Who are the experts advising our generals? We know what they’ll say.

Summary:  The experts at its major think-tanks and NGO’s act as the sheepdogs guiding the American public.  In general they are reliable servants of our ruling elites and protectors of the status quo, their opinions (like Opera) represent money in motion.  But some causes are too extreme, too bizarre, for real experts to advocate — like the Afghanistan War.  Fortunately DoD can call upon its intellectual shock troops, for whom every war is essential and deserving of expansion.

There are 3 great oddities about the Afghanistan War.  These are the key peanuts hidden from the American public as General McChrystal conducts yet another public relations exercise to build support for an ever-larger war in Afghanistan.

  1. Nobody has presented evidence that activities or camps in Afghanistan provided any essential (or even substantial) support for 9-11.
  2. Nobody has cited work by relevant area experts supporting the war in terms of American national interests.  I do not mean COIN or geopolitical gurus, but rather people who know the languages and history of the Afghanistan peoples.
  3. Nobody has drawn an explicit chain of reasoning between a likely outcome of the Afghanistan War and any future attacks on the US.


  1. About the team
  2. About their handlers
  3. Surprise results:  they want more troops
  4. Update:  analysis by Pat Lang
  5. Afterword and for more information

(1)  About the team

So Who Were the Advisers for McChrystal’s 60-Day Afghanistan Review?“, Spencer Ackerman, Washington Independent, 30 July 2009 — Excerpt (red emphasis added):

Biddle, who held a conference call this afternoon to discuss his views now that he’s back from the review — more on that in the next post — clarifies that it wasn’t so much that they advised the review. A group of about a dozen civilian experts, mostly from Washington think tanks, werethe review. When Defense Secretary Bob Gates asked McChrystal to send him an assessment of the war’s fortunes and the resources necessary to turn it around, the civilian experts were flown to Baghdad to conduct the “overall assessment,” Biddle said. Officers from the USFOR-A headed “subtopic” groups of “particular interest to Gen. McChrystal like civilian-casualty minimization, strategic communication and so forth.” But the band of (mostly) Beltway think-tankers were the review.

Notice how very very few of these experts are primarily Afghanistan experts. I’m not familiar with everyone on this list, particularly the Europeans, but this is a group of security experts, many of them quite excellent ones. No one here, to the best of my knowledge, primarily studies Afghanistan. If counterinsurgency holds local knowledge as a core principle, it’s worth asking why that perspective is underrepresented on the review.

Who are these experts playing such a major role in steering America’s war policy?  Here is Ackerman’s list of the review team.  The links go to biographies.

  1. Stephen Biddle, Council on Foreign Relations (Author of the classic Military Power: Explaining Victory and Defeat in Modern Battle)
  2. Anthony Cordesman, Center for Strategic and International Studies
  3. Catherine Dale, Congressional Research Service
  4. Etienne de Durand, director of the Center for Strategic Studies at the Institut Francais des Relations Internationales (no bio found)
  5. Andrew Exum, a former Army Ranger, counterinsurgency expert, and blogger at the Center for a New American Security
  6. Fred Kagan, American Enterprise Institute
  7. Kimberly Kagan, Institute for the Study of War
  8. Whitney Kassel, Office of the Secretary of Defense (no bio found, possible author of these and these articles)
  9. Terry Kelly, senior researcher at the RAND Corporation
  10. Luis Peral,  European Union’s Institute for Strategic Studies
  11. Lt. Col. Aaron Prupas, USAF officer at Centcom (USAF Academy, Class of 1987; no bio found)
  12. Jeremy Shapiro, civil-military relations analyst at the Brookings Institution

Some of these are unknown to me, but collectively this group appears unlikely to question the basics of the war, or suggest that US forces be withdrawn.  In fact, I suspect it’s carefully drawn so that there is no chance anyone on it will mention that the Emperor is butt-ass naked.

(2)  About their handlers

Additional information from “Winning hearts and minds: all of McChrystal’s advisors“, Laura Rozen, Foreign Policy, 31 July 2009 :

The director/coordinator of the team was Col. Chris Kolenda. Washington Post columnist David Ignatius has described Kolenda as “something of an amateur ethnologist” and a “key” Pentagon strategist for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Ignatius says the young lieutenant colonel gave an “unforgettable briefing” on the local tribes in his corner of northeastern Afghanistan back in 2008. Kolenda was assisted by U.S. Army Col. Danial Pick.

(3)  Surprise results:  the war is important and they want more money and more troops!

These deserve attention, to prepare yourself for the resulting expenditures of blood and money.  As always, there is lots of thumb-sucking and hedging before they get to the bottom line.

Note how the Domino theory has become a key reason for the Af-Pak war.  The good myths never die.  The American public never learns.

Press Briefing with Anthony Cordesman to discuss Afghanistan following hsi trip advising Gereral McChrystal as a member of his strategic assessment group, Center for Strategic and International Studies, 29 July 2009 — PDF of the transcript.  Excerpt:

We, the United States, are going to have to provide the resources if we want to win. Most of the incremental resources will have to come from us. This means very substantial budget increases, it means more brigade combat troops and it means financing both the civilian effort needed in the field and a near doubling of Afghan national security forces. Those forces not only have to be doubled to provide a minimum level of coverage; we have to face the fact we do not need civil police in a country which has no courts in something like 95 percent of the villages and areas inside the country, has something approaching a court system in really a handful of districts and provinces and where the police cannot survive unless they have paramilitary capabilities and outside support.

It means really coming to grips with the dishonesty, power brokering and corruption of the Afghan central government and, where necessary, bypassing it – working directly with the provinces, working with districts and working with local governments, putting constant pressure on the central government to be honest, effective and develop real-world capabilities, none of which are present in any significant way in most of the areas where this war is being fought.

Conference call with Stephen Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations,Federal News Service, 31 July 2009 (audio is here) – Excerpt:

If we are going to send multiple brigades of American infantry to deny al Qaeda a haven, in any place that it decides to turn into a haven, we’re going to run out of brigades, a long time before al Qaeda runs out of havens.

We’re going to have to find a different way of solving that problem, at least for the next one to follow Afghanistan, after Afghanistan per se. But while Afghanistan is not unique as a potential haven for striking us, it is unique as a potential haven for destabilizing Pakistan.

… And one way in which we could do considerable harm is by allowing Afghanistan to collapse into a condition that would create a major haven for making the situation in Pakistan much, much worse. That, I think, is the primary case if one is going to make the case for waging war in Afghanistan.

Other examples of info operations at work, with us as the target.  There will be many more of these during the next few weeks.

  1. A look at U.S. strategy in Afghanistan with Andrew Exum“, transcript of the Charlie Rose show, PBS, 27 July 2009 — See this analysis of Exum’s thinking by Joshua Foust, posted at Registan.
  2. In Afghanistan, U.S. May Shift Strategy“, Washington Post, 31 July 2009 — “Request for Big Boost in Afghan Troops Could Also Require More Americans”

(4)  Update:  analysis by Pat Lang

Excerpt from ”Ruminations on the Afghan ‘money pit,’ etc.“, Pat Lang (Colonel, Special Forces, retired), Sic Semper Tyrannis, 2 August 2009:

Yesterday, I watched file footage of General McChrystal at his confirmation hearing. In it he clearly said that he intended to wage a “comprehensive counterinsurgency campaign.” (paraphrasing). … Implicit in his stated intention is the task of creating a new and grand Afghanistan that will be a stout hearted ally of the United States in our quest to make the world an unsafe place for takfiri jihadi folk.

As I have said before, this is an enormous task, an enormously expensive task that will take a long time. The American people will grow weary of the whole thing before transformation of Afghanistan is achieved. They will demand an end in one way or another and we will then leave.

General McChrystal’s “strategy review” is an interesting thing. Since McChrystal already knew what he intended to do before he left for overseas to take command, what are the conferees strategizing about? I suppose that it must be “the plan,” in other words, how much to ask for and how fast. McChrystal evidently assembled a group of COIN enthusiasts and a few strategery groupies from the think tanks to help him think this through. They have decided that all out COIN (nation building) is the answer. Surprise!!! He is going to ask for more troops? Of course he is. What else could he possibly do, given his intentions?

(5a)  Afterword

Please share your comments by posting below.  Per the FM site’s Comment Policy, please make them civil and relevant to this post.  Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).  Posts over 250 words will have a fold inserted (putting a “more” button in the comment), so make the opening text an interesting summary of your comment.

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(5b)  For more information from the FM site

To read other articles about our wars, see these FM reference page (listed on the right side menu bar):

Some of the posts about the War in Afghanistan:

  1. Scorecard #2: How well are we doing in Iraq? Afghanistan?, 31 October 2003
  2. Why are we are fighting in Afghanistan?, 9 April 2008 — A debate with Joshua Foust.
  3. We are withdrawing from Afghanistan, too (eventually), 21 April 2008
  4. The good news about COIN in Afghanistan is really bad news, 20 August 2008
  5. Can we answer SecDef Gates’ question about NATO and the Af-Pak War?, 19 May 2009
  6. New bases in Afghanistan – more outposts of America’s Empire, 21 May 2009
  7. The simple, fool-proof plan for victory in Afghanistan , 1 June 2009
  8. An expert explains why we must fight in Afghanistan, 11 June 2009
  9. Real experts review a presentation about the War (look here, if you’re looking for well-written analysis!), 21 June 2009
  10. The Big Lie at work in Afghanistan – an open discussion, 23 June 2009
  11. The trinity of modern warfare at work in Afghanistan, 13 July 2009

12 thoughts on “Who are the experts advising our generals? We know what they’ll say.”

  1. I dont know the foreign advisors, but I suspect (and I suspect this is your point, FM) that most of these people were selected because of previously exhibited sympathy with overall American goals and methods in the ME. What could we call this general approach? Clinging to the crumbling dream of American-European hegemony. Its implicit method is the stationing of American troops or weapons systems in as many neighborhoods as possible, particularly where signs of resistance are showing.

  2. A few commissions/study groups are formed with the real intent of doing a priori research and analysis, and making recommendations prior to legislative action; others exist to deconstruct and interpret past events. However, just as often, they are used as political window-dressing. As any old pol knows, committees are not only an instrument of policy-making, but a wonderful bureaucratic “multi-tool” deployable for any number of expedient reasons. They give the appearance of gravitas, of serious and involved leadership while leaving (if that is the desired outcome) the status quo undisturbed. Anonymous or near-anonymous “experts” offer an out, someone to blame if high-risk initiatives don’t work out as planned, but whose experts do not demand a disproportionate share of the spotlight if things work out to one’s advantage. Committees can offer the appearance of bipartisanship, while all the while serving as a rubber stamp of a pre-existing policy or plan of action. Packed with sympathetizers, a committee can lend a veneer of credability to an otherwise flawed plan. And so on.

    Who reviews the reviewers? Call me a cynic, but the McChrystal study group appears designed to rubber-stamp a course of action already decided upon in advance of their deliberations. Given a choice between fielding difficult, potentially awkward questions from a hostile panel or getting some softballs tossed your way, can it really be a surprise that most people opt for the easy path? Unfortunately, real leadership requires the former; the latter is cronyism and going-along-to-get-along. Let the general appoint a hostile panel, and then maybe we’ve getting somewhere… but I don’t see any opposition committee members here, just guys and gals already in the club, scratching one another’s back.

  3. Spooks and flacks. “No bio found” means the guy spent so much time in deep black ops that his background has been erased. Four ’em there, including the Army ranger. All four have probably been liased to DEA and the CIA for deep black ops like assassinating Mexican cartel honchos and infiltrating the Iranian border to snipe suicide bomber trainees and kidnapping suspected Islamic money funnelers from Afghanistan for beatdowns and sendep torture at Bagram.

    Aside from those four, who are basically McChrystal’s people (McChrystal is the deepest of the deep black op honchos, having been in control of the SOD, Special Operations Division at the Pentagon, where “special operations” is a code phrase for stuff like “HALO jumps into Iran to assassinate mullahs we don’t like” and “submarine deployments of SEAL teams onto the Chinese mainland to kidnap some of their key cyberware people”), the rest of the schmucks on that list are standard-issue Beltway hacks who lay down covering fire for any crazy policy, no matter how demented. If the Pentagon decided it was a key American military defense policy to eat babies tomorrow, flacks like Cordesman, Dale, Shapiro and Kelly would gin up an operations analysis review that proved it was both militarily and financially optimal according to game theory to eat babies.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Bios are often not found on militiary personnel by quick Google searches, not just for deep black ops folks. I dont’ read French, hence finding nothing on Etienne de Durand. Finding nothing on Whitney Kassel is odd, but there may be no substantial bio to find.

    “the Pentagon decided it was a key American military defense policy to eat babies tomorrow…”

    I too wonder about that. Perhaps they are true believers. Perhaps it’s just their rice bowl. Certainly it pays better than opposing our war policies.

  4. Of interest to readers here are links to the Foreign Affairs comittee report into the Afghan campaign.(UK) Currently causung some consternation in the Government. Full reports and oral and video evidence can be obtained here. Far too numerous and lengthy for me to post anything regarding the reports conclusions.
    FM Note: The report is “Global Security: Afghanistan and Pakistan”, Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons, report 21 July 2009 –Report HC302; 300 pages. Here are the HTML and PDF versions. The PDF is 17 megs.

  5. The trouble is, we have some push-buttons, everybody knows, which serve reliably as “casus belli”. Anybody just push a for him convenient button, and we support a war. And the buttons are used by many daily. And we have too few “causus pacem” buttons(I just know one).

  6. Why did George Herbert Walker Bush fly to Riyadh two days before the beginning of Desert Storm to meet personally with King whoever? What reason other than to receive payment for assurance that the Sunni ascendancy would be left in place. That fateful decision has triggered one after another which leads us to A. where for reasons which elude me personally we battle Arab enemies who are financed by our alleged Ally. What am I missing? The U.S. is out of control, approaching the madness of Vietnam but in a much weaker state with a citizenry confused and no longer confident in what we still call our National Leadership. Could we have prevented Pakistan from acquiring nuclear weapons? Possibly but we probably helped them. Fear of these weapons is presumably our reason for being in A. More madness. While fighting a needless war in I. we have allowed Iran to move to the brink of nuclear club membership. WW2 is finally over and 3 is over the horizon. We have only ourselves to blame for our mismanagement. We need a political upheaval which may not produce the result we need but upheaval we will get with what has been running this country for the last thirty years. And it is getting worse with each passing day.

  7. Nicholas Weaver

    FM: “Nobody has presented evidence that activities or camps in Afghanistan provided any essential (or even substantial) support for 9-11.

    I thought this was pretty well established in Michael Scheuer book “Through our Enemies’ Eyes”, through his open source analysis of bin Laden and al Quaeda. The hijackers themselves may or may not have been through Afghanistan, but the institution of al Quaeda really relied on the afghanistan base of operation prior to september 11th.

    However, Scheuer also makes it clear that he believes al Quaeda’s strategy with the september 11th attacks was specifically to goad the US into a land war in Afghanistan which would bleed our resources and make us appear like an occupying power, a repeat of the damage done to the USSR. Iraq was just a happy christmas present for bin Laden.

    So I’d say #1 is well established, but it does not follow that continuing the occupation of afghanistan does any good.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Do you have a reference to Scheuer’s book supporting this assertion? I saw nothing in the book saying that the al Qaeda bases in Afghanistan were relevant to the 9-11 operation.

    “institution of al Quaeda really relied on the afghanistan base of operation”

    Perhaps true, but that’s not what I said. Did they rely on the Afghanistan bases to support the 9-11 ops? I have seen nothing — zero — supporting that widespread belief. As such, I consider it the big lie supporting the war.

  8. It is clear that Cordesman is a mouthpiece for interests that will profit from expansion of US involvement in Afg. The arguments he puts forth are laughable.

  9. I completely agree with this statement by FM: “Note how the Domino theory has become a key reason for the Af-Pak war. The good myths never die. The American public never learns.

    Should the US withdraw from Afg, the Karzai government might fail, but that would be because it has no base of support among the residents of Afghanistan. If that is the case, the US shouldn’t be propping up what is essentially a puppet government. If Afghanistan reverts to tribal warfare, that will be in large part because the region we call Afghanistan has had this frequently throughout history. Such an event would have little meaningful impact outside the country’s borders. Neighboring states such as Iran, Russia, and Pakistan are perfectly capable of dealing with any perceived threat from entities within Afghan borders. Pakistan has ignored it relatively speaking because of the much greater perceived danger lurking across the Indian border.

    The time for the US to exit Afghanistan is now.

  10. HammerAndSickle

    The only real consequences of losing Vietnam were a lot of dead Viets, a lot of Vietnamese restaurants in the USA, and a lot of embarrassed politicians who thought they knew what they were doing. Oh, and don’t forget the veterans…

  11. A. Scott Crawford


    You’re wrong about black ops guys having “no bios”. In the Rangers case, he was probably with the 144th (I think I have the unit), which included deltas, seals, and SAS teams (I’m going to guess he’s been with McCrystal since the late 1990’s). Those guys don’t LIST their bios or like to have their pictures taken because their attitude is: I work for McChrystal, who the F**# are you!? lol. (I really think those guys are hilarious.) But also because they don’t want to be in everyones face recognition db. The USAF Lt. Col. is NOT a black ops, probably McChrystal’s man handling space assets and UAV data, so they always have a priority over the Dept. of State and NATO and the CIA regarding who had what where when. The Frenchmen is probably a para who’s there to get straight answers from all the French Eurocrats and spooks, maybe knows Iranians. Whitney Kassell is a wonk (Modeling uncertainty in adversary behavior) of CIA/NSA variety (top down thinker, four or five languages… I’d guess from the middle eastern group, but not Urdu. Light to medium on complex systems).

    As for some of the others, those think tanks like CSIS, RAND, CDI, etc. COULD be wonks, or spooks or one of McChrystals officers that rotated here or there to get a feel for wonks, crank out an academic paper, and come back a civilian to insulate the chain of command (probably wonks, though). One of them is probably an NSC rat. C. Dale knows the War Budgets (I’d guess she’s the number cruncher), with a minor in drug supply chain theory. Terry Kelly is a RAND hack, another top down type who wrote some papers on reconstruction that probably caught the Generals eye (Sorry McChrystal, he’s a miss).

    None of these really scream black ops of the sort you think. The SOCOM operations might have across the Generals desk, where he’d have had his people fill in the blanks, but I doubt he’d micro manage the guys assigned to pull those crazy stunts off. (And the blackest of black ops aren’t cooked up in Bragg! lol).
    Fabius Maximus replies: I agree. With one (perhaps 2) exceptions, none of these are likely Speical Ops people. This is a PR mission.

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