More exhortations to continue the course in “Losing the War of Exhaustion” by Mark T. Kimmitt (Brigadier General, US Army, retired), Foreign Policy, 21 September 2009 — “It’s not low troop levels that stand to defeat the United States in Afghanistan. It’s plain old public fatigue.” Hat tip to Bernard Finel, who has some interesting comments about this article. Excerpt:
As Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, awaits a response from the White House on his assessment of the war effort, some would suggest that doubt is growing on Capitol Hill and in towns and cities across the United States about whether America can win this fight.
This doubt is misplaced. The truth is that there are more than enough troops, civilians, money, and operational capability available between the United States, NATO forces, and our Afghan allies to defeat the Taliban and assist in rebuilding Afghan society. There is no reason to fear losing a war of attrition. The major danger in Afghanistan is losing a war of exhaustion.
… If this war is to be won, it will certainly require more capability: more troops, more civilians, more funding, and a coherent strategy. For that, we can depend on the Department of Defense to find the troops, on the Department of State and other cabinet agencies to find the civilians, and on Congress to find the money.
But capability is insufficient. Achieving success in Afghanistan will also require domestic will, popular support, and strategic patience. These are the most important weapons in a war of exhaustion. Congress, DOD, and State can help out, but only the president can achieve a popular mandate for Afghanistan. Only the president can ask Americans to endure years of sacrifice. Only the president can build support for a protracted struggle that, in his words, is a “war of necessity.” And, only the president can harness domestic will, popular support, and strategic patience — the indispensible elements for success — without which our efforts in Afghanistan cannot succeed.
The General never explains why the war is important, only that the war is important — and our willpower can ensure victory. Perhaps he believes in the The Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics (Matthew Yglesias, TPM Cafe, 10 July 2006):
As you may know, the Green Lantern Corps is a sort of interstellar peacekeeping force set up by the Guardians of Oa to maintain the peace and defend justice. It recruits members from all sorts of different species and equips them with the most powerful weapon in the universe, the power ring.
The ring is a bit goofy. Basically, it lets its bearer generate streams of green energy that can take on all kinds of shapes. The important point is that, when fully charged what the ring can do is limited only by the stipulation that it create green stuff and by the user’s combination of will and imagination. Consequently, the main criterion for becoming a Green Lantern is that you need to be a person capable of “overcoming fear” which allows you to unleash the ring’s full capacities.
… Suffice it to say that I think all this makes an okay premise for a comic book. But a lot of people seem to think that American military might is like one of these power rings. They seem to think that, roughly speaking, we can accomplish absolutely anything in the world through the application of sufficient military force. The only thing limiting us is a lack of willpower.
What’s more, this theory can’t be empirically demonstrated to be wrong. Things that you or I might take as demonstrating the limited utility of military power to accomplish certain kinds of things are, instead, taken as evidence of lack of will. Thus we see that problems in Iraq and Afghanistan aren’t reasons to avoid new military ventures, but reasons why we must embark upon them…
The murky theological basis of the Afghanistan War explains much. It explains the sputtering rage of some advocates when questioned. And the increasing incoherence of some when their arguments are disputed. They just know; logic and evidence are secondary to this faith. Andrew Exum’s strategic debate — esp the comments — illustrate this nicely. Debate becomes exhausting with the faithful, and I often feel that the great economist Julian Simon had the only rational response (as told in a National Review Online article):
He was at some environmental forum, and he said, “How many people here believe that the earth is increasingly polluted and that our natural resources are being exhausted?” Naturally, every hand shot up. He said, “Is there any evidence that could dissuade you?” Nothing. Again: “Is there any evidence I could give you — anything at all — that would lead you to reconsider these assumptions?” Not a stir. Simon then said, “Well, excuse me, I’m not dressed for church.”
About Mark T. Kimmitt
Mark Traecey Patrick Kimmitt (born 1954) was the 16th Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs, serving under George W. Bush from August 2008 to January 2009. Prior to joining the State Department, he was a Brigadier General in the United States Army, and served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Middle East. Kimmitt has also served as Deputy Director for Strategy and Plans for the United States Central Command, and Deputy Director for Operations/Chief Military Spokesman for Coalition Forces in Iraq, and served at NATO’s SHAPE headquarters in Belgium. (source: Wikipedia)
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Some posts about the war in Afghanistan:
- Why are we are fighting in Afghanistan?, 9 April 2008 — A debate with Joshua Foust.
- 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
- “War without end”, a great article by George Wilson, 27 June 2009
- The trinity of modern warfare at work in Afghanistan, 13 July 2009
- Powerful insights about our war in Afghanistan, part 1, 18 July 2009
- We are warned about Afghanistan, but choose not to listen (part 2), 19 July 2009
- Powerful insights about our war in Afghanistan, part 3, 20 July 2009
- You can end our war in Afghanistan, 20 August 2009
- “Afghanistan by the Numbers – Measuring a War Gone to Hell”, by Tom Engelhardt, 9 September 2009
- How many troops would it take to win in Afghanistan?, 15 September 2009