An important contribution to the debate about the Afghanistan War

Here is one of the odder contributions to the Afghanistan debate, reposted in full due to the high profile of the author, to avoid misrepresenting the message, and the importance of the subject:  “Back Off Jack Keane Wannabees“, Dave Dilegge, 11 August 2009 (hat tip to Zenpundit):

Okay, everyone who’s anyone – and many who think they’re someone – inside and outside the beltway – has chimed in – did I miss anyone? Speak now or forever hold your peace.

The Afghanistan affair is quite complicated; we know that, we also can study it to death and comment until the cows come home.

How about a novel approach at this particular point in time – give the Commander in Chief, the National Command Authority, State… and most importantly, the Commanding General and his staff in Afghanistan some efing breathing room to sort this out? The guys on the ground – get it?

How much is too much?

For the all the hype about the benefits of instantaneous global communications and Web 2.0 – of which we most certainly are a part – we’ve never really examined the tipping point – the place where we become part of the problem, rather than the solution.  My two cents – and while it may come across as way, way too simplistic to many of the 2K-pound brainiacs I run into around town – you can take it to the bank that a general backing off of the noise level would be most beneficial right now.

Update: A reader e-mailed that not everyone will get my reference to General Jack Keane and suggested …just like Jack Keane became the insider for President Bush with the answer to Iraq in 2007 now everybody who is anybody today with regard to Astan want to play the role of a Jack Keane.

Comments are best posted at the Small Wars Journal site, not here (he asked for your thoughts).  Since I’m banned from their site, these are my thoughts on it.

To start off with the obvious reply:  This is a democracy, and waging war is one of our most important collective acts.  Debate is necessary for the democratic process to work. 

Nor is leaving the war to “the Commander in Chief, the National Command Authority, State” is not “novel”.  It’s what we have done during the 8 years since Operation Enduring Freedom began in October 2001.  Greater citizen involvement is long overdue. 

Also, the sad fact is that we have not done anything remotely like “study it to death”.  In fact there has been little analysis of the war — in public — by people with deep knowledge of the region and its people.  Lots by of geopolitical and military experts, but that’s not the same thing.

The debate has barely started.  Its most salient characteristic so far is the extraordinary weakness of the pro-war arguments.  That makes it an esp odd point for an appeal to let the folks at the top continue undisturbed with the war.  In any case, such an appear is probably a waste of time.  Support for the war is declining; no surprise after 8 years.  Appeals to authority like this will not change that trend, not in America.  The next post will discuss why this debate is so important — and so timely.

Some posts about the debate

  1. Exum: “Introducing the Afghanistan Strategy Dialogue” – This includes my submission.
  2.  The first salvo in the Afghanistan Strategy Debate – An extraordinarily weak start for the pro-war side.
  3. Second salvo in the Afghanistan Strategy Debate — Bernard Finel
  4. The Afghanistan Strategy Dialogue: Day Three
  5. The Afghanistan Strategy Dialogue: Day Four


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For more information about this topic

To see all posts about our new wars:

Some posts about the war in Afghanistan:

  1. Why are we are fighting in Afghanistan?, 9 April 2008 — A debate with Joshua Foust.
  2. Stratfor: “The Strategic Debate Over Afghanistan”, 13 May 2009
  3. Real experts review a presentation about the War (look here, if you’re looking for well-written analysis!), 21 June 2009
  4. The Big Lie at work in Afghanistan – an open discussion, 23 June 2009
  5. “War without end”, a great article by George Wilson, 27 June 2009
  6. “Strategic Calculus and the Afghan War” by George Friedman of Stratfor, 17 July 2009
  7. Powerful insights about our war in Afghanistan, part 1, 18 July 2009
  8. We are warned about Afghanistan, but choose not to listen (part 2), 19 July 2009
  9. Powerful insights about our war in Afghanistan, part 3, 20 July 2009

20 thoughts on “An important contribution to the debate about the Afghanistan War”

  1. That’s one of the lamer arguments I’ve seen for the Afghanistan war. “Because shut up, that’s why!”

    Tom Engelhardt already rebutted it: “TomGram: No Breathing Space In Washington” at TomDispatch, Nov. 12 2008).
    Fabius Maximus replies: This is also an echo from the late Vietnam War period, although its taken longer to appear this time. That war too was left to the pros. Then and now, bleeding wounds thru which our resources drain away.

  2. I haven’t seen much in the way of declining support for the war, unless you mean various “insider” analysts who want some kind of brokered peace with elements of the Taliban.
    Fabius Maximus replies: There are many signs of change in US and UK opinion.
    * “Support for Afghan war drops“, CNN, 6 August 2009
    * “Voters turn against war in Afghanistan“, The Independent, 28 July 2009 — “Majority {in UK} thinks conflict is unwinnable and wants troops withdrawn, poll shows.”
    * Even DoD’s advisers sound negative. I’ve cited recent reports by Cordesmann, Biddle and Exum. Here’s a survey article: “Analysts Expect Long-Term, Costly U.S. Campaign in Afghanistan“, Washington Post, 9 August 2009.

  3. I am interested in reading your next post.

    On a more serious note, I wonder at the timing of this debate. I imagine it was prompted by the shock of Exum’s recent trip to Afghanistan, but this does not make things any better. A strategic reevaluation should happen after there is something to reevaluate, no? An evaluation of Mchystal’s plan will be due in a year. Wouldn’t the anti-COIN revolution be better off making its assault when such an assault might have actual policy consequences?
    Fabius Maximus replies: IMO this is mistaken on all counts.
    * I doubt Exum’s trip had more than a minor role. This has been building for a long time.
    * A strategic re-evaluation should happen long before 8 years have passed. There have been several (3 – 5) policy reviews in the past year, none of which had any strategic implications — let alone grappling with the core issue of why we’re in Afghanistan (as opposed to what to so, since we’re here).
    * You are mistaken if you believe there will be no policy consequences before August 2010 if US elite and popular opinion turns against the war.

  4. @Curtis Gale Weeks:

    That this debate is happening is evidence that the consensus of our elites is shattering. This last week has seen an explosion of activity form every analyst and want-to-be analyst inside the Beltway. While the signs of this happening have been building since November, the egg has finally cracked.

    Not surprisingly, the American people are following suit. See this piece for more: “Public Support Lacking For COIN in Afghanistan”. August 06. Dave Anderson. Newshoggers.

  5. Debate? When Clinton lobbed missiles into A. people asked where is it? They found out on 9/12/01. When we failed to capture/kill Obama few noticed our Army was still there, except when the Ranger was killed by friendly fire which was covered up. When O. escalated, few in America really knew we were “fighting” there. Now we are fighting and the casualties are poorly covered. We have been “fighting” in A. for eight years without a purpose or a strategy against an “enemy” financed by our Arab “ally” in Saudi Arabia. What review is it that McC. is conducting? Why, after an escalation? We have no policy, we have no purpose. There are targets of value, people who need to be killed, there are people who need to be brought to support devlelopment in A., there may even be real development to be supported, but not with our finest troops as bait. We are in disarray, with troops bracketing Iran while we fail to engage Iran which is using its weakness and our incompetence to completely upend world politics when it goes nuclear. We make Venezuela look like it has a government.

  6. why were you banned from SWJ?
    Fabius Maximus replies: Good question. Don’t know. Don’t care. It’s their site, and they get to run it as they wish. You can read and decide for yourself. Here are some of the discussion threads I started. Lots of activity!

    * Good news — the insurgency is over! Now we need a new strategy for the Iraq War.
    * News about Women in the military
    * Good news — the insurgency is over! Now we need a new strategy for the Iraq War.
    * About economic warfare
    * Kilcullen — New Theories for a New Way of War
    * The strategic corporal
    * Strategic Corporal — a terrible concept
    * Vote: have we lost in Iraq?
    * Situation Report on the Expedition to Iraq

    Update: Dilegge banned me from SWC after this thread at Zenpundit. It’s worth a look, if you’re interested in such things.

  7. FM-
    I am also curious why SWJ would ban you. Didn’t like your critical big-picture ideas? I’ll definitely view them with a new degree of skepticism given this info…
    Fabius Maximus replies: You can read the SWC threads I listed in comment #8 and decide for yourself.

    Note that open-ended discussions are rare on the Internet, as most sites attract people with certain types of ideas. Hence the commonplace swarming attacks when someone introduces heterdox ideas into threads.

    This site manages to avoid that. A wide range of ideas are present, from both extreme left and right. The discussion is often intense — and long. Yet folks keep coming back to contribute. Like Oldskeptic, Maclaren, Tom Grey, and Major Scarlet — with all of whom I have strongly disagreed.

  8. I think McCrystal has a problem . First he ordered analysis of the Enemy and his minions told him that x% had Tapeworm and y% Leishmania . Sending minions out again with clearer instructions , he found that n % beleive in God , revere Jesus , want to protect women and children , want to teach boys to read and write , want to give to the poor , and want a system of justice according to written laws . Whereas c % want to make a very great amount of money , and be very powerful .
    This report is now written up , with plans to split the Enemy into two camps and align with one of them . Its the last recommendation he’s stuck over .

  9. prisoner6 asked why FM was banned from the Small Wars Journal site. Obviously, for using logic and evidence to examine the available facts. Inappropriate reasoning and inconvenient facts offer the usual rationale for throwing someone out of a discussion of these kinds of groupthink policy issues where the collective mind has already been made up and no dissent is permitted. The most extreme example? When a member of general Montgomery’s staff dissented from the plan of Operation Market Garden in 1944, he was dismissed and told to report to the medic for evaluation due to “possible exhaustion, or nervous collapse.”

    Many of the features of Operation Market Garden are present in the current Af-Pak imbroglio. 1) In 1944 Eisenhower tried to split the difference twixt competing plans in order to maintain group cohesion; this resulted in a battle plan which proved dangerously unstable. If one small thing went wrong (i.e., if either of the bridges couldn’t be swiftly captured), the entire scheme unraveled.

    We see the same problem with the Af-Pak “plan,” in which Obama seems to be trying to split the difference between the permahawk PRNAC neocons who want to send the U.S. army everywhere in the world and fight a thousand wars at once to remove all terrorists from all countries everywhere and project “full spectrum dominance,” and the cautious pragmatists like Colin Powell who advocate only going in with overwhelming force against a single pinpointed target with a specific exit strategy for an exquisitely well defined goal. In compromising twixt these two incompatible strategies, Obama appears to have fallen into a chasm in which we have a semi-defined goal (restore democracy to Afghanistan and remove terrorists from the Af-Pak region) and a vague exit strategy (we leave when both objectives are accomplished), but the mission and the exit strategy are nonetheless so broad that, as a practical matter, we will never accomplish the mission. Also, 2) by splitting the difference twixt Powell’s overwhelming force (in excess of a half a million troops, ideally, which is impossible with our current volunteer army) and
    the PNAC’s Rumsfeldian “smaller leaner new army” made up mostly of whizbang technology like UAVs and airborne laser systems and precision laser-guided aerial bombings from high-altitude jets designed to put fire on target, Obama once again falls into a crevass in which neither strategy has really been implemented, and consequently we’re mired there without either so few troops we must admit defeat and withdraw or enough troops to actually do the job. Lastly, 3) by splitting the difference twixt the touch-feely goal of “spreading democracy” and the hard-edged practical specific objective of “destroy Al Qaeda’s ability to make war in Af-Pak,” Obama once again winds up with a vague mushy set of goals that involves weird statistics like the number of girls now going to school to learn how to read. When bizarre stats like this get used to measure the success of policy in a war zone, you know you’re deep into the Twilight Zone.

    In dissecting and explaining the massive dysfunctions of American politics and U.S. military strategy in the early 21st century, we refer to the psychological literature on group dynamics:

    “A phenomenological approach to what Janis describes as groupthink indicates that a group overwhelmed by internal conflict may gain a great deal of relief if it can locate or create [emphasis added] a strong external enemy (Coser, 1986). Internal dissension can be seen as trivial in contrast, thereby enabling the displacement of within-group tensions into the relations among groups (Smith, 1982b). In this regard, such internal properties of the group as illusions of unanimity and invulnerability, which may be views as pathological from one perspective, may in fact serve a valuable social function by providing a particular cognitive set to enable a group to `create” an enemy.'” [“Some Alternatives to Traditional Social Psychology of Groups,” Smith, K. K., and White, G. L., Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Vol. 9, No. 1, 1983, pg. 71.]

    White and Smith’s analysis suggests that our massively irrational and dysfunctional global military strategy might represent a sensible and logical response to the extreme internal group divisions within America due to the radical polarization of America into ultraconservative crackpots like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and Glenn Reynolds and Peggy Noonan, and a rational majority, represented by people like Barney Frank and Colin Powell and Barack Obama. In order to heal the extreme internal political split, the U.S. may have found itself obliged to create a fearsome imaginary external enemy so terrifying that all internal group divisions within the U.S. tend to disappear by comparison. This, however, leads to massively delusional behavior on America’s part as we run around the world blowing up third world countries in order to destroy existential threats that aren’t there. Viz., the “1% doctrine,” and the new version of the Domino Theory which now rears its head with regard to the fall of Pakistan and nuclear weapons for Al Qaeda.

    Once immersed in such groupthink, it naturally proves terribly difficult to break out of the self-delusion, since the price to be paid involves a return to the crippling internal political divisions circa the year 2000. This may explain the weird persistence of the dysfunctional Af-Pak non-policies. (They seem more akin to wishes and dreams than to a solid pragmatic clearly definable foreign policy or military strategy.) Presumably anything, even a global war against terror that lasts forever and gobbles every last dime of our treasury and costs the life of every one of our soldiers, is better than the overwhelming unresolvable internal political conflicts which wracked America during the period twixt the fall of the Soviet Union and 9/11.

  10. From #8, “Why were you banned from SWJ?”

    I can’t be as embarassing as the way I got banned from the “Winds of Change” blog.

    In mid-2008, they kept putting up posts describing how Barack Obama was really secretly in league with, working for, or maybe even voodoo-mind-controlled by, Bill Ayers and George Soros. These oddly supersitious, conspiracy-theory-mongering posts annoyed me. So I took to trolling their blog, using the handle “Bill Ayers”, making comments like, “I AM YOUR DARK LORD BILL AYERS. SOON MY COMMUNIST MINIONS WILL TAKE OVER THE US. WE WILL CONVERT YOU TO WICCA AND MAKE YOU FEED TOFU TO YOUR DOG. MWAHAHAHAHA!….” They promptly banned me.

  11. From #11

    We see the same problem with the Af-Pak “plan,” in which Obama seems to be trying to split the difference between the permahawk PRNAC neocons who want to send the U.S. army everywhere in the world and fight a thousand wars at once to remove all terrorists from all countries everywhere and project “full spectrum dominance,” and the cautious pragmatists like Colin Powell who advocate only going in with overwhelming force against a single pinpointed target with a specific exit strategy for an exquisitely well defined goal.

    Actually, this is a pretty good description that seems to be in line with what Obama often does: attempt to find unity by bridging gaps between various groups. In this case, of course, that mode of operation won’t succeed. Interesting take.

  12. >why were you banned from SWJ?

    Military culture is quite different from civilian. There are many subtle but very deep differences on how ideas are handled. One quite surprising thing is that ideas are primarily evaluated based on the authority of the source rather than how they fit within the framework of supporting/opposing facts that the listener already knows.

    FM probably just doesn’t have enough rank to have his opinions.

  13. @Oblat:
    Not sure that method of reasoning is limited to the military. I served as an officer, and have been working in private industry for a while. I have seen what you describe on both sides.

  14. From #11

    White and Smith’s analysis suggests that our massively irrational and dysfunctional global military strategy might represent a sensible and logical response to the extreme internal group divisions within America due to the radical polarization of America into ultraconservative crackpots like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and Glenn Reynolds and Peggy Noonan, and a rational majority, represented by people like Barney Frank and Colin Powell and Barack Obama.

    This is something I’ve suspected as well. Perhaps our external wars help to distract us from our internal warring. Much as a person with internal emotional problems might act abusive to others, in order to keep his mind off of his own problems.

  15. @Oblat,

    From the linked threads at SWC/SWJ I read, that seemed to pretty much be what was going on. While some folks made valid critiques of FM’s articles, most seemed more interested in subtle distinctions of semantics, fine points of internet etiquette, and abstract discussions about ancient Greek theories of epistomology. Ironically, some folks were criticizing FM for using appeals to authority, then asking for his “credentials” to support his opinion.

    In other words no one really wanted to have a debate on merits. A lot of participants on that site are active duty military, and the bottom line for them seemed to be: “if you haven’t been there, you’re not allowed to have an opinion which contradicts my own.” There may be some validity to that, but if only personal experience is privileged, that’s not a starting point for any kind of dialogue.

  16. OK, I’ve known Dave Dilegge from a distance for a long time. He and I jousted over his friend Kilcullen’s angry review of Bacevich’s angry review of “Accidental Guerillas.”

    But I’ll defend him here. Everyone gets frustrated and angry from time to time. Dave’s SWJ has been a valuable resource in limning best practices in counter-insurgency.

    Despite my one brief brush with him, I’ve always found him to be an honorable, conscientious man who, frankly, makes no money on his site and operates it only as a scholarly, patriotic service.

    I’d also suggest that he doesn’t practice what he, himself, preached in his bloggish broadside: He has publicly defended the strongest critic of the COIN narrative, Gian Gentile, and continues to commission columns from him on these very issues. In other words, Dave gets a mulligan. He’s earned it.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I’ll say the same thing as I did at Registan, where you posted the same comment. Nobody here is attacking Dilegge. Folks are replying to the text, which he specifically encouraged in his last sentence. Personalizing this does not help grapple with these important issues, IMO.

    I (and I think most of us) share your opinion of Dilegge. Building up SWJ so quickly from scratch was a great accomplishment, one any professional publisher would be proud of.

  17. FM,

    Lifted both bans – SWJ and SWC. For those that must know – the ban was a cumulative reaction several years ago based on some very heated discussions on the Council. I’ll leave it at that and won’t comment further on this issue as at the time the banning was between me and FM. Plus, and more honestly, I do not remember all the nitty gritty details;-)

    Adding FM to the blog roll also.

    Fabius Maximus replies: That’s a very generous statement! Thank you.

  18. Carl,

    I’d be remiss if I did not add a thank you for your kind words. We live in “interesting times” – a very complicated world. None of us has all the answers and many of us will disagree on some very important – and at times – emotional issues. That is why we do what we do – I guess you can call it a passion. Botom line – I think we all have the best of intentions… Even Josh at Registan;-) Who, BTW is on our Blogroll. We agree very little – but I do learn from reading his and FM’s posts.

    Dave {Editor of the Small Wars Journal}

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