Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Who Needs Means or Ends When You Have Ways?

I highly recommend this article from the Army Times on a little FOB in Afghanistan by Sean Naylor. I really like Sean's writing and his ability to really portray daily life in combat zones - and not just because he did just that for my squadron when he was embedded with us during the invasion of Iraq. His imagery is vivid when talking about the challenges and minor nuances of life in an expeditionary army.

But like all good bloggers, I'm going to ignore all of that fantastic writing and cherrypick two quotes. First:
"The people of Afghanistan, from what I’m seeing, just don’t straight-out flat trust Americans, even though they know we’re here to help them,” he said. “Because every day I go on patrol, I tell them, ‘We’re here to help you.’ But in their eyes, I think they just see it as a temporary help.”
And then:
But without more troops — Afghan or American — to provide a permanent presence in the villages, there are tight limits on how much Basilides can alleviate the elders’ concerns. The insurgents have the run of the villages beyond the Bowl and the ability to coerce the tacit support of the villagers.
Now, I'm a big believer in the utility of population-centric counterinsurgency - as long as it is balanced appropriately with terrain- and enemy-centric tactics as well. But this is what I see as wrong in Afghanistan: we're not able to sustain any gains we may actually achieve and apparently these Afghanis realize that. It is too little force, both US and Afghani, to meet what few objectives have been stated and there is not enough of a civilian agency presence to solidfy those gains.

These soldiers are doing the best they can - and it seems like they are doing a great job at that - with what they have. But this seems to be an exercise in doing COIN on the cheap, which has limited long-term value to anyone. It's feeling like Iraq in 2005 all over again. If we're not willing to put in the resources required, then why the hell are we doing it in the first place?


  1. If we're not willing to put in the resources required, then why the hell are we doing it in the first place?

    That's a worthwhile question, but here's a better one (that I don't think applied in the case of Iraq in 2005): even if we are willing to put in the resources, why the hell are we doing it in the first place? Or if we figure out some putative "why," then why do we believe that our resources and efforts are adequate to the task?

  2. It is a better one. But you know, "political realities" and all that.

  3. The real problem is actually apparent,
    To a strategist it's pretty transparent:
    The center of gravity is across Durand's line,
    Where the Pathans often intertwine,
    And the population is too often errant.

    Now how can we get to them?
    Beyond drone strikes, ahem?
    No one can explain this to me,
    So I can't obviously see,
    The real Slim Shady from CNAS' Eminem.

  4. So forgive the Pathans for thinking us temps,
    And all our many pop-centric attempts,
    Probably won't amount to much gain,
    Lots of blood for the grunts, and their pain,
    They were lost in war, not contretemps.


  5. The larger question: How can we stop
    If the strategy isn't really centered on pop?
    We can't cross the fictional border,
    To quash Islamabad's disorder,
    So we're treated rightly as rent-a-cops.


  6. Now, I know some who would say that's OK,
    But even armed social workers should get a say
    On futile missions that are bound to fail.
    So tell me when we can bail
    And just go about on our way?


  7. "Oh, but SNLII, that's a timeline!
    "Definite goals? Why not a sign
    "Of metrics that actually work?
    "What are you, a killjoy jerk,
    "Or just a hopeless whine?"


  8. But there's something, SNLII, I can really dig,
    You're not putting lipstick on a pig.
    It's like when you were a Marine,
    A fireteam leader decked out in green,
    "Men, if you go on liberty, go big."

  9. The same concept applies today,
    For once black or white, not gray.
    If you're going to waste GIs,
    Look into their dying eyes,
    And tell them that you came to stay.


  10. Some ascribe this doctrine to Powell,
    But who threw in Weinberger's towel?
    It's his strategy that should be the rage,
    Not "hope" hogging our foreign policy stage
    And "trust me" Stan the Man's dirty vowel.


  11. Hope, you see, still ain't a plan,
    Even if uttered by Stan the Man.
    We must have a means to an end,
    'Cause peace ain't around the bend,
    Either in DC or Afghanistan.


  12. So if we can't reach the right Pathans,
    Why is pop-centric in the plans?
    Oh, it's not the real strategy,
    Which is what makes it a tragedy,
    Just a way to sell more time in the 'Stans.


  13. We must sell pop-centric tactics,
    Like crack to the cocaine addicts:
    "War is now without friction,
    "Please don't parse this bold fiction,
    "It's how we think tankers turn our tricks."


  14. But there's one thing for which I'm certain,
    There ain't no wizard behind the curtain,
    Only COINdinistas selling us one cheap trinket,
    Slippin' us a mickey, ordering, "Now drink it."
    And I know they're not betting their own skin.


  15. At CNAS you won't hear such honesty,
    Nor find the noun called "modesty."
    There, they think that there's victory
    Even when the strategy is contradictory,
    To all of the lessons of history.


  16. Pray, tell me how we can use carrot or stick?
    On a population we just can't trick?
    They're either across the Durand Line,
    Or they're in Kabul biding their time,
    Waiting for Uncle Sam to leave quick.


  17. The GI, he tells time with a clock,
    Whether in Kabul or in Iraq.
    The Talib, he counts in years,
    Enough time to smuggle his fears,
    And wave to us from the dock.


  18. Why should this matter to you or me?
    Well, on this I think we can agree:
    Canada is spent and the Danes tired,
    France and Britain are sick of quagmire,
    And so went this latest war of the flea.


  19. I think my mission here is done:
    Drive traffic by having some fun,
    At the expense of a COINdinista,
    "Why, who is this SNLII,mistah?"
    And now I ride into the sun.

    SNLII saying, "Goodnight."

  20. Hope that won't be the end of your prose contribution.

  21. If you want my alms,
    Hold out your palms,
    But I pay in verse
    Drawn from a purse
    Sewn in all our Vietnams.


  22. The truth, my friend, I herewith propose:
    Anyone can say the same in dry prose,
    But meter and rhyme and diction,
    Here aren't employed in fiction,
    And are so much more difficult to compose.


  23. You should be enjoying this funny novelty,
    For who else would discuss the war of the flea
    In rhymed witty words and crafty puns?
    No, they'd talk about tactics and guns
    And speak the tongues of oracle and decree.


  24. Think of all the peaceniks and their tribe,
    Maybe Kelley Vlahos or a similar scribe,
    Will arrive to take in these words,
    Wheeling on the screen like singing birds,
    And daily return to imbibe!


  25. You can sell Amazon lists and such,
    Taking my little and making it much,
    Everyone will know of Gully and Lil,
    Their policy advice, a very sweet pill,
    So very vital, so very in touch.


  26. This is the best commentary in the history of blogging. Period.

  27. Oh, you're a tease, Gunslinger. So you served with the 3/7 Cav in 2003, huh? All these coy hints are enough to drive a girl crazy.

    As for you, SNLII:
    You have a great gift for rhyme;
    Yes, yes, some of the time.
    But no more rhyming now, I mean it.
    Anybody want a peanut?

  28. The best poem was 7:17! Get the man a literary agent.

  29. @Anonymous 8:48 - one word: GarryOwen.

  30. Soldier no longer in Iraq
    Cuts no one any slack
    But I ask one question
    Inspired by poetic suggestion

    What if you, too, are wrong?

    Gunslinger - this is by far the most 'tour de force' example of blog commentary I have encountered on the internets. Someone is a mad genius.

    (There is a chitown writing teacher I know of who collects and edits written works by vets - to exhibit at the museums around here. She can't have exhibited better. She collects a wide variety, for and against if you see what I mean.)

  31. "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.


    Because I am contrarian, and need to contradict, I have to say that some of the blogs you like to ridicule (say, Blackfive) do try and do just that. The efforts are clumsy, excessively starry-eyed, and create a bit of glorified fiction, but you can't say they don't try to remind people of the human cost.

    If you are not the one paying, however, the cost never seems as dear as it should. That's a problem. On that point, I can think of nothing to contradict.

    Couldn't make that rhyme, either. Didn't really want to.

  32. Because I am contrarian, and need to contradict, I have to say that some of the blogs you like to ridicule (say, Blackfive) do try and do just that. The efforts are clumsy, excessively starry-eyed, and create a bit of glorified fiction, but you can't say they don't try to remind people of the human cost.

    I'd suggest that Blackfive is doing precisely the opposite: not reminding people of the human cost, but rather glorifying the sacrifice of the individual in such a way as to render the real human pain associated with loss abstract, a blurry necessity in the fight for mom and apple pie.

    (But I'm not a frequent reader.)

  33. Neither am I, so perhaps I got that wrong from memory, and from a time when I used to read the site.

    So, I stand corrected. Still. Read SNLIIs rhymes and Old Blue's prose at Afghanquest/CNAS. Somewhere inbetween lies the truth? Or am I confusing tactics and strategy?

  34. Read SNLIIs rhymes and Old Blue's prose at Afghanquest/CNAS. Somewhere inbetween lies the truth?

    I don't think this is a linear spectrum. I'd be shocked if Blue didn't appreciate the value of soldiers' lives when he's spent a quarter of a century serving his country.

    While I'm increasingly skeptical about the strategic utility of the Afghan war as it's presently being prosecuted, I can't speak for SNLII on this. That said, I think the disconnect comes when people advocate policies that many compellingly argue are strategic luxuries (or at least strategically indifferent) at serious financial and human cost, particularly when one could argue that they're doing so out of a prideful commitment to one particular doctrinal school or lens of policy analysis. I make a more charitable assessment of even the most dogmatic COINdinistas than SNLII, though, I think.

  35. "While I'm increasingly skeptical about the strategic utility of the Afghan war as it's presently being prosecuted, I can't speak for SNLII on this"

    Well, I am completely skeptical, too. I don't really know where I am going with this. I suppose I am trying to keep an open mind, to be questioning, because a certain confidence got us in trouble last time around (Iraq). And, I might add, we are seeing some of the same, domestically, right now. Certainty that authors of large and unwieldy bills have gamed out every possible long term scenario. No one ever learns.

    Okay, I'll leave poor InkSpots alone for now. Papers don't write themselves.

  36. better copyright those lyrics, MC Hammer could make a huge comeback with your prose.

  37. Between me and "Old Blue,"
    There's a difference or two,
    The chief one being theological
    Cause his belief isn't logical,
    And I sport an agnostic tattoo.

    Seven times I heard pop-centric gospel
    Told by Ricks, "Old Blue" and another apostle,
    But after the eighth,
    I shrugged it off as blind faith,
    Without a decent historical example.

    You see, there are some to make their moolah
    Off of "80 percent political" half-assed Galula,
    But I don't have that axe to grind,
    Only the truth is what I try to find,
    And I'm sure not trying to fool ya.

    A commander must be centric to terrain,
    The enemy, the people's heart and brain,
    But when one takes the measure,
    It isn't by a doctrinaire's pleasure,
    But rather by switching from his train.

    For COIN is by its nature local,
    Those who push only pop are so vocal,
    But they haven't cornered the market on truth,
    And some suffer from the fancies of youth,
    Which perhaps makes pop-centric so focal.

    And most don't really know insurgents
    Anymore than they do brands of detergents,
    To them every enemy might as well be Tide,
    A fungible commodity that they elide
    Unlike all our infantry sergeants.

    But no enemy, no population is the same,
    To think otherwise is pretty lame,
    And make a science out of an art,
    That's the role of Exum, and Ricks' part,
    Is it for knowledge or for fame?

    History hasn't been kind to their bluster,
    For every Kitson I can find a Custer
    Who dicked up counter-insurgency
    Quickly and with urgency,
    And with little stragetic luster.


  38. I can guarantee that SNLII was told he was "too smart for his own good" many times as he grew up. This guy is sitting on a goldmine (himself), and he prefers to remain anonymous to most. He is such a prolific writer that he could put most men who wield the pen as a sword (Harris, Hitchens, etc.) to shame.

    “Get up and leave,”
    Their sole idea came through a loose sieve,
    The COIN-detractors do lambast
    And form one harmonious ass,
    A false god they do believe.