Sunday, December 13, 2009

OK, so does this tell us anything?

Today's IHT had an article chock full of interesting tidbits. Here's a couple of them, and I'll number them for quick reference as you comment.

1. Mr. Gates, who maintained his usual laconic reserve as the disarray unfolded, was by Friday more openly reflective when he acknowledged to American troops in Kirkuk, the oil-rich region north of Baghdad, how hard a sell the wars were at home. “One of the myths in the international community is that the United States likes war,” he said. “And the reality is, other than the first two or three years of World War II, there has never been a popular war in America.”

Talk about a Freudian slip on a horrific scale! So, should there even be "popular" wars? Having worked in the field for the bulk of my adult life, to include actually fighting in a couple of them, I shudder at the notion that any war might be "popular". I would hope that those who bear arms would be clinical about their trade. I would also hope that those clinicians would also retain a touch of humanity at the same time. Perhaps not in the heat of close contact, but at least in the larger sense.

Isn't it time to think about war as a last resort? To use a word so terribly over worked by GWB and Co, should war be "popular" of more correctly viewed as the application of necessary, but basically evil acts in response to unnecessary evil acts? Of course, necessary and unnecessary is in the eyes of the beholder.

In my eyes, popularity or not, the major failure of the American culture is the presence of far too many people who take war, especially "away games", far too lightly. If the 19 boxcutter wielding guys of 9/11 had killed or maimed a proportion of the NYC population equal to some of our collateral damaged innocents in Iraqi or Afghan villages - - - - well, think about it!

2. Mr. Gates found himself ..... startled by President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, who blurted out at a palace news conference that the Afghans would not be able to pay for their own security forces until 2024

Ok, boys and girls, if the Afghans will not be able to pay the bill for 15 more years, who will? And in return for those 15 years of payments, what will be the return on investment? You gotta love Karzai. If he is right, his "honesty" should scare off sane people. If he is wrong, you have to wonder where his head is. Either way, he's announced, "Heads you don't win and Tails you lose". Actually, after reading all that has been written about the nature of the country, his comment sounds quite plausible. Where would a tribal, non-industrial, natural resource poor country get the money to fund security forces sufficient for what we hope of them?

3. And, while we are wondering why the current wars are not "popular":
Mr. Gates did meet with Mr. Maliki early on Friday, the same day he finally managed to talk to some troops. That was in Kirkuk, where in a town hall-style session he was asked unusually pointed questions. Why, one wanted to know, is the United States still at war after eight years?

“I think it’s a mistake to look at Afghanistan as sort of one eight-year war,” Mr. Gates responded in the same even tone he had used all week. “We had a war in 2001, 2002, which we essentially won. And the Taliban was kicked out of Afghanistan. Al Qaeda was kicked out of Afghanistan, many of them killed. And then things were very quiet in Afghanistan.”

Without blaming President George W. Bush’s administration, which he once served, for sidelining the conflict in favor of Iraq, Mr. Gates said the second war in Afghanistan started in late 2005 and early 2006. “But the United States really has gotten its head into this conflict in Afghanistan, as far as I’m concerned, really only in the last year,” he said.

I think we have discussed his first claim, "essentially winning" the "first war in Afghanistan". How can you claim victory when the only result was a political vacuum, not a firm, sustainable political end state? OOOpppsss, there I go again, asking why we ignored our well developed doctrine for an "Occupation". Societies with Attention Deficit Disorder don't do occupations.



  1. Chief.

    1. "should war be "popular"

    Chief, I think you are taking this slightly out of context. The SecDef is speaking to the troops, and he is likely intending to assuage their concern that the troops will not be supported when they return home. I spent both 2004 and 2008 Presidential elections in war zones (Iraq and Afg), and the polls, the measure of a "popular" war, was always discussed by service members during these elections. Two things to consider. One, the obvious, is the scar left by Vietnam, and the memories (or just horrific stories from the perspective of those like me who didn't live it) of how soldiers were treated during that "unpopular" war. And second, service members, just like anyone else, are concerned about their legacy, how their communities and history will view their actions. Service members want to know that they are doing the right thing, that their sacrifice is not in vein.

    Argue what you want about the war, the SecDef is simply trying to rally to troops to let them know that polling numbers should not be the indicator used by service members as they fight their own personal battles of commitment, justification and sacrifice.

    2. "Where would a tribal, non-industrial, natural resource poor country get the money to fund security forces sufficient for what we hope of them?"

    Simple. Opium. Who cares, it all goes to Russia, right?

    Seriously, here is the issue as I see it. Karzai has been smoking the western green grass too long, or he is simply playing some dopey white guys who don't get his country. (probably the later). Money has no real meaning in Afg, power is the currency.

    During the invasion, interagency brothers of ours showed up with palettes of $100 bills. They gave them away for everything. Fact is, they could have bought the same services for a $1 bill. The people had no concept of the value of the USD (but they do now!). You don't need money to buy security, you need money to build dams to give year round water supply, and you need money to train farmers in modern farming techniques that would allow them to feed their own people and export to neighboring countries. But I digress, sure Karzai needs money, needs money to keep running the western style security forces that keep him in power.

    3. "why we ignored our well developed doctrine for an "Occupation""

    No kidding. I've been asking for my Army of Occupation ribbons since 2003.

  2. oops, my bad. Above post directed at Al.

  3. #2 isn't nearly as difficult; you overemphasize money way too much.
    The ability to raise an army depends not on money - it depends on food.

    I wrote about that before:

  4. Omg, Al, talk about supplying me a target rich enviroment...where do I start?
    This is all Grand Strategy here...there is no strategic objective for us in Afghanistan to accomplish except humanitarian...and that's been working out so well for us so far.

    #1: What if the United States through a war and no one came? or in Afghanistan's case, we threw a war and everyone came?

    At least Gates has finally come around to admitting that the current situation in Afghanistan is a war, now if we can just get him to stop saying COIN.
    Because I'm coming to the firm belief that we cannot have a war, and a COIN going on at the same time. Either it is one or the other.
    I'm open to be disabused of this, but as I said, I'm coming to believe this separation.

    #2: The thing I think that highlights this point Al isn't so much what Heir Karzai said, as what you correctly pointed out...
    "Where would a tribal, non-industrial, natural resource poor country get the money to fund security forces sufficient for what we hope of them?
    Which is what I think Karzai is fully aware of...his country has opium, and unless Afghanistan decides to start establishing legitimate Pharmaceutical companies that can process their opium crops into drugs for the world community that really got squat to pay for a pillow, much less an army.

    #3 /facepalm
    You do know why companies split their fiscal year into quarters?
    So they can isolate and rationalize the data on the quarters that were a failure on an epic scale, and allow them to gloat over the "brilliant successes!" of the good quarter. The whole time ignoring the yearly overall performance which is still lower in spite of the one quarter success.
    Same same here.
    Gates is splitting dates, and I'm not fooled by the shell game he's trying to get me interested in.

    We should unassing Afghanistan ASAP.

  5. Nice post Al-

    The Afghan campaign of 2001 was essentially a punitive expedition, but also necessary to set the stage for the Iraq war . . . read GWB's West Point speech of June 2002 . . .

    " . . . History has also issued its call to your generation. In your last year, America was attacked by a ruthless and resourceful enemy. You graduate from this Academy in a time of war, taking your place in an American military that is powerful and is honorable. Our war on terror is only begun, but in Afghanistan it was begun well. (Applause.)

    I am proud of the men and women who have fought on my orders. America is profoundly grateful for all who serve the cause of freedom, and for all who have given their lives in its defense. This nation respects and trusts our military, and we are confident in your victories to come. (Applause.) . . ."

    This of course the same speech which instituted the new US Policy of preemptive war, aka "The Bush Doctrine", but most of the rhetoric was about "building peace" and America being the "single surviving model of human progress". It was obvious at the time that the Army was seen as a key player in this, so Gates's talk of different Afghan wars involving the US since 2001 is poppycock.

    Both wars involved establishing pliant client states as was understood at the time. That was of course the rub, since the Bush regime was hopelessly incapable of doing anything close to that.

    This brings up an interesting doctrinal aspect of COIN. David Galula's classic "Counterinsurgency Warfare" is a basic text for current COIN doctine, but for Galula, counterinsurgency is basically counterrevolutionary, that is the counterinsurgent is operating as the defender of the established state against a domestic revolutionary movement which hopes to radically change the society in question.

    This is NOT our situation in either Afghanistan or Iraq. In Afghanistan we imposed a corrupt and incompetent government with little popular support. In Iraq what started with "Chalabi & friends" has evolved into a "client state" which snubs the visiting US SecofDef (picture them doing the same to the Iranians?) and can't wait for us to leave.

    Exactly which side is the revolutionary movement wishing to change the society in question, and which side is representing the traditional power base(s)?

  6. Seydlitz: This is NOT our situation in either Afghanistan or Iraq. In Afghanistan we imposed a corrupt and incompetent government with little popular support. In Iraq what started with "Chalabi & friends" has evolved into a "client state"...

    No, we are not looking at an insurgency in either place. What we are looking at is the creation of two failed states by US military might and the resulting chaos. Like it or not, both countries were relatively stable until we deposed and dismantled the "governments" they had, placing no real governing structure immediately in their place. I guess the truly weak of intellect might have "believed" that democracy would immediately make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

    Again, my constant harping about a proper "occupation", which would be an externally imposed non-native governing body that could provide public safety, essential services and public infrastructure while the indigenous population took a deep breath and built some form of government, public safety, etc over time to be granted the right of sovereignty when capable. Rather, we simply created a vacuum and tried to play cheerleader.

    But then, if there is one thing that GWB and Co didn't understand, it's that explicit in the title "government" is the responsibility for governing, which at the very least means insuring and providing for the general well-being of those being governed. Just as George's beloved unfettered free markets turned into a ball of self-serving chaos, so did these two countries.

  7. Al-

    "Just as George's beloved unfettered free markets turned into a ball of self-serving chaos, so did these two countries."

    Yes, agree. This also reflects the Clausewitzian view that the character of the government in question (including the personality traits of the leaders) will be reflected in the policies (including character of the established client states) they attempt to impliment.

    I would also had that this contradiction with classic COIN theory I've pointed out is yet another element which the current US "warrior-think" seems unable to even comprehend, let alone address . . . interests always seem to get in the way.

  8. Al,

    The popular notion of Taliban "stability" pre-2001 is mostly a myth. For more, read this:

    #2 is certainly true. The Afghan government is will not be able to pay for itself for a long time.

  9. I have to go with Andy on this to a point; the Talibs were keeping a sort of order, but my reading is that a LOT of tribes chafed under their strict version of Islam and the likelihood of some sort of breakdown was pretty high. That said, we sure screwed that pooch. If we'd done a straightforward smash-and-grab we could at least have avoided taking ownership of this congeries of suck. Not so now.

    And the whole business about how the GoA is so fiscally the hell much government do these bastards need, anyway? It's not like the Talibs are being funded by freaking SPECTRE. If the damn thieves calling themselves "government" didn't steal 80% of their own revenue...

    And we just won't ever agree on this one, Al. I don't think that Doug MacArthur and the whole SHAEF could have "occupied" the 'Stan. Between us, the Russians, and the local factions that pooch was screwed before we ever got there. It WAS a failed state. We just failed it a bit more and then foolishly tried to superglue some of the bits together. That'll work about as well at you'd think.

    But here's the thing; Afghanistan has done this before. It's a tribal society, so the failure of the central government is really not that much of a big. If we were to let the natural play of events take its course the Talibs would return - though not with the force they had pre-02 - and form some sort of ragged "government" that would last until some strongman arose in one of the Pashtun tribes, took over and imposed the peace of the grave, the bribe and the marriage pact with his rivals. All we're doing now, really, is preventing that from happening - what the Russians did for about 2-3 years after they ended their full-on war.

  10. Don't forget the large copper deposit in Afghanistan. It is big enough to finance much of the state, if only a working mine can be established and guarded.

  11. Re: Gates on "popular" wars.

    The U.S. public likes war about the same way that any group of us hairless monkeys likes war - far away, and preferably fought by someone else. We've generally like the IDEA of war, providing that it yielded us some profit. Those wars where the process looked ugly and the benefit small; the Revolution, 1812, the Indian Wars, Korea and Vietnam were never particularly "popular". Most of us loved stealing us some Mexico, the Civil War started with great enthusiasm until the reality of being smashed in the face with a half-inch rifled projectile sunk in, 1899 was a "splendid little war", WW1 and WW2 were fought with some determination and, of course, all the micro "wars" of the post-Vietnam period were a big wet, sloppy kiss from the press to the "troops" to make up for VN.

    So what Gates is doing is taking advantage of Americans who know no history, even their own military history, to blow smoke up their ass and make them feel good about wasting their time in wogland. In fact they are imperial troops fighting imperial wars, policing the hustings, the wild places at the edge of Empire, just as their British and French and Spanish and Russian predecessors used to. The difference is that our country makes no attempt to formally RULE these places, so their efforts are building sand on sand and will be blown away by the first strong local wind after they leave.

    And as far as TRYING to make these wars popular...the Romans had the idea. I'll bet that all the networks would carry the Triumph of Imperator McChrystal live, with the flatbed trucks bearing stands of AKs and RPGs, the exotic camels and pikas of Central Asia plodding or scampering along, the long files of Talibs in chains, glumly shuffling down to RFK to entertain the masses in fighting to the death or being torn apart by wild beasts, and in the van the triumphant general himself born along in a chromed HUMVEE draped with battle streamers and trophies of arms, his family beside him, resplendent in his dress uniform while behind him stood a lowly private in a ragged, dirty uniform holding above his head a golden crown and whispering into his ear the warning that glory is fleeting.

  12. Ael: I'll bet our boy Karzai's buddies could give lessons to our tweakers here in Oregon, who can have your copper pipes stripped and sold in Lents for a hundred bucks of crank before you can say "loya jirga".

    Copper. Henh. It ain't where the money COMES from that's the problem in's where it GOES.

  13. Chief-

    As I have posted before, my comments on implementing an "Occupation" in Afghanistan do not posit that it would have been "successful". That said, not even attempting one ensured chaos.

    Whether or not the Taliban could hold the lid on things in the long run is not at issue. At the time of the invasion, they did have a measure of control, and what we put in place of that was close to zero.

  14. Al,

    The question of "control" in an interesting one. The Taliban “control” just produced a different set of winners and losers – non-Pashtun areas improved considerably since 2001, for example. Personally, I think a "stable" Afghanistan is one where the locals control their own destiny but that would mean an end to the fiction of a strong central government regardless of whether that government is the Taliban, Karzai or something else. We keep deluding ourselves that a "democratic" Afghanistan will produce positive change with no losers.

  15. I think the question here is concerning US policy, and particularly the most serious policy decision possible: that of overthrowing a foreign state and setting up something in it's place. But of course it doesn't end there in regards to the decision to overthrow the Taliban . . .

    The subject of pre-2001 Taliban stability is a red herring, since there are plenty of "states" that lack stability (as defined by Western standards) but this does not lead to regime change. Nor was there any doubt at the time that the Taliban could turn over OBL, they were "stable" enough for that which was our only real concern, supposedly.

    In 2001 the Taliban was not considered an enemy, but rather OBL was. Bush demanded that the Taliban hand over OBL and close his camps or face the consequences. The Taliban (with Pakistan's support) replied that they might turn over OBL if the US "provided solid and convincing evidence". Bush rejected this stating, "there will be no negociations or discussions . . . there's no need to discuss innocence or guilt . . . we know he's guilty". Pakistani officials negociating with the Taliban in the meantime agreed that OBL would be handed over to an Islamic court in Peshawar, Pakistan and this court would decide whether to try him or hand him over to the US for trial. It's also interesting to recall that the Taliban refused to turn over OBL directly because he was a Muslim and would not receive "justice" in the US since Bush had already declared him guilty. An interesting view coming from a "rouge state".

    Musharraf under US pressure rejected the deal, accepting in effect aide instead of evidence. This is also the beginning of post 9/11 direct US meddling in Pakistani affairs which has had such fateful consequences . . .

    To put this into perspective we need a timeline. The decision to overthrow the Taliban was made around 14 September, that is before the ultimatum was given on the 20th. The air attacks started on 7 October with the Taliban offer being on the 14th. Sec. Powell and CIA director Tenet supported negotiation at this point, whereas Rumsfeld was against since it would set up "a precedent for future military interventions where the evidence might not be so extensive".

    . . .

  16. Now consider the radical nature of Bush's September/October 2001 decisions in regards to the Taliban and the precedents which were established.

    1. Regime change based on presidential decree, rejecting any negotiations or legality, "we know he's guilty" or "Badges?, we don't need no stinking badges!". Followed by brand spanking new client states courtesy of market-based hocus-pocus.

    2. Hearts and minds be damned. We do what we want cuz we're righteous (in our own eyes) and we got the power to do it. This was the beginning of the long slide of decreasing foreign support for the US post 9/11.

    3. A big sack of $$$ for those willing to do our bidding without the legalistic and culture-based red tape. Musharraf was only the first in a long line of such characters who do ever soooo much to help establish stable political entities.

    4. The official unveiling of Rumsfeld's new military machine and its associated art(lessness) of war . . . war planning for Iraq began on 21 November 2001 (according to Woodward's book).

    5. The "first victory" in the long war against terrorism . . . pay no attention to the man (Cheney) behind the curtain. Afghanistan as the "demonstration model" (Paul O'Neill's term).

    6. Establishment of the concept of "military combatents" and all the abuses associated with that, Gitmo opens its doors to a group of people, the majority of whom we paid bounties for and were of negliable intelligence value.

    7. Spook War or war in the shadows, or "with the gloves off" and "with virtually no civilian oversight". (See the Price of Loyalty, p 190). I would assume this includes the expanded use of contractors.

    8. And perhaps most importantly, the mindset of 9/11 being an act of war - instead of criminality - which has cost so much blood since.

    In Afghanistan, Bush sowed the wind and America continues to reep the whirlwind . . .

  17. "The Taliban (with Pakistan's support) replied that they might turn over OBL if the US "provided solid and convincing evidence"."

    This is a very important point, and I pointed that out several times before (in other places, of course).

    OBL was till denying his guilt at that time (obviously). AQ had no prospect of becoming the movement that it become eventually as long as OBL denied his guilt.
    AQ became the rally point and 'energizer' for world-wide (wannabe) jihadists only after OBL admitted his guilt in regard to 9/11.

    Swallow this pill:
    We would be better off if the Taliban were still harbouring him.

  18. Seydlitz and Sven,

    The problem is we did all that after the 1998 embassy bombings. We showed the Taliban the evidence on UBL and the Taliban claimed, variously, that he was innocent, that he couldn't be extradited, or that the Taliban would put him on trial, or that UBL was a guest and could not be extradited. We told them we were neutral in their conflict and that our missile strikes against the camps were targeted at AQ and not the Taliban. We engaged in more diplomacy with the Taliban after the embassey bombings than we had previously. We made it clear that UBL was what stood in the way of a path of recognition of Taliban governance of Afghanistan. The Taliban assured us that UBL was under their control and could not conduct any attacks. We told them we would hold them to that and put them on notice that the Taliban would be held responsible for any further acts by UBL.

    After 9/11 the Taliban gave us the same lines they'd been giving us for years: Show us the evidence; we will put him on trial, etc.

    I'm all for diplomacy, but to repeat the game we'd been playing with the Taliban for years was a fool's errand.

  19. I'm not sure I understand your point, Andy; are you saying that trying legal and diplomatic levers on the Talibs was frustrating so our only option was to go in and knock the top off the bottle?

    ISTM that we had a hell of a lot of "intermediate" options between nothing but diplomatic jaw-jaw and whistling up arclights to help the Northern Alliance shove the Talibs out of Kabul.

    I have to reluctantly agree with Sven here; we've made a bigger mess that we started with.

  20. Chief:

    A big copper mine requires all sorts of capital and infrastructure (both mechanical and human).

    It doesn't matter who gets the profits from such a venture, simply operating one for a few years would do an awful lot to bind Afghanistan to the rest of the world. Of course, the pollution would be incredible.

  21. Ael: I do appreciate the revenue possibility. The problem with stuff like this is it usually becomes a "resource trap". The country (or in this case, tribe) that holds the ground the resource sit in or under usually doesn't have the technical capability to exploit it on an industrial scale. So Kennecott (or Shell, or BP, or General Electric) move in, buys the lease for what is pretty much a pittance for them, and begins mining or drilling or manufacturing.

    Of course, this requires "stability" and a "reliable labor source" so the foreign corporation hires or bribes the local cops and soldiers to smash the heads of labor unionists, "agitators", nationalists and pretty much whoever doesn't like the idea that their copper, oil or selenium belongs to the foreigners.

    The other dead end is where the locals manage to hold onto the rights, keeping the foreign companies at arm's length. Here what usually happens is the weak legal and social codes fall apart, and all the proceeds of the venture go to the local elites.

    Either way, the situation of having industrial resources without an industrial base is usually a bad one for the undeveloped country. I cannot see the 'Stan being an exception.

  22. Chief,

    Where I disagree with Sven and Seydlitz regards the notion that the Taliban were actually willing to turn UBL over if only "solid and convincing" evidence was produced.

    As for other options, what were they? We've talked about a couple before (like a punitive expedition), but what else? Also, I think it's just as likely, if not moreso, that we ended up with a bigger mess because of decisions made after the invasion rather than because of the invasion itself.

  23. Ael,

    For what it is worth, copper is an interesting venture, but agriculture is the key to the Afghanistan economy. It is a nation of farmers who for centuries have only produced what they needed for their small enclave. Two primaries reasons for his, first water is scarce (why opium is such a great crop) and two, the techniques used to preserve and transport food are in adequate and therefore the food usually spoils before it can be exported to border countries that would pay for it.

    Both solutions are at hand, and are very cost effective. One, there is enough snow in the Hindu Kush to supply water year round for a vast majority of the country. They need infrastructure (dams, waterways) to control the spring melts (which usually result in uncontrolled flooding). Two, they just need to be taught some modern farming techniques and build some more modern transportation systems. Hell, it doesn't have to be modern, a train system would work just fine.

    There have been efforts to do this by the occupation forces, but it hasn't been a main effort, and the chicken or the egg argument always gets in the way (provide security vs. build infrastructure). This is my view, if we are going to be there and do something, it might as well be something constructive.

  24. Andy's made his points before, but I don't find them very convincing.

    Once again, look at the timeline. Bush decided to overthrow the Taliban between 14-17 September (according to Paul O'Neill), I go with the earlier date since Bush operated with two separate cabinets - the inner and the outer, the outer included Woodward as the fly on the wall.

    The Bush administration wasn't particularly interested in OBL prior to 9/11 and had been conducting negotiations with the Taliban on mostly other issues as late as July.

    Andy's argument of Clinton's experiences influencing Bush policies doesn't really hold water - since their attitude at the time was "Anything But Clinton", as their view of the OBL threat prior to 9/11 and other issues proves.

    The Taliban had asked for proof of OBL's guilt prior to the start of the air offensive on 7 October. On 15-17 October they offered to turn OBL over to a 3rd country (Pakistan) for trial. That is they offered this after the bombing had aready begun . . . so what reason is there to doubt their sincerity?

    Here would have been the best point to have made a deal, imo. Stop the bombing for 48 hours on "humanitarian grounds" and give the Taliban that much time to get OBL to the court and let "Pakistani justice" decide, which at that point would have been very much in our favor, after things had cooled off a bit.

    That was not possible though because Bush's iron will had already made the radical and fateful decision to overthrow the Taliban government in mid September . . .

    From a strategic theory perspective, Bush had already lost the war on terror within a week of 9/11 . . . and we haven't even gotten into the machinations that took place between Bush and Musharraf during September and October . . .

  25. "Andy said...
    Where I disagree with Sven and Seydlitz regards the notion that the Taliban were actually willing to turn UBL over if only "solid and convincing" evidence was produced."

    I didn't even write that (although I think it's possible).

    I wrote that even accepting OBL in a Taliban safe haven would have resulted in less of a mess than we have today.
    It was in our interest (if only the two scenarios of real history and no invasion were considered) to keep him in Afghanistan as pre-9/11.

    Many things in life (and especially many in warfare) seem paradox, but are for real. It takes deliberation over many, many influence factors to understand some stuff and to see how the 'obvious' reaction may lead to disaster while the 'obviously' inferior option may be in your interest.

    Another example, for easier to grasp technological arena:
    Don't attempt to build a nearly invincible weapon. Your enemy will sense the threat, appreciate it, and counter it ASAP. The enormous cost of developing and arming yourself with such a near-invincible weapon would be leadto very little because it would be countered quickly and well (F-22 anyone?).

    A small innovation that's not spectacular at all (as for example a tank that needs only half as much maintenance, but has no greater firepower or armour) may stay unnoticed, fail to provoke a countermeasure - and may pay off greatly for decades.

    It's like that in many military topics. I recommend Luttwak's "The logic of war and peace" for an in-depth treatise on this and similar issues.

  26. Great conversation here. My biggest disappointment was Gates's comment that essentially we need to take a mulligan for the years 2004-2008 in Afghanistan. Yes, Mr. Gates, it still counts as one war. You don't get to take the shot over again and pretend it didn't cost billions in dollars, hundreds of lives.

  27. Sven-

    I disagree as to

    "that even accepting OBL in a Taliban safe haven would have resulted in less of a mess than we have today".

    Hind sight bias. How were we to know that in 2001? It simply was not a political possibility in 2001 to leave OBL in Afghanistan. For me the basic problem was in handling 9/11 as a war rather than an act of criminality, not to mention deciding off the cuff that it was a good idea to go around overthrowing foreign governments . . .

    You mention Luttwak, which to me indicates the limits of strategic theory rather than it's appropriacy in predicting future events in war. Luttwak has written several very interesting books of which "Strategy" is the best known. His concepts of "paradoxical logic" and the inverted pyramid of levels of strategy are well thought out and add to our knowledge of strategic theory . . . but his attempts at predicting future events have been terrible, "pure charatanism" in the words of Svechin. This brings out clearly imo the limites of strategic theory which is by nature retrospective, the events surrounding and comprising war are simply too complex to predict given the very limited information we have in real time, not to mention the contingent and strategic cultural elements of decision making.

    Luttwak is an academic, but imo the best strategic theory has been written by those with a close understanding of praxis: Clausewitz, Mao, Galuga, Smith, Svechin . . . Still even the most strategically minded can be blinded by political interest, which is of course very Clausewitzian . . .

  28. Hindsight or not; I compared to scenarios and expressed my opinion on which was less terrible (better).

    The reasoning for the Afghanistan war was poor, but that's a completely different story.

  29. Seydlitz-
    For me the basic problem was in handling 9/11 as a war rather than an act of criminality, not to mention deciding off the cuff that it was a good idea to go around overthrowing foreign governments . . .

    A very fundamental point that seems to be forgotten in most discourse. There were so many fundamental errors in decisions implemented following 9/11, and, I would offer that many of those flawed decisions were due to their having actually been made, at least in concept, before 9/11 - long before 9/11. People itching for a fight simply received a green light on 9/11. Unfortunately, after 8 years of these two mis-prosecuted wars, we tend to drift away from the question of whether 9/11 was an act of war or a criminal act. We didn't look for a government to topple after Timothy McVeigh's escapade, did we?

    Seydlitz's comment hits upon what I think is a significant contributor to the mess we currently face. That is the highly likely possibility that offensive operations against "our enemies" were already something being thought about with a level of expectation approaching certainty, and events simply occurred that could be accepted to support such thoughts. For all intents and purposes, we lived through a self fulfilling prophesy.

  30. That's plausible for OIF, but not for OEF-A.

  31. Sven-

    Your "plausible" may hold true for rational people, but we are talking about the Bush administration.

  32. Seydlitz,

    Well, it's nice to finally see you put forth an alternative, which is I something I've asked for many times. I think your idea has some merit, but I don't think anything would have changed anything in the end.

    There are a couple of reasons to believe Taliban offers in October 2001 were not sincere:
    1. The Taliban were getting hit pretty hard, so a 48 hour pause would be very useful to them operationally.
    2. The Taliban's historical lack of credibility regarding similar offers.

    Also, remember that capturing UBL was only one goal and, by itself, was insufficient. Take a look at UNSC resolutions 1333 and 1267 for what the US and the international community was demanding (both passed under Clinton). Extradition of UBL was only one part which included, among other things, dismantling AQ camps in Afghanistan which the Taliban never addressed.

    Although I’m pessimistic a ceasefire would have resulted in a diplomatic resolution, I don’t think would have hurt much to give it a try, so I'll endorse it. What evidence, though, is there, even with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, that the offer represented a real strategic change of heart?

    The Bush administration wasn't particularly interested in OBL prior to 9/11 and had been conducting negotiations with the Taliban on mostly other issues as late as July.

    You’ve made this allegation a couple of times now, so let’s see some evidence. Based on declassified State Department documents, we know of three official contacts between the Taliban and the Bush administration before 9/11 and all three were not substantially different in content from those under Clinton. So what is the basis of your allegation?

    Seydlitz, Al,
    For me the basic problem was in handling 9/11 as a war rather than an act of criminality, not to mention deciding off the cuff that it was a good idea to go around overthrowing foreign governments . . .

    What does “handling 9/ an act of criminality” mean in real, actionable terms? What law enforcement measures were available that were not already being implemented? AQ and its actions went beyond mere “criminality” because the issue in Afghanistan was that the “state” (ie. The Taliban) was harboring, aiding and abetting the “criminal” AQ organization and UBL. The Taliban did not consider AQ or UBL to be criminals – quite the contrary, they considered them to be brothers. Traditional means to combat criminality cannot work when the criminals have de facto state sponsorship and that state does not consider them or their actions criminal. If that is not the case, then please explain why.

    Furthermore, in Afghanistan it was clear early on that law enforcement proved insufficient and so AQ was dealt with as a political issue between the US and the Taliban on a state-to-state basis, which was perfectly appropriate. In other words, AQ and its actions were not considered merely “criminal” long before Bush took office. Diplomacy and attempts at assassination via military means and covert action failed along with law enforcement for several years until 9/11. At what point does the US, or any nation, get to hold another nation responsible for the acts of criminal organizations the hosting state recognizes as legitimate? How, exactly and in practical terms, do you handle that situation as “criminal” matter?

    So, what were the alternatives? This is a question I keep asking here and so far I’ve heard two responses, neither of which strikes me as a response to a "criminal" act: 1) A limited punitive military campaign which Chief has previously discussed and 2) a pause in the war to give the Taliban the opportunity to do what they previously refused to. Again, if there were such clearly better alternatives it should be very easy with the benefit of hindsight to explain them in detail.

  33. Andy

    What law enforcement measures were available that were not already being implemented? AQ and its actions went beyond mere “criminality” because the issue in Afghanistan was that the “state” (ie. The Taliban) was harboring, aiding and abetting the “criminal” AQ organization and UBL.

    Well, let's see. Have we invaded states that look the other way in terms of narcotics production that comes to the US? Did we threaten to invade Switzerland or promote "regime change" in response to what they legally allow in terms of tax dodging? War was the instrument of choice for Afghanistan and Iraq because war is what was wanted by that administration.

  34. Al,

    First of all, tax frauds hiding behind Swiss law is not exactly the same thing as killing several thousand Americans and blowing US diplmatic facilities, ships, etc. The comparison is absurd and I'm really surprised you would make it. Secondly, with respect to the drug war (which I think is a stupid boondoggle, btw), government intent matters. The one country where drug running was the officially condoned policy WAS invaded (see Panama). The others are simply inacapable of preventing activities inside their borders which is very different from sponsorship. Had the Taliban come along and said, "hey, we don't support this UBL guy and his AQ organization but we can't get rid of him, please help us", then that would be a fundamentally different situation and comparable to something like Columbia. But that wasn't the situation in Afghanistan - AQ and the Taliban were active allies. Finally, you don't answer the question - what law enforcement (or any other) measures were available? What were viable alternatives?

  35. Andy-

    Sorry, but I just find it amazing that you expect us to provide you a whole list of policy alternatives to overthrowing a foreign state (the most radical alternative) . . . You unquestioningly assume that the most radical course of action was the only course in the fall of 2001, and then expect a whole list of options as alternatives, when in fact those options are only limited by the strategic imagination (as shown in posts on this thread) . . . but I guess maybe that's the problem.

    As to the "allegation" that the Bush administration wasn't particularly interested in OBL prior to 9/11, I would refer to Richard A. Clarke's book, "Against All Enemies" which I have read. He makes the case for me. If you wish to take him apart, be my guest . . .

    If you wish to go into the whole subject of negotiations with the Taliban over oil pipelines, it's your call. You will notice, I've avoided that subject.

    I also find it interesting that you made no mention of the subject of Bush/Musharraf deal making during September/October 2001, which I'd brought up . . . consider that Pakistan was talking to us and the Taliban at the same time, and also acting as "go-between" . . .


    I'm thinking about a new post on the Gian Gentile article in Parameters . . . connected with Galuga . . . should be fun. Watch for something in the next couple of days.

  36. Seydlitz,

    Well, if you are going to claim that we took the "most radical option,” make vague statements about "alternatives," state 9/11 should have been handled as a criminal matter without explaining what that means in practical terms, and link to a bunch of op-eds claiming there were “alternatives” with no details, then I don't see what's so unreasonable in asking what those claimed better alternatives actually were. I don't really like defending the intervention policy (since it hasn’t turned out so well) but I lack the “strategic imagination” to envision a viable alternative which is a deficit you and I seem to share. I am not hostile to alternatives, nor am I assuming anything. If I were, I wouldn’t be actively searching for alternatives by asking critics like you to at least list some if not provide detailed arguments supporting one or more.

    I haven’t read Clark’s book so can’t comment on that score.

    We can talk about oil pipelines if you wish – I’ve extensively researched the efforts during the 1990’s. The efforts under the Bush administration seem to consist mainly of wishful thinking, but if you have relevant source material (no more op-eds or unsupported opinion please) on that I would be very interested in reading it.

    As for Bush/Musharraf, I can’t respond to everything unless I want to devote my life to blog comments and what you said wasn’t exactly specific enough to warrant a response regardless. It’s not exactly news that Pakistan was a go-between pretty much continuously from 1979 until today. So what?

    I would love to read something on Col. Gentile and look forward to your next post.

  37. Andy-

    First, he did take the most radical option: the overthrow of a foreign state, in fact Bush took that option twice.

    Second, if you describe Michael Howard's speech, William Polk's paper and Milt Bearden's warning as "Oped's"??? . . . what you seem to demand is a fully formulated history of something which never happened, in effect counterfactual history. That's not the way policy really works, is it?

    Instead the initial decision is made at the top and a whole sequence of actions and reactions followed by decisions on both sides follows. Look at the distinction between diplomacy (what FDChief referred to as "jawjaw") on one end of the spectrum of conflict and overthrowing the enemy state on the other. In between we have a whole range of options based on this contingent interaction of conflict . . .

    Where Bush screwed up and screwed up really bad with the US paying the price was in deciding on the most radical option (overthrowing the target state) at the very beginning. The reason for this imo was the need for a precedent, the effects of which I listed above.

    In strategic theory the initial conditions of a conflict profoundly affect its character and how it plays out. Ignorring that, attempting to convince ourselves that a mistake was inevitable only condemns us to endlessly compounding that same mistake.

  38. It's interesting to use the word "diplomacy" when viewing events pertaining particularly to Iraq. If one checked Bush's public utterances in the lead up to the war, one would probably find that "diplomacy" was used to describe his efforts to get other nations to join in the invasion far more frequently than in reference any attempts to work out a "diplomatiuc solution" with Iraq. Of course, one would also have to ask "what diplomatic solution was GWB seeking with Iraq, other than regime change".

    I have posted previously that I received an e-mail, in another discussion group, in the summer of 2002 from a retired 4 Star who had just returned from a visit to DC. He stated that an invasion of Iraq was not an "if" but a "when", and that "when" was on the near horizon. Yet, the official "public" posture of the administration was that no decision had been made. Of course Tommy Franks ultimately spilled the beans when he said that the ramp up in air attacks were specifically to degrade air defense facilities for an upcoming invasion.

    The invasion of Iraq was inevitable because it had been basically decided upon far before a public (and fraudulent) "case" was even being presented.

  39. Al-

    Agree. They made the decisions and then provided a deceptive - or outright mendacious - rationale to the public. But we can't admit that obvious fact since it would call far too much into question . . . like what exactly their political purpose in fact was . . .

  40. I thought we were talking about Afghanistan. I think Iraq was very different and there were many alternatives available.


    I get it - you think the invasion of Afghanistan was a mistake. You've made that clear. What is completely unclear is what you consider a viable alternative policy. If a guy like you, 1000 times smarter than Bush, can't come up with one in 2009, what makes you believe there were a whole range of viable options in 2001 without the benefit of hindsight?

    Yes, the speech and papers are opinion pieces. Informed opinion, yes, but opinion nonetheless. Informed opinion is obviously valuable but it is also insufficient.

    I'm not asking for a complete counterfactual history. I'm asking for an alternative policy with a little bit of detail and some justification for why it would have been better, though the latter isn’t strictly necessary. What I’m looking for are alternative courses of action. If what we did was the wrong choice then what’s the alternative. It would also be nice if someone could explain what "handling 9/ an act of criminality" actually means in terms of policy. Strategic theory isn’t much use unless the theory can be operationalized into a viable policy. For example, you say that 9/11 was an act of criminality. Great, now translate that into policy. I don’t see how that request is so unreasonable.

  41. I'm taking a harder look at this conversation and I have to say that I'm confused. I'm leaning more toward Andy's side here. If we're saying Iraq was a screwed up policy issue, fine, yes, admitted. But the rationale for going into Afghanistan and handing the Taliban their ass is pretty crystal clear. As I was walking to the Building on 9/12 to go to work, watching the smoke still coming off the roof, I knew we were going to kill someone, hurt someone real bad. And I was all for that. Afghanistan's government at the time made the wrong decision.

    Now (I think as Andy puts it) this is a point in time where someone has to implement policy into action. Someone in crude terms said "pound the Taliban and make them croak and then we'll get AQ and our pound of flesh." And then someone (stupidly) said "but do it on the cheap, we have other fish to fry." Now that was dumb, but let's not get into semantics that Afghanistan could have been handled as a diplomatic handling of a criminal case.

    Yes there were cultural differences, yes, the Taliban was stalling, yes AQ was a "guest" in their country, yes, there were better military alternatives. But I don't see any other courses of action in 2001-2002. After that, yeah, completely different story (which is why Gates wants to segregate the early fight from the long stretch).

    Start a new post, this one is getting cluttered.

  42. Jason: As I was walking to the Building on 9/12 to go to work, watching the smoke still coming off the roof, I knew we were going to kill someone, hurt someone real bad. And I was all for that. Afghanistan's government at the time made the wrong decision.

    OK, so doctrinally or strategically, what would have been the right way to hurt someone really bad or kill them? You just hit on the nub of the screw up in Afghanistan. If we were to play the military card, should it have been a punitive strike or a war? If the latter, what was the strategic political end state? And if you can cite one, did we pursue that "war" in a manner doctrinally consistent with achieving that political end state?

    So, even if the decision to initiate hostilities is correct, when the manner in which the hostilities are conducted is incorrect, the end result is a mess. How do you differentiate between a stupid war and a stupidly conducted war? Both are folly.

  43. Answer 1; War
    Answer 2, strategic end state - reduce Taliban into a crumbly mess, get revenge on AQ
    Answer 3, doctrinally consistent - bomb the crap out of them using SOCOM pointers
    Answer 4, yeah it's stupid but 2004-2008 was stupidly conducted. All war shows a failure of diplomacy and tact, and thus are folly.

    Excuse my flip remarks, tired, going to get drink.

  44. "Seydlitz,

    I get it - you think the invasion of Afghanistan was a mistake. You've made that clear. What is completely unclear is what you consider a viable alternative policy. If a guy like you, 1000 times smarter than Bush, can't come up with one in 2009, what makes you believe there were a whole range of viable options in 2001 without the benefit of hindsight?"

    This is not hindsight, but the opinion of someone who had only access to open source intel in 2001:

    I expected in 10/2001 AQ was the issue, not TB.
    I expected that there would be some
    - bombing
    - covert intel operations
    - bomb/cruise missile attacks
    - Bn-sized raids (rangers) against the oh-so notorious "terror camps".

    The expected effect was that a safe haven would become unsafe and overt infrastructure worthless to AQ. AQ would need to hide.

    All else would be the job of law enforcement and domestic intelligence service (prevention).

    I'm very confident that this approach would have cost much less, killed much less innocent, have yielded much less KIA/WIA, would not have tarnished the reputation, not damaged the rule of law, satisfied the thirst for revenge just as well and would have been just as effective.

    It was not difficult to come up with a better plan than the neocon villains. I knew about military stuff, I knew about military history, I knew a bit about the more recent AFG history.
    I did not have a huge staff, a gigantic intelligence service community and the staff of a huge military at disposal before I began to expect and prefer that course of action.

    The easy toppling of the TB came as a surprise to me due to a lack of those infos. I did nevertheless expect them to leave asap when the TB fled. There was no need for more than SF and CIA after OP Anaconda.

    The idea to rebuilt a country at the other end of the world into a western-style model state was so entirely alien to me that I could never have got or accepted it.

  45. Sven,

    That's like asking someone to figure out a viable alternative to committing rape or suicide. The answer is completely obvious. There simply isn't any reason to be in Afghanistan, nor any reason to think that warfare is a cure for terrorism. The evidence shows eight years of consistent failure and delusion. The people who support it think of it the way 13-year-old looks does a video game, and ask silly questions demanding alternatives for better entertainment.

  46. Sven: satisfied the thirst for revenge

    Probably very close to the primary rationale for Afghanistan, but somehow it morphed from a punitive action into a protracted campaign. And one might wonder who, in the long run, has suffered more in this engagement.

  47. Andy-

    "I get it - you think the invasion of Afghanistan was a mistake. You've made that clear. What is completely unclear is what you consider a viable alternative policy. If a guy like you, 1000 times smarter than Bush, can't come up with one in 2009, what makes you believe there were a whole range of viable options in 2001 without the benefit of hindsight?"

    No, you don't get it. What we have been arguing about over the last couple of threads is that there were policy options other than the most radical (the one that Bush chose) back in 2001. That is why I supplied what Bearden, Polk and Howard had said at THE TIME. That is a vision, much like George Kennan's "X article" of 1947 which provided the basis of our Cold War Containment Policy which lasted for 40 years . . . Vision + will + power (as in bureaucratic power) = the beginning of policy which adapts over time in interaction with the other side. All policy has to start somewhere and if we look at this from the perspective of Fall 2001, these "Op-eds" were such possible beginnings which were the various roads not taken.

    My goal here has been modest, to simply get you to rethink your position . . . to allow you to get beyond the deadend you're at now.

    Now you say that you expect me to come up with a viable 2001 policy option from the perspective of 2009 (which I have been consciously avoiding) which you can then trash, since it's based on an "op-ed" . . .

    To which I say, no thanks.

    "It would also be nice if someone could explain what "handling 9/ an act of criminality" actually means in terms of policy."

    Have you read Howard's speech? He answers your question, and actually provides the basis for a sound policy, but you''l have to use your imagination a bit . . .

  48. Seydlitz, I just read Howard's speech and my reaction is that he's living in an alternate universe. E.g.,

    "Again, President Bush deserves enormous credit for his attempt to implement the alternative paradigm. He has abjured unilateral action. He has sought, and received, a United Nations mandate. He has built up an amazingly wide-ranging coalition that truly does embody 'the international community' so far as such an entity exists."

    I don't think "abjured" means what he thinks it means. Does anyone doubt that Bush would have gone it alone if the UN or other nations had declined to go along? And he wouldn't even take 'yes' for an answer to his demands of the Iraqis, as Hans Blix made abundantly clear at the time.

    You want an example of how we might have approached 9/11 as a criminal matter?

    Well, we did not nuke Buenos Aires, even though it was providing safe haven for boatloads of Nazis.

    And even though there was no military action against Argentina, many of those Nazis were brought to justice.

    Yeah, emotions were running high after 9/11. They ran much higher after Bush and company fanned the flames -- by pointing the flamethrower at Iraq.

    I suspect that had the neocons like Cheney been in power at the time of the WTC bombing in 1993, they'd have tried their utmost to attack Iraq then.

    But we treated it as a criminal matter and imho, the results were better than those of the war in Afghanistan.

    Cheers, JP

  49. "...but somehow it morphed from a punitive action into a protracted campaign."

    I wrote about pretty mcuh that a few weeks ago:

    Copy&paste quote of myself (I'm lazy, after all):
    "... something that's very typical of post-'43 U.S. Americans and pre-about 200 AD Romans: They talked about enemy surrender, and meant unconditional surrender. Some were also unable to understand potential own defeat as something different than surrender (a blurring that seems to be quite popular among right wing U.S. Americans).
    There was no humility in their thinking about strategic objectives. Instead, there was a desire (that long since became self-evident in many minds) that military victory needs to eradicate a threat forever."

    It's interesting to see that overturning a (kind of) aggressor's government and occupying his while country was for the first time in history not enough to declare that the duty of allies to assist in defence were satisfied. The NATO article 5 activation is still active (or at least the 'article 5 case' has not officially ended yet afaik)!

    I am not aware of any previous example fo this - despite a really huge military history knowledge.

  50. I forgot to mention:

    The propoaganda efforts in regard to the ongoing wars have been a staggering success.

    It's completely wrong to ask someone to justify to NOT got to war.
    The war party needs to justify its agenda!

    That of course would lead the attention to their terrible failures, so they prevent this problem by asking for reasons for not waging war (and get away with it).

  51. JP-

    He was speaking before 7 October, that is prior to when the air bombardment of Afghanistan began. Yes, and it was something of an "alternative universe", a road not taken.

  52. Seydlitz,

    Ok, I see further attempts on my part to get you out of your strategic theory ivory tower are fruitless. You claim your intent is to get me to rethink my position yet you refuse to provide anything beyond generalities and calls to use “imagination” to figure things out.

    That, and the three pieces you provided, does not begin to approach Kennan. Kennan’s article (and previous work) provided not only an analysis of the problem, but also specific courses of action tied to objectives. The essays you cite and your own comments lack that last critical element – courses of action. The essays primarily consist of warnings about what not to do or what they view as mistakes, which is helpful but insufficient. Howard’s speech, therefore, does not answer my question at all. Additionally, his historical analogies are inapt. Northern Ireland and Malaya, both under British colonial administration at the time, are not comparable to Afghanistan as they took place on territory controlled by the British government. Had AQ found sanctuary in say, Puerto Rico instead of Afghanistan, then the Malay and Northern Ireland comparison would be apt. Then one could reasonably use the term “emergency” (a term which wikipedia claims was specifically used for insurance reasons) and use law enforcement as the primary means of battling AQ.

    Anyway, this will be my last post on the topic. We seem to be at an impasse – I lack the imagination you deem necessary to divine alternatives to military intervention and you flatly refuse to offer anything specific because, apparently, you think I will unreasonably “trash” whatever you come up with. That doesn’t seem to leave any room for further discussion beyond arguments we’ve already made.