Permissible Arms

Left, Right, and Dead Bloody On

Posted in united states, us defense, us military, us politics by Karaka on 11 June 2010

Shamelessly cribbing from Starbuck (and Ink Spots), the trailer for Restrepo has been released. Restrepo is the film made by Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger alongside Junger’s book War (link again to my review at SWJ which has collected some interesting commentary). The film will be showing at the Human Rights Watch film festival, which began yesterday in New York City. The trailer is absolutely arresting; I’ll be keeping my eye out to see if it shows up here on the left coast. Camp Victory, Afghanistan, will also be shown. I encourage you to go if you can.

I still have a few pages of notes from the CNAS conference yesterday, but I haven’t had a chance to sort them out yet. More forthcoming. In the meantime, read Michael Cohen’s piece in TNR, and Exum and Spencer’s responses. I like that Exum responds with the theory and Spencer responds with the practical outline.


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.

And three thousand miles away…

Posted in afghanistan, counterinsurgency, united states, us politics by Karaka on 22 September 2009

Hoo boy. Unsurprisingly, everyone is talking about the “leaked” redacted report from General McChrystal to Secretary Gates that broke this week over at the Washington Post; you can download a copy of the document here.

Now, I have a job, and things like jobs mean I haven’t had a chance to read through the document in its entirety yet. Small War Journal has put together a handy linklist of responses to the assessment. For a quick rundown of the document’s contents, the NYT has a good article; as does, of course, the Washington Post itself.

The Armed Forces Press has a concise view of Obama’s press position on Afghanistan right now, interesting either way but it seems important to keep in mind that he articulated this position over the past weekend, and this document was prepared August 30th. Also, bear in mind Obama’s March address on Afghanistan; his current position is something of a shift. Tim Sullivan at the Center for Defense Studies picks up on that:

So what gives? It can only be assumed that the president’s strategic objectives have shifted, or that the administration is somehow dissatisfied with elements of the military plan conceived by Gen. McChrystal. As Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Karen DeYoung suggest in today’s Post, it’s likely some combination of the two: the commander’s forthcoming force recommendations are causing heartburn in the White House at a time when the administration is growing increasingly skittish about declining public support for the war, and is therefore thinking seriously about implementing a more limited counterterrorism strategy in Afghanistan–despite the strident strategic pronouncements of its advisers six months ago, and the more recent judgments of the commander in country.

Of course, the crux of this debate is not the adoption of counterinsurgency tactics, or the requests for additional troops. It is about the goal, the reason to continue supporting the engagement there at all, and while I am not immune to the mission creep argument I confess that the statement from Obama on Meet the Press last Sunday saying he’s “not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan or saving face or, in some way– you know, sending a message that America is here for the duration” has me kind of spooked.

How, exactly, can counterinsurgency tactics be effective on the ground if your leader decries thought of staying for long enough for that methodology to be effective?

Despite whatever position the American people and their politicians are formulating, and despite the fact that Obama inherited these wars from his predecessor’s foolish actions, how can the President say, eight years after occupation, that withdrawing to the point of ineffectiveness from a nation our forces helped destabilize is in any way a position America could morally uphold?

Man, I’m sure my ethics are showing, but that is simply bullshit.

[The New York Times goes further with this.]

Spencer Ackerman hits up who McChrystal’s audience was in the Assessment document, and the LA Times covers the political ground of the Assessment. Meanwhile, ground force tactics around Bagram have already shifted in line with McChrystal’s directives, Afghan forces are fighting for hearts and minds in their own towns, and roadside bombs continue to take out troops.

At some point, we aren’t deciding to stay. We’ve signed the lease.

Posted in afghanistan by Karaka on 26 August 2009

Working at a non-profit means, inevitably, you will be stuffing envelopes for an untold period of time. Working for a non-profit also means that your boss generally doesn’t care what you’re doing while you stuff envelopes, as long as the envelopes are getting stuffed. I had picked up a link to Josh Foust and Michael Cohen’s debate on remaining in Afghanistan–particularly relating to the new counterinsurgency policy authorized by General McChrystal this month–and took the opportunity to watch them debate the topic while affixing stamps.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Foust followed up on his view about remaining in Afghanistan, which Cohen then responded too. I’ll agree with the both of them that, at this point, the argument about remaining becomes somewhat tedious. My own view is that, like it or not, we are practically committed to remaining in Afghanistan for an unspecific number of years, whatever the goals we set and however we measure the successes by which we achieve those goals. But changing the perspective of our tactics in Afghanistan does a long way towards reassuring me that, for the length of time US forces remain in Afghanistan, something positive and not merely destructive will come from it. The current presidential election (and its probably electoral fraud) notwithstanding.

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