Friday, October 1, 2010
Michael Cohen highlights today an interview Kimberly Dozier did with General Petraeus and as Michael says, it is incredibly eye-opening. There are a couple of points that I think warrant some further inspection.
First is the excerpt about Petraeus' staff being "hunkered down" in "fingers-crossed" mode. While this was used to specifically describe the U.S.'s plan for decreasing corruption in Afghanistan, I would suggest that seems to be the overall strategy in Afghanistan. Much like the surge plan for Iraq (which we'll get to in a bit), we seem to be using what I've referred to previously as planning on the enemy's Least Dangerous Course of Action, or LDCOA. (Enemy representing here any challenge to mission success.) When we find ourselves in these "hard but not hopeless" situations, we seem to use hope as a major line of operation. I don't think I need to expound upon the serious issues with doing that. We need to either figure some way of effectively addressing the big issues in Afghanistan or if we can't figure it out and it actually is too hard, then we need to start heading for the door. Hope is not strategy.
The second topic is the Petraeus' reference to Iraq. COMISAF is way too experienced and smart to make such an absurd correlation between Iraq and Afghanistan. Having been part of the Iraq surge, I still firmly believe that those plans were based on the LDCOA. But we were lucky - things ended up even rosier than our unencumbered hope had anticipated. While the increased troop presence was an integral part of the surge's successes, it was by no means the most important. Think The Awakening, Sadrist stand-down, and internal changes to the Government of Iraq. The surge helped support those things, but it wasn't the deciding factor. And Petraeus should know that and also know that because of that fact, saying that COIN worked in Iraq and therefore will work in Afghanistan is just plain wrong thinking.
It's also lazy thinking. Iraq, while similar to Afghanistan in some ways, is and was a very unique situation in the history of U.S. interventions. Just like the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan is unique. Inflating the similarities shows torpid analysis - Petraeus should be talking about how the two conflicts are different and why we're doing things differently in Afghanistan because of those differences. Cut and paste does not work at the strategic level. I'm sure I've mentioned this book before, but I suggest Neustadt and May's Thinking in Time to anyone who tries to use historical reference to suggest current policy. If Petraeus' staff hasn't pored through this work yet, I'm willing to buy it and send it to them. Then maybe we won't have this terribly lazy thinking and maybe stop using hope as a plan. We were lucky that Iraq was somewhat successful in spite of the fact that we did, but it doesn't seem that Afghanistan will work out the same way.