Permissible Arms

What would a T.E. Lawrence Doctrine be?

Posted in afghanistan, united states, us military, us politics by Karaka on 4 December 2009

Diplopundit tipped me off to Alexander Wolf’s new paper in SSQ, U.S. Interventions Abroad: A Renaissance of the Powell Doctrine?, in a post written before Obama’s West Point speech. Wolf addresses policies of doctrinal change, and in particular the possible return of the Powell Doctrine. From the paper:

[T]he Powell Doctrine begins with the interest-based decision to intervene and formulates an operational catalogue of criteria for the “proper” execution of military intervention. Accordingly, the military should only be put to use when:

(1) The national interest requires it;

(2) The number of troops employed corresponds with the mission they are to execute;

(3) The mission is clearly defined, both politically and militarily;

(4) The size, composition, and disposition of the troops is constantly being reevaluated;

(5) The operation has the support of both the Congress and the American people; and

(6) There is a clear exit strategy.

The Doctrine, as it holds, is meant to hold off the possibility of mission creep–which struck a note for me, as Michael Cohen updated his Afghanistan Mission Creep series on Monday as well, before the speech. Michael said:

Going forward, it’s critical that progressives (and others!) hold the Administration’s feet to the fire on the strategy being announced tonight. I think a few things will be key: how closely is the Administration adhering to its own benchmarks denoting success, is there progress on getting the Pakistanis to crack down on Afghan Taliban safe havens, are there signs that Karzai is not only tackling corruption but devoting resources to a counter-insurgency fight and the performance of the Afghan military. Without significant progress on these fronts it’s hard to see the President’s strategy bearing fruit in Afghanistan.

I wonder: is the fear of Mission Creep assuaged with this renewed conception of the Powell Doctrine? Because during the West Point speech, Obama quite clearly laid out most of those points.

1. He made the case point by point that the national interest requires it. I make this decision because I am convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is the epicenter of violent extremism practiced by al Qaeda. It is from here that we were attacked on 9/11, and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak. This is no idle danger; no hypothetical threat.

2. The number of troops–forty thousand, with the newly announced addition of 7000 more from NATO is commensurate with McChrystal’s request, and reports have it that both McChrystal and Petraeus were satisfied that what Obama authorized would suffice to execute the mission.

3. That mission was defined in March, and reiterated again this week: Our overarching goal remains the same: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to prevent its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future.

To meet that goal, we will pursue the following objectives within Afghanistan. We must deny al Qaeda a safe haven. We must reverse the Taliban’s momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government. And we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan’s security forces and government so that they can take lead responsibility for Afghanistan’s future.

4. This remains to be seen, but in one sense it seems like the transition deadline of 2011 would promote force review.

5. While initial signs point to Congressional favor waning and American public opinion diminishing (at least, for the moment), my personal opinion is that there is sufficient national will to meet this escalation, but it is a very precarious will. Things will depend as much on whether the climate bill eclipses public attention sufficiently to distract punditry–I mean, the news–away from Afghanistan as whether Operation Cobra’s Anger (which I can’t help but say in a movie announcer’s voice) is immediately successful at producing quantifiable, soundbyte-worthy results.

6. But taken together, these additional American and international troops will allow
us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the
transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011.
Which, as we have discussed, is both clear and muddy. But it’s definitely an exit strategy.

Is this just an executive expression of logical thought? Or is the Powell Doctrine back en vogue? And if this is an iteration of the Powell Doctrine, perhaps it assuages some fears of mission creep. (But don’t stop writing critiques, Michael! Holding the administration accountable is one of the most important things going forward. )


Edited to add: Mis-typed the author of the paper’s name as Andrew when it was Alexander; corrected now. Apologies.


3 Responses

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  1. Alexander Wolf said, on 9 December 2009 at 05:57

    President Obama’s recently laid out operational approach clearly demonstrates, that the Powell Doctrine is back en vogue. It does not matter, whether you call it “Powell Doctrine” or “expression of logical thought”. In my view, it is a laudable expresion of the administrations willingness to accept the fact, that the goal of the Afghanistan mission has changed over the years from ousting the Taleban regime to nation building. Whereas the first goal has been accomplished very easily, nation building is a much more difficult goal to achieve and led to “mission creep”, at least temporarily.
    That’s not to say, that nation building is not a worth while goal in general. But the administration should carefully consider the Powell Doctrines premisses, before giving the military such a daunting task. At the moment, it seems to me, that President Obama and his advisers are aware of that fact.

    B.T.W. the authors name is not Andrew but Alexander

    • Karaka said, on 9 December 2009 at 23:31

      Sorry for the name mistype! Should have caught that; edited it now.

      I would agree that the Powell Doctrine is an appropriate description for Obama’s Afghanistan tactics; it’s why I analyzed it point by point. Mostly I found it interesting that the PD fit so cleanly with the West Point speech’s structure and content.

  2. Alec said, on 2 January 2010 at 11:32

    A T E Lawrence Doctrine would, of course, require the desert to be clean.

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