The three kinds of advocacy for the Af-Pak War

Summary:  After years of conditioning, advocates of the Af-Pak can trot out the most shoddy reasoning without fear of ridicule.  When reading these things we should chant the mantra of the 21st century American:  Say it now and say it loud — we are sheep and we’re proud!

There are three forms of reasoning used to support the Af-Pak war: 

  1. deduction:  from general premises to a specific conclusion
  2. induction:  from specific facts to a general conclusion
  3. repetition:  repeat the assertion loudly and with conviction

As their arguments have been exploded — examined only after 7 years of war — they increasingly resort to the third method, relying on their almost total control of the mainstream media.  Here’s today’s example, from “Counterintuitive counterinsurgency“, Richard Fontaine and John Nagl, op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, 12 October 2009 — “An illegitimate election in Afghanistan does not mean legitimate American military and political goals can’t be met.”  Excerpt:

As the Obama administration debates whether to stick with the counterinsurgency strategy for Afghanistan, opponents point to that nation’s flawed presidential election as a reason why this approach cannot work. Counterinsurgency is premised, they argue, on the presence of a legitimate national government that can win allegiance from local populations. Given credible allegations of rampant abuse in Afghanistan’s August election, President Hamid Karzai’s newly illegitimate government cannot play this role. As a result, the United States has little choice but to change strategies.

This argument is badly flawed. …

Army Gen. David H. Petraeus’ counterinsurgency strategy aimed to arrest this process by using American troops to protect the population — predicting, correctly, that until basic security was restored in key neighborhoods and communities, extremists on both sides of the sectarian divide would continue to inflame the situation. With U.S. forces clearing and holding territory and demonstrating to the Sunnis that they had a reasonable alternative to Al Qaeda and its sectarian warfare, the extremists were sidelined. Security began to improve, and the political space necessary for reconciliation began to open.

… Ironically, the greatest effect of Afghanistan’s botched election may be felt outside the country — reinforcing doubts in the United States and Europe about whether a corrupt Afghan government really deserves our help. But this misses the point. We are in Afghanistan because its takeover by the Taliban would be catastrophic for American national interests.

The description of the “surge” in Iraq is pure myth (a gentle way to say this).

  • The US watched ethnic cleansing proceed until a new point of stability was reached — one way of restoring basic security to key neighborhoods, but the opposite of “protecting the population.”
  • We bought the support of the Sunni Arabs, after they had already decided that the “al Qaeda” shock troops were more trouble than their worth (and this al Qaeda is only loosely connected to Bin Laden’s al Qaeda).
  • There has been little or no reconciliation to date.

But the next paragraph is the rich part:  “Afghanistan because its takeover by the Taliban would be catastrophic for American national interests.”  It’s become true in American’s minds by repitition, although the reasons given (rarely, when the advocates are pressed) are of the flimsiest nature.

Using the megaphone of the mainstream media, the equivalent of tinpot nations’ vans driving down the with bullhorns blaring government propaganda, they establish reality for the sheep-like citizens of America.

Say it now and say it loud — we are sheep and we’re proud!

Important notes

(a)  To read other works of John Nagl see The Essential 4GW reading list: John Nagl.

(b)  Somewhere on the Internet I read this about the 3 forms of reasoning, lost my note and cannot find it on the Internet.   If anyone has the cite, I’ll add it to this post.

(c)  The saying in red is paraphrased from the account of Bromosel’s dream given in that great work,  Bored of the Rings.

For more information from the FM site

To read other articles about these things, see the following:

Reference pages about other topics appear on the right side menu bar, including About the FM website page.

Some posts about the Af-Pak War:

  1. The Big Lie at work in Afghanistan – an open discussion, 23 June 2009
  2. You can end our war in Afghanistan, 20 August 2009
  3. Another attempt to justify our Af-Pak war, and show the path to victory, 31 August 2009
  4. The advocates for the Af-pak war demonstrate their bankruptcy. Will the American public notice?, 1 September 2009
  5. How many troops would it take to win in Afghanistan?, 15 September 2009
  6. Let’s blow the fog away and see what General McChrystal really said, 23 September 2009
  7. About those large and growing Afghanistan security forces…, 26 September 2009
  8. A General explains how the Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics will bring us victory in Afganistan, 27 September 2009
  9. DoD did not consider troop levels when devising our latest  “>Af-Pak war plans, more evidence that their OODA loop is broken, 8 October 2009
  10. Stop and reflect on this key moment in US history, 12 October 2009

Some posts about the mainstream media:

  1. The media discover info ops, with outrage!, 22 April 2008
  2. “Elegy for a rubber stamp”, by Lewis Lapham, 26 August 2008
  3. “The Death of Deep Throat and the Crisis of Journalism”, 23 December 2008
  4. The media doing what it does best these days, feeding us disinformation, 18 February 2009
  5. The media rolls over and plays dead for Obama, as it does for all new Presidents, 19 February 2009
  6. The magic of the mainstream media changes even the plainest words into face powder, 24 April 2009
  7. The media – a broken component of America’s machinery to observe and understand the world, 2 June 2009
  8. We’re ignorant about the world because we rely on our media for information, 3 June 2009 
  9. The perfidy of ABC News (tentative conclusion on a breaking story), 18 June 2009
  10. Are we blind, or just incurious about important news?, 6 July 2009
  11. We know nothing because we read newspapers, 12 October 2009


Please share your comments by posting below.  Per the FM site’s Comment Policy, please make them brief (250 word max), civil and relevant to this post.  Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

16 thoughts on “The three kinds of advocacy for the Af-Pak War”

  1. On a related note, McChrystal apparently now wants 80,000 more troops for Afghanistan: “Afghan mission chief wants more U.S. troops“, AP, 14 October 2009.

    It reminds me of a sleazy trick they taught me when I worked briefly as a telemarketer. They wanted us to ask for a $100 donation for the semi-scam charity I was working for (I left shortly after a national news show did an expose of the charity I was collecting for.) and then back off from that request and continue with our pitch. Making an unreasonable demand and then backing of to a lesser, but still quite unreasonable demand has a way of working on some people. Democrats seem particularly vulnerable to it for example.

    What McChrystal is doing is particularly vile, since he’s trying to force the policy debate to the outcome he wants, while at the same time setting himself up to be free of blame should it fail.

    Look for the next truth-by-repetition for the Afghanistan war to be “We’re not dooing well because Obama didn’t send the 40,000, 80,000, 160,000, whatever the ceiling is he finally balks at, number of troops.”

  2. Win lose or draw, the show must go on.

    Oskar Schindler: I could try to read this, or I could eat my lunch while it’s still hot. We’re doing well?
    Itzhak Stern: Yes.
    Oskar Schindler: Better this month than last?
    Itzhak Stern: Yes.
    Oskar Schindler: Any reason to think next month will be worse?
    Itzhak Stern: The war could end.

  3. This repetition is probably effective in part because it relies on shared assumptions of a large segment of the US, so they fill the rest of the argument in. Most people I know (and I hang out with pretty left-wing people who think we should pull out) simply cannot believe that the US could not, in principle, win against the Taliban if they wanted to. We’re so conditioned to believe in US military supremacy that we really can’t fathom the idea that 80,000 or so guys in the backs of pickup trucks could fight us to a standstill.

    People don’t seem to realize that we are constrained militarily by our non-military weaknesses. We couldn’t have a draft in this country without causing massive social unrest. And we couldn’t take truly extreme military actions, like an ethnic cleansing campaign or indiscriminate bombing of Northern Pakistan without alienating our creditors enough that they might cease to see any reason to keep our government financially afloat.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Great point. More broadly, many Americans — including some in the military — cannot accept that superior force does not always win. This creates a blindspot regarding post-WWII insurgencies, in which foreign armies usually lose (local governments win, unless so weak that they must rely on foreign combat troops). 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.

    This is hidden history because we will not see it.

  4. This past year I read an excellent book: “The Strategy Paradox

    The book is well worth read, as we postulate both foriegn and economic options.

    To paraphrase an some outlaw songs: “If I was a [gambler, I would keep my chips close to home] when to hold them, fold them, walk-away and run”….

  5. The article’s logic is hilariously inept,

    >Army Gen. David H. Petraeus’ counterinsurgency strategy aimed to arrest this process by using American troops to protect the population

    …from the Iraqi government !

    I guess the first step then is for Karzi to do a bit of ethnic cleansing of Pashtun areas so that the US can step in the save them.

    You can see how flawed these doctrines are – they can’t even apply the logic of their own doctrine correctly – because all the answers come out wrong. The end effect is to have a military campaign with no strategy at all. No wonder a bunch of farmers are beating them.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Much of the discussion about COIN is bizarre. Such as broadly applying lessons from Malayan Emergency and Iraq to Afghanistan. The first two were insurgencies by ethnic minorities in States with a tradition of strong government, and a near-majority ethnic group in what is at best a proto-state.

  6. Oblat, It is a great thing General Lee understood the strategic situation and the [real] long-term effects for the course of our Great Nation and surrendered and the President Lincoln understood the real importantance for maintaining a more [uncertain future] Perfect Union in our real national interests, else a few “bunch of farmers” would have been the cause of our undoing rather the majority of volunteers for the next 100+yrs, Cheers.

  7. >It is a great thing General Lee understood the strategic situation and the [real] long-term effects for the course of our Great Nation and surrendered

    I dont believe it was his first choice

  8. Very true that it was not Lees first choice; HOWEVER, LINCOLN had many choices [including not to use naval power at Charleston, but that is not the point of this blog,;-] bottom line is LINCOLN had many choices and they ended up being for the est. Cheers.

  9. FM, another tactic used by the supporters of the war, some of whom are in the armed services, is to make ad hominem attacks on any critic of our policy in either Iraq or Afghanistan. Ad hominem attacks are nothing new, what distinguishes these is that some members of the armed forces reject non-military opinions out of hand, as being illegitimate and unworthy of consideration, because the person offering it is not a veteran (as I am not).

    I have a great deal of respect for people who wear the uniform (and even tried to join the military myself in the early 2000s, unable due to age), but do not elevate them onto a pedestal, somehow above criticism or comment. I have never passed myself off as a veteran (of combat or otherwise) nor an expert on either conflict, but I am a historian and concerned citizen, and far from being a deletente. My questions and comments are serious, well-thought out, and entirely respectful. Thus, the reaction puzzles me, especially the hyper-sensivity to criticism. There is also in some of the uniformed service personnel/veterans a very condescending attitude, that non-military members are mere civilians, unqualifed/unworthy to offer any constructive comment or criticism, or question strategic policy. Since I am often a staunch defender of the people who serve in uniform, I am quite puzzled and a bit, well, scorched by some of the vitriol. There is something else at work here, and I am not sure what. Perhaps you and/or your readers might care to comment.

  10. >There is something else at work here, and I am not sure what.

    The values of military and civilian cultures are very different and in many cases at odds. This is not perceived by the civilians in the US (amongst other places) because the military is put on a pedestal and the whole citizen soldier myth. Surveys repeatedly show that Americans rank servicemen as the most good and trustworthy people above doctors, nurses, firemen etc etc


    Do you know what subjects are taboo ? – they aren’t the same as yours.
    Do you realize that the value of what you say is strongly related to your rank, rather than what you say ?
    Do you realize that many of the freedoms of thought you take for granted don’t exist in thier culture ?
    Do you realize that debate is seen as threatening uncontrolled approach to solving issues ?
    Do you realize the different view of morality, success and failure ?

    If they looked like Chinese you wouldn’t be so surprised at their reaction. (The similarities to Chinese culture is one of the more amusing realizations given their current threat assessments).

  11. When do we get to comment on the falling dollar – comments dont seem to work.
    FM note: fixed now.

  12. If anyone wants to get their personal question or comment about Afghanistan on Chicago’s WBEZ show, “Worldview”, on Friday Oct. 16, call this number: 312-948-4880 and give them the question/comment.

  13. Are we the only one that care that much about a “legitimate” eleciton process. I feel this is a strawman argument. What does the average afghan care that the election was legitimate or not if the central leader has no power. It can’t protect him from un-conventional fighting forces (the Afghan army is a joke, yes?), it can’t police around, it has no power over “foreign fighter” (US and Nato forces) and it doesn’t provide justice or basic services (water, electricity, medical care).

    I think we’re the only one that care that much about a “legit” election process. Why exactly, I’m not sure. It might be our lack of empathy. God knows WE’d go batshit insane if OUR election process was rigged, so we assume it’s the same for everyone else. It might also be that it’s easier for the mainstream media to explain to the general populace. At the same time, it has the added benefit of not undermining our western government’s official policy too much (god knows we keep talking about that Afghan army and police force, we coulnd’t just trash them now, could we? The myth of the Brave Afghan). There is also the fact that, while we’re focusing on those petty problems, we give ourselves the illusion that we’re hard at work on core issues, making progress or, at least, that we know where to put our efforts.

    It’s an exercise in denial. But by pretending to be facing another reality, I think the people that support the Af-Pak war are undermining both their chances of victory and their popular support at home. When the citizens realize that all those efforts won’t be yeilding the results they were promised, the whole thing might just collapse.

  14. > There are three forms of reasoning used to support the
    > Af-Pak war:

    Do not forget abduction, establishing a general relation
    from specific facts: “This urn contains black balls;
    those balls are black; therefore those balls come from
    this urn.”

    The potential and actual applications are many:

    Al Qaeda is an organization of muslim fanatics fighting
    against the USA.
    The Talebans are muslim fanatics fighting the USA.
    Therefore, the Talebans belong to Al Qaeda.

    Iran supports militant, armed muslim groups across the Near Est.
    The Talebans are militant, armed muslims.
    Therefore, Iran supports the Talebans.

    The Taleban guerilla is fighting against, and
    threatening the stability of the internationally
    recognized Afghan and Pakistan States.
    The Talebam are fighting against the USA, an
    internationally recognized State.
    Therefore, the Taleban are threatening the stability of
    the USA.

  15. 40, 000 more troops ? That’ll be 10, 000 more vehicles , 5,000 tonnes of spare parts ,40,000 more weapons and ammo and radios , 500 more helicopters , 500 more medics and a couple of hospitals ; 120 tommes of food/day and 2,000,000 gallons of water/day ( sure to be plenty underground , yeah ) ; another Camp or so ( a few million tonnes of protective barricades -oh , dont forget the forklift trucks ), a tad more roads and cesspits , some new radio frequency channels ( couple of satellites sent up maybe ? or a dozen more communication aircraft ? )- oh boy , AND you want some fighting ?

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