Strategy, I contend, is inherently about making judgments in time. We seek to use violence instrumentally to reach some desired future state. And we are guided by the past when we do. Strategy is temporal.
Monday, March 26, 2012
One of the truly enjoyable aspects of blogging, at least in the form and community which we do here at Ink Spots, is the interaction this format enables with other bloggers. I've often found that our fellow journeymen can say what I'm trying to better or they provide a different perspective I haven't thought of. To wit, Mark Safranski hand his excellent two-part series on strategy and perspective (here and here) that were riffs on my post of the same subject. You should read them both, but I'm going to focus in on the second.
In his second post, Mark discusses perception and that in Afghanistan the people aren't merely audiences, but participants in the conflict. Further, that civilian leaders are more familiar with processes rather than results, the former of which which is less objective-driven than the latter. [One could argue against this, but any student of civilian-agency programmatic planning versus military planning would be able to demonstrate it rather easily.] Mark continues that "[t]his perspective, while perhaps a career advantage for a politician, is over the long haul ruinous for a country [...] as the net result becomes burning money and soldier's lives to garner nothing but more time in which to avoid making a final decision, hoping to be rescued by chance." If I had to describe our strategic meandering in Afghanistan (and in many other places), this would sum up my opinion rather well.
I believe that it is safe to assume that our strategy in Afghanistan is guided by process, or in strategic parlance: ways. Our publicly released metrics of success focus on killing fewer civilians, creating more Afghan Army soldiers or policemen, aid money spent, kids going to school, etc. But these are not ends - they are means to ends, which I've already averred that we haven't effectively stated for our mission in Afghanistan. I would like to think that our desired ends made sense at some point, but they sure don't now.
Kenneth Payne at Kings of War wrote a post last week discussing strategy and time, a topic that Mark continued on to in the quoted post above. Payne makes the concise and insightful statement:
Bang on Kenneth. He goes on to observe that "the future we imagine we want might not actually be so pressing when we actually arrive there." Our desired ends down the road may not matter much to us once we get to the end of said road. Of course, they matter not a whit long before that.
One of the many challenges in developing strategy is in the interaction of policy and military plans. As the Grand Poobah of War himself said, "Policy in making use of War avoids all those rigorous conclusions which proceed from its nature; it troubles itself little about final possibilities, confining its attention to immediate probabilities." Policy concerns itself with the here and now and what the instrument of war can attain for it in the near term. Beyond that we get into the conundrum that Payne lays out for us. Further, the onset of a policy which employs war as a tool establishes desired ends according to the probabilities of the day, from which the military derives its plans. And then a divergence encroaches: process by its nature maintains the policy's original ends (possibly with some minor adjustments) while military operations must adapt to the enemy and the realities which it faces on the field. As subservient to the policy, the military thus applies ways and means, with input or allocation from the political class, to ends it cannot, should not, or cares not to attain if the mission continues for such a duration that the original ends become obsolete.
In my mind, this is part of where our strategy in Afghanistan has gone off the rails. We're still fighting a war against al Qaeda in Afghanistan even though they're no longer there because the policy has not adapted. So the military has experimented with various ways (as the means have been dominated by policy-makers) to achieve ends that have effectively been achieved. But we can't say that we've won because there is still so much violence in Afghanistan, so we toil longer and talk about "winning" - and yet the original policy's ends still have not changed. Ends do decrease in their value as time goes on, which requires policy and process to adapt and redefine ends, which goes against the very nature of policy and process.
The drawdown that we'll see over the next few years will be the culmination of that original process-based policy. For 10 years the military has tried to adapt its ways and we've all witnessed the results - some good and a lot bad. This friction at the intersection of policy and military planning is not new and will not go away because this friction between the two are due to the inherent nature of each. And that friction increases as the mission continues over time. I'm not sure this is a lesson the need to change either policy or military planning or to ensure that we do not engage in long-term operations. But it's a problem that we need to recognize as we consider other policies.