Thursday, September 29, 2011

Nation Building! Major Lujan's View

. . . There are still corrupt, lazy, incompetent senior officers in the ranks, clinging to positions they’ve bought or traded for. Yet for every one of them, I met five young, hungry soldiers eager to take up the fight. Men like Jawad, a brilliant 23-year-old intelligence officer, or Jamaluddin, a sergeant major who had revolutionized his entire battalion from within.

I watched them wake up early every morning to drive unarmored Ford Rangers down some of the most dangerous roads in the world. They unfurl huge Afghan flags and fly them from every truck. I watched them run toward the sound of gunfire, despite often having only a Vietnam-era flak vest or less to protect them. These men are Uzbeks, Hazaras, Tajiks and, increasingly, Pashtuns — former rivals now working together. They are the beginnings of a nation.

“Winning” is a meaningless word in this type of war, but something is happening in the Afghan south that gives me hope. Rather than resignation, America should show resolve — not to maintain a large troop presence or extend timelines, but to be smarter about the way we use our tapering resources to empower those Afghans willing to lead and serve.

For all our technology and firepower, we will succeed or fail based on what happens after we bring our troops home. . .

Hat tip to Colonel Lang for presenting Major Lujan's view favorably. I can respect the Major's conviction, and he comes across as a real Mensch, but Lang's right as to our inability to deal in the long term . . .

Also, for me from a strategic theory perspective, this is a non-starter.

We simply lack the cohesion to pull something like this off, so maybe we should consider some nation-building at home, although that would require us to come to terms with our own problems.

The ability to perform strategic operations, to achieve extensive political goals requires a high level of both national/social cohesion, as in the means/values mix needed to carry out such ambitions, but also the material resources/international conditions available to see them through.

What would be the historical analogy to the US situation in AFghanistan in 2011? The US in the Philippines in 1925? Or the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in 1988? Or . . . ?


  1. Well, for what it's worth, Lujan is right; it's these guys that will make or break the current Afghan "government".

    But also for what it's worth, I think Lujan should really take a long look at Afghan history. It's full of all sorts of twists and turns, betrayals, double-dealing, intrigue...and, yes, "brilliant...young, hungry soldiers" who become old, crafty intriguers or dead young soldiers.

    But the bottom line is and will be that the goals and interests of these young hungry soldiers are Afghan ones, or tribal ones, or personal ones, and that there is no guarantee that short of outright colonial force the U.S. can force their interests and goals to line up with ours. That's not "resignation", that's reality.

    I don't think it's so much a problem of not having a "strategic vision" or political's that this is central Asia, and we're not and never will be central Asians. Their reality is not and never will be ours. We might run in harness together for a while when their interests and ours coincide...but inevitably those interests will diverge, and those young hungry soldiers might turn their guns on us...because we've become an obstacle, not an aid.

    Way back in 2006 or so I remember asking the question "If we HAD a Middle Eastern policy, what good would that do?"

    Because a lot of what appeals to us - secularism, Westernization, "stability"-as-heavy-handed-pro-Western-governments, favoritism towards Israel - is either nonsensical or actively inimical to these young, hungry soldiers.

    Right now they've thrown their lot with us because they are fighting local rivals or enemies. But if you got them aside...would they agree that it is in their long-term interests, say, to have their nation's foreign policy aligned with ours? To make favorable deals with outside corporations (as is obviously in OUR best interests)?

    So my final thought would be - God love you, Lujan, if you think that these young men are fighting for YOU, for your country, for your goals.

    They're fighting for theirs. And their country, their culture, their ideas, and their ideals are very, very different from yours.

    So enjoy them today. Because tomorrow they might decide that your only value is as a high-velocity projectile interceptor...

  2. "...but to be smarter about the way we use our tapering resources to empower those Afghans willing to lead and serve."

    FDChief say: "Those local troops that have to be "empowered" by a foreign power to lead and serve? They aren't really leading and are serving only themselves.

    If they ask you for help and tell you where they'd like you to help, and how, they're an ally.

    If you have to pay them and train them and "empower" them?

    They're native levies."

  3. chief,
    You picked out my point-Willing to lead and serve.!?
    This brings to mind Dylan's song-you've got to serve someone.
    I also think, somewhat OT that the Ford and GM trucks used so extensively by the ANA, and paid for with my tax dollars ARE THE ONLY REASON THAT FORD AND GM ARE PROFITABLE. Without war purchases they'd be sucking .imo, just a feeling.
    In your thought processes do we actually have any allies???Is it in our long term interests to allow Nato(meaning Germany)deploy to combat areas.?
    I just can't believe that in todays world that political goals can be achieved by fixing bayonets to rifles, but maybe, just maybe hellfire missiles will do the trick. This takes us back to the KIEV thread.
    The Luftwaffe and the USA doesn't have/didn't have enuf bombs to achieve ANY of their objectives whether pol or mil. All successes will be tac not strategic.Break.

  4. to all,
    or Jamaluddin, a sergeant major who had revolutionized his entire battalion from within.

    This sentence contains a universe that should be explored.
    How in the heck can a SGM do such an acclaimable achievement? Their Army is only less than 10 y/o and already it needs to be revolutionized.?!WTF?
    If this is a true statement then it seems obvious that the US template is inappropriate.
    Remember the SVN had a very large Police/military structure and they unravelled like a chinese made sweater.We'll call it a unrivelled unravelling.

  5. Seydlitz,
    Let's call this THE RANGER DOCTRINE-you can't build or destroy countries without a total commitment of assets.
    I stress-build or destroy. You can't do both at the same time.

  6. Thanks gentlemen-

    I was afraid that we had perhaps beaten the particular horse to death (Afghanistan), but looks like you've been able to run with it . . . let me think about what you've commented . . . more to come.

  7. seydlitz,
    I'm trained to kick dead horses.

  8. Unfortunately the Afghan's won't be able to determine their own destiny. Afghanistan has essentially been a proxy civil war since 1979 in which outside powers supported various factions for their own reasons which fomented internal conflict. When we eventually go there will still be plenty of foreign meddlers who will prevent Afghans from solving their own internal problems. I don't really see any solution to this in any kind of reasonable time frame.

  9. Their Pashtunwali cultural principles hold them back also. Shedding someone's blood because his grandfather insulted your great uncle is not conducive to nation building.

  10. Andy: Why stop at '79? Yeah, that's the latest round of Afghan civil wars...but the Brits spent the previous 100-some years before that interfering in Afghan tribal feuds and local politics, and before them there were Mughals, Mongols, hell, all the way back to the Macedonians.

    So in that sense Afghans have been fighting "civil wars" since, well, since there were Afghans.

    And from that if the tribes have learned one thing, it is the combination of patience, subterfuge, and ruthlessness needed to think in multigenerational terms.

    Look at the way they dealt with the various British "Afghan Wars". The Brits would come in, pick a local proxy, burn out and kill his enemies, and then leave him on the gaddi.

    Within a decade some local rival would have suborned him, or assassinated him, or bribed him.

    I think we tend over-value "stability" as solution; Afghanistan has had very few periods of the sort of political coherence and calm we think of as the "solution" to this sort of turmoil. As mike points out, what's important isn't a "solution" in the Western, good-government, peace-and-prosperity sense but rather as long a stay at the Kabul trough as possible, revenge for old wrongs, and a jump-start on the NEXT intertribal feud.

    I think that's where Lujan gets misled; it's hard to parse his hungry young troopers' enthusiasm as being for Western-variety "stability" other than as his and by inference our wishful thinking.

    Instead I would suggest that when they talk to him about being the "beginnings of a nation" - as Inigo would say - I don not think they mean what he thinks they mean.

  11. Chief,

    You're right of course, going back through history. After all, Afghanistan's borders are the result of the machinations of foreign powers. However, for much of the 20th century until 1979 Afghanistan was doing pretty well - well enough that USAID was able to build some pretty massive projects there in the 1950's and it was a popular hippie destination in the 1960's. Might it have lasted? Probably not, but it's hard to see how Afghanistan's fortunes over the last thirty years could be any worse.

    So, going forward it seems pretty clear to me that nothing's going to dissuade Pakistan from its policy of using Afghanistan for strategic depth against India and there's no way for the US to play a lasting constructive role as long as that remains the case. Afghanistan for me is like Groundhog Day (the movie) - I'm seeing the same shit today I saw back in 2005. The fundamentals haven't really changed.

  12. "What would be the historical analogy to the US situation in AFghanistan in 2011? The US in the Philippines in 1925? Or the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in 1988? Or . . . ?"

    Norman occupation of Saxon England...except without the success rate of the Normans.

  13. Ya know I was thinking I might not get any comments on this thread at all . . . that we had beaten this "dead horse" perhaps one too many times . . . but you guys have made some very interesting points that have moved the discussion forward, at least for me. jim of course being a trained "dead horse kicker" obviously helps . . .

    Let me point out something Chief commented that ties several points made together well:

    "I don't think it's so much a problem of not having a "strategic vision" or political's that this is central Asia, and we're not and never will be central Asians. Their reality is not and never will be ours."

    I don't think the two are separate, but actually closely linked. Part of having a strategic vision is knowing and understanding the limits of what force/coercion/persuasion from an outside, foreign, even alien culture is going to achieve in terms of political purpose in regards to the political community in question.

    I think there is also another notion, which is common in the US, and has been for a long time, that being that we equate "the state" with "democracy", that is if the state in question does not pass our "democratic smell test" (which usually means essentially doing what we want them to do) then we question whether the state in question is in fact "failed". Many times the state in question is a friendly, but brutal dictatorship, but that doesn't seem to matter.

    This came up a couple of days ago on one of Zen's threads . . .

    On that thread I commented: -- That, and something else. At least from Slaughter’s perspective I get the impression that she equates certain American/Western ideals with the concept of "the state". A state that does not achieve this is "failed"? The state however is simply an apparatus of control by the rulers and would reflect their character and the character of the society/community in general. The state rooted as it is in coercion and the application of the monopoly of force is not going to lead automatically to these ideals . . . --

    Zen agreed with my interpretation. This is what he refers to as the "new liberal internationalism" . . .

  14. Andy: Point well taken. The period 1933-1979 was one of relative quiet and stability in Afghan history. Had the Saur Revolution not occurred...but it did, and that period came to an end with the Soviet incursion.

    The thing about THIS Groundhog Day, though, is that we can't work out the problems ourselves, like Bill Murray. The groundhogs have their own agenda.

  15. To all,
    Whether they solve their own problems , or if it is imposed upon them we must know/understand/intellectualize that whatever happens will not benefit the US taxpayer.I wonder how we got a horse in that race.
    The Kush is not on my mapsheet and does not influence the job or economic situation in my back yard.
    Is that foolishness on my part, or am i a strategic thinker?
    Just wondering.
    To Seydlitz,
    1 of the saddest days of my life was when my horse did actually die after a rough go of it.
    I didn't kick her, and will never own another. OT but what the heck.

  16. jim-

    Yea, horses are wonderful animals.

    I think most Americans think that strategy should be based on national interest and let's face it, ours doesn't really include the Hindu Kush, unless of course we intend to dominate (by whatever means) Central Asian energy resources/pipelines. If that is the case, then state it openly and leave the terrorists to law enforcement/international efforts of that type.

    Imo, our strategic policies are so confused due to the simple fact that our political elites are loath to openly state what they in fact are . . .

  17. seydlitz: Or let's look at it another way;

    As a global power, we do have "interests" in the southcentral Asian region. Those would be (off the top of my head) "stability" - i.e. that the area not generate wars, rumors of wars, and warlike non-state actors like AQ, a reasonable trading environment (see above), and relative safety for U.S. citizens both locally and in transit.

    For all of the above, the real big players are always going to be China and India.

    Pakistan and Afghanistan are in focus right now because of our feud with AQ, but realistically that's pretty small potatoes. 9/11 was a black swan and no amount of military action can destroy a non-state actor's ability to plan and execute something like that. And realistically, the blowback in terms of creating new enemies we're getting from throwing troop units around the place is probably at least as great (or possibly greater with the worst part being that we have absolutely no metric to measure cost vs. return - remember Rummy's memo about that?) as the benefit in dead jihadis. IMO we will hopefully "get" that soon and move towards an intel-and-policework-based tactic soon.

    Because ISTM that the problem is that our current methods inevitably force us into a position of having to placate the Pakistanis. And this, in turn, puts us on the wrong side of the regional power, India, and that really IS geopolitical nonsense.

  18. sheerahkahn said...

    " Norman occupation of Saxon England...except without the success rate of the Normans."

    That's because the Normans were living there. And I've been told that SE England was pretty rich and well-developed, in comparison to Normandy, so it would produce a sustaining profit (or rather, support the forces controlling it).

  19. FDChief-

    "warlike non-state actors like AQ"

    I think this a contradiction in terms in the case of AQ. If they are not state-connected, who do they represent, what political community, by whose authority? If no one then they are simply criminals engaging in random acts of terror. Dealing with criminals is a police question and they do not "wage war". And if they are state-connected in some why (a valid assumption at this point) then what state interests do they represent?

    Is it not rather that AQ is more the nature of a label that we attach to those who oppose our presence/policies in the areas in question? What connection do these current, wide-ranging entities have with 9/11, which is our official excuse to engage "AQ"? Simply the label? They are connected because the US government says so?

    Look rather at those who profit from these wars, both at home and in the target countries . . .

  20. seydlitz,6;44,
    I agree totally.
    I question the assumption that stability is a interest of US policy.Stability in that region is meaningless if our population is not stable , in all senses of the word.
    ISTM that instability should be our policy, which is a good thing. IRQ's killing Iranians is preferable to both killing , or being enemies of US.Samo in AFGH.
    The best policy is to keep shaking the bag.
    To accomplish this they can have my HUMANITARIAN SERVICE MEDAL and melt it down into a 7.62 round.