On War #298: Another War Lost?

by William S. Lind
30 March 2009

With the usual fanfare, the Obama administration has proclaimed a new strategy for the war in Afghanistan. On the surface, it does not amount to much. But if a story by Bill Gertz in the March 26 Washington Times is correct, there is more to it than meets the eye. Gertz reported that:

The Obama administration has conducted a vigorous internal debate over its new strategy for Afghanistan…

According to two U.S. government sources close to the issue, senior policymakers were divided over how comprehensive to make the strategy…

On the one side were Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. and Deputy Secretary of State James B. Steinberg, who argued in closed-door meetings for a minimal strategy of stabilizing Afghanistan…

The goal of these advocates was to limit civilian and other nonmilitary efforts in Afghanistan and focus on a main military objective of denying safe haven to the Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists.

The other side of the debate was led by Richard C. Holbrooke, the special envoy for the region, who along with U.S. Central Command leader Gen. David H. Petraeus and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton fought for a major nation-building effort.

The Holbrooke-Petraeus-Clinton faction, according to the sources, prevailed. The result is expected to be a major, long-term military and civilian program to reinvent Afghanistan from one of the most backward, least developed nations to a relatively prosperous democratic state.

I have not seen similar stories in other papers, so it is possible Gertz is not correct. But if he is, the Obama administration has just made the Afghan war its own, and lost it.

Ironically, the reported decision duplicates the Bush administration’s error in Iraq, another lost war (the next phase in Iraq’s Sunni-Shiite civil war is now ramping up). The error, one that no tactical or operational successes can overcome, is setting unattainable strategic objectives.

Short of divine intervention, nothing can turn Afghanistan into a modern, prosperous, democratic state. Pigs will not only fly, they will win dogfights with F-15s before that happens. The most Afghanistan can ever be is Afghanistan: a poor, backward country, one where the state is weak and local warlords are strong, plagued with a drug-based economy and endemic low-level civil war. That is Afghanistan at its best. Just achieving that would be difficult for an occupying foreign power, whose presence assures that war will not be low-level and that no settlement will be long-term.

In fact, even the minimalist objectives reportedly urged by Vice President Biden are not attainable. We cannot deny safe haven in Afghanistan for the Taliban, because the Taliban are Afghans. They represent a substantial portion of the Pashtun population. The most we can hope to obtain in a settlement of the Afghan war is the exclusion of al Qaeda. That is a realistic strategic objective, because al Qaeda is made up of Arabs, i.e. foreigners, whom the Afghans dislike the same way they dislike other foreigners. The Taliban’s commitment to al Qaeda is ideological, and the right combination of incentives can usually break ideological commitments.

Instead of a pragmatic, realistic approach to attaining that limited objective, it seems we are committed to a Quixotic quest for the unattainable. Again, that guarantees we will lose the Afghan war. No means, military or non-military, can obtain the unattainable. The circle cannot be squared.

Here we see how little “change” the Obama administration really represents. The differences between the neo-liberals and the neo-cons are few. Both are militant believers in Brave New World, a Globalist future in which everyone on earth becomes modern. In the view of these ideologues, the fact that billions of people are willing to fight to the death against modernity is, like the river Pregel, an unimportant military obstacle. We just need to buy more Predators.

Meanwhile, the money is running out. The ancien regime syndrome looms ever larger: we not only maintain but increase foolish foreign commitments, at the same time that debt is piling up, those willing to lend become fewer and we are reduced to debasing the currency. Historians have seen it all before, many, many times. It never has a happy ending.

It appears Afghanistan will be the graveyard of yet another empire.

To interview Mr. Lind, please contact (no e-mail available):

Mr. William S. Lind
Free Congress Foundation
1423 Powhatan Street, # 2
Alexandria, Virginia 22314

Direct line: 703 837-0483

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Filed in Uncategorized | 17 responses so far

17 Responses to “On War #298: Another War Lost?”

  1. Rob Pon 30 Mar 2009 at 8:58 pm 1

    Bill Lind wrote, “(the next phase in Iraq’s Sunni-Shiite civil war is now ramping up).”

    Is there a source for this?

    I am deploying with a MTT sometime around June and have not seen this yet aside from editorial style commentary.

    Any help is appreciated. Thanks!

    [CR: Good question — and good luck. You might also want to check out Juan Cole’s assessment. Of course, any prediction of this sort is speculation.]

  2. Sven Ortmannon 31 Mar 2009 at 3:31 am 2

    The German war goal is official: make sure that no attacks on NATO members originate from Afghanistan (note: not “on Germany” or “on the USA”, but “on any NATO member” — it’s really about an alliance, not about an ego trip!).

    “German government policy statement on security policy”
    http://defense-and-freedom.blogspot.com/2009/03/german-government-policy-statement.html

    [CR note: Sven, thanks. It’s certainly a worthy goal, but short of occupying the entire country, how does Germany plan to accomplish this?]

  3. loggie20on 31 Mar 2009 at 6:35 am 3

    Excellent point in Chet’s note to Sven.

    Objectives, against which the first “O” in OODA are measured, are usually purposefully mixed with strategy. There is an iterative set of objectives defining the results you want and strategies, to meet those which break into operations and tactics to use Von Clauswitz’ breakdown.

    The objective at the highest level is wrong though. This German war goal is a mission objective which is at best a part of a high strategy or set of goals.

    It is an objective that keys on the solution, occupying Iraq or Afghanistan is only attempting, likely unsuccessfully to cut out two sources of attack.

    What other options for point defense were considered, or infiltration of border control were considered, and are any being implemented to hedge against the breakdown of this war goal?

    This kind of popular confusion supports Chuck’s thesis on the DNA of corruption.

    The populace is sold on national objectives which are really third or fourth level strategies not meaningful to the highest motives of the common good.

  4. Maxon 31 Mar 2009 at 6:43 am 4

    “Bill Lind wrote, “(the next phase in Iraq’s Sunni-Shiite civil war is now ramping up).””

    “Is there a source for this? ”

    It sure sounds like it’s still “bussiness as usual.” Be reminded this is now the 7th year of concerted effort.

    M

    http://www.reuters.com/article/bondsNews/idUSN3036687120090330

    “The Government Accountability Office, or GAO, said the Iraq war accounted for $533.5 billion in Defense Department spending obligations through last December,”

    Meanwhile,
    http://original.antiwar.com/updates/2009/03/30/monday-13-iraqis-killed-19-wounded/

    “Monday: 15 Iraqis Killed, 19 Wounded
    by Margaret Griffis, March 30, 2009”

    “but short of occupying the entire country, how does Germany plan to accomplish this?”

    It will be interesting to see that comes of this.
    M

    http://news.antiwar.com/2009/03/30/nato-chief-opposes-americanization-of-afghan-war/

    “NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer pressured the alliance’s European members to commit more troops to Afghanistan today, saying an escalation of Europe’s commitment to the nearly decade-long war was necessary to avoid the “Americanization” of the war.”

  5. senor tomason 31 Mar 2009 at 10:49 pm 5

    “we are reduced to debasing the currency.”

    Yep. If the Chinese won’t lend to us any more the United States government can print all the money it wants to out of thin air. But there will be a consequnce to pay for it: a wheelbarrow full of dollar bills to buy a loaf of bread.

  6. loggie20on 02 Apr 2009 at 6:05 am 6

    “a wheelbarrow full of dollar bills to buy a loaf of bread.”

    Debate should not present imagery. Invoke Herbert Hoover if you wish, but do not use imagery.

    The US dollar could go the way of the Weimar Mark, however, there are ways to get around that.

    Current economic crisis is characterized by collapse of demand, aggregate or household. No demand pull inflation on the horizon.

    G8 Labor is under utilized, there is not much chance of cost push inflation unless the presses run long past the resurgence of demand.

    The debate needs to be reempoloying G8 labor not whether the US fed is printing too much or the US G is taxing too much.

    Imagery of hyperinflation is a tool to avoid the longer term issue which is employment of labor resources.

    I am fully convinced that taxing excess value of imports will address both the employment issue in the US and the debt problem.

    I am no protectionist, that false imagery has cost the US G more trillions in debt than Wall St who are in that little scheme as well.

    If China can lend the US money it could pay that same money as tariffs!

  7. Maxon 02 Apr 2009 at 7:07 pm 7

    “If the Chinese won’t lend to us any more the United States government can print all the money it wants to out of thin air.”

    A very real possibility, some might effectively argue it’s well established and underway.

    I for one have no problem with images, mataphor, and even occasional hyperbolie, afterall Boyd himself was noted for such.
    M

    http://www.lewrockwell.com/schiff/schiff12.html

    “Q: Does this mean that in the longer term we’re going to see an inflationary environment?”

    “MF: There is no other way for the US but to inflate. It’s not a desirable policy, and it has in the end disastrous social consequences. But given that we have a money-printer at the Fed and an Administration that wants to expand the role of government as a percentage, the result will be, unfortunately, inflation.”

  8. Maxon 06 Apr 2009 at 8:10 am 8

    “Bill Lind wrote, “(the next phase in Iraq’s Sunni-Shiite civil war is now ramping up).””

    “Is there a source for this? ”

    Yeah, I just don’t get it either, the “war” ended 5 years ago !!!
    I still remember, We did everything just right, perfect, and also made some pretty good coin throughout.
    M

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mission_Accomplished

    http://tinyurl.com/c2fms2

    21 Iraqis, 1 U.S. Troop Killed In Violence
    String Of Bomb Attacks In Baghdad Also Wounds 64 People

    BAGHDAD, April 6, 2009

    http://tinyurl.com/d33gj8

    Monday, March 30, 2009; Page A01

    BAGHDAD, March 29 — A new and potentially worrisome fight for power and control has broken out in Baghdad as the United States prepares to pull combat troops out of Iraq next year.

    [CR: An interesting question because the importance of Shi’a – Sunni differences has been exaggerated by the Western press. Under Saddam, the Shi’ite leadership was largely co-opted and tens of thousands of Shi’ites died in the war with Iran. Intermarriage was common, and many tribes have both Sunni and Shi’ite members.

    Clearly there have been groups that have used sectarian differences for their own purposes — the Sunni Salafists, for example, and several leaders of Shi’ite groups in Baghdad and in the south. But whether these political maneuverings are enough to precipitate a real civil war between the multiplicity of Shi’ite groups and their equally fragmented Sunni counterparts is still an open question.]

  9. senor tomason 07 Apr 2009 at 12:38 pm 9

    “Under Saddam, the Shi’ite leadership was largely co-opted . . . Intermarriage was common, and many tribes have both Sunni and Shi’ite members. ”

    Under Saddam, Iraq had a thriving Christian community. Now that Christian community is almost destroyed. Four years ago in the Spring of 2005 I heard a Protestant fundamentalist preacher here in the Deep South proclaim George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq was inspired by God to spread Christianity to a heathen land. Irony and ignorance. The only instance I can think of in which United States military might paved the way for the spread of Christianity is South Korea, and that result was an unintentional side-effect.

    [CR: You’re exactly right. Tariq Aziz, for example, the Deputy PM under Saddam, is a Christian]

  10. Maxon 07 Apr 2009 at 7:14 pm 10

    ” But whether these political maneuverings are enough to precipitate a real civil war between the multiplicity of Shi’ite groups and their equally fragmented Sunni counterparts is still an open question ”

    A good question Chet, though for instance, the common Catholic
    religion has never stopped Italians from slaughtering each other.

    Jeff Huber has an interesting and poinient perspective, for those
    who haven’t seen it.
    M

    Click here to go to the Huber article

    “In a March 30 post at his Foreign Policy blog, Thomas E. Ricks wrote, “I thought some of the surge-era deals in Iraq would unravel but I didn’t think that would begin happening this quickly. It’s only March 2009, and already Awakening fighters are fighting U.S. soldiers in the streets of Baghdad.” Ricks cited a number of recent confrontations between members of the Sunni Awakening movement and Nouri al-Maliki’s government and got all giddy about how he “wouldn’t be surprised to see Moqtada al-Sadr’s Shi’ite militia reemerge.”

    At the end of his blog, Ricks asked, “Question of the day: What should I say the next time someone tells me the surge ‘worked’?”

    [CR: Thanks v. much – Fabius just sent me Ricks’ blog, and I have posted a short note on it. What you say is the same thing you say to people who tell you that the economic crisis has bottomed out.]

  11. Rob Pon 08 Apr 2009 at 10:48 am 11

    Thanks for the references and attempt to pin the rise on the ramp up on the next round of the Sunni-Shiite war in Iraq. Still not enough to really go on though. The Iraqis I know state the targets in the Baghdad attacks are new clubs that violate one or more tenets of Islam. I am not saying that the new strip clubs in Baghdad are having bombs planted in them, but their neighborhoods are the targets. My sources for this is my interpreter, who lived in Baghdad until recently and still maintains contacts there as well as my language and culture instructor who is a Shi’ia who served during the Iran-Iraq War.

    Timeline for deployment to a region is not a huge concern for me b/c we are still in Germany, Japan, and South Korea and Marine units sent to Iraq recently are not leaving the FOBs and are not getting into fights, including the infantry.

    Also casualty figures do not tell the whole story. FBI crime stats (http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/cius2007/offenses/violent_crime/murder_homicide.html) indicate we average 16,000 to 17,000 murders (not manslaughter, DUI, DWI, etc) a year in the USA. That’s over 50 murders a day. This does not indicate that the USA is in a civil war any more than bombings and attacks in Baghdad indicates a Sunni Shiite civil war.

    This goes back to the question of hard references for the ramp up of an Iraq civil war. If one is forming, then from what direction? Thomas Ricks has some food for thought in there but his conclusions have been wrong in the past (just read “Making the Corps”). Also if the Sunni awakening tribes are really pissed, then Anbar would be the wild west again in about 24 hours.

    [CR: Thanks very much. Interesting information report. I would, however, be cautious of drawing sweeping conclusions from one or two sources, particularly those now living in the US. “Violating the tenets of Islam,” for example can be variously interpreted as “strip club” or it could be any gathering where music is played or people of corrupted beliefs gather. The BBC is reporting that the latest bombing occurred in a “pedestrian-only area filled with jewellery and clothing shops” about a hundred yards from the tomb of Imam Mousa. This would be, I’d suspect, a most unlikely location for a “strip club.”

    Likewise, although 50 murders a day is nothing to be proud of, there’s no sign that I know of that many of these are ideologically or religiously inspired, which is the worry in Iraq. The United States has about 300 million people compared to Iraq’s 23 million, excluding the Kurds.

    Your remark about the Sunni tribes is puzzling. They don’t have to be “really pissed” to begin undertaking selected acts of mass violence in Baghdad. In my opinion, it’s more likely that the bombings are largely the work of ex-Ba’athists and are not being organized by the tribal leadership.]

  12. Rob Pon 08 Apr 2009 at 7:36 pm 12

    Chet said, “In my opinion, it’s more likely that the bombings are largely the work of ex-Ba’athists and are not being organized by the tribal leadership.” My Iraqi friends here are stating the same thing today.

    The only discernable pattern so far is that three bombs were on one side of the river and three on the other and that all attacks target civilians only. Other than that, it looks like there were two in marketplaces which led to the backlash against westernism theory but the other targets are completely random.

    To clarify the part about the Sunni tribes: I do not believe that we in the midst of watching a developing civil war mainly because the Awakening Council (Sunni tribes) do not need time to start a civil war. Most likely they could start tomorrow and have everywhere from Baghdad to the Syrian border to Mosul in flames again. This leads back to Chet’s theory being the most feasible.

    [CR: Agree — far too early to reach any conclusions. A general uprising is a possibility, depending on how well organized they are, but as long as we keep the money flowing, I think it’s unlikely.]

  13. Maxon 09 Apr 2009 at 8:08 am 13

    “FBI crime stats (http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/cius2007/offenses/violent_crime/murder_homicide.html) indicate we average 16,000 to 17,000 murders (not manslaughter, DUI, DWI, etc) a year in the USA. That’s over 50 murders a day. This does not indicate that the USA is in a civil war any more than bombings and attacks in Baghdad indicates a Sunni Shiite civil war.”

    It’s possible, just possible you maybe on to something.

    In the absence of a strong dictator, and supporting infrastucture,
    perhaps this is the norm, in Iraq, which afterall is a contrived
    entity, policitcaly and scocialy disfunctional with so many opposed competing interests. The US having now given the “gift” of democracy and oh, yes, the most coveted of all American matras,

    “Freedumb !”

    Nice work.
    M

    http://www.thenational.ae/article/20090408/FOREIGN/940096566/1002

    Baghdad suffers third day of bombings

    * Last Updated: April 08. 2009 3:09PM UAE / April 8. 2009 11:09AM GMT

    A bomb blast near a Shiite shrine in Baghdad today killed seven people and wounded 23, among them women and children, in the third straight day of attacks in the capital, officials said.

  14. Maxon 10 Apr 2009 at 6:46 am 14

    “Another War Lost?””

    Sven,

    “The German war goal is official: make sure that no attacks on NATO members originate from Afghanistan ”

    LG,

    “This German war goal is a mission objective which is at best a part of a high strategy or set of goals.”

    Interesting analysis, kind of like
    Smelling salts, to raise one’s awarness
    behond a stupor, even though we’re
    more awake around here than most,
    I recommend one and all
    take this whiff.

    Now, the Madrid and the London attacks came from Where ?

    Even if Buchanan is only half right, it’s brings
    forth some good points.

    http://tinyurl.com/dezchf

    Why Europe Won’t Fight
    by Patrick J. Buchanan, April 10, 2009

  15. loggie20on 11 Apr 2009 at 5:32 pm 15

    Max,

    Not a great fan of Buchanan.

    I was reading a paper linked from an economics blog I frequent. The author is very much into Marxist interpretation of the current world economy, not necessarily a Marxist but looks at Karl’s ways of analyzing political economy. He brought up the Daoist (Taoist) philosophy of Wei Wu, sort of ‘going with the flow’, knowing when to act or not, relating it all to the larger environment. Very deep.

    Possibly the Europeans know that the US is acting on something that is beyond its power, and they can wait for it all to be over and pick up the pieces.

    The alternative view is change what can be and what to let go, what you cannot effect.

    The Europeans may see the mountain won’t move and are waiting for the US to see that as well.

    If the US were no longer the indispensable nation, no longer trying to move mountains, the world would be as it is meant to be, the US as massive as it thinks itself to be cannot effect karma.

    [CR: We’re getting into some heavy stuff here. Wu wei is often translated as “non-forcing.” It does mean to go with the flow, but not necessarily in a passive way (although some people do translate the concept as “purposelessness”). That is, you work with what the situation gives you. A shift here, a nudge there, some subtle carrot-and-stick. Periodically, though, you may act with great quickness to exploit a rapidly developing situation, what Boyd called “asymmetric fast transients.” For those more interested in these sorts of things, look into The Rules of Victory by James Gimian and Barry Boyce.]

  16. Maxon 12 Apr 2009 at 8:14 am 16

    Good stuff,
    Pushing the envelope.

    “what Boyd called “asymmetric fast transients.””

    Very much taken from his air combat background.

    The point is, and I wish to empahsise, and probably you got anyway,
    was that this statement ;

    “The German war goal is official: make sure that no attacks on NATO members originate from Afghanistan ”

    Is wholey indicative of linear, or 3rd generational warfare thinking,
    in a non-linear, or 4th generational world reality.

    It’s clear to me at least from that statement (very telling) that
    “they” still don’t get it.

    As I mentioned, the Oklahoma City, Madrid, Bali, and London attacks came from, where ?

    Do the math,

    Anywhere + Everywhere + Nowhere.

    Therefore;

    Retorical;
    What does Afganistan, much less Iraq have anything to do with it ?

    Other than being a very good way to squander rapidly diminishing resourches, along with moral ?

    And, and, still no sign of Bin Laden.

    M

    [CR: No argument. One nit:

    Is wholly indicative of linear, or 3rd generational warfare thinking,
    in a non-linear, or 4th generational world reality.

    The way it’s usually defined, 1st and 2nd generation are linear, while 3rd generation / maneuver warfare is based on creating and exploiting gaps via multiple thrusts, recce pull, Schwerpunkt, cheng / ch’i etc. — decidedly non-linear.]

  17. Maxon 13 Apr 2009 at 3:20 pm 17

    “3rd generation / maneuver warfare is based on creating and exploiting gaps via multiple thrusts, recce pull, Schwerpunkt, cheng / ch’i etc. — decidedly non-linear.”

    Thanks,

    It’s important to get it straight, and from an authorative voice.

    I think it’s also important to take this discussion further.

    The inference being 3GW in dealing with an indentifable
    opposition, one that even wears a uniform, somekind
    of uniform, even if it’s your own, in order to inflitarate,
    as the Germans did in the battle of the bulge.

    Further that there is a geographicaly distinct battle front,
    a region, a grouping, at least a definable somewhat fixed target postion, including countries such as Iraq, Afganistan, and now Pakistan, and probably soon also Iran.

    Not so anymore.

    In most major N. American urban enviroments,
    When you go to fill up your gas tank, or head to walk the dog,
    or out shopping, who do you see ?

    Probably all kinds of pepole, and from practically every corner of the earth.

    What to can we expect to happen, sooner or later, when US tactics and stratigy, myered in said modified “linear” 3rd generational mindset, such as in the wholesale use of RPVs, is killing their brothers, sisters, nefews, neices, parents, grandparents, uncles, etc, etc ?

    It’s only a matter of time, before one or more, snap, have had enough, and gets onto a crowded rush hour subway train, or shows up at a major sporting event or similar concentration, and Kaboom !

    With help from the media, pepole then become deathly afraid of public spaces and gatherings, Think about what that’s going to do for our struggling economy ?

    With all that’s happened and is ongoing, It might take only one more nudge.

    We live in a proverbial glass house.

    We’re running around the world, dealing death and destruction,
    but don’t seem to grasp the truely pecarious and intense vunerability
    of our own position.

    We have learned absolutely nothing.
    M