistan. After World War II, throughout the Cold War and persisting through the 9/11 era is the rock solid assumption that whatever America does in the world is, by rule, morally righteous. This hardened assumption of moral righteousness has combined with another rock solid assumption: that American war of whatever kind works in foreign lands, that if the United States just gets the tactics of war correct and puts the right general in charge then anything can be accomplished with military force.
The question is, do we need a new Policy, a new Foreign Policy?
Regards — Cliff