Another unpleasant, unplanned absence. Sigh. To everyone that I owe email: apologies for being out of contact. I’m trying to wade through everything now. Shoot me another one if you don’t hear from me by this weekend. Mea maxima culpa.
There are real problems with a transition from ISAF to ANSF in 2011. In the US, the President has a real political problem if he doesn’t stay the course of at least semi-withdrawal by that date. In Afghanistan, there are competency issues, numbers issues, readiness issues, and that whole pesky desertion/retention problem. Not that this is news to anyone who’s been paying attention for the last (gulp) ten years.
Petraeus, speaking from London, is trying his best to make hay from hash by citing progress in literacy and health programs. But who really thinks the ANSF will grow big enough in such little time–at the very least, not without cutting some corners in training, recruiting, and over all quality.
We’re coming close to the exact two choices that have been present since this plan for Afghanistan came out last year: either find a way to keep this 2011 deadline soft enough that ISAF can keep trying to make the ANSF work; or accept that after ten years ISAF only started the real work a year and a half ago, and the political time on this war has run out. Sucks to be in the Afghan Army or Police Force, here’s the keys to the car, try not to wreck it too badly.
Not to be too pessimistic or anything. I think I’m just going to go look at those pictures some more and think about the counter-factual world that might have been if real ANSF training had started in 2003.
You can read through all the fun of #P4ISR at Danger Room–fun I mostly, sadly, missed–but if you’re really committed to General Petraeus and his shockingly unshocking confirmation, you can watch the whole three-hour escapade here, on CSPAN2.
The only things I miss about having cable, or even a digital box, are CSPAN and the Discovery Channel. But at least I can stream one of those.
ETA: Oh my god, the Senate Armed Services Committee website is the saddest thing I have ever seen. JFC. I can’t find a transcript for Petraeus’s opening statement–can anyone throw me a link?
Madhu pointed me to Thomas Rid’s take at KOW on the Douthat op-ed I rallied on yesterday. It’s definitely a different perspective on the same piece, and while I disagree with some of his conclusions–namely his too-faithful idea that there is any kind of consensus on continued presence vs. withdrawal in Afghanistan, and the idea that those in favor of COIN as a strategy are particularly optimistic or hopeful about it–the post is definitely a counterweight to my own.
Andrew Exum, who seems to be visiting the rolling mountain landscape of my childhood at the moment, has gotten quite a robust comment thread going on at Counterinsurgency Under the Microscope; Carl Prine’s comments in particular are intelligent and strong. (You’ll have to scroll down, the software that powers that blog sucketh for giving comment-specific data.) The discussion is on-going.
Aaron Ellis takes on the same Bacevich op-ed, as well as Bernard Finel’s similar position, in his post today on “RollingStan and civil-military relations” that speaks to a lot of my own thoughts on the subject. I hadn’t really waded into the civilian-military accusations that flew about as soon as the McC flap broke, because I honestly didn’t consider it to be the most significant aspect of the story–though clearly a lot of the internet disagreed with me on that. Finel responded to the Thinking Strategically post, in a manner that kind of baffles me–he refutes the claims, but inasmuch as I’ve been reading him recently, I find Ellis’s points to be apropos. Both Bacevich and Finel have inflated the controversy surrounding Rollingstan to the point of hyperbole, and don’t seem to acknowledge that the matter is, effectively, closed. M4 is out, P4 is in; the counterinsurgency policy stays the same; Obama exerted his executive authority, and everyone seems entirely happy with P4 as his choice. What more is there to hack away at, here?
The answer, of course, is not liking the strategy in the first place; but as Obama’s Rose Garden remarks plainly told, that matter of changing strategy was never up for debate.
This NYT op-ed by Ross Douthat is my pick for read of the day.
Here is the grim paradox of America’s involvement in Afghanistan: The darker things get and the more setbacks we suffer, the better the odds that we’ll be staying there indefinitely.
Not the way we’re there today, with 90,000 American troops in-theater and an assortment of NATO allies fighting alongside. But if the current counterinsurgency campaign collapses, it almost guarantees that some kind of American military presence will be propping up some sort of Afghan state in 2020 and beyond. Failure promises to trap us; success is our only ticket out.
Why? Because of three considerations. First, the memory of 9/11, which ensures that any American president will be loath to preside over the Taliban’s return to power in Kabul. Second, the continued presence of Al Qaeda’s leadership in Pakistan’s northwest frontier, which makes it difficult for any American president to contemplate giving up the base for counterterrorism operations that Afghanistan affords. Third, the larger region’s volatility: it’s the part of the world where the nightmare of nuclear-armed terrorists is most likely to become a reality, so no American president can afford to upset the balance of power by pulling out and leaving a security vacuum behind.
This explains why the Obama administration, throughout all its internal debates and strategic reviews, hasn’t been choosing between remaining in Afghanistan and withdrawing from the fight. It’s been choosing between two ways of staying.
Yes. Yes, this. Yes, for a clear explanation of why the whole McChrystal situation was not, and never could be, the Administration’s argument for a change in policy or an argument for withdrawal (I’m looking at you, Mr. Bacevich). By choosing General Petraeus, Obama fully reinforced his commitment to his strategy, because there was no other tenable option. Not for any kind of timetable of withdrawal, even if, as has been suggested, Petraeus is on the side of those who soft-ball the 07-2011 deadline. But setting that aside, any reasonable, high-number withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan is dependent on adhering to a policy in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region that account for the problems of counterterrorism+ Douthat outlines in his piece above:
- Bargains, especially bargains with people who only desire power and money, fail. And when they fail, they fail hard.
- Prioritizing civilian security is a necessity to prevent the genesis of further insurgents. Counterterrorism racks up a higher body count than counterinsurgency, because the priority is the valuing of killing an insurgent (or terrorist) rather than the valuing of civilian lives.
- Plan B (counterterrorism+) sucks, because it relies heavily on points 1 and 2 to succeed in order to leverage withdrawal of troops. But points 1 and 2 are unlikely to succeed, which is why the administration went with Plan A (counterinsurgency) in the first place.
And to that list I would add a fourth:
- 4. Whatever happens, the US is probably going to retain a presence in Afghanistan for a long, long time, whether the country has been pacified or not. See also: Kuwait, South Korea, Germany, Japan.
That is the real underlying point that generally goes unsaid. The US is unlikely to cede the strategic benefit of staying in Afghanistan, not when it offers access to the Middle East and to China. If you look down the barrel of the M-14 to ten years from now, I am certain there will still be US troops in Afghanistan. Whether they’re still engaged in counterinsurgency or have made the biggest FOB a more permanent home, some strategist in a Pentagon basement has a transition plan that doesn’t include full-scale withdrawal. And that has to be taken into consideration when the squabbling about how best to operate in Afghanistan and the unlikely course of withdrawal is discussed.
Two bits from the Guardian. First, records from soliders in the Boer War have been put online at Ancestry.co.uk, which allows for a database search for information on specific individuals. I don’t know how useful this might be to anyone not looking for specific individuals, but I still think it’s neat. I’ve been reading on and off about the Boer war for a couple of months now, and it’s a fascinating conflict.
The Guardian also reports on US Military women in combat:
If you are one of the more than 235,000 women who have been on active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan in the last decade, then the idea that you are being shielded from the brutality of direct warfare may sound to you like a pretty sick joke. As Laura Browder, an academic at the University of Richmond in Virginia, puts it: “When women are serving as handlers of explosive-sniffing dogs, kicking down doors, doing searches, conducting IED sweeps, then yes, they are very much in combat.”
Until the 1970s, there was a quota on the proportion of women in the military of 2%. Since that was ended their presence has grown steadily, and now it stands at 14%.
As the numbers grew, so did the remit. The 1991 Gulf war created huge extra demand for personnel, and that in turn led to the lifting of bans on women flying combat missions and serving on combat ships. The Clinton presidency opened up more than 90% of tasks across the services to women.
In the latest reform, the secretary of defence Robert Gates announced in February that he would allow women to serve on nuclear submarines. Pending congressional approval, the first women are expected on submarine crews by early next year.
Which just leaves the final taboo: the full exposure of women to bloody frontline warfare. There is clearly a debate to be had about the desirability or otherwise of ending the 1994 proscription, except that what is happening on the ground is an answer in itself.
Mostly this just serves to put in circulation an already known idea, one that I believe the Department of Defense is moving closer and closer towards. Women on subs is a long-delayed step in that direction, but I appreciate the thrust of the article that anyone who thinks women haven’t been serving in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan exist in bizarro-world.
DoDBuzz has Gates talking about Petraeus and Afghanistan, Foreign Policy interviews Peter Mansoor on Petraeus, and this speech by Eikenberry to the Command and General Staff College Graduation Ceremony at Leavenworth on June 11th takes on some new resonance given the events of this week.
Now, our civ-mil partnership isn’t perfect, but it is the only path to success. As Secretary of State Clinton said in December: “The task we face is as complex as any national security challenge in our lifetimes. We will not succeed if people view this effort as the responsibility of a single party, a single agency withfin our government, or a single country.” I can tell you that the civ-mil partnership has definitely improved since 2007 when I was last in Afghanistan. Our closer collaboration is already having an impact, and I look for even greater results in the months ahead. Like the military, we are experiencing a tremendous civilian surge. By January 2011 we will have tripled the number of civilians we had on the ground as recently as August 2009. These civilians work at Embassy Kabul to improve critical ministries and institutions at the national level, and in the field to help the government deliver essential health, education, justice and agricultural services in areas with the greatest insecurity.
Definitely read the whole thing–I would have liked to hear it spoken–but I wonder how effective civilian and military relations are going to be after all this. Especially when the civilian presence is still vastly underpopulated in Afghanistan, even if it is supposed to further increase over the rest of the year.
Because Jon Stewart is at least mildly devilish, every single time I read or hear “General Petraeus” my mind is immediately flooded with the Daily Show’s rendition of Iraq Me Dave Petraeus.
It’s very vexing.
Anyway, some commentary:
- Danger Room thinks on a return to air war.
- Ackerman (who will soon also be Danger Room) pokes at Petraeus and Pakistan.
- David Wood, remaining one of my favorite war journalists, has a short but sweet dispatch on Petraeus in Afghanistan: Lost in the furor over the disgraced Gen. Stanley McChrystal is this simple truth: The counterinsurgency strategy championed by his successor, Gen. David Petraeus, works.
- Gulliver at Ink Spots evaluates the savviness of the Petraeus pick.
- Dennis Murphy at the Army’s DIME blog weighs in with a strategic critique of RollingStan.
- In this morning’s At War, Dexter Filkins and John Burns answer commenter queries about McC and Petraeus. While it has not yet gone batshit, I await that inevitability.
- Tom Ricks’ Washington Post op-ed should be read with the context of Ricks’ close understanding of Petraeus, and also in his reiteration of two key points: first, that Petraeus is very skilled at fostering cohesion within his command, and second, that such cohesion relies to a great degree on effective civilian counterparts (which are in short supply in the region). Several people have chimed in to suggest that ousting McChrystal gives Obama sufficient cause to re-evaluate his civilian personnel as well, which I think it true, but I suspect unlikely. Obama has already assumed the risk of replacing his military command. It would appear to be fickle to replace Eikenberry and Holbrooke in the same house-cleaning, only a year after his strategy is put into place. Now, Eik and Holbrooke weren’t present at the Rose Garden statement yesterday, so it may very well be that their shuffling is on the horizon. Certainly it would be best for Petraeus to go in with people he can count on. But replacing your top three guys in a short period of time will feed a perception of ineffectiveness that may be more harmful than Eik or Holbrooke’s actually ineffectiveness.
- And Jason Sigger points us all to the prize-winning political cartoon of the week:
Okay. Time to turn to more productive and less hand-wringing matters. It’s done, it’s over, the lady has sung and that song is a Rolling Stones cover.
This afternoon, Secretary McHugh released its review of Wanat.
After careful consideration of the additional information, Campbell concluded that the officers were neither negligent nor derelict in the performance of their duties and that their actions were reasonable under the circumstances. Therefore, he withdrew the adverse administrative actions.
“In every review and study conducted to date, the courage, valor, and discipline of the soldiers who fought at Wanat have been universally praised. These soldiers were well-trained, well-led, and fought bravely to defeat a determined and intense enemy action to overrun their base in Wanat. They persevered in a fashion that deserves broad recognition of their bravery and tenacity,” said Gen. George W. Casey Jr., Army chief of staff. “Our hearts go out to the families of the fallen soldiers.”
You can access the public (redacted) files from the CENTCOM investigation here. This is probably for the best, though I’m refraining from saying anything firm until I’ve had a chance to review the CENTCOM files.
Newly affirmed Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan has apologized to the Okinawans who live in close proximity to the US bases on the island, in a smart early political move.
“On behalf of all of our people, I apologise for the burden,” Mr Kan said, but added that it was integral to the “peace and security of the Asia-Pacific region.”
“I promise to seriously try all the more to reduce Okinawa’s burden related to the US bases and eliminate the associated dangers.”
Okinawa currently hosts more than half of the 47,000 US soldiers in Japan. Mr Kan was speaking at the ceremony to mark the 65th anniversary of the Battle of Okinawa, in which some 200,000 soldiers and civilians were killed.
He states he will adhere to the 2006 US-Japan agreement, which is what his predecessor finally acceded too; rebuilding Japan’s relationship with the US was a quick follow. Okinawans will likely not be happy, but they weren’t happy before, and at least PM Kan is being honest about the limits of his influence on this issue.
The NYT’s Lens Photojournalism column features photographs from Restrepo’s Tim Hetherington. Some of them are dramatic; others are a study in contrasts.
How does your Afghanistan work tie into what you just said?
I am interested in visually representing something in as many ways as possible, exploiting as many different forms as possible, to reach as many people as possible.
And how did you do that in Afghanistan?
By working across the spectrum, by first saying, “O.K., I’m going to photograph for Vanity Fair.” And that is a platform that has, say, a two or three million readership. Then those images, because I retain the copyright, are syndicated worldwide. They appear in newspapers and magazines worldwide. Great, that’s another valid audience. The image that won World Press Photo gave another spotlight and went global in a way that could lead people to reach my other work. Then I made “Sleeping Soldiers,” which was a digital projection. It was an art piece, meant for galleries – but that’s still a valid audience.
The whole interview is long and meaty and a respite from the many interviews with Hetherington’s colleague, Sebastian Junger, whose FDL Book Salon with David Axe devolved into a tiresome anti-war kabuki with little to do with the actual book. That seems to be more and more where conversations on “War” are heading, and I agree with Axe that Junger might have been better off calling the book “Combat.”
Finally, CFR has an interview with Stephen Biddle on Afghanistan that got promptly buried by RollingStan.
Will there be pressure on the president, when he looks up from the oil crisis in the Gulf of Mexico, to try to be clearer on this whole policy? We’ve had many officials saying, “That July date doesn’t really mean much, it was just a symbolic statement.”
There are a lot of people that want to pin the administration down on this. The hearings in the Senate the last couple of days have been the latest example. The hearings right after the West Point speech were an earlier example. Lots of people are confused and want more clarity. They want more clarity for widely divergent motivation. Typically, progressive Democrats want it made very clear that there’s going to be a big, fast withdrawal. Conservative Republicans want the perception that there’s going to be a big, fast withdrawal to be explicitly denied by the administration in order to increase the likelihood that we’re going to stay. So lots of people want more clarity. My guess is that they may not get it. We’ll see what happens with this upcoming December review [Obama in the speech also said the Afghan policy would be reviewed in December].
All this, and America and England face off for the next round of the World Cup. Independence Day never looked so much like a footie metaphor.
The press conference was quick and dirty–less then ten minutes. Obama was flanked by Biden, Mullen, Gates, and Petraeus. The President announced that he has accepted General McChrystal’s resignation, and has asked General Petraeus to step in as commander of ISAF. McChrystal’s statement was emailed to the media:
This morning the President accepted my resignation as Commander of U.S. and NATO Coalition Forces in Afghanistan. I strongly support the President’s strategy in Afghanistan and am deeply committed to our coalition forces, our partner nations, and the Afghan people. It was out of respect for this commitment — and a desire to see the mission succeed — that I tendered my resignation.
It has been my privilege and honor to lead our nation’s finest.
The word is that he will not be returning to Kabul; his things will be sent to him in the US. He was not present for the press conference.
I’m down with Petraeus–I don’t know many who aren’t–but man, this whole thing sucked. It’s not even been 48 hours since the AP ran news of the RS article, and McChrystal was summarily booted.
I’ll link to the transcript of Obama’s statement (he took no questions) when it’s up, but the general riff is that the war is bigger than any one man; the military is subject to civilian command and must respect that chain of command; the policy put forth in 2009 regarding Afghanistan and Pakistan remains firmly in place; and while Obama takes no personal insult from McChrystal’s comments, neither can he retain in service a man who does not adhere to the highest standards of conduct demanded of him.
That’s all fair. And I can accept the rationale for cashiering McChrystal. But I still think that if Obama wanted to lead from the front, he would have disciplined McChrystal rather than benching him. If you want your strategy to be effective, you don’t change up command a year in. It’s not that I don’t think Petraeus will be effective–I do–but I do not see with clarity how this serves the mission.
But I guess I also don’t see it as a massive failure of civilian-military relations, which perhaps I should.
ETA: Here’s the remarks.
The conduct represented in the recently published article does not meet the standard that should be set by a commanding general. It undermines the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our democratic system. And it erodes the trust that’s necessary for our team to work together to achieve our objectives in Afghanistan.
My multiple responsibilities as Commander-in-Chief led me to this decision. First, I have a responsibility to the extraordinary men and women who are fighting this war, and to the democratic institutions that I’ve been elected to lead. I’ve got no greater honor than serving as Commander-in-Chief of our men and women in uniform, and it is my duty to ensure that no diversion complicates the vital mission that they are carrying out.
That includes adherence to a strict code of conduct. The strength and greatness of our military is rooted in the fact that this code applies equally to newly enlisted privates and to the general officer who commands them. That allows us to come together as one. That is part of the reason why America has the finest fighting force in the history of the world.
It is also true that our democracy depends upon institutions that are stronger than individuals. That includes strict adherence to the military chain of command, and respect for civilian control over that chain of command. And that’s why, as Commander-in-Chief, I believe this decision is necessary to hold ourselves accountable to standards that are at the core of our democracy.
Second, I have a responsibility to do what is — whatever is necessary to succeed in Afghanistan, and in our broader effort to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda. I believe that this mission demands unity of effort across our alliance and across my national security team. And I don’t think that we can sustain that unity of effort and achieve our objectives in Afghanistan without making this change. That, too, has guided my decision.
Relevant interesting links:
Judah Grunstein over at the WPR blog tackles the lack of response from NATO in regard to the tactical review going on in the White House. Michael Cohen also takes an angle on the McChrystal drama, and Greg Jaffe at the Washington Post does an op-ed comparing McChrystal to Petraeus.
These similarities were a big selling point for the Obama administration, which this summer decided it wanted its own Petraeus — a creative wartime commander and gifted manager who could push the military in Afghanistan into unfamiliar realms, such as economic development and tribal politics…These days, the last thing that the White House and the Pentagon brass want is a general who can bypass the chain of command; a general who speaks directly to the president; a general who emerges as the dominant American voice on the war. The last thing they want, in other words, is another Petraeus.
H/t Diplopundit for this article on the State Department’s conflict over aid to Pakistan, which continues my media watch on USAID.
Also regarding Pakistan, the Pakistani army launched its offensive today, in response to the significant array of attacks last week.
George Packer has a really interesting post about Rufus Phillps, Vietnam, and the Obama administration:
About to turn eighty, Phillips was contemplating a trip halfway around the world to Kabul. He was worried about the war in Afghanistan and thought that the presidential election, set for August 20th, would be a critical event. An independent Afghan group, the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan, had invited him to come over as an unpaid adviser. Having seen America try and fail to win a war without a political strategy once before, he thought he had something to contribute in Afghanistan. He asked me for advice on what to wear, what kind of cell phone to bring, how to get into the city from the airport. I asked him why he was going to put himself through it, and he replied that he believed in putting your money where your mouth is. “I’ve still got the fire,” he said as he walked me to the elevator.
Well worth your time, that.
Via S&S, AP covers the continuing conflict over the Afghan election, including the resignation of Afghan election commissioner Maulavi Mustafa Barakzai and the acknowledgment–finally–by the UN of the problems with the election process.
U.N. spokesman Aleem Siddique called the resignation “regrettable” but said the U.N. continues to trust that the group will produce a fair outcome. “We have full confidence in the ECC as the important work continues,” Siddique said, adding that the U.N. “stands by the work that they are doing on behalf of the Afghan people.”
Barakzai’s resignation was the latest in a series of problems that have confounded the electoral process since the election, the first run by the Afghans since the war began in 2001.
The NYT reports that Secstate Clinton and Secdef Gates are working on the same side of the tactical review, which seems to have surprised everyone but me. I guess I was the only one who listened to that panel from GWU last week; they seemed pretty similar-spirited then.
What most Western observers are missing when they offer their expert advice regarding Afghanistan is an absence of a strong sense of history and an understanding of the culture of that country. Stewart is an exception to that observation.
The decision to add more troops in Afghanistan cannot be made purely by couching it in the requirements of American domestic politics, and by viewing it from the perspective of what is appropriate and acceptable inside the United States. I say that because, as more troops are inserted in Afghanistan, that will be seen as an evidence of commitment by outsiders, but not necessarily by the Afghans. They need more persuading than mere escalation troops for now.
The abruptness by which the United States left Afghanistan after the redeployment of the Soviet troops in 1989 leaves them no reason to believe that we are likely to stay there. This time there is no much difference. All they have to do is to watch the current debate regarding Afghanistan inside the United States.
Mind you, I am not questioning the legitimacy of these debates. They are quite genuine in the sense that, before more US young men and women are sent there and before more money is invested, we need to debate the nature of our commitment. However, that is precisely why the Afghans are skeptical that we mean to stay there for a long while this time.
And there went my Tuesday morning.
I’ve been pretty deep in a couple books–Åsne Seierstad’s A Hundred and One Days, the Oxford World Classic edition of the Qur’an, and Nate Fick’s One Bullet Away. My booklist keeps growing like Tennessee kudzu; I think at last count I had sixty-three books on my “remember to buy these” list, in addition to the teetering stack crowding my desk at home.
Even so, I’ve been following a couple things–Secs. Clinton and Gates defending McChrystal from the press backlash at GWU yesterday (and Walter Pincus’ editorial from today), the news of General Petraeus’ cancer diagnosis, the escalating Pakistani response to the Word Food Program, and the face of eastern Afghanistan. I think McCrystal is taking more shit than he deserves, and that it’s easy to jump all over the new guy in charge. It sucks yet is admirable that Petraeus seems to be taking cancer in stride, though it explains his recent absence from the press. And I’m rapidly realizing the more I learn about Afghanistan, the harder it becomes to maintain any black-and-white view.
Granted, I’m a philosopher first and a blogger second, so black-and-whites aren’t really my bag; I’ve always been more comfortable living in greys. But the two books I mention above, minus the Qur’an, are two very different pictures of the same space of time in the same nation, and I’ve been trying to reconcile them with minimal success.
Also, I can’t figure out how to put the VALOUR-IT widget on this blog, and I suspect I won’t be able to unless I purchase something from WordPress, which is very annoying. Any advice, blogosphere?