Democracy Arsenal

« Strategery for Israel, Iran, Af-Pakistan, and the Test Ban | Main | Stuart Bowen's Inspired Idea »

November 09, 2009

Afghanistan Mission Creep Watch - The Barack "Baines" Obama Version
Posted by Michael Cohen

If the New York Times is to be believed things don't look good on the Afghanistan front:

Advisers to President Obama are preparing three options for escalating the war effort in Afghanistan, all of them calling for more American troops, as he moves closer to a decision on the way forward in the eight-year-old war, officials said Saturday. The options include Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s request for roughly another 40,000 troops; a middle scenario sending about 30,000 more troops; and a lower alternative involving 20,000 to 25,000 reinforcements, according to the officials, who insisted on anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. Officials hope to present the options to Mr. Obama this week before he leaves on a trip to Asia. While some civilian and military officials believe Mr. Obama is seeking a middle ground in the debate over Afghanistan, aides denied he has made any decision or is leaning toward any of the options.

There are a lot of things to chew over here. First, let's discard the silly notion that 40,000 troops, or even 30,000 troops, entails a "middle ground" option. The high end on troop levels appears to be 80,000 - but that was never a realistic option, from either a military or political standpoint. So 40,000 was always the high end: and now it looks like McChrystal may get as many as 34,000 - if McClatchy is to be believed. Let's not be fooled on this: if the President sends between 30,000 and 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan it's the high end, not some amorphous middle ground.

The second problem is that troop level decisions are not like ordering off of a Chinese menu; they have to be twinned with a political and military strategy that has a hope of success. But instead to read today's Times article is to see a "strategy" that seems to be a combination of half-baked COIN tactics that seem destined for failure:

Troop levels would hinge, for instance, on the administration’s assessment of how many former Taliban fighters can be peacefully reintegrated into Afghan society and to what extent improved governance at various levels could prevent disaffected Afghans from siding with insurgents.

Officials are focusing on an approach predicated on the belief that the Taliban cannot be entirely eradicated in Afghanistan and that Al Qaeda is the real threat to American interests. The main goal for American forces, then, would be to protect the 10 most important population centers in Afghanistan and keep the Taliban isolated long enough to train Afghan security forces to take over the fight.

This reads to me like a dangerous mismatch. The main goal of US forces will be to protect population centers, which I have to assume means a lighter military footprint in engaging with the Taliban. This is very much at pace with General McChystal's "hearts and minds" strategy of protecting the population and reducing civilian casualties. But how exactly are we going to convince Taliban fighters to integrate themselves into Afghan society when they are feeling diminished military pressure from the United States? What's their incentive to switch sides?

And why do we believe that improved governance alone - devoid of any sort of coercive techniques - will convince the population to side with the government, particularly if ISAF is basically abandoning the rural population to protect Afghan cities?  After all the Taliban has been a largely rural insurgency - wouldn't minimizing foot patrols and focusing instead on protecting the cities actually give the Taliban more breathing space?

Finally, where in a counter-insurgency fight has the application of good governance alone diminished the potency of an insurgency? It hasn't. I think Bing West sums this up well in his recent Afghanistan Trip Report: "A rural population - no matter how content with the government - cannot stand up to a tough enemy." What works in a counter-insurgency - in cleaving the population away from an insurgent force - are generally policies that feature a healthy level of coercion and violence. Check out Malaya, Kenya, Algeria, Iraq and Vietnam is you don't believe me. I'm not advocating such an approach, but at the very least we should be honest about the potential success of a carrot-based approach.

Along these lines, I was struck by something National Security Advisor Jim Jones said in a recent interview with Der Spiegel:

What's really important in Afghanistan is that with this new administration we insist on good governance, that it be coordinated with economic development and security, and that we have much, much better success at handing over responsibility for these three things to the Afghans.

Sure limiting corruption and improving governance is important, but what possible leverage does the Obama Administration and NATO have over President Karzai to act on this agenda if we're about to announce a decision to send 30-40,000 more troops to his country? To be completely honest, I don't care all that much if Karzai is corrupt, so long as he is supporting the US mission and improving the Kabul government's basic capacity. He appears as incapable of doing the latter as he is at ending the former.

Everything I read coming out of this White House review seems to be more and more confusing; there are lots of tactical discussion, lots of questions about troop levels, but I'm seeing a lot less on putting in place a strategy that makes sense, furthers US interests and has a good shot of actually succeeding. Why does this whole review make me feel like the White House is simply muddling through, looking for a "strategy" that will move the ball forward, but won't take the mission any closer to resolution?

Let's be very clear on one point: sending 30-40,000 troops is not a half measure. It represents a serious and ramped-up commitment to Afghanistan that will almost certainly mean the maintenance of a US troop presence there through much of Obama's presidency. It will take months to get that many troops on the ground - and then military commanders will almost certainly demand 12-18 months to test the effectiveness of the new "strategy." That bring us into 2011, even 2012 and a potential re-election campaign.  In short, a commitment like the one that Obama is considering will come to dominate his presidency - and in time directly impact the domestic and foreign policy agenda he was actually elected to put in place. And that impact will not be positive. Making that sort of commitment without a clear strategy for success, without a partner on the ground that can be relied upon and without an exit strategy only increases the risk.

Think long and hard about this Mr. President. Once you take this genie out of the bottle, it ain't gonna be so easy to put it back.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Afghanistan Mission Creep Watch - The Barack "Baines" Obama Version:


34K is not the real number, see here:

They will and are filling "gaps" with contractors and enablers drawn from Reserve/National Guard call-ups. The rest will come from re-tasked Navy and Air Force personnel yanked out of their jobs and told whatever they tell them to do.

They will and are filling "gaps" with contractors and enablers drawn from Reserve/National Guard call-ups

cold store equipment

professional racking & shelving manufacturer, pallet racking, drive in racking,
cantilever racking, longspan shelving, dexion racking

Thank you for your sharing.! seslichat seslisohbet

As far as I know in a statement on Roe's anniversary, Obama reaffirmed his support for abortion rights but acknowledged those on the other side of the issue: "While this is a sensitive and often divisive issue, no matter what our views, we are united in our determination to prevent unintended pregnancies, reduce the need for abortion, and support women and families in the choices they make." The next day, the president reversed the Mexico City policy...

Thank you for your sharing! I like i very much!

Great comments! You are so nice, man! You never know how much i like'em!

Yes, that's cool. The device is amazing! Waiting for your next one!

The FRANCK MULLER Watch Santa FRANCK MULLER Watch Monica-based

Good recommended website.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Sign-up to receive a weekly digest of the latest posts from Democracy Arsenal.
Powered by TypePad


The opinions voiced on Democracy Arsenal are those of the individual authors and do not represent the views of any other organization or institution with which any author may be affiliated.
Read Terms of Use