Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Boy, oh boy, that ASG report has stirred up a hurricane of debate. I won't even link to all of the great posts on this discussion because there are too many and I'd probably leave quite a few out - and readers of Ink Spots probably already follow and read most of them anyway. And before I go on, I acknowledge that I am not an expert on Afghanistan or the conflict there. But my current problems with the Afghanistan conflict and how it is being waged - as well as my issues with the critiques of the strategy - has little to do with Afghanistan itself but in our discussion of strategy.
I have not yet seen a viable or coherent discussion on strategy in terms of ends, ways, means. I find a lot of commentators pay lip service to this form of strategic development, but I find the arguments lacking because they're too often narrowly focused on each writer's interests and biases. Even within the government where the strategy is determined, the logic of connecting ends, ways, means has been lazy at best to meet domestic political imperatives. While these imperatives are important in a democracy, they should inform and not skew the logic of strategy development. We, and our NATO allies, are wealthy countries full of really smart people with access to vast amounts of data and information. We should be able to do this correctly, if only because we've done it correctly(ish) before. So here's how I'd like to see our strategy in Afghanistan developed - irrespective of what that strategy ends up being.
1. Posit the importance of defending the United States against al Qaeda versus all of the other threats that face the United States. Somehow, 9 years on we still haven't done this. AQ is still a looming bogeyman and policymakers have yet to articulate what kind of threat they pose and what would be considered acceptable. You know, because total security is not possible. We need to be realistic about this. As defeating AQ is the stated central purpose of our operations in Afghanistan - and they're not exclusively in the AfPak region - I would think that realistically framing our intended ends via AQ (globally - not just what we want to do to them in Afghanistan) would be the first step. If, after careful deliberation, it's determined that we have specific objectives against AQ (and figured out what we're willing to do and what to do it with) then we can move to step 3 after considering step 2.
2. Define our objectives in the AfPak region - and not just about AQ. I don't need to belabor this point, but we simply lack any real regional strategies anywhere on the globe. It's a large, populous place where the United States has many interests. Many interests. But regionally we're incoherent and that needs to change. No, we're probably not going to solve India/Pakistan or Pakistan's internal problems or Iran any time soon. But we can develop a coherent strategy based on our policies towards all of these problems. These objectives need to be balanced with our other global objectives so that we can really determine what we're willing to do there.
3. Determine how Afghanistan fits into 1. and 2. and define our objectives there as they nest with our global and regional objectives. Wars that escalate into behemoth operations with no end in sight do so because we too often look at them as ends in themselves. But they shouldn't be - they need to be weighed against all of the other objective the United States has all over the world. Many pundits are for or against the war for a number of reasons, but I've heard little of reasons other than for monetary reasons (means by the way - not ends) or ends about Afghanistan itself devoid of grand (or at least grander) strategy.
I'm not going to hold my breath that this will ever actually happen or any variation of this. Even if it did, there would still be plenty of debate on the assumptions and data underpinning our stated ends at each point - such is the nature of politics and there is nothing wrong with that. But we don't have strategy - I'll refer you back to my posts from a couple weeks ago about this - we have operational art masquerading as strategy. Wars are too expensive in so many ways for too many people to continue to wage it in the way we have been.