Monday, July 27, 2009

Andrew Exum on the Charlie Rose show (UPDATED)

Starting in about twenty minutes here in DC on WETA (PBS affiliate), Exum talks with Rose about his experience over the last month on GEN McChrystal's assessment team in Afghanistan.
I just filmed a long interview with Charlie Rose for tonight's show. I'll be talking strategy in Afghanistan and sharing observations from my trip.
We've managed some traffic, but we ain't on TV.

Depending how bored I get (and how much Jim Beam I drink), I might live-update while watching.

2301: Interesting: Ross Douthat's name is pronounced "DOW-thut." For some reason I always figured it was "DOUBT-hat."

2303: I have the exact same suit that Exum's wearing. And Charlie Rose just pronounced "Abu Muqawama" correctly. I think he's the first talking head that I've heard do that.

Exum says that the assesment process since President Obama's inauguration has been "pretty coherent." Then he tells us that we set policy before determining a strategy. Really?

2305: Two vital U.S. interests in Afghanistan are 1) denying transnational terrorists use of territory to strike at the U.S., and 2) prevent Afghanistan from destabilizing Pakistan. Interesting to hear him elaborate the second interest while noting that the President is focused on the first.

2308: "Good news" is that no enemy elements present an "existential threat" to the government of Pakistan at present.

2310: Exum says that he has no "equities" involved in Afghanistan, and that one of the things that the outside, think-tank folks had to offer to the assessment team is that they could speak without worrying about saying the things that their bureauracies want. Hmm.

First I'm hearing of this: Tony Cordesman feels very negative about the Afghanistan enterprise.

TELEGENICS UPDATE: Ex seems to have eliminated his annoying habit of bobbing his head up and down while his interviewer is speaking. Performance thus far seems confident and polished. Now let's just hear something interesting.

2315: Rose: "Is everything you've just said an indictment of the strategy of the last eight years?" Exum: strategy, leadership, and resourcing have all been failures up to this point.

Idea of a "fighting season" in Afghanistan is goofy -- "there may be a season where they shoot at us more," but even in winter Taliban's influence campaign is in full effect.

Exum says as a former Army officer, he finds the way that McKiernan was dismissed to be disappointing. First I'm hearing of that one.

2318: Exum gives a shout-out to the WSJ's Yochi Dreazen (also, like Ex, a Penn grad).

2320: LTG Rodriguez "may have a tougher mission than GEN McChrystal." Um, ok. Not sure I really understand that one.

Re: the laws of land warfare: "You may be technically correct, and operationally ineffective -- operationally stupid." If you kill civilians, you'll be operationally ineffective, etc etc. "Killing civilians pushes the goalposts farther away."

2323: When America wages counterinsurgencies, we "usually do it as a third-party." Usually? I guess he's watching his words because of the Sioux, or something.

"In Afghanistan, we've got a real problem with interest alignment." I think it's fair to say that's true in Pakistan, too -- probably more true. It's like everyone suddenly discovered this when Biddle wrote an article about it. Hasn't this been obvious for a long time? Don't we know that there are a lot of host nation political leaders who are more interested in maintaining power and its attendant benefits than eliminating corruption or otherwise stabilizing the country?

2328: August of 2010 a good time to gauge progress, according to Exum. Be interesting to hear what exactly we're meant to have accomplished in that time.

And here we've got a reprise of CNAS's Triage: "a good measure is to what degree we're able to protect the people of Afghanistan." So a "good short-term metric" is a negative metric, according to Ex. Not sure I have tremendous confidence in a vague measure like that, which is consistent with my general disappointment with the CNAS report.

Better: "gauging success a year from now" will be based on level of civilian casualties and the capability -- not just number -- of trained Afghan security forces.

2330: Defeat looks like parts of Afghanistan being made inhospitable to government authority. We're a long way from that happening, says Ex. But then again, "in counterinsurgency, if you're not winning, you're losing." Isn't there some contradiction here? Aren't we losing by a thousand cuts already?

Rose asks if we can be successful without a change in tactics by the Pakistani army. Exum responds that a reduction in safe havens across the Pakistani border is essential to success in Afghanistan. Ruh-roh. Pakistan thinks that the elimination of Afghan safe havens (and/or Afghan-to-Pakistan militant flows) is essential to success in its own counterinsurgency. Or maybe we'll just squeeze the balloon from both sides and everyone will squirt out into Baluchistan.

Now Ex is being asked whether McChrystal is Lee or Grant, which is a freaking idiotic question and a meaningless waste of time. Ex says "I wish I knew the answer to your question because it would save us a lot of time." Really? If we knew whether McChrystal was Grant or Lee? What, because we'd know whether he was a winner or a loser? Uh, ok.

Welp, that's it for Exum. And I'm not gonna live-blog Ross Douthat, who I've got to be honest kind of creeps me out a little bit with his ideas of Republican ascendancy in the working class and his odd, over-manicured goatee. So that's it for tonight.
UPDATE: Jari thinks I was dogging Ex a little hard, I guess, so here's the disclaimer/hedging that I posted on his site:

I didn’t think I was being super-critical or anything, but I guess it looks a bit like that when reading back.

Let me just say that doing interviews is hard, being recorded is hard, and being on camera is even harder, so any criticisms about delivery or presence or any of that stuff is pure BS on my part.

I think maybe the so-called “strategy” that Ex discussed might’ve been more satisfying to people who aren’t particularly fluent in the subject, seeing as the whole “protect civilians” thing might’ve seemed more novel and substantial to them.


  1. Gully,

    Only a matter of time man.

  2. On another note...

    Have you polished off tha Beam bottle? Maybe I should have bought the handle.

  3. Appreciate the vote of confidence, bro.

    Just cracked into it for the first time tonight -- we had a whole bunch of the B-U-D hanging around from brisket day.

  4. The consummate salesman. But I didn't watch it.


  5. Exum is one of the CNAS gigolos,
    Salesmen selling ice to Eskimos.
    The problem is an occupation by force?
    Solution: More occupation, of course!
    Truthiness keeps everyone on their toes.


    And, no, I'm not dissing Exum. I just needed a rhyme for Eskimo. He's not a rented boy, although in Craigslist adult ads one might find the services of a kilted Washingtonian. I won't inquire.

  6. 1. Okay, SNLII, instead of limericks or haiku, try tanka or waka, so long as this is turning into a poetry thread.

    2. (I'm not dissing anyone, either. I actually admire you lot, legacy think-tankers and everyone else. I'm not sure what that is all about. I usually hate everything.)

    3. Part 2, re strategery: Pakistan. The SWJ article about the 'new' domino theory and Pakistan was interesting, eh? That's the part that worries me: we are re-hyphenating that which we successfully de-hyphenated in the past because of all the pressures on Pakistan and India. Aren't we? Well, what do I know.

    I loathe questions formulated as, "so everything in the past 8 years was a failure of blah blah...." Not that there weren't failures, but it is so very transparent. Are we meant to be stupid?

    4. What else? Oh, yeah, I'd have to listen (I never watch, just audio) sometime later. Maybe. If I have time. Which, maybe yes, maybe no.

  7. The War of the Hyphen

    The US is losing the war of punctuation,
    To China and to every rogue nation.
    A period, comma and question mark gap
    Won't appear on any officer's map,
    But shows up instead in written communication.


  8. There once was a lady named "Madhu,"
    A doctor who treated Kabul's flu.
    "This patient is really quite sick!
    "I prescribe Gallieni's oil slick,
    "A procedure known as 'Vietnam II.'"


  9. "I feel like I'm sick, too,"
    Said Gulliver to Dr Madhu.
    "I drank too much Kool Ade,
    "Another nation? Let's invade!
    "In fact, I think we're long overdue."


  10. Gunslinger should've ditched the commission,
    Before he got recalled for the OEF mission.
    "Hey, I can groove on another year,
    "Drinking dust, chai and fake beer,
    "Consider it a special form of rendition."


  11. Stan the Man comes for thee,
    15 more months of unbridled glee!
    "Well, it's just my dumb luck,
    "I got sent back to the suck,
    "And the domino? It fell on me."


  12. OEF is one effin' mess,
    A goat-screw in a man dress.
    But if I have to do another tour,
    Dodging bullets and CNN's Amanpour,
    Can I ask the meaning of "success?"


  13. There once was an 11B named "Curt,"
    His ass sent to an Afghan desert,
    Fighting every day for his life,
    With a gun, his fist, a knife,
    And all he got was this effin' T-shirt.


    I can do these all day.

  14. We've come a long way from Lord Tennyson and that glorious Light Brigade (while Stanza II has new meaning for me).

    Too bad I actually did ditch the commission - what's another year of purgatory?

  15. To Madhu, a poetry thread really stinks,
    Because we don't hear what anyone thinks.
    But I say verse is closer to real,
    Than jargon that will only conceal
    The gut-shot bastard catching eternal winks.


  16. The "Charge" is effin' war porn,
    The truth they gallop to suborn.
    There's no glory in mass slaughter,
    To the man's wife or his daughter,
    And his baby two months to be born.


  17. Are you saying that Tennyson is a lot like Ricks? Poor Alfred...

  18. "A year of Purgatory?" I say,
    "No prob, just pray and spray.
    "Why, I can do 15 standing on my head,
    "Better walking wounded then forever dead,
    "And each morning another Groundhog Day."


  19. What does Ricks know about our war?
    Our honored dead, the bandages they wore?
    To him it's all a Fiasco, Gamble or same:
    "Another dead bastard? Oh, whatta shame.
    "There's another million to make, maybe more."


  20. Friedman said we were too dumb to fail,
    But what about Sarge reading braille?
    The flash took both eyes,
    The blast sucked in his cries,
    And his Bronze Star arrived in the mail.


  21. A Purple Heart marks Tom's next book,
    Your hand now a stainless hook.
    He'll tell you what you really saw,
    It wasn't that bad, no, not at all,
    The IED that ate you in the Souk.


  22. These are taking on a more Robert-Service-y aspect as you continue, which is a good thing in my book.

  23. An Afghan's IED is one hungry beast.
    She makes your blood into a feast.
    Well, I didn't die to make Karzai rich,
    Bleeding out inside a ditch,
    Last Rites mumbled by the priest.


    Detect a little anger?

  24. Detect a little anger?

    SNLII -- I appreciate the theme, and the question that's implied in all of these poems. That said, do you think the Joe (or Tommy, or Digger, or whoever) gives a shit if he's bleeding on the Marne or in (to use your inimitable phrasing) NW Goatfuckistan? The guy on the pointy end always thinks that the real (non-rhetoric) rationale for war is a waste, whether it's a "vital national interest" or not. Just as true in Afghanistan, but probably no more true than Iraq or Somalia or Vietnam or the Bulge.

  25. Oh, no! I knew those who bought every line,
    Sold by Bush, CNAS and similar swine,
    Duty, honor and lots of country, too,
    They'd have different answers for Madhu,
    But I guess I wasn't one of their kind.


  26. Sorry, I guess I should be more specific then: your kind, the cynics (or realists), aren't they going to be similarly cynical about any mission?

    What I mean to say is that grunt poetry may be an effective criticism of all war more than this war. Maybe that's what you're going for; Service was.

  27. On policy sites, what's often lost,
    Is the price that's paid --the human cost.
    That's the nature, I guess, of blogs,
    They don't consider the bodies, like logs
    Stacked as high as the roofs of Khost.


  28. Notice that at Exum's place,
    Lots of COIN but a human face?
    Spreading ink spots across his map,
    Stan the man and hagiographic crap,
    But what about lives we can't replace?


  29. It's true that service can't substitute
    For expertise or a million dollar suit,
    But if you've been with ripped apart,
    You understand the mind and the heart
    That's taken belongs to a former recruit.


  30. But what does it matter, in the end?
    The expert and the novice, alike my friend.
    What matters is the argument they make,
    Not the lies Tom Friedman likes to bake
    Into a column anyone can comprehend.

  31. The real problem with the OEF mission,
    Is that for strategy we seem to be fishin'
    And no one should have to die for a hope,
    Even if his orders came from "The Pope"
    Or a think tank that's known more for ambition.


  32. Now, for Exum I have great affection,
    He's honorable and beyond objection;
    But I have my doubts about the war we fight,
    Its goals, and my quibbles that it might
    Be prolonged just for the midterm election.


  33. If he wants to go on Charlies Rose,
    Unbobbing his head and sporting new clothes,
    That's cool and I give him props,
    He's got some serious policy chops,
    But what about the boby bags lined in rows?


  34. Did he, just once, call out a name,
    Of some poor bastard sent to tame
    A Taliban foe we barely understand,
    In Kabul or even in Pakistan?
    And ain't that the real shame?


  35. And does his DD214 mask,
    The questions that we should ask:
    What cost do we pay in blood and treasure?
    What metrics we borrow for the blood's measure?
    Shouldn't that be our task?


  36. Exum won't give advice he wouldn't take,
    But why should we give him a break?
    His words should stand on their own,
    Not at PBS but in a war zone
    Or some dead private's wake.


  37. OK, OK, I'm sure you got your fill,
    Of SNLII tallying the butcher's bill,
    But mark my words: We haven't seen the cost
    Of all the lives -- them and ours -- to be lost,
    Or the civilians we'll lead to the kill.


  38. OMG.

    I don't have time to process all these right now!

    My skepticism is something different from your poetically expressed skepticism - if we do this 'hold, clear, and build' thing, because we want to disrupt, dismantle and destroy Al Q, then we better have a realistic idea of what comes after build, how long build takes, and what build means.

    Also, the I diaspora papers are rumbling. Two sequential administrations worked so hard to improve relations with both Pakistan and India! Although, we still had 9-11! Confusion reigns in Dr. M land. I don't know how you people do it - studying discrete tumors is a whole lot easier.

    *Are you some sort of computer in the basement of the Pentagon? Goodness.

  39. oh jeez, just correct what you need to correct in the above. you know what i mean.

  40. Pardon me if I don't disclose my vocation,
    But Dick Cheney and I are at a safe location,
    Buried many stories below DC,
    Our prime concerns? My safety!
    Oh, yeah, and, of course, our nation.


  41. But there's a favor I'll ask if I could --
    Madhu, I was wondering if you could
    Find me a Mumbai agent or two,
    Maybe an entire agency's crew,
    With connections in Bollywood?


  42. Because I think this poetry really sizzles,
    Without choreography and song, it fizzles,
    And in Bollywood I want to cash in,
    Like that bastard Tom Ricks, my friend,
    Many thanks, etc, fo shizzle.


  43. aargh, i have to go, abstract writing time which is why i'm online all the time

    bollywood gets on my nerves, i like old school a lot, but the new stuff irritates. except for saif ali khan. he's supposedly a filmi prima donna - but i don't care.

  44. Tom Ricks does bollywood?

    okay, i'm really going now.

  45. The Gamble should be set to dance,
    The Fiasco, well, why not romance?
    If we're really going to make a mint,
    We should sell what works in Tashket,
    And Bollywood should pay in advance.


  46. Ex has a very nicely groomed head of hair. VERY GQ. Is that in preparation for his trip to the Mideast or is that just part of being in a think tank? I only ask because this because an odd image that was posted here is burned into my brain and won't go away (though it appears to have disappeared from the internet). Trendy grooming might be part of the benefits package.

  47. Soldier no longer in Iraq
    watches the summer ending
    flexes his fingers
    and mourns his dead

    no mere kerfluffle this
    a charge of prostitutes
    the gigolo light brigade
    Mc Chrystals rent boys
    drinking his friends blood
    Dolchstosse for a place
    on the cock-tail circuit.

    All that is left is rage
    rage and unending sorrow
    watching the leaves fall
    outside his DC bunker


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