Thursday, September 3, 2009

Strategery for the Pamirs

I apologize for breaking into our Labor Day discussion, but I have to recommend two well-reasoned posts that readers here might want to review.

The first is here, at Armchair Generalist, and does a competent job airing the issue of "strategic competence" and the effect of its dearth at the National Security Council level. The referenced CBAS study is well worth the time reading, as well.

And over at DNI, Bill Lind, whose geopolitical acumen I respect almost as deeply as I detest his sociological views, takes to task those who continue to insist that "we CAN win! in Afghanistan" without really understanding, or explaining, how this "win" occurs in a fragmented and corrupt Third World not-even-failed-because-to-fail-you-have-to-have-tried-to-be-a "state".

His nut grafs sum this up pretty well:
"The American senior leadership thus needs to undertake a serious and competent analysis of political and moral surfaces and gaps both in our opponent’s positions and in our own. Neither can be accomplished with blinders on. Both must be brutally honest.

It is just possible that such an analysis might offer a roadmap for political and moral maneuver, which is what we require if we are to escape the war of exhaustion. There is, of course, no guarantee; the complexity of a Fourth Generation environment may mean the task is beyond our ability. We may also discover that we can identify some surfaces and gaps yet lack the capability to exploit the gaps. This occurs not infrequently in purely military wars of maneuver.

I think nonetheless that this may be the most promising way forward. If it fails to identify political and moral gaps we can exploit with some hope of success, then logically it leads to the conclusion that we cannot escape a war of exhaustion and its inevitable outcome, our defeat. That too is useful, in that it should lead us to cut our losses and withdraw as soon as possible."
My reading? We have neither the willingness nor the perspicacity to perform the analysis he suggests. Which, in turn, suggests that we may be looking at an escalation in the short term and his "war of exhaustion" in the medium term.

What happens in the long term? You know my opinion - I think this fiddling about in Asia has a real potential to be our Dutch Wars. But that's just me.


  1. I find it interesting that none of the public discussion about Afghanistan ever mentions the very large copper deposit discovered a number of years back.

    funny, huh.

  2. FDChief-

    The first link was interesting . . . but the second was about the most confused piece I've read of Lind's. The contortions he's having to go through to save his reified concept of 4GW are truly amazing, kinda like watching a man swallow his own foot. Would be funny if not so sad.

    Grand Confusion #1: Delbrück's two concepts are normally translated at "Annihilation strategy" and "Attrition strategy", but Lind has to use "maneuver" and "exhaustion" to indicate the "good" from the "bad", whereas for Delbrück there is no good and bad, each has it's place. In a war of this type (no decisive victory possible) the strategy would necessarily be one of attrition . . . live with it.

    Grand Confusion #2: As Sven pointed out on the DNI thread, Lind's WWI history is faulty. It was in fact the repeated emphasis on using a strategy of annihilation (in 1914, and 1916-18) which destroyed any chance that Germany had of pulling a draw in WWI. Germany was simply too weak to defeat all the Allies, but could have possibly achieved a separate peace with Russia and then made a negotiated settlement in the West after breaking the blockade (able to use Russia as a source of supplies) and convincing the French (at the least) that Germany would not be defeated without unacceptable losses (a strategy of attrition). This was Falkenhayn's view and he was Chief of the General Staff from 1915-16. Lind's emphasis on Stosstrupp tactics and not the development of operational art is also a crippling flaw in his whole 4GW framework, but I digress . . .

    Grand Confusion #3: What exactly are the "moral" and "political" levels? Why are they separate? Do they not go together? Here Lind is attempting to mention "political purpose" without stating it directly, since doing so would let the cat out of the bag and indicate that he was talking about "trinitarian war", that is van Creveld's strawman concept . . . which would make this conflict the opposite of 4GW (and thus impossible from their view, since they labeled it 4GW long ago) . . . ouch!

    I could go on, but got bigger fish to fry.

  3. Seydlitz: You nail Lind on his points; he always does this when he tries to hammer his 4GW nail, just like all the other 4GW nuts. And I've never understood his fixation with the Imperial German twilight.

    But I this case I think his thesis is sound: Afghanistan has settled into a low-intensity grind (call it "exhaustion", call it "attrition", call it what you will...) that is not going to yield a "Surge" moment. This, in turn, suggests a rational analysis of costs verses benefits, and while a conventional maneuver war solution isn't likely, there are some nonmilitary weak points that the Western nations can hammer:

    1. The "political" dimension of Afghan tribal politics, as a way of figuring out how to play one faction against another as Afghan invaders have for centuries, and

    2. The "moral" dimension of Islamic medievalism versus modernism. There's got to be a lot of Afghans who're REAL tired of living in the 11th Century. If they get an option that includes life improvement but doesn't require Islamic fundamentalism, they might be turnable, or at least co-optable.

    The problem is we have a big armed hammer, so we're treating this like a nail. Lind's point, when you strip off all the usual 4GW crap, is that we need to look in our toolbox a little harder. That's all.

  4. FDChief-

    By all means a cost-benefit analysis, but we don't need 4GW for that, especially when it only clouds the water. I'm not an expert on Afghanistan, but in terms of strategic theory . . .

    Is not the Taliban we are fighting the successors and remains of the former Afghan state that we overthrew? So that would make it more the nature of a civil war. Our best option is a negotiated settlement between the Taliban and the current government we support (some of which were formally Taliban in any case). We get out, we get NATO out (which is there under false pretenses, not at all what they originally signed on for) and we turn it over to the Afghans with the condition that Al Qaida not be allowed to operate training camps and that designated AQ leaders be turned over to us. This was the original reason we went in in the first place - so go back to basics and end the war.

    That this approach hasn't a chance in hell of happening is due not to the nature of the war or the Taliban, but to the nature of our domestic politics . . . imo.

  5. Anymore, I simply fail at being outraged at anything. It's like pissing into the teeth of a hurricane.

    The latest news from Aghanistan, at least for me, provides some comic relief: the pictures and news story of contractors hired to protect the US embassy in Kabul cavorting like crazed Bacchantes, drinking vodka off each other's butts, singing and dancing to the tune of another multi-million dollar contract from the State Dept.

    Apparently, the public shame has inspired Clinton to officially investigate, even though, as I saw on Maddow's show tonight, whistle-blowers were tooting away as early as 2007.

    As I see it, the most successful outcome of Dubya's "crusade" against the evil-doers of terror in Afghanistan was the booming increase in the production of the poppy fields and heroin.

    According to this blogger, Republican prezes are really good at increasing international trade in cocaine as well.

    The first point is this: When Ronald Reagan became president, he vowed to stop the Florida marijuana smugglers, and in a way, he did it – by using the Navy to form a kind of trade blockade.

    Faced with higher risks, drug rings including the one my friend worked for did not dissolve and go straight. They responded by discontinuing the pot smuggling in favor of cocaine. A few ounces of the powder could bring more profit than many pounds of marijuana. And it was far easier to smuggle.

    Thus did Ronald Reagan became the Father of our Cocaine Country.

    The second point is that the drug gangs couldn’t be stopped, even by the Navy, thanks to human nature.

    My friend’s drug ring cast bribes like bread upon the waters, in order to import their wares with impunity. Sheriff’s deputies, assistant district attorneys and others were on their payroll.

    Read the rest to be amused. Or outraged. I can't tell the difference much these days.


  6. Seydlitz,Chief,
    IMO calling our enemies in AFGH Taliban simply glosses over the realities and complexities of the situation. There are a lot that are not Taliban.IMHO we are simply fighting the people of AFGH, plain and simple.
    Also what makes the Taliban evil? The Talibs have a right to exist as they see fit UNTIL they export or support those that export violence.
    Aren't they a viable counter balance to Iran?

  7. Jim-

    Agree as to labels, and "Taliban" does simplify something that is much more complex. That's why I prefer "civil war" to "insurgency" to describe what is going on in Afghanistan.

    My main beef is with Lind who imo is more part of the problem than a solution. He's been rabbiting on about Iraq and Afghanistan being "4GW" and his deterministic collapse of the state meme since both these wars started. Only once do I recall him going in to the actual (as opposed to public) war aims in Iraq but was unwilling to draw the obvious conclusions. In both wars the apparent US political purposes are not achieveable by military means. If there is no achieveable purpose to be gained by military engagement, then why be engaged?

  8. Seydlitz,
    IMHO US objectives, and it's a charity calling them objectives are unrealistic and unachievable on a political or military level.Our policies are actually free floating anxieties that we're trying to implement or pass off as policy.
    Calling AFGH a civil war is misleading. Isn't it just another day of business as usual? Just another day in paradise?

  9. I suspect that is sufficient to say that if the premise for our involvement has been disabused of it's legality then we have no business there, period.
    The whole thing is little more than a basket of offal thats been kept moist by the blood of to many people...I'm done with it.
    Sorry, but that is now my summation with the whole foreign adventurism...we're a sorry lot for allowing it to happen, and a nuttier lot for allowing it to continue.
    Obama fooled me once...the sad statement that follows that is that I'll never vote for a Republican again so long as the Religious Right Wing is involved with, I guess the Dem's have me over a barrel...all greased up because who am I going to go too?
    I could always vote Independent again...G-d, this whole thing saddens me to no end.