Monday, August 3, 2009
I am rereading On War for the first time since my time at the Hudson School for Boys, this time looking through a Clausewitzian lens at Afghanistan. I should precede all of this by firmly stating that I am by no measure a Clausewitz scholar, so feel free to beat me up in the comments. This type of analysis has been done many times in general before (here for example), so I'll try to add to the discussion and not repeat things.
[T]he political view is the object, War is the means, and the means must always include the object in our conception. (BK I, CH I) Ok, so what is our political object in Afghanistan? I'll quote from the White Paper on U.S. Policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan: "Therefore, the core goal of the U.S. must be to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda and its safe havens in Pakistan, and to prevent their return to Pakistan or Afghanistan." Ignoring the fact that disrupt and defeat have their own distinct definitions in DoD lexicon, this is pretty straight forward. From this it seems to me that the political object is focused on al Qaeda in Pakistan in the present and prevention in the future after the first object is met.
So what is the military object then? I'll quote from GEN McChrystal's nomination hearing:
"In Afghanistan, I believe intelligence-driven precision operations will remain critical, but must be subordinate to efforts that protect the population and set conditions for governance and economic advancement.
Although I expect stiff fighting ahead, the measure of effectiveness will not be enemy killed, it will be the number of Afghans shielded from violence."
While I will digress more on positive and negative objects in a later post, it strikes me as odd that the political object ("precision operations") is not the primary focus of the military object ("efforts that protect the population"). Understanding that the U.S. cannot conduct full-spectrum operations where the political target resides (Pakistan), this incongruity of objects seems, through a Clausewitzian lens, misguided. Especially given the recent proclivity to equate this military object with the cessation of any kinetic operations in the political target.
In the next chapter, discussing the fact that the disarmament of an enemy force is rarely realized, Clausewitz speaks to those factors that would lead to peace: "in Wars where one side cannot completely disarm the other, the motives to peace on both sides will rise or fall on each side according to the probability of future success and the required outlay." Call me a pessimist, but it seems to me that the probability of future success in defeating al Qaeda in Pakistan is slim at best, especially if the military object isn't focused on that population or state - or even al Qaeda's allies in the Taliban in Afghanistan.
So then there's the discussion of outlays: the force required to meet the military object. There are already rumblings of additional troop requests in order to execute the population-centric counterinsurgency plan envisaged by ISAF, which will be presented in yet another study coming from military planners soon. When and if that occurs, and in analyzing the current situation, the questions that need to be asked and answered are 1) will that outlay be adequate to meet the military object and 2) will the military object ever lead to the political object? GEN McChrystal doesn't have to answer to me, but I don't see a "yes" answer for either question.
To be sure, Clausewitz is not the be-all, end-all in military strategy. But we've based much of our doctrine preceding FM 3-24 on his work, so as a nation we've put a lot of credence to his theories. There is also the distinct possibility that I'm misinterpreting him as well, but I don't think I am in this case. Thoughts and arguments are welcome.