A clear view of our Afghanistan War strategy (unfortunately, it’s mad)

A must-read website for those trying to understand geopolitics is the Small Wars Journal.  It’s a clear window, showing the perspective of many important actors and groups shaping American foreign policy (which for America consists largely of using or threatening some form of force).  Today’s example nicely illustrates the funhouse mirrors in which we see the world.  The result is madness when translated into policy.   In Ox or Wonderland the learning, experience, and brilliance of the analyst makes little difference.   If Karzai is crazy, perhaps we too are crazy.

Excerpt from “Learning to Love Crazy Karzai”, Robert Haddick,  the “This Week at War” column published at the blog of Foreign Policy and Small Wars Journal, 9 April 2010 — As always, I urge you to read the article in full.

U.S. officials should be pleased that Karzai is rebranding himself as an anti-Western nationalist. Successful counterinsurgency requires a local partner who is legitimate and credible with the indigenous population. If Karzai has concluded that this attempt at rebranding is necessary to increase his legitimacy, especially among Pashtuns, the U.S. government should not object.

Obviously a rebranded Karzai is insufficient for success. The numerous shortcomings of Karzai and the central government in Kabul will not be repaired by this ploy. More troubling is the collateral damage Karzai’s attempt at rebranding could inflict. The president’s new hostility could damage the morale of U.S. soldiers, who will wonder why they should risk their lives for an erratic America-basher. Karzai’s revised marketing strategy could also spoil U.S. political support for the military campaign and boost the Taliban’s recruiting.

But there is more to Karzai’s rebranding than boosting the current counterinsurgency campaign. He also has to start making plans for how to get by in a post-American Afghanistan. Although Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have both pledged an enduring U.S. commitment to Afghanistan and stated that the U.S. withdrawal, scheduled to begin in July 2011, will be gradual and “conditions-based,” Karzai needs to take such promises lightly. More imminent is the Obama team’s December 2010 re-evaluation of its strategy, after which Obama could scrap the current plan, should he conclude the assumptions and expectations from last year’s exhaustive policy review are not being met.

Rather than merely waiting to be the victim of Obama’s timetable, and already knowing that the United States is on its way out, Karzai may have decided to seize the initiative for himself and establish his own timetable for a transition to whatever will come after the United States and NATO withdraw. Establishing himself as independent from the United States will be essential if he is to attract a new great-power patron.

Let’s take a quick look at this, and some questions a visitor to Oz might ask.

(A)  “U.S. officials should be pleased that Karzai is rebranding himself as an anti-Western nationalist.” 

  • The term “re-branding” evokes US advertising, implying that the fundamentals remain unchanged — that Karzai’s does not mean what he says.
  • After this re-branding, in what sense does Karzai remain our ally? 
  • If he remains our loyal ally in deeds, will the discrepancy between his words and actions strengthen Karzai’s domestic position — or weaken it?
  • Will their leader’s words about perfidious American raise or lower our image in Afghanistan?  Improve or weaken the opposition to our troops?
  • Who are the logical allies (foreign and domestic) of an “anti-Western nationalist” of Afghanistan?
  • Note how Haddick shifts his focus from the effect of Karzai’s word in Afghanistan to us.  This is a staple of US geopolitical analysis; it’s all about us.

(B)  “Establishing himself as independent from the United States will be essential if he is to attract a new great-power patron.”

  • Obama’s plan calls for a withdrawal of troops (or perhaps combat troops, as in Iraq).  Not ending aid.
  • What great power will offer Karzai more than the lavish, almost unconditional, aid we’ve given him?  What “new patron” will provide combat troops to replace ours?  Russia?  China?

About the author

Robert Haddick is Managing Editor of Small Wars Journal. He writes the “This Week at War” column for Foreign Policy and is a full-time member of the Small Wars Journal management team.

From 1988 to 2006 Haddick was Director of Research, investment portfolio manager, and later a consultant to The Fremont Group, a large private investment firm and an affiliate of Bechtel Corporation. He established the firm’s global proprietary investment operation; led a research and trading network spanning the United States, Europe, Latin America, Asia, and Australia; and was president of one of Fremont’s overseas investment subsidiaries. Haddick frequently advised the Board of Directors and other top level committees on geopolitical, macro-economic, and investment market trends.

Haddick was an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps. He served in the 3rd Marine Regiment, deployed with a Marine Amphibious Unit, and participated in numerous exercises with host nation military forces in Asia and Africa. He was a staff officer in 1st Battalion, 12th Marines and was selected for the Personnel Reliability Program relating to command and control duties. Haddick later commanded a rifle company in the 23rd Marine Regiment.

Haddick’s writings have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The American, New York Post, and TCS Daily. He started the blog Westhawk in 2005. He has been interviewed on CNBC and NPR. Haddick earned BA and MBA degrees from the University of Illinois.

For other perspectives on our relationship with Karzai

For more information on the FM website

To read other articles about our wars, see Iraq and our other wars – my articles.

For a look at the actual words of “crazy Karzai’

  1. Today’s example of American foreign policy weirdness (about our allies), 6 April 2010
  2. Don’t read the media’s spin about Karzai’s remarks; read what the media actually say about Karzi. He certainly does., 6 April 2010

Posts comparing the Vietnam and Afghanistan wars:

  1. A living eulogy to Robert Strange McNamara, 26 July 2009
  2. How many troops would it take to win in Afghanistan?, 15 September 2009
  3. Another note from our past, helping us see our future, 16 September 2009
  4. A history lesson recommended for the top of your reading pile, 17 September 2009
  5. Let’s blow the fog away and see what General McChrystal really said, 23 September 2009

Posts about the Afghanistan War:

  1. Why are we are fighting in Afghanistan?, 9 April 2008 — A debate with Joshua Foust
  2. The Big Lie at work in Afghanistan – an open discussion, 23 June 2009
  3. Quote of the day: Our Afghanistan War explained in 22 words, 26 August 2009
  4. The advocates for the Af-pak war demonstrate their bankruptcy. Will the American public notice?, 1 September 2009
  5. The three kinds of advocacy for the Af-Pak War, 15 October 2009
  6. Admiral Mullen sets a high bar for continued US combat in Afghanistan, 18 November 2009 — A long-lost voice of sanity.
  7. We destroy a secular regime in Afghanistan (& its women’s rights), then we wage war on the new regime to restore women’s rights. Welcome to the American Empire., 20 November 2009
  8. A look behind the Afghan mask covering our operations in Afghanistan, 25 February 2010
  9. Update about the state of the Af-Pak war; my forecast was wrong, 1 March 2010
  10. France gives us tips for the Afghanistan War, from their successful role in the American Revolution, 11 March 2010


  • For more about this website, see the About the FM website page.
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