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Thread: What will our expedition to Afghanistan teach us?

  1. #41
    Council Member TheCurmudgeon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KingJaja View Post
    Let me add a few words.

    Is it possible that the Taliban offered Afghans a more compelling narrative than the US? Think about it - if you are poor, uneducated and religiously conservative would a US propped Karzai (corrupt, insensitive & incompetent) be vastly preferable to the simplicity & piety of the Taliban (or other religious conservatives).

    The last great narrative, Socialism was very attractive to the poor (I feel the US thinks it won the Cold War, so it has never seen the need to reflect on "lessons learned").
    This is very true. Plus American's tend to equate socialism with communism without realizing that many of the "liberal democracies" of Europe have socialist leanings including England.

    Now our new "threat" is China, a poor country that rose to become a economic giant in just a few generations (much like the USSR, except with less interest in expanding beyond their own territory).

    Quote Originally Posted by KingJaja View Post
    Today, the most attractive narratives to the World's poor are religion and/or ethnic nationalism. Pentecostal Christianity & Fundamentalist Islam are the two most dynamic narratives among the poor. Thankfully, the first isn't anti-US, but the second is.
    Religion offers simple answers to complex questions. Religions like Christianity and Islam offers the poor the ideal narrative - the faithful will receive their just reward in the afterlife (and the immoral wealthy their just desserts). They define clearly how we need to be in life to ensure everlasting bliss - a powerful narrative and one that is difficult to overcome as long as the poor remain poor. Economic stability, personal security, and a real hope (not just failed promises) of a better future may be the only way out.
    "I can change almost anything ... but I can't change human nature."

    Jon Osterman/Dr. Manhattan
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    TheCurmudgeon,

    Economic stability, personal security, and a real hope (not just failed promises) of a better future may be the only way out.
    That is true, but the fact is that the most dynamic economic player in the poorest and most troubled regions of the World (South Asia, Middle East and Africa) is not the US, it is China.

    In a perfect World, US and China will enter a partnership - US does what it can on security (the minor part) and China does the heavy lifting (trade & infrastructure).

    Please note: Aid isn't going to drive economic stability.

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    Council Member slapout9's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jcustis View Post
    Buried somewhere here is a comment I made during my Afghan deploy. I let my bearing slip while I asserted it was time for Afgans in my valley to get off their knees and shoot some knuckleheads in the face. The answer has always rested with the Afghans, but they are incapable of unlocking it. I concur with you on that account as well.
    JC,
    I remember that post. I don't think you lost your bearing it was one of your better post and very accurate at least from my sources.

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    Default Potentially useful reading.

    Heard the authors on the John Batchelor show sometime back. Have not read the book but it may be of interest:

    These experts in the field challenge commonly held views about the success of the global war on terrorism and its campaign in Afghanistan. Their book questions some fundamentals of the population-centric COIN doctrine currently in vogue and harshly criticizes key decisions about the prosecution of the Afghan war. It is the only book to compare the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan from a national strategic perspective. It questions several key operational factors in Afghanistan, including the decision to give NATO the lead, the performance of both civilian and military leaders, and the prosecution of an Iraq War-style surge. It also contrasts the counterinsurgency campaign styles and the leadership of senior American officials in both Iraq and Afghanistan. A final chapter outlines key lessons of the two campaigns.
    http://www.amazon.com/From-Kabul-Bag.../dp/1612510221


    Any suggestions on what to read regarding coalitions and counterinsurgency or is our NATO experiment kind of a first?

    If you go back to the 2002-3 period and are given the military task again, given that NATO and the US wanted to stay in some peace keeping capacity, is there a different way to do things? I suppose the complaint back then is that requests for troops were turned down. How to stabilize in a more modest way if you are given that civilian task, whether it be wise strategically or not?

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    Default @ King Jaja

    Quote Originally Posted by KingJaja View Post
    TheCurmudgeon,



    That is true, but the fact is that the most dynamic economic player in the poorest and most troubled regions of the World (South Asia, Middle East and Africa) is not the US, it is China.

    In a perfect World, US and China will enter a partnership - US does what it can on security (the minor part) and China does the heavy lifting (trade & infrastructure).
    That is the Thomas Barnett model and I'm as skeptical of that model as I am of his Core-Gap model:

    http://pundita.blogspot.com/2008/04/...l-see-you.html

    In a way, isn't that the model today? China builds its export driven economic model while the US provides security and gains debt and loses market share? It hasn't worked out so well for the US (largely because of our sillier than silly elites that can't think their way out of a paper bag, IMO). Two nations that want to be the top dog are going to have trouble with that model until the whole top dog thing is sorted out. The British-American Atlantic alliance model with China?

    The US doesn't need it, we are huge with two great oceans on either side and relationships with lots of different nations. We can hang out and do our own thing and be involved only as much as it suits us, the China model for the US.

    That model will bankrupt the US. Heck, even the Chinese model may eventually slow down for internal reasons and as others get in on the Africa game and learn from the Chinese.

    Sorry, don't see it except in a de facto way which doesn't require any kind of grand partnership. As part of larger international governing treaties and alliances and networks (UN), sure.

  6. #46
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Coalitions and counterinsurgency

    Madhu just asked:
    Any suggestions on what to read regarding coalitions and counterinsurgency or is our NATO experiment kind of a first?
    In modern times the USA has fought several wars, some of them with an insurgent component, with a coalition. Sometimes the extent of US fighting has been very small, e.g. French Indo-China as the logistic supplier and maybe money too.

    The UK considers some of its small wars have been coalition efforts too. Not only in the colonial era, such as Malaysia and Kenya; then Oman comes to mind. To be fair even when sovereign states were involved the UK was in the lead.

    What is not clear from Afghanistan is what the balance was between NATO the alliance and individual members on policy-making. An alliance that had worked together preparing for war - in Europe - appeared when campaigning in Afghanistan to - be diplomatic - lose focus.
    davidbfpo

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    (1) Human nature is dependent on the conditions of its context. War in any form is a horrible thing, but it must be understood on its own terms. The "shock value" of war needs to be stripped away to expose the foundations of conflict, which is the only issue which requires addressing. When placed within this context, all of our values must be reevaluated. If we see ourselves and the enemy within this prism, we will be must better situated to meet and destroy him.

    (2) Ideas are subordinate to political interest as instruments of power politics. Principles are dangerous and get peopled killed for no good reason. Everyone is ideologically promiscuous - even the Army. What matters most is a favorable outcome; the means are relevant to the extent they influence political objects sought from the conflict. This is why the US Government can give Karzai bags of cash while talking about democracy with a straight face.

    (3) Political power in some form is the object of all relevant actors. Nobody cares about building agricultural ditches through remote villages or political transparency in a mountain frontier district. Without power, principles don't matter -- so it's important to establish alliances with credible stakeholders. Karzai may not be an ideal partner, but who is the alternative?

    (4) State actors are not monolithic and many decisions depend upon the resolution of internal factional struggle. The legacy of Afghanistan is it's historically weak central government in comparison to the outlying political powers in the South and West. Kabul does not command absolutely fealty from these provinces, and the Taliban is only the most recent manifestation of the lack of political control. But it goes much further with the complex intersection of economic and political interests which run amok. This inevitably leads to contradictions -- like Karzai condemning and restricting US military operations while simultaneously negotiating for an extended US military presence in the country.

    (5) Conflict is determined by the position of the actors in relation to one another, rather than from some inherent conflictive nature. Our adversaries are not political drunkards looking for the next street fight -- they're smart, calculating opponents looking for every advantage. It was 20 years ago the Taliban was in negotiations with the US government for economic concessions. That prospect is far off now, and it will be a long hard road to untangle the US and the Taliban from one other. But the point is that there's a way forward, for better or worse, and there is a political relationship in which neither party is antagonizing the other. At some point, neither party will gain from continued conflict and it will end.

    (6) Rational actors may be locked into a particular course irregardless of desire for it. Because of the presence of multiple, contradicting interests, there are also multiple, contradicting rationalities driving decision making, and this is compounded by the factional nature of governing and politics. So which course of action does someone choose? It's irrational for the United States to set an arbitrary date to leave Afghanistan. But is it irrational within the greater context of America's political and economic condition?
    When I am weaker than you, I ask you for freedom because that is according to your principles; when I am stronger than you, I take away your freedom because that is according to my principles. - Louis Veuillot

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    Council Member AmericanPride's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KingJaja View Post
    Let me add a few words.

    Is it possible that the Taliban offered Afghans a more compelling narrative than the US? Think about it - if you are poor, uneducated and religiously conservative would a US propped Karzai (corrupt, insensitive & incompetent) be vastly preferable to the simplicity & piety of the Taliban (or other religious conservatives).

    America holds great promise to the World's educated middle classes, but of what relevance is it to the World's poor? This is something that strikes me when I walk around the streets of Lagos.

    The last great narrative, Socialism was very attractive to the poor (I feel the US thinks it won the Cold War, so it has never seen the need to reflect on "lessons learned").

    Today, the most attractive narratives to the World's poor are religion and/or ethnic nationalism. Pentecostal Christianity & Fundamentalist Islam are the two most dynamic narratives among the poor. Thankfully, the first isn't anti-US, but the second is.

    Does the United States of America have a narrative it can sell to the World's poor?

    US diplomats, policy makers & politicians should ponder over that question, because it will contribute to the success of future "nation building" exercises.
    I agree, perceptions matter. And perceptions must be shaped by smart information campaigns. But these information campaigns must be nested within the broader political objectives -- which may not be helpful or relevant for the poor. It's not to say that the global poor don't matter; they most certainly do, but not in every context, and their interests are definitely not the same as those shaping American foreign policy. There are also a couple of risks: (1) information blow-back where people take our ideas seriously and hold us accountable for not meeting them, thereby decreasing our legitimacy; (2) the message is convoluted because of competing bureaucratic interests within our own government and (3) ideological competition with other competing ideas. In the end, coercion is more reliable and comforting than debate, which requires a degree of trust. And trust is notably absent in conflict. Like I tell my wife: if you don't trust me, it doesn't matter if I tell the truth.
    When I am weaker than you, I ask you for freedom because that is according to your principles; when I am stronger than you, I take away your freedom because that is according to my principles. - Louis Veuillot

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    Council Member jcustis's Avatar
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    (5) Conflict is determined by the position of the actors in relation to one another, rather than from some inherent conflictive nature. Our adversaries are not political drunkards looking for the next street fight -- they're smart, calculating opponents looking for every advantage. It was 20 years ago the Taliban was in negotiations with the US government for economic concessions. That prospect is far off now, and it will be a long hard road to untangle the US and the Taliban from one other. But the point is that there's a way forward, for better or worse, and there is a political relationship in which neither party is antagonizing the other. At some point, neither party will gain from continued conflict and it will end.
    Alas, Columbia is experiencing this condition mentioned in the last sentence, while Mexico is just warming up.

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    In most ways, I suspect we actually won't learn much from the Afghanistan experience. We have no real strategy now, so there will be no way to assess any lessons learned from that; our metrics are all tactical in nature, so all of our lessons learned are about how to optimize those metrics, while at the same time slipping farther and farther behind in regards to the larger strategic picture. Years from now retired generals will write books and give speeches about how "we defeated the Taliban, but that later, after we left, a corrupt GIRoA fell to (insert name of country here) inspired forces.

    But to get an idea of the future of Afghanistan, one need only look due north and see who it is that is earning tremendous influence throughout this central Asian region:

    http://www.realclearworld.com/lists/...sia_countries/
    Robert C. Jones
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    "The modern COIN mindset is when one arrogantly goes to some foreign land and attempts to make those who live there a lesser version of one's self. The FID mindset is when one humbly goes to some foreign land and seeks first to understand, and then to help in some small way for those who live there to be the best version of their own self." Colonel Robert C. Jones, US Army Special Forces (Retired)

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    Default Five points from an armchair

    1) Respect and understand history - from all viewpoints. In the Afghan context this appears to have come rather late - as indicated in the briefing for the UK's forces after 2006.

    2) Remember however mighty external power seems local works better, even if not to our standards. This was obscured by the initial success in ejecting the Taliban and the faith on the strictures of the Bonn Agreement.

    3) If external intervention in - a sovereign state - ignores or thinks that problems like corruption, drugs and a nearby "safe haven" can be accommodated defeat is more likely.

    4) Professional militaries bleed and back home support will shrink over time. This effect is enhanced if reserves are called up. Expensive too.

    5) If you are not welcome, don't stay. Ignore this only if you can be ruthless to all the population beyond your own announced standards.
    Last edited by davidbfpo; 05-11-2013 at 07:13 PM.
    davidbfpo

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    Council Member Bob's World's Avatar
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    David,

    I would add a few points a bit more fundamental and strategic in nature:

    1. The form of legitimacy necessery for natural stability cannot be created or bestowed by foreign power, but rather must be bestowed by culturally accepted ways across the populace.

    2. To maximize foreign influence one must first minimize foreign control.

    3. Winning is not preserving some government in power or destroying some threat to the same. Winning is when the % of the population who perceive themselves as stakeholders in the solution of governance grows.
    Last edited by Bob's World; 05-11-2013 at 07:07 PM.
    Robert C. Jones
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    (Understanding is more important than Knowledge)

    "The modern COIN mindset is when one arrogantly goes to some foreign land and attempts to make those who live there a lesser version of one's self. The FID mindset is when one humbly goes to some foreign land and seeks first to understand, and then to help in some small way for those who live there to be the best version of their own self." Colonel Robert C. Jones, US Army Special Forces (Retired)

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    In most ways, I suspect we actually won't learn much from the Afghanistan experience. We have no real strategy now, so there will be no way to assess any lessons learned from that; our metrics are all tactical in nature, so all of our lessons learned are about how to optimize those metrics, while at the same time slipping farther and farther behind in regards to the larger strategic picture.
    And this is the reason why someone needs to continue the sincere, transparent assessment, across the tactical to strategic.

    Chandresekaran has laid the first stone on the path.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bob's World View Post
    Winning is not preserving some government in power or destroying some threat to the same. Winning is when the % of the population who perceive themselves as stakeholders in the solution of governance grows.
    With this I must disagree. Winning is achieving the goals you set out to achieve. Period, end of story. The percentage of Afghans who perceive themselves as stakeholders in the solution of governance doesn't have to be our problem or our business, and inherently is not our problem or our business.

    I think Jon had it right from the start:

    Quote Originally Posted by jcustis View Post
    1) The national policy goals should be clear and concise, and the integrated plan to achieve them must be properly resourced. Make sure everyone understands the goals and the plan.
    Winning is achieving your goals, and the first step toward winning is to start with a clear, practical, and limited set of goals. A second step would be to stick with those goals and not go looking for new ones.

    As far as lessons go, I think Jon had the first one right. Keep the goals clear, practical, and limited, and make sure everybody involved knows what they are and how they are to be achieved.

    Lesson 2, for me, can be summarized as "know when to go". There is nothing to gain by getting bogged down in occupation and nation-building. When you occupy you become a static target that invites insurgency. When you embrace the chimera of "nation-building" you inevitably end up harnessed to a government that cannot stand, but that you cannot allow to fall. It doesn't work. It's not necessary. Better to leave while you're still scary, while you still have the initiative, before anybody can claim to have chased you out. That might not have been best for Afghanistan, but "fixing" Afghanistan was never our problem. Convincing whoever ends up running the place that provoking us is a bad idea was our problem.

    If we're ever in an analogous situation again, I hope we can compel ourselves to go there with clear, practical, limited goals. I hope we can achieve those goals and leave. Faint hope, I know, but we all have dreams.
    “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary”

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    You're touching on something that gets stuck in my craw consistently these days.

    The notion that we must stay the course with disaster, so that allies believe we will follow through on a commitment/promise/partnership, tends to blind us to the truth that the disaster is overwhelming us.

    That may have worked with Cold War containment strategies, but I do not believe it is valid for the small wars we have faced recently. Time to set that model aside.

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    Quote Originally Posted by jcustis View Post
    The notion that we must stay the course with disaster, so that allies believe we will follow through on a commitment/promise/partnership, tends to blind us to the truth that the disaster is overwhelming us.
    I think before we talk about staying the course we have to talk about defining the course, and that brings us back to the goals. I have no objection to "staying the course" if the course is defined by a set of clear, practical, and limited objectives. If "the course" is defined as transforming Afghanistan into a western-style market economy democracy, we shouldn't even be starting on it, let alone staying on it... IMO of course.
    “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary”

    H.L. Mencken

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    As I stated in an earlier post, "punitive expeditions work."

    But even if that achieves ones narrowly tailored goal of punishing for past acts and deterring future ones, that is not "winning."

    The win I describe is not for the interloper, it is for those they would interlope upon. Not our job to create or even fund such a victory - but is good to understand what a true victory is.
    Robert C. Jones
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    "The modern COIN mindset is when one arrogantly goes to some foreign land and attempts to make those who live there a lesser version of one's self. The FID mindset is when one humbly goes to some foreign land and seeks first to understand, and then to help in some small way for those who live there to be the best version of their own self." Colonel Robert C. Jones, US Army Special Forces (Retired)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bob's World View Post
    But even if that achieves ones narrowly tailored goal of punishing for past acts and deterring future ones, that is not "winning."
    It is for us, and that's what we need to worry about.

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob's World View Post
    The win I describe is not for the interloper, it is for those they would interlope upon. Not our job to create or even fund such a victory - but is good to understand what a true victory is.
    Neither you nor I nor any combination of Americans can determine what "winning" is for anyone else. Like us, they "win" when they achieve their goals, and their goals are something they have to define. We can't do it for them. If we're talking about Afghans (or many others), the chances are that some of them will have goals that are not compatible with the goals of others. Those discrepancies are something they will have to sort out in their own way. That may or may not involve violence; either way it is not our business unless they ask us to mediate (fat chance) and we think it's in our interest to do so.

    We need to focus on what we need to achieve, not what we want to achieve, and on ways to achieve those needs that are consistent with the time and resources we are willing to apply. Trying to define other people's goals is just going to create more trouble, and it's not going to make us any friends.
    “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary”

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bob's World View Post
    As I stated in an earlier post, "punitive expeditions work."

    But even if that achieves ones narrowly tailored goal of punishing for past acts and deterring future ones, that is not "winning."

    The win I describe is not for the interloper, it is for those they would interlope upon. Not our job to create or even fund such a victory - but is good to understand what a true victory is.
    Gradually we're returning to the Powell Doctrine, which was a doctrine born out history and non-emotional examination of our past adventures where we attempted to impose our way of life on others through various forms of coercion. The Powell Doctrine was intended scope expectations of policy makers, but unfortunately arrogance triumphed over reasoned decision making where we recognized our limitations.

    COINistas like Nagl who are partly responsible for the U.S. wasting billions of dollars on these unreasonable expeditions without end continue to push for the implementation of failed approach and are apparently incapable of learning from our reason expeditions. Funny and sad in the same way because this is what Nagl accused the military of during Vietnam. Maybe the next best seller that influences military doctrine will be "Eating Soup with a Spoon."

    The lessons I believe we need to take to heart are:

    - Punitive operations work, even if their effects are transitory. They are often the best option unless it is feasible (not simply desirable) to address underlying issues.

    - Before heading off to occupy a country and transform a foreign culture more to our liking we must do a cost benefits analysis. Transforming societies in small pockets like Iraq and Afghanistan does not address existential threats to our nation, in fact these expensive (financially and morally) expeditions distract us from what is important, and divert resources from the important to the unimportant.

    - In rare cases where we need to oust an existing government and then occupy and transition to a new government we need to gain much better understanding of what is desirable and workable by the population instead of blindly barging in with an American vision of their future. Nations will evolve at their own rate when "they" are allowed to evolve.

    Let's face if a nation like America existed before our own Revolution they would have been highly critical of our slow political development when it came to human rights (slavery), the right for women to vote, discrimination, etc. It takes both political space and time to evolve, and while you can impose with bayonets and leveraging financial tools, what you impose won't last.

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    Council Member jcustis's Avatar
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    Maybe the next best seller that influences military doctrine will be "Eating Soup with a Spoon."
    Post of the year Bill...post of the year!

    As for the cost-benefit analysis, the problem we seem to have stems from the limited scope of people conducting the analysis.

    When it is accomplished by people you brought into your administration, and doesn't have the sense to cast the net of assessment far enough, it's screwed from the beginning. I think it's double screwed if those people have never carried a weapon before in the service of their nation, because that tends to balance out the booksmart theory, in my opinion.

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