To me the crisis reflects much deeper issues. Some of these have to do with the contradictions between the actual theory of Counterinsurgency Warfare as developed by David Galula, and the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan which are presented to the American people as counterinsurgencies (from our perspective) but are not. This confusion in strategic theory and strategy in turn feeds the political confusion on the US side. What is sorely missing is a honest disclosure of what our actual political purposes are and the best way seen to achieve them.
In 1964, a professional French Army officer named David Galula had published a short, but first-rate book on strategic theory entitled Counterinsurgency Warfare. Galula's conclusion based on his own experiences in Greece, Indochina, China and Algeria, was that to be successful against Revolutionary Warfare (read Maoist-influenced strategies of insurgency), the established state would have to adopt a specific form of warfare based on the realities of this type of conflict, or "counterinsurgency warfare". Galula's approach while very coherent and compatible with Clausewitz's general theory, is specific to a certain political context and thus limited in applicability since the strengths and weaknesses he ascribes to each side refer to this specific political context.
For instance, let us consider this extract from Galula's classic Counterinsurgency Warfare:
Primacy of the Political over the Military Power
That the political power is the undisputed boss is a matter of both principle and practicality. What is at stake is the country's political regime, and to defend it is a political affair. Even if this requires military action, the action is constantly directed towards a political goal. Essential though it is, the military action is secondary to the political one, its primary purpose being to afford the political power enough freedom to work safely with the population.
The armed forces are but one of the many instruments of the counterinsurgent, and what is better than the political power to harness the non-military instruments, to see the appropriations come at the right time to consolidate the military work, that political and social reforms follow through?
"A revolutionary war is 20% military action and 80% political" is a formula that reflects the truth. Giving the soldier authority over the civilian would thus contradict one of the major characteristics of this type of war. In practice, it would inevitably tend to reverse the relative importance of military versus political action and move the counterinsurgent's warfare closer to a conventional one. Were the armed forces the instrument of a party and their leaders high-ranking members of the party, controlled and assisted by political commissars having their own direct channel to the party's central direction, then giving complete authority to the military might work; however, this describes the general situation of the insurgent, not of his opponent.
It would also be self-defeating, for it would mean that the counterinsurgent government had acknowledged a signal defeat: Unable to cope with the insurgency through normal government structures, it would have abdicated in favor of the military, who, at once, become the prime and easy target of the insurgent propaganda. It would be a miracle if, under these circumstances, the insurgent did not succeed in divorcing the soldier from the nation.
The inescapable conclusion is that the over-all responsibility should stay with the civilian power at every possible level. If there is a shortage of trusted officials, nothing prevents filling the gap with military personnel serving in a civilian capacity. If worst comes to the worst, the fiction, at least, should be preserved.
Galula of course is referring to the political leadership of the state under siege by the insurgency, not an outside power. His assumption is that the local government will enjoy initially (prior to the advent of the insurgency) a certain amount of legitimacy in the eyes of the people it supposedly represents. The insurgency will also not be part of the government, or a former government, but totally separate from it. We can see that putting the conduct of war, not in the hands of the local government, but in the hands of an occupying foreign military would be something that Galula would not consider as belonging to counterinsurgency warfare, but something else entirely. Having the military direct the entire process, and that military being a foreign occupation army, would be beyond even his warning of domestic military control of the counterinsurgency effort, which he describes as something "so dangerous to be resisted at all costs".
This brings us to the question as to whether Galula's theory is applicable to say the current struggle in Afghanistan and Pakistan at all. I would say it is, but not in anything like the way it is presented by or among supporters of that war or COIN.
Last month, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates visited India and Pakistan in an attempt to shore up support for US actions in Afghanistan. Juan Cole provides some interesting commentary and numerous links on the trip here: Gates Strikes Out . . .
Gates came under fire in Pakistan for seemingly admitting that Blackwater - now renamed "Xe" - is currently operating in Pakistan, as well as a series of other gaffs. The US is currently pursuing quite incompatible policy aims attempting both to bring India into the Afghan mix while assuming whole-hearted Pakistani support.
Seen from a strategic theory perspective and taking the interests of the two sides in consideration, it would seem that Pakistan and their ISI-supported Taliban allies are more the "counterinsurgents" in this conflict currently encompassing both Afghanistan and Pakistan, while the US/NATO are more the "insurgents", but with few of the strengths Galula would associate with the insurgency. Consider that the Taliban/ISI/Pakistani (T/I/P) side is leading with their political operations, limiting military action to the 20% that Galula suggests, whereas the US/NATO side is very much military heavy. Galula warns that the counterinsurgency should never attempt to negotiate except from a position of strength - which the T/I/P side is now doing, to include sending a Taliban delegation to the London Conference.
To reinforce this view, both Generals Petraeus and McCrystal spoke out in January, Petraeus saying, "The concept of reconciliation, of talks between senior Afghan officials and senior Taleban or other insurgent leaders, perhaps involving some Pakistani officials as well, is another possibility."
McCrystal told the Financial Times, "As a soldier, my personal feeling is that there's been enough fighting. What I think we do is try to shape conditions which allow people to come to a truly equitable solution to how the Afghan people are governed." Signaling weakness, war weariness and the willingness to negotiate from a position of weakness are all characteristics of an insurgency on the verge of collapse.
The Taliban response was predictable:
. . . They nurture this childish and ridiculous notion to subjugate the people of Afghanistan and impose on them the ideology of unbelief. This is because the invaders are not able to think and ponder sagaciously. They propose asylum for a person, whose order every honor-loving individual of the nation, obeys as a religious obligation. It is the cherished hope of every committed Afghan to be in the stronghold of martyrdom and sacrifice in order to comply with the order of the leader.
The fundamental solution of the tragedy of Afghanistan lies in withdrawal of the invading forces from Afghanistan. They should ponder over ways to save thousands from the strong resistance of the Mujahid people of Afghanistan rather than consider suggestions of asylum-seeking for the leaders of Jihad or participation in the puppet government.
The invading foreigners should pull out of the occupied Afghanistan immediately so that those who deserve, should receive their due rights. They should let the Afghans and their true leadership to live in an atmosphere of prosperity, security and fraternity, following establishment of an independent Islamic system in the country.
Following Galula, the counterinsurgent must shatter the political cohesion of the insurgency through a mixture of both political and military action, with the last stage of the counterinsurgency being step 8, "Win over or suppress the last insurgent remnants", page 56.
My purpose here is not so much to make a political point, or to describe the current US political/military confusion, but rather to use Galula's theory to perhaps shed some light on the current reality of the Afghan war.