A General explains how the Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics will bring us victory in Afganistan

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:

  1. Why are we are fighting in Afghanistan?, 9 April 2008 — A debate with Joshua Foust.
  2. Real experts review a presentation about the War (look here, if you’re looking for well-written analysis!), 21 June 2009
  3. The Big Lie at work in Afghanistan – an open discussion, 23 June 2009
  4. “War without end”, a great article by George Wilson, 27 June 2009
  5. The trinity of modern warfare at work in Afghanistan, 13 July 2009
  6. Powerful insights about our war in Afghanistan, part 1, 18 July 2009
  7. We are warned about Afghanistan, but choose not to listen (part 2), 19 July 2009
  8. Powerful insights about our war in Afghanistan, part 3, 20 July 2009
  9. You can end our war in Afghanistan, 20 August 2009
  10. “Afghanistan by the Numbers – Measuring a War Gone to Hell”, by Tom Engelhardt, 9 September 2009
  11. How many troops would it take to win in Afghanistan?, 15 September 2009

11 thoughts on “A General explains how the Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics will bring us victory in Afganistan”

  1. 1) Multiple choice.

    Which of these is a War of Necessity?

    A) Terrorists with box cutters.
    B) Nations that may soon have nuclear weapons.
    C) Wall Street Bankers (hehe)

  2. OK, count my 1/300000000 of the US population ‘in.’ The arguments of Lind, Cole, and Bacevich, plus the material on this site, have me convinced. We are not going to catch bin Laden or reduce the probability of more attacks on the US by going ‘all in’ in Afghanistan. I buy a defensive, cold strategy, as the best alternative among all of them.

    That given, what do we do now, besides the obvious? For one thing, put more into human intelligence so that our special ops are more efficient. For another, put more into the propaganda war, where we have a distinct advantage. As flawed as the US and the West can be, we should never lose a PR campaign against people who throw acid in girls’ faces; that’s just ridiculous. Some sophistication in terms of leveraging local cultural norms and languages, real humanitarianism and so on, is clearly indicated, cost-effective, and is less likely to have negative consequences in terms of deaths on either side.

    It also seems that topologically we need to think, as we did with the Soviets, in terms of circles or spheres. Centering on the Pashtun lands, it should be about controlling what goes in, in terms of people and munitions for example, and what comes out. Centering on our territory, a similar approach. That is, we make it all the more difficult, concentrically, in phases, for bad stuff to go into or come out of the opposing center of gravity, and our center of gravity. As one gets closer to each it should be harder and harder.

    Lastly, if the President actually takes the approaches recommended by Lind, Bacevich et al. we will need people associated with ‘real’ conservatism, former Republicans, Independents, and those with military credibility to give him cover against the inevitable neocon and political attempts to tar him with the brush of retreat, surrender, softness, and all the other usual-suspect pejoratives. This will be where the rubber meets the road. It will take some courage for this approach to happen, and if it does, people who think it is the right way have to belly up to the bar on this one. Sorry, Mr. Orwell.

  3. What a disappointment . I saw green instead of red and thought FM was going to address ‘ green warfare in afghanistan .’ Despite loving green issues like internal haemhorroids , he/she/they would report on the thousands of afghan men paid $10/day to pick up cartidges and plastic water bottles , the dozen metal recycling plants employing local labour to bash wrecked tanks into windmills ,the hydroelectric plant working to full capacity , the mapping and tapping of underground aquifers , not just the one at camp bastion ….

  4. Exactly why are fighting a war in afghanistan? We’ve been at war so long I forget. Oh yeah, despite 90% of the 9/11 hijackers being Saudi (and none afghanistan) the US felt compelled to go kick some ass. Nevermind the Bin Laden merely seemed to be using the country as his “hole-in-the-wall” hideout simply because the place was this 21st century version of the wild west.

    The US is broke. Time to give up being world policeman and John Wayne. There are very pressing concerns here in the U.S. such as feeding people, finding them employment, and facing up to the issue that the Gov went an spent their Social Security Fund on endless, expensive and LOST wars!

  5. The general is right. This is about willpower. If this were truly in our interests I am sure they would have no trouble summoning the willpower from the people and implementing it (e.g., raising taxes/selling war bonds to pay for it and re-instituting the draft).

    That cuts both ways… the opponents of empire must summon the willpower to get organized and convince everyone around them to vote against it in the next elections.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Does this mean that all those 4GW’s between foreign occupiers and local insurgencies were lost by the foreigners — despite their greater firepower — due to lack of willpower? From Chapter 6.2 in Martin van Creveld’s “Changing Face of War” (2006):

    What is known, though, is that attempts by post-1945 armed forces to suppress guerrillas and terrorists have constituted a long, almost unbroken record of failure … {W}hat changed was the fact that, whereas previously it had been the main Western powers that failed, now the list included other countries as well. Portugal’s explusion from Africa in 1975 was followed by the failure of the South Africans in Namibia, the Ethiopians in Ertrea, the Indians in Sri Lanka, the Americans in Somalia, and the Israelis in Lebanon. … Even in Denmark {during WWII}, “the model protectorate”, resistance increased as time went on.

    Many of these nations used force up to the level of genocide in their failed attempts to defeat local insurgencies. Despite that, foreign forces have an almost uniform record of defeat. Such as the French-Algerian War, which the French waged until their government collapsed.

    But a bit more willpower and victory could have been their’s. Why not just say that all wars could be won by wishing the Blue Fairy would help, and be done with it?

  6. “rebuilding Afghan society”…an utterly meaningless statement, a figment of the imagination of progressive Western intellectuals. What is Afghan society? Before the Taliban there were feuding warlords and before that there was a Soviet puppet state fighting various tribes who put aside their feuds partially to fight back.

    The locals need the US to get off their property so they can figure out and create a society on their own.
    Fabius Maximus replies: It is however typical of the crusader spirit which has taken hold in much of US society. Bringing light to the dark cornes of the world, and so forth.

  7. FM: “Does this mean that all those 4GW’s between foreign occupiers and local insurgencies were lost by the foreigners — despite their greater firepower — due to lack of willpower?

    I am saying the locals wanted to win more, much more. Their land, their homes. Isn’t that the key factor in 4GW?

    FM: “But a bit more willpower and victory could have been theirs.

    A bit more? Not saying that at all. To ‘win’ in Afghanistan would require trillions of dollars and decades of Western involvement. Whatever we stand to gain by ‘winning’ there is simply not worth the cost.

    I’d like to see that chart compared to popular support during the same time period.

    I’ll end this with an anecdote. My grandfather was an officer in the Portuguese army. After his stint in Macau and some time back home he was sent to Africa. ‘Why should I kill Africans? I don’t have anything against them,’ he told me. His heart simply wasn’t in it because he rightly saw his country had nothing to gain.
    Fabius Maximus replies: That makes sense, and is a nice illustration of the key element in both the Vietnam and Af-Pak Wars!

  8. If the governor of a US state was asked in 2002 to hand over Bill Clinton to Serbia for a ransom of $25m, for his crimes against the Serbian people (their perspective – I am not calling Willy a war criminal) would he/she have done it?
    Yet this is essentially the reason the US invaded Afghanistan – that the Taliban would not hand over Bin Laden for money.

    Probably the only good to come out of this almost decade of conflict is that blowing up Americans is probably the worst way to get what you want from us. OK, maybe it got the Marines out of Lebanon, but that actually removed a restraining element from Israel, rather than improving anything in the Middle East.
    Other than that, every UED has prolonged the bloodshed rather than shortened it.
    The strategy that would work for the Pashtuns is “If we stop fighting, will you go home and give us money?” Too bad the Taliban doesn’t get it.

  9. Google :BBC : US success story in Afghan town 30/09/09 ( 30 Sept ) Admit I dont have sound on my work comp , but hey , *this * is what success looks like . See happy soldiers. See happy children . See happy car. See happy tractor . See ? happy ? townsmen . (The Big Dipper is good though ).

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