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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

Petraeus + counterinsurgency « Previous | |Next »
April 11, 2010

In his profile on General David Petraeus, the most influential military officer in America, Vanity Fair Mark Bowden links the current war in Afghanistan to the conventional US view of the Vietnam War.


Bowden says:

Here’s how the thinking went: No matter how important a conflict, public and political support for it erodes as casualties and expenses rise. In Vietnam, the U.S. government gave up on a difficult but doable military mission, sacrificing what could have been a hard-won victory to the god of public opinion

The army’s conventional view of that war tended to place the blame for failure on civilian leaders and the press not its own strategies.

Bowden points out that:

As they had in Vietnam, American forces in Iraq were losing the trust and support of the people, who were suffering terrible levels of violence. Yet the generals in command persisted on their course, targeting insurgents and working to secure the safety of their own troops first.

You can see why the Iraqi's want the American out of their country from this viral video of a U.S. Apache helicopter attacking a group of people in a Baghdad suburb inJuly 2007 on WikiLeaks. It's not difficult to see why the Pentagon and the intelligence agencies of the national security state, anxious to conceal evidence of their wrongdoing, want to destroy WikiLeaks.

The new view advocated by Petraeus in Iraq was to put counter-insurgency into practice based on the old principle of securing the population and doing it by living with the people; a fully resourced, comprehensive counter-insurgency including the surge. It assumes that the war in Afghanistan is not chasing the Taliban out of the city or underground but winning the population, a process which can begin only after the city has been retaken.

Petraeus's new version of the Army’s counterinsurgency manual made the central theme political rather than military: counterinsurgency theory holds that military action can only be a precondition for political success. A counterinsurgency can succeed only if it makes the government legitimate in the eyes of its citizens. This requires economic aid, governance reform, improvement in basic services and the like. And it requires an act of understanding, even empathy.

In Afghanistan the US had focused too much on the enemy and not enough on providing security for the Afghan people. In Counterinsurgency Field Manual: Afghanistan Edition in Foreign Policy Nathaniel C Fick and John A Nagl state:

If it is true that a new plan is needed in Afghanistan, it is doubly true that Afghanistan is not Iraq. Conflating the two conflicts would be a dangerous oversimplification. The Iraq war has been mostly urban, largely sectarian, and contained within Iraq's borders. The Afghan war has been intrinsically rural, mostly confined to the Pashtun belt across the country's south and east, and inextricably linked to Pakistan. Because the natures of the conflicts are different, the strategies to fight them must be equally so. The very fact that Pakistan serves as a sanctuary for the Taliban and al Qaeda makes regional diplomacy far more necessary than it was in Iraq. Additional troops are certainly needed in Afghanistan, but a surge itself will not equal success.

Winning over the population for the Americans in Afghanistan amounts to buying the loyalty of the local population.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 12:10 PM | | Comments (10)


Bribe them with a candy bar.
The good conservative never forgets and never learns.

I sometimes wonder what people who talk about a missed 'victory' in Vietnam actually mean. Let's assume for the purposes of the discussion that it involved North Vietnam and the Viet Cong formally surrendering. Then what? That's what they could never answer in the 1970s and it's what they can't answer now. The best they can come up with is some kind of fantasy in which Vietnam magically morphed into a mini-USA, totally divorced from its history and culture and geo-political environment.

We can already see what victory looks like in Iraq: a fragmented country in which various parties will continue to jockey for power and influence using whatever tactics seem effective and where corruption is endemic.

What does victory entail in Afghanistan? Nobody knows. The aims of the occupation have never been explained with any clarity - it's all just part of the 'long war' or the GWOT. It's all about not being seen to lose, because that would reveal the whole project as the bad idea it really is.

Seriously WTF does that "doable" dribble mean?

"...the U.S. government gave up on a difficult but doable military mission..."

The military mission might be "doable", if nobody objected to the military, economic, political and moral cost. In the same way that Australia could be a manufacturing powerhouse by scrapping environmental controls and introducing slavery.

Bring back conscription I say!

David Miliband in How to End the War in Afghanistan in the New York Review of Books reads the history of British intervention in Afghanistan for lessons about what winning means:

Britain fought three wars in Afghanistan between 1839 and 1919. Each time it was defending its power base—and economic stake—in British India. And each time it suffered military reverses as it sought to establish order. Yet on every occasion, once that lesson had been learned the hard and bloody way, Britain's imperial strategists sought—and secured—a saner and more sustainable objective: a self-governing, self-policing, but heavily subsidized Afghanistan, whose tribes balanced each other and that posed no threat to the safety of British India.

He says that Britain's experience in the nineteenth century, and the Soviet Union's in the twentieth, showed that the best way, perhaps the only way, to stabilize Afghanistan in the long term is to empower the Afghans themselves in charge so that they can secure and govern their own villages and valleys.

To achieve this, the Afghans need full political and military support, and generous economic subsidy, from outside. But the Afghan people neither need nor welcome our combat troops on their soil any longer than is necessary to guarantee security and set them on a course to regulating their own affairs.

And what happens when "regulating their own affairs" doesn't mesh neatly into American global interests?

Miliband in his How to End the War in Afghanistan does acknowledge your point in a roundabout way. He says:

Given the scale of the geopolitical challenges in this region—including the long-running tensions between India and Pakistan and the presence of Iran—it can seem that Afghanistan is fated to remain the victim of a zero-sum scramble for power among hostile neighbors. The logic of this position is that Afghanistan will never achieve peace until the region's most intractable problems are solved. But there is an alternative and ultimately more promising possibility, by which Afghanistan poses so many dangers that it becomes the place where more cooperative regional relations are forged.

His solution is naive. His response is that there needs to be a greater recognition by all of Afghanistan's neighbors and the key regional powers First, no country in the region, let alone the international community, will again allow Afghanistan to be dominated, or used as a strategic asset, by a neighboring state.I cannot see that happening, can you? Secondly, there needs to be a more honest acknowledgment of the different interests and concerns of Afghanistan's neighbors, so that efforts can be made to provide reassurances. Pakistan is essential here. It holds many of the keys to security and dialogue. It clearly has to be a partner in finding solutions in Afghanistan.

What Milband doesn't address in the article is whether Afghanistan really has much to to do with America's vital strategic interest. He just assumes that it is. Yet the reason given by the Obama administration is thin: an increased commitment in Afghanistan is required because of the fear that if the Taliban isn't defeated in Afghanistan, they will eventually allow al Qaeda to re-establish itself there, which would then enable it to mount increasingly threatening attacks on the United States.

It is clear why the military has resisted the demands of Reuters and others for the release of the video that WikiLeak's released of an American helicopter gunship killing Iraqi citizens and two Reuters journalists on a Baghdad street in July 2007. The military had long claimed it did not know how the Reuters journalists had died and it initially withheld the fact that children were present.

Has someone inside the military has leaked the video to WikiLeaks?

Frankly, I don't think the gunship incident matters much in the scheme of things. Apart from a few news junkies, the footage has gone largely unnoticed. Collateral damage isn't a big deal in the public's attitude towards this war. And, of course they assume that collateral damage is ALWAYS accidental...!

Hey... what about all that public outrage over the US SpecOps mission which netted Pregnant Women and Government Officials In Afghanistan. I'm so pleased our TV news anchors haven't let this one escape them... ah oh wait... it seems they have...

For those souls who can drag themselves away form the drama of Tasmanian politics for a moment...

The increased use of drones has been a notable feature of the Barack Obama administration’s policy. In this the US president has continued and extended a trend that has lasted for more than a decade – for since the late 1990s, US forces have deployed drones and cruise-missiles in Pakistan, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan.

The drone is now a favoured weapon n the AfPak war.