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.
- Nobody has presented evidence that activities or camps in Afghanistan provided any essential (or even substantial) support for 9-11.
- 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.
- Nobody has drawn an explicit chain of reasoning between a likely outcome of the Afghanistan War and any future attacks on the US.
- About the team
- About their handlers
- Surprise results: they want more troops
- Update: analysis by Pat Lang
- 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.
- Stephen Biddle, Council on Foreign Relations (Author of the classic Military Power: Explaining Victory and Defeat in Modern Battle)
- Anthony Cordesman, Center for Strategic and International Studies
- Catherine Dale, Congressional Research Service
- Etienne de Durand, director of the Center for Strategic Studies at the Institut Francais des Relations Internationales (no bio found)
- Andrew Exum, a former Army Ranger, counterinsurgency expert, and blogger at the Center for a New American Security
- Fred Kagan, American Enterprise Institute
- Kimberly Kagan, Institute for the Study of War
- Whitney Kassel, Office of the Secretary of Defense (no bio found, possible author of these and these articles)
- Terry Kelly, senior researcher at the RAND Corporation
- Luis Peral, European Union’s Institute for Strategic Studies
- Lt. Col. Aaron Prupas, USAF officer at Centcom (USAF Academy, Class of 1987; no bio found)
- 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.
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.
- “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.
- “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?
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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):
- About America’s national defence strategy and machinery
- About Iraq & Sub-continent Wars – my articles
- About Iraq & Sub-continent Wars – studies & reports
Some of the posts about the War in Afghanistan:
- Scorecard #2: How well are we doing in Iraq? Afghanistan?, 31 October 2003
- Why are we are fighting in Afghanistan?, 9 April 2008 — A debate with Joshua Foust.
- We are withdrawing from Afghanistan, too (eventually), 21 April 2008
- The good news about COIN in Afghanistan is really bad news, 20 August 2008
- Can we answer SecDef Gates’ question about NATO and the Af-Pak War?, 19 May 2009
- New bases in Afghanistan – more outposts of America’s Empire, 21 May 2009
- The simple, fool-proof plan for victory in Afghanistan , 1 June 2009
- An expert explains why we must fight in Afghanistan, 11 June 2009
- Real experts review a presentation about the War (look here, if you’re looking for well-written analysis!), 21 June 2009
- The Big Lie at work in Afghanistan – an open discussion, 23 June 2009
- The trinity of modern warfare at work in Afghanistan, 13 July 2009