Posted by: cousindampier | 23 April 2010

Afghanistan and World Connections

How to use Afghan culture to devise a political strategy — and exit – David Ignatius, Washington Post

The national version of this process has barely begun, but its outlines are sketched by Graeme Lamb, a retired British lieutenant general who is coordinating the process of reconciliation and reintegration for the U.S.-led coalition. He quotes a precept of military strategy to explain his mission: “The object of war is a fair peace.”

Here is a statement of Clauswitzian ideals (though I took it from Fuller). What is the policy in which this war is fought? The creation of a functioning Afghan state is an obvious endgoal of this war, but what is the American policy? Where does this war lead us?

A fair peace, in advantageous terms, is a peace which ensures and develops connectivity. This is Dr Barnett’s idea, expressed in The Pentagon’s New Map, and he’s entirely correct about it. Be Obama’s foreign policy challenge economic security or something else, establishing, cultivating, and maintaining connectivity is the new containment. American foreign policy needs some underlying pillar which action can be built around. Connectivity is that pillar.

America is the source code for globalization. Not that globalization makes a few hundred different mini-America’s, because one of the wonders of it is the back and forth trade of culture – yes, American culture takes root in country X, but ideas and culture from country X flow back into the global mainstream (albeit, there seems to be a delay before that happens – American culture flows in first). Given that, encouraging that replication is something which other ideas can be united behind.

The Kandahar gambit – Doyle McManus, LA Times Opinion

They intend to try, and are focusing talent and money on an elaborate “sub-national governance” plan to recruit and empower local councils, the shuras. “We’re going to shura our way to success,” one of the operation’s planners said. Among the first goals: persuading local councils to actually invite the U.S. military to enter their areas unopposed, making the offensive less bloody
But even the operation’s planners acknowledge that the outcome is uncertain. “This is hard stuff, and it will take a while to work out,” one said.

Kandahar’s provincial government has one big complicating factor: It’s run by Ahmed Wali Karzai, a half brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. U.S. officials call him AWK for short and consider him an organized-crime kingpin as much as a politician. “He runs a vertical syndicate of corruption,” said one senior officer. Besides old-fashioned graft and a slice of the opium poppy trade, AWK also has been accused of collaborating with the Taliban, an allegation that infuriates U.S. military officers.

But AWK has two powerful defenders: his brother the president and the CIA, which considers him one of its main assets in Kandahar, according to officials in other agencies. So U.S. officers are hoping to persuade AWK to cooperate with their efforts. That won’t be easy, especially since one purpose of the shura-building operation in Kandahar is to empower new leaders who aren’t beholden to AWK, and AWK knows it.

I finished Accidental Guerilla a short while ago, and I feel like this is something Kilcullen would’ve written of. He may well have, because I finished the Afghanistan and Iraq chapters and had to put the book down for a few months while I re-evaluated the way I look at war.

I also finished Caleb Carr’s Lessons of Terror. Carr has fairly strong opinions about the effectiveness, in the grand strategic sense, of the CIA’s covert operations (hint: they are not effective). AWK on the CIA’s payroll? Nor surprising at all.
A Marine General at War – John Dickerson, Slate

In making this case, Mattis sounds like the economists who warned against the use of financial instruments like Value-at-risk measurements that sought to quantify risk and make it precise. He quotes Sherman: “Every attempt to make war easy and safe will result in humiliation and disaster,” but he could just as easily quote Nobel Laureate economist Kenneth Arrow, who warned of the same problem in economics: “vast ills have followed a belief in certainty.”

If you’re constantly trying to make war more precise and predictable, you’ll promote people who thrive in squeezing out the marginal drop of uncertainty. If you recognize war’s essential messiness and the enemy’s adaptability, you’ll reward mavericks, risk-takers, and people who thrive in uncertainty. They’ll have the innovative reflexes necessary for a war that changes block by block, where one minute you may get a handshake and the next you may get a hand-grenade. “Some people feel affronted when something they thought to be true doesn’t happen,” says Mattis. “If that’s the case, then your sense of risk is much higher, and that leads to risk aversion. You need to be able to be comfortable in uncertainty.”

Speaking to a new crop of one-star generals, Mattis encourages them not only to take risks by challenging military doctrine but to protect the oddballs in their command. “Take the mavericks in your service, the ones that wear rumpled uniforms and look like a bag of mud but whose ideas are so offsetting that they actually upset the people in the bureaucracy. One of your primary jobs is to take the risk and protect these people, because if they are not nurtured in your service, the enemy will bring their contrary ideas to you.”

I love short biographies like this. The American public seems to want to villify education as much as possible – or, if not education, fact. Politics is full of lies and half-truths, but the larger problem is the seeming lack of desire for anybody to want to know the truth, or anything which is true but opposes their deeply held belief.

I love talking to oddballs. They are the most interesting kinds of people. I also am excited to see the Pentagon – and the rest of the foregin policy apparatus – in about 15 or 20 years, when these oddballs are either on top or their ideas have taken root. It is an awfully exciting time.

More the point, in dealing with a foreign policy based on connectivity, this kind of intellectual risk-taking is remarkably important. Having the ability to quickly think of a variety of options, and outside the standard responses, is needed when dealing with a world where inputs come from every angle and the destruction of the other guy’s system isn’t the end goal, as it was for the last half-century.


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