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American “National Interest” and the War in Afghanistan

5:00 pm in Uncategorized by Josh Mull

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

When I originally posted my snotty response to Spencer Ackerman’s civilian casualties post, I had planned on all but ignoring his substantive arguments (which are most obviously phony) and instead focused on his ridiculous characterizations of anyone questioning Afghanistan policy as a whole ("U.S. withdrawal comes with a pony for every Afghan citizen"). But Spencer insisted that I was taking insurgents causing civilian casualties as a given whereas he considers it a more "salient point." He writes:

[...]Some of the most convincing arguments I’ve read against both the war and the prosecution of it have come from people…who start from the premises of war supporters and argue that on their own terms the war doesn’t make sense. That stuff causes me to rethink and adjust…

I’ve written about this before, that those pushing to end the war should most certainly not be accepting the premises of the war makers, and should instead articulate their own specific national interests and the policies to realize them. Provide an alternative, not necessarily a counter. But it also strikes me vaguely as something of a Celestial Teapot, the philosophical exercise wherein the burden of proof is on the person who says something amazing exists (a teapot floating in space) and not on the person who refutes it (there is no teapot).

In our sense, it is the folks arguing that war leads to peace and stability in Afghanistan asking those who say otherwise to try and work backwards from their own twisted arguments, to prove their war wrong. Once you start accepting their premises, about civilian casualties, counter-insurgency doctrine, or whatever it is, then proving your case to actually end the war becomes almost impossible.

Quite frankly, I’m not the one advocating for a decade-plus, trillion dollar occupation of Afghanistan in order to create a "stable security sector", so it’s not really my responsibility to help "adjust" and refine the arguments of anyone who does advocate for it. Rather those pushing for an end to the war are advocating their own policy to achieve their own national interests.

Cutting the trillion dollar war is because we need that money for our broken economy, job creation, and so forth. By withdrawing our military from Afghanistan we are strengthening our national security, removing our troops from an unwinnable quagmire that kills them there and at home, as well as removing the bloody occupation which provides much of the impetus for terrorist attacks and the Taliban insurgency. It’s not simply red teaming the pro-war crowd, it’s an independent political movement.

But in this case, we should take Spencer up on his invitation. Not only will he get what he wants, a discovery that on his own terms the war doesn’t make sense, but it will also help us understand exactly what it is that the United States’ national interests actually are in Afghanistan. Read the rest of this entry →

McChrystal’s Revenge: Everyone Hates Karl Eikenberry

5:00 pm in Uncategorized by Josh Mull

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

Supporters of General McChrystal’s counterinsurgency policy are heart-broken over his firing. Not that they don’t agree with it, very few COINdinistas took the position that McChrystal should be permitted to undermine civilian control of policy as he did so plainly in the Rolling Stone piece. Support for McChrystal came instead in the form of "he’s our only hope" and warnings about ruining the war effort. Nevertheless, McChrystal was fired, and now his supporters want revenge.

The target of this vengeance is quite clear: Karl Eikenberry, US Ambassador to Afghanistan. Take a look at these snippets from across the blogosphere, keeping mind that this is just a sample of the anti-Eikenberry sentiment out there.

Josh Shahryar:

When McChrystal finally got troops, he had to figure out a way around Eikenberry’s meddling into what was supposed to be his operation.

Bouhammer:

So now I am waiting for that POS Eikenberry to be fired along with that ineffective Holbrooke. The relationship between the military and civilian leadership in Afghanistan is a two-way street. If the Ambassador and Special Envoy don’t get along with Karzai and cannot influence him or even get a meeting with him then they need to be FIRED asap and some people need to be put into place that can be effective at their job and get along with the military leadership.

Anonymous at Danger Room:

In fact, one e-mails: “It would be a travesty if we fired McChrystal and kept Eikenberry.”

Not only is McChrystal the “only one with any sort of relationship with [Afghan president Hamid] Karzai,” says this civilian advisor to the McChrystal-led International Security Assistance Force. Eikenberry “has no plan, didn’t get COIN [counterinsurgency] when he was the commander and still doesn’t.” Plus, the advisor adds: “The Embassy hates Eik. That’s not necessarily an indictment (I’m no fan of the Embassy). But it contributes to the dysfunction and it means that half the Embassy is focused on keeping Eik in line.”

Streetwise Professor:

Eikenberry was a backstabber from day one.

See the narrative building? McChrystal was doing a good job (they’ve leaked red meat to give pro-McChrystal progressives some lefty cover), it was that "POS Eikenberry" and his "meddling" that are really at fault. He’s a backstabber and dysfunctional. McChrystal’s violation of the relationship between civilian government and the military is no longer at issue, it’s practically ignored.  They’ve moved on to the blame game.

So McChrystal’s supporters want a scalp of their own, and they’ve chosen Eikenberry as their target. McChrystal and Eikenberry have been feuding for some time now, so it’s no surprise he draws the most wrath from the general’s dismissal. But if we actually look closer at the tension between Eikenberry and McChrystal, we see that the Eikenberry-haters are way off base. Their attacks are, at best, childish displays of sour grapes, and at worst, a fundamental misunderstanding of their own strategy. Ambassador Eikenberry is not at fault here. In fact, Eikenberry was right all along. Read the rest of this entry →

Optics of the National Consultative Peace Jirga in Afghanistan

4:45 pm in Uncategorized by Josh Mull

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

You better bite down on something, because here comes some NATO propaganda:

That wasn’t so bad, was it? Very short, and they devote a fairly large chunk of time to criticism of the whole affair. It’s a little pedestrian for anyone with extensive knowledge of the region, but the explanation for the jirga is very accessible. But since the jirga has just gotten under way, it’s far too early to draw any substantive conclusions about the criticism, or the praise, of the jirga. Even if they aren’t making decisions and only building a broad consensus, it’s going to take a while.

However, it’s not too early to engage in that most reptilian form of analysis, gauging the "optics" of the event. How does it look? How does it register in your gut? And if we swirl our hands over the newsprint, what secrets of the future can we mystically divine? Not much, really. Most conclusions we come to about the optics of the meeting will be rendered meaningless soon enough when the jirga wraps up and the consequences to reality begin to take shape. But just as we can live through a little NATO propaganda to learn about the jirga, we’ll lower ourselves to the level of gut reactions and see what we can learn. Read the rest of this entry →

Rethink Afghanistan: Clinging to Guns and Counterinsurgency

2:59 pm in Foreign Policy, Military by Josh Mull

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

There’s been a lot of public debate lately about our counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan. Derrick Crowe looked through the government’s own reports and discovered it’s a giant failure. Steve Hynd wonders if it isn’t stratagem at all, but an ideology. I asked if we even had any idea what’s going on with the strategy. Gareth Porter finds that Pentagon leaders don’t like the Afghan strategy, and Nancy Youssef piles on that the military itself is turning against COIN. And it was in Youssef’s piece that one of the Grand Dragons of the COIN blogosphere, Andrew Exum (Abu Muqawama to the cool kids), appeared to distance himself from the strategy. "I can’t imagine anyone would opt for this option," he said.

Exum later clarified his statement, sort of, but he had a good point here:

If you continue to have a problem with the fact that we are now pursuing a counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan, by the way, you should spend less time whining about the generals and think tank researchers and take the issue up with the president. As the secretary of state said today at USIP, while holding forth on the strategy reviews that took place in the spring and fall, "the president reached a conclusion [after the reviews of 2009] that should be respected by Americans."

Obviously it’s a bit of stretch for Exum to throw all the blame on the politicians, seeing as how he and a host of other COINdinistas built their Beltway careers on aggressively proselytizing counterinsurgency religion to those very same politicians. But our leaders are primarily responsible for the policy failure. For instance, Afghan president Karzai visits Washington with a peace plan, and we just take it as normal that he has to "persuade a sceptical Barack Obama that it is time to negotiate with the Taliban." Skeptical about negotiating? Obama has a Nobel Peace Prize, and he’s skeptical? And Exum’s quote from Secretary Clinton is equally outrageous. We’ve so completely lost sight of our peaceful capabilities, so misunderstood the point of our civilian foreign policy agencies, that even our diplomats demand our military occupations be "respected." Our problem is not picking the right military strategy, but picking any military strategy at all. Read the rest of this entry →

How Many Soldiers Does it Take to Screw in a Light Bulb?

4:00 pm in Uncategorized by Josh Mull

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

As the US gears up for its inevitably bloody assault on Kandahar, the plans have hit a bit of a snag. There’s a dispute raging between the military and civilian sides of our war effort over, believe it or not, development aid. The Washington Post reports:

Convinced that expanding the electricity supply will build popular support for the Afghan government and sap the Taliban’s influence, some officers want to spend $200 million over the next few months to buy more generators and millions of gallons of diesel fuel. Although they acknowledge that the project will be costly and inefficient, they say President Obama’s pledge to begin withdrawing troops by July 2011 has increased pressure to demonstrate rapid results in their counterinsurgency efforts, even if it means embracing less-than-ideal solutions to provide basic public services. [...]

U.S. diplomats and reconstruction specialists, who do not face the same looming drawdown, have opposed the military’s plan because of concerns that the Afghan government will not be able to afford the fuel to sustain the generators. Mindful of several troubled development programs over the past eight years, they want the United States to focus on initiatives that Afghans can maintain over the long term.

The dispute is easy to understand. The military wants an immediate impact, while the State Department wants a long-term solution. The issue with this article is not the dispute, but that they frame the debate around the military withdrawal. Because the army has to leave, they need quick solutions or, left unsaid, we will fail in Afghanistan. Right away we know that’s not true, even after July 2011 there will still be combat troops in Afghanistan, just the "special" ones that do the most murdering. But by framing the aid dispute around the military’s needs completely misses the point that the military shouldn’t even be involved in Afghanistan. The State Dept. is right that if we care at all about our objectives in Afghanistan, governance, development, human rights, then we need sustainable solutions. And who knows more about that, the civilians or the military? Read the rest of this entry →