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Thread: Biddle on Afghanistan

  1. #1
    Council Member rborum's Avatar
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    Default Biddle on Afghanistan

    U.S. Needs a Stronger Commitment to Improving Afghan Governance

    Interviewee:
    Stephen Biddle, Senior Fellow for Defense Policy, Council on Foreign Relations
    Interviewer:
    Greg Bruno, Staff Writer, CFR.org

    Full Interview here:

    http://www.cfr.org/publication/19936...overnance.html

    EXCERPT:

    Q: Some of the experts who traveled with you on the assessment group
    have already written about their observations. Anthony Cordesman [from the Center for Strategic and International Studies] believes victory is possible if the parameters of victory are properly defined. Did you come away convinced that victory is possible?

    Biddle: It is possible, and certainly, the "graveyard of empires" school [referring to the many previous military efforts in Afghanistan that have failed] overstates the degree of difficulty involved. We have some important advantages in this war relative to other counterinsurgents in Afghanistan, especially the Soviet Union. I do think it's possible to succeed. [But] there are two very different requirements for success. One is providing security; the other is providing enough of an improvement in Afghan governance to enable the country to function without us. We can keep the patient on life support by providing security assistance indefinitely, but if you don't get an improvement in governance, you'll never be able to take the patient off the
    ventilator. Of those two challenges, providing security we know how to do: It's expensive, it's hard, it takes a long time, but if we invest the resources there's a substantial probability that we can provide security through our assistance. Governance improvement is a more uncertain undertaking. There are a lot of things we can do that we have not yet done to improve governance, but ultimately the more uncertain of the two requirements is the governance part.
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    Council Member rborum's Avatar
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    More from Biddle in a different streaming audio interview

    Media Conference Call: Stephen Biddle on U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan (Audio)
    Speaker: Stephen Biddle, Senior Fellow for Defense Policy, Council on Foreign Relations
    Presider: Gideon Rose, Managing Editor, Foreign Affairs
    July 30, 2009
    Last edited by rborum; 07-30-2009 at 09:31 PM.
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    Council Member Dayuhan's Avatar
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    Hard not to note that while the word "governance" is prominent in the headline, and the excerpt quoted cites the need for improved governance, there is no discussion of what specifically needs to be improved and how exactly we propose to make these improvements. I assume (and hope) that the oversight was due to space considerations, and that we'll see a more detailed discussion somewhere along the way...

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    The US has been working on - or pressuring the Afghans to work on - "governance" since at least 2004 and not much has changed. Part of that is our fault, but a lot of it stems from the fact that some Afghan culture is not entirely compatible with "governance" as we understand it.

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    Former Member George L. Singleton's Avatar
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    Default We cannot force our value system on a different culture

    I sure hope I am wrong in my analysis but it sounds like General McCrystal is right on one point, but misguided and misled on another.

    1. Building up hugely the Afghan security forces is a right action.

    2. Presuming to impose a Western cultural standard of governance and honesty vs. the Asia version of backshees in Afghanistan is sorely off the mark. It won't work.

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Agree, George.

    Not only will it not work, it's likely to backfire...

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    Council Member William F. Owen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by George L. Singleton View Post
    2. Presuming to impose a Western cultural standard of governance and honesty vs. the Asia version of backshees in Afghanistan is sorely off the mark. It won't work.
    As with Ken, I agree, but this is the fatal path you are committed to, once you see so-called "COIN" in a dimension beyond that which is mostly military.

    You can't witter on about "building the ANP" if the ANP is part of the problem. You cannot build schools for folks who do no want to educate their women or hospitals that will not have doctors.

    The problem that can be solved is the Taliban. Why not put a 1000% into solving that, and then wonder about the other stuff?
    Infinity Journal "I don't care if this works in practice. I want to see it work in theory!"

    - The job of the British Army out here is to kill or capture Communist Terrorists in Malaya.
    - If we can double the ratio of kills per contact, we will soon put an end to the shooting in Malaya.
    Sir Gerald Templer, foreword to the "Conduct of Anti-Terrorist Operations in Malaya," 1958 Edition

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    Council Member slapout9's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rborum View Post
    U.S. Needs a Stronger Commitment to Improving Afghan Governance

    Interviewee:
    Stephen Biddle, Senior Fellow for Defense Policy, Council on Foreign Relations
    Interviewer:
    Greg Bruno, Staff Writer, CFR.org

    Full Interview here:

    http://www.cfr.org/publication/19936...overnance.html

    EXCERPT:

    Q: Some of the experts who traveled with you on the assessment group
    have already written about their observations. Anthony Cordesman [from the Center for Strategic and International Studies] believes victory is possible if the parameters of victory are properly defined. Did you come away convinced that victory is possible?

    Biddle: It is possible, and certainly, the "graveyard of empires" school [referring to the many previous military efforts in Afghanistan that have failed] overstates the degree of difficulty involved. We have some important advantages in this war relative to other counterinsurgents in Afghanistan, especially the Soviet Union. I do think it's possible to succeed. [But] there are two very different requirements for success. One is providing security; the other is providing enough of an improvement in Afghan governance to enable the country to function without us. We can keep the patient on life support by providing security assistance indefinitely, but if you don't get an improvement in governance, you'll never be able to take the patient off the
    ventilator. Of those two challenges, providing security we know how to do: It's expensive, it's hard, it takes a long time, but if we invest the resources there's a substantial probability that we can provide security through our assistance. Governance improvement is a more uncertain undertaking. There are a lot of things we can do that we have not yet done to improve governance, but ultimately the more uncertain of the two requirements is the governance part.

    Almost a perfect example of Karpman's Triangle. The Talliban as the attacker..the Afghan Government as the Victum....and the The US as The Rescuer.....and like Love triangles they never workout and can end up very bloody.

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    Council Member rborum's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by slapout9 View Post
    Almost a perfect example of Karpman's Triangle. The Talliban as the attacker..the Afghan Government as the Victum....and the The US as The Rescuer.....and like Love triangles they never workout and can end up very bloody.
    Slapout - You had asked, on a different thread, for me to comment on the Karpman triangle. It fell off my radar, and I apologize for that. i think you explained it accurately, though, in your original post. The triangle comes from a school of thought in psychiatry/psychology known as Transactional Analysis (TA). TA had some crossover appeal in the general public in the 70's with the books: "I'm OK, You're OK" and "Games People Play." It doesn't have much of a scientific foundation, but many of the concepts have some intuitive appeal. That's why they're sometimes used in business and law enforcement training. The drama triangle is one of them. As described by Karpman, a TA proponent, the triangle is a common gambit or interpersonal "script" in which people adopt and play out certain roles in their relationship/exchange with one another. In this case, the roles are persecuter, victim, and rescuer. The idea is that relationships among people or groups are constructed around these three roles, but the roles are dynamic - they shift over time. The victim may become the perscuter; the rescuer, the victim, etc. In that sense, it is a kind of systemic or cybernetic theory. Beyond that, I don't have much scientific insight to offer. I'm sure Karpman has more insights in drama triangle writings. I haven't thought about TA in quite some time, but the connection you make is interesting.
    Randy Borum
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    Council Member Dayuhan's Avatar
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    In Biddle's defense, he does not talk about bringing the Afghan government up to Western standards, he speaks of "providing enough of an improvement in Afghan governance to enable the country to function without us." There's a difference.

    I'm not sure it's possible to build a functioning national army without having a functioning national government to go with it. The two go together.

    The Taliban are the problem, but no lasting solution to that problem can be achieved without functioning government (note: not necessarily Western standard, but functioning). The Taliban were the government. We removed them, creating a vacuum, and established a government to fill that vacuum. If we leave, and that government falls, there will be another vacuum... and who do we figure is going to fill it?

    I'm not sure it's possible for us to eliminate the Taliban. At best we can suppress them to an extent that will allow the Afghan government to grow to a point where it can function. If the Afghan government can't do that, we're right back where we started. Nobody sane ever said it would be easy.

    Almost a perfect example of Karpman's Triangle. The Talliban as the attacker..the Afghan Government as the Victum....and the The US as The Rescuer....
    That's the narrative that we're marketing. There's a competing narrative out there: The US as attacker (with the Afghan government as an irrelevant US puppet), the Afghan people as victim, the Taliban as rescuer. Who wins the marketing battle, and which narrative is accepted, remains to be seen.

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    Council Member Bob's World's Avatar
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    Dr. Biddle is a smart guy, but he does not understand the problem that he is prescribing a solution for. What he offers is the CNAS party line, but its a very flawed position all the same.
    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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    Former Member George L. Singleton's Avatar
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    Default Civil War motto still would work

    We keep coming back to Lt. General Nathan Bedford Forrest's axiom from the US Civil War of: "Get thar firstest with the mostest!"

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    Council Member rborum's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bob's World View Post
    Dr. Biddle is a smart guy, but he does not understand the problem that he is prescribing a solution for. What he offers is the CNAS party line, but its a very flawed position all the same.
    Bob - I think I understand what you mean by the "CNAS party line", but to my knowledge Biddle is not - and has not been - affiliated with CNAS. He was at the AWC/SSI and is now connected to the CFR. If you have different/better information about that, let me know, but in fairness, I wanted to be clear that neither Biddle's presence on McChrystal's advisory group nor his subsequent reflections and analysis appear to have any institutional connection to CNAS (even if they do reach some similar conclusions).
    Last edited by rborum; 08-02-2009 at 02:06 AM. Reason: typo
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    Council Member jcustis's Avatar
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    Gen. McChrystal organized that assessment as a series of teams or committees of members of his staff to work subtopics. But to work the overall question of how things are going--can we succeed, [and] if so how are we to do it?--he brought in a team of outside nongovernmental analysts to advise him.
    We spent about the first week to ten days of the project in familiarization travel. We were then briefed very extensively by the key elements of the headquarter staff on the situation as they saw it, on the existing plans, on their current plans, and expectations for looking forward. And we then spent a substantial amount of time deliberating among ourselves and coming up with a draft written document that will eventually, assuming that Gen. McChrystal ultimately agrees, come out as the overall assessment [made] to the secretary of defense and to the secretary general of NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization]. That transmission is expected to occur on or about August 15.
    Does anyone know how much time was spent with Afghani government officials, to see how they saw things? And would it have mattered? I presume it would have, and for the better.

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    Council Member William F. Owen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rborum View Post
    Bob - I think I understand what you mean by the "CNAS party line", but to my knowledge Biddle is not - and has not been - affiliated with CNAS. He was at the AWC/SSI and is now connected to the CFR.
    That was my perception. The first six chapters of his book "Military Power" are extremely solid work. I've always judged him to be far more in the Neo-Classicist camp. Not quite a solid "Joel 2:30", but getting close.
    Infinity Journal "I don't care if this works in practice. I want to see it work in theory!"

    - The job of the British Army out here is to kill or capture Communist Terrorists in Malaya.
    - If we can double the ratio of kills per contact, we will soon put an end to the shooting in Malaya.
    Sir Gerald Templer, foreword to the "Conduct of Anti-Terrorist Operations in Malaya," 1958 Edition

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    Council Member Bob's World's Avatar
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    Default I didn't mean to imply I thought he was affiliated with CNAS

    Quote Originally Posted by rborum View Post
    Bob - I think I understand what you mean by the "CNAS party line", but to my knowledge Biddle is not - and has not been - affiliated with CNAS. He was at the AWC/SSI and is now connected to the CFR. If you have different/better information about that, let me know, but in fairness, I wanted to be clear that neither Biddle's presence on McChrystal's advisory group nor his subsequent reflections and analysis appear to have any institutional connection to CNAS (even if they do reach some similar conclusions).
    It is just that CNAS has become the unofficial source of what officials think "the right answer is." on these issues. So if you want to take the "correct" position on irregular activities, take one that falls in that lane. Staff at the AWC are great guys, but the institutional controls (largely informal I believe) are that you do not color outside the lines, so to speak. I've met Dr. Biddle and have heard him speak, read some of his stuff. Solid guy and well respected in his community.

    Many of the current policy and strategy team at the Pentagon either came from CNAS, or rode the coattails of a CNAS mentor into the building. My sense is they are largely a good, competent, well-intended, hard working group. But it does create an air of 'not wanting to bite the hand that feeds you.'

    I just think that the first source for what right looks like should be USSOCOM and/or SOLIC; but blood is thicker than water, and the bloodlines run to CNAS.
    Last edited by Bob's World; 08-02-2009 at 10:41 AM.
    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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    Former Member George L. Singleton's Avatar
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    What would work best for and inside Afghanistan would need to build from and upon the tribal system that permeated and continues today througout all of Afghan society.

    This is a heavy, complex subject which does not take a stamp or mold as from Iraq or Pakistan, it has to be unique to Afghanistan for Afghans at the simpliest level of society to buy it.

    Providing security at the local level has always been the key that we cannot provide...this has to be done by trained up Afghan military and police.

    Trying to convert to cash crops other than poppies is and has always been very difficult. Greed is the same the world over. Give me a subsidy not to grow poppies, I take your subsidy and then I still grow poppies and make even more money. Simplisticly said that is how it has been, is, and in my opinion will always be in Afghanistan.

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    Quote Originally Posted by George L. Singleton View Post
    What would work best for and inside Afghanistan would need to build from and upon the tribal system that permeated and continues today througout all of Afghan society.

    This is a heavy, complex subject which does not take a stamp or mold as from Iraq or Pakistan, it has to be unique to Afghanistan for Afghans at the simpliest level of society to buy it.
    I agree with George here. Afghanistan is much too diverse for a top-down approach, which is what has been tried. Grassroots is the way to go, local control is the way to go IMO.

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