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Tilting at Windmills

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November 25, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

AFGHANISTAN....Hmmm. It's increasingly looking like Col. Tu's famous aphorism about the Vietnam war is not only true about Iraq, but also about Afghanistan. The Washington Post reports:

Over the past year, all combat encounters against the Taliban have ended with "a very decisive defeat" for the extremists, Brig. Gen. Robert E. Livingston Jr., commander of the U.S. task force training the Afghan army, told reporters this month....But one senior intelligence official, who like others interviewed was not authorized to discuss Afghanistan on the record, said such gains are fleeting.

....At the moment, several officials said, their concern is focused far more on the domestic situation in Afghanistan, where increasing numbers are losing faith in Karzai's government in Kabul. According to a survey released last month by the Asia Foundation, 79 percent of Afghans felt that the government does not care what they think, while 69 percent felt that it is not acceptable to publicly criticize the government.

There's a lot of blame to go around for this state of affairs. Obviously our obsession with Iraq is #1 on the hit parade, but it's equally true that our NATO allies haven't exactly stepped up to the plate in Afghanistan either.

Then again, maybe Afghanistan is a war we can't win no matter what we do. After all, a lot of people have argued that pacifying and democratizing Iraq was impossible from the start, regardless of how many troops we had or what strategy we used, and if this view is right for Iraq, why not for Afghanistan too? As it happens, I've never bought into this idea entirely, but I admit it's persuasive. And frankly, Afghanistan is probably a tougher nut than Iraq, which means it's even more persuasive in this case.

So what's the conventional wisdom these days? The presidential candidates don't talk about Afghanistan much, do they? The Republicans, of course, can't, since there's really nothing they can offer, but what about the Dems? Do they support (a) pulling troops out of Iraq and beefing up our presence in Afghanistan, (b) staying the course, or (c) pulling out? As near as I can tell, the answer is (a) for all three of the leading Democratic candidates — though they haven't said so either loudly or in much detail. That's probably what I think too, but I wonder if that's just because I haven't thought about it very hard?

Kevin Drum 2:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (53)

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"79 percent of Americans felt that the government does not care what they think, while 69 percent felt that it is not acceptable to publicly criticize the government."

Corrected for you.

Posted by: Gore/Edwards 08 on November 25, 2007 at 2:53 PM | PERMALINK

"but it's equally true that our NATO allies haven't exactly stepped up to the plate in Afghanistan either."

Was it the idea of "our NATO allies" on 9/12 to destroy the existing state in Afghanistan (as opposed to attacking specifically Al Qaeda)? I don't know the answer to this, but I suspect not. The Europeans (apart from those honorary Americans, the British) tend to be rather more foresighted on these matters, asking such problematic questions as "OK, once we have destroyed the existing Afghan government, then what"?

So, point number 1 --- the Europeans (and Canada) may well not have wanted to be running this type of war from the beginning.

Point number 2 is that when the Europeans offered to help as a NATO operation (as part of the treaty that says that an attack on one is an attack on all), they were pointedly told thanks but not thanks by US Strategist in Chief GWB. There is no NATO obligation to be in Afghanistan; non-US are there as part of trying to curry favor with the US. Thus, every bit as much as Iraq, Afghanistan is the Europe's problem to fix.

So many Americans, even the mostly sane ones like Drum, seem to have this bizarre GWB-like one-way notion of loyalty; that the Europeans somehow have an obligation to help the US now that it has fscked up so badly in Afghanistan; even though at every step of the way the Europeans did what they could to warn the US. Look at that sentence again "but it's equally true that our NATO allies haven't exactly stepped up to the plate in Afghanistan either."
The Europeans have no legal and no moral reasons for helping in Afghanistan. They have practical reasons (since they are closer to the Islamic world), but you can hardly blame them for concluding that while GWB is in office, every euro spent in Afghanistan, every life lost, is a waste of time; that the best they can do is keep things ticking over till, hopefully, someone comes to power in the US with whom they can work constructively.

Posted by: Maynard Handley on November 25, 2007 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

I'm glad you pointed this out. Right now we have so many problems to deal with, that I hadn't even noticed that Afghanistan is pretty much ignored. That can't be allowed to go on. Can it??

Posted by: Winslow on November 25, 2007 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

The Guardian reported last week that the Taliban may retake Kabul next year. Oops.

Beyond that, Handley is right.

Beyond THAT, Ted Rall is right. Afghanistan was the wrong first country to invade. Instead of Armitage's "bomb you back to the Stone Age" threat, we probably should have invaded Pakistan.

But, to actually do anything there, we definitely would have had to reinstate the draft to get the necessary troop numbers.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on November 25, 2007 at 3:12 PM | PERMALINK

Bravo, Maynard Handley.

Posted by: reino on November 25, 2007 at 3:26 PM | PERMALINK

[Handle Hijack by TOH deleted.]

Posted by: Tony P. on November 25, 2007 at 3:31 PM | PERMALINK

We need a THEOLOGICAL component to our struggle with the perversion of Islam, the way we had a POLITICAL strategy to deal with Communism.

Posted by: theAmericanist on November 25, 2007 at 3:58 PM | PERMALINK

As in the US, as in Iraq, the answer is/was "It's the economy, stupid."

When we had the Taliban on the run, we should have gone all Marshall on their ass and built up their economy, big time.

I'm talking about pre-built clothing factories shipped in Quonset Huts and air dropped by C-5A followed in by Nike and GAP Rapid Insertion Consultants to build up the maquiladoras.

I'm talking about cotton seed, tractors, harvesters, cotton gins, and the technology to rapidly repurpose poppy fields into 100% cotton t-shirts, pants, and dresses.

I'm talking about low level drops of iPods, CDs, and DVDS.

An overly worked, well-fed and entertained people is a lazy people immune to fundamentalism and politics and more interested in the latest CD and the newest fashions.

That's mostly true over here....

Posted by: jerry on November 25, 2007 at 4:01 PM | PERMALINK

According to a survey released last month by the Asia Foundation, 79 percent of Afghans felt that the government does not care what they think, while 69 percent felt that it is not acceptable to publicly criticize the government.
--
I'm so envious.
AfghansThey have more confidence in Karzai's government then Americans do in the Bush nightmare.

Posted by: Jay in Oregon on November 25, 2007 at 4:29 PM | PERMALINK

". . . you can hardly blame [the Europeans] for concluding that while GWB is in office, every euro spent in Afghanistan, every life lost, is a waste of time; that the best they can do is keep things ticking over till, hopefully, someone comes to power in the US with whom they can work constructively."

Word, Maynard.

Posted by: EmmaAnne on November 25, 2007 at 5:28 PM | PERMALINK

When we first brought war to Afghanistan, I was struck by a couple different man-on-the-street interviews with extremely cute and obviously gay Afghan men who spoke absolutely perfect English. I wonder if they were actually propaganda plants.

Posted by: Anon on November 25, 2007 at 5:33 PM | PERMALINK

I thought Obama came out strongly for an increased ground troop presence in Afghanistan. This was mainly because of our over-reliance on air bombing which was causing too many civilian casualties. He was promptly attacked by Mitt Romney for not being Mitt Romney.

Posted by: CarlP on November 25, 2007 at 5:34 PM | PERMALINK

Maynard Handley: Was it the idea of "our NATO allies" on 9/12 to destroy the existing state in Afghanistan (as opposed to attacking specifically Al Qaeda)? I don't know the answer to this, but I suspect not.

Most governments at last tacitly supported the action, as the UN record of that time shows. Afghanistan was already widely recognized as a failed rogue state (e.g., see UNSCR 1267, 1999). Moreover, it's extremely doubtful that attacks on al-Qaeda could in any meaningful way be separated from the Taliban.

As to NATO, I agree in part with both you and Kevin. NATO was not a particularly appropriate vehicle, but it was and is the best available. (ISAF is the first non-European NATO operation, which inevitably leads to questions of what it's doing in Afghanistan, UN mandate or not.)

That said, I think we'd find much more support for operations in Afghanistan if Iraq wasn't in the picture. It's difficult for allies to justify putting more into Afghanistan so that the US can pursue policies in Iraq (or the greater Middle East), with which those allies disagree.

Posted by: has407 on November 25, 2007 at 6:12 PM | PERMALINK

pardon me, but the invasion of afghanistan was another bit of the 11/09/01 con job. neither the taliban, nor the afghan populace, nor any saudi mujahadeen had anything to do with the events of that day.

the events of 11/09/01 were used so that the bushit oilocracy could conduct a blitzkreig of afganistan so as to secure a pipeline route for hydrocarbons out of the former "stans" of the old ussr that could avoid transiting "unfriendly" territories[states].

immediately after our afghan invasion, schlumberger crews were inserted into those purportedly hydrocarbon rich "stans"[at usg expense i think] to do extensive seismic evaluation of the "thought to be rich in hydrocarbons" territories that would fill the proposed pipeline[s]. unfortunately, the seismic work revealed that the hydrocarbons weren't really there. when that reality became recognized, the bushit oilocracy lost interest in afghanistan as a hydrocarbon transit state.

the only thing that interested the skull & boner[the creation of the russell trust]and his associates then was the restoration of the poppy cultivation that the taliban had virtually eradicated. the bushit poppycracy's activities in afghanistan have been very successful in the rejuvenation of the opium trade.

with the recognition that no hydrocarbon production could sustain a pipeline through afghanistan, iraq as the easy target of opportunity took center ring.

the best thing about george bush is that he has initiated the endgame of amerikan empire. we should all begin to become comfortable with living in a third world country.

don't bother saving your dixie cups, this south won't be rising again.

by the way, in closing, most of the time, the record has been clear, invading armies are defeated by the indigenous population[who are not insurgents by any stretch of the imagination].

sic semper tyrannis.

Posted by: albertchampion on November 25, 2007 at 6:45 PM | PERMALINK

The only real strategy that can unite all of the Beltway and the Serious Thinkers is to nuke Iceland. Really, it would be catastrophic not to.

Posted by: craigie on November 25, 2007 at 7:21 PM | PERMALINK

albertchampion -- Understood that the Afghani population and the Taleban did not directly contribute to the events of 9/11.

So what would you have done?

Posted by: has407 on November 25, 2007 at 7:35 PM | PERMALINK

So what's the conventional wisdom these days? The presidential candidates don't talk about Afghanistan much, do they? The Republicans, of course, can't, since there's really nothing they can offer, but what about the Dems? Do they support (a) pulling troops out of Iraq and beefing up our presence in Afghanistan, (b) staying the course, or (c) pulling out?
----------------------
What about (d) carving up the country according to language? Maybe Joe Biden can bring that up down the road if he gets to be Hillary's Secretary of State. Let the Pashtun have their own ministate, or get Pakistan to annex them.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on November 25, 2007 at 7:36 PM | PERMALINK

[Handle hijacked. Content deleted.]

Posted by: theAmericanist on November 25, 2007 at 7:52 PM | PERMALINK

There's a book called "The Punishment of Virtue" by Sarah Chayes. Read it. Then you may be able to speak about Afghanistan a little more informatively. You may find there, for instance, that in Kandahar, the Afghans were really hoping that Karzai and the Americans would bring in responsive government. Instead, the Americans were duped into supporting a thug who was really seen as part of the problem by many people. One thing the Afghans hated was being extorted by a variety of armed groups before the Taliban (eg. numerous roadchecks); after this governor came in, the roadchecks, which had gone under the Taliban, reappeared - this is one thing that made the population nostalgic for the Taliban.

The big point is that progress was possible and the population was very supportive of the Americans. They managed to screw that up by not delivering what they were there to deliver: a clean government responsive to the needs of the people.

So don't spout this inevitability of failure nonsense. It reminds me of the rhetoric used during the Balkan wars: they always hated each other, the problem is intractable, history is destiny, blah, blah, blah... all used to evade responsiblity. The main reasons for failure in Afghanistan are: backing the warlords; not punishing Pakistan for destabilizing the country; rotating officials out of the country and sending in new ones who start from zero...

Cheers

Posted by: Cosmin on November 25, 2007 at 8:11 PM | PERMALINK

Isn't everyone in Afghanistan and Iraq al-Qaeda? That's what the Bushies told me! That's why we need to kill everyone there!

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on November 25, 2007 at 8:17 PM | PERMALINK

As a Canadian, a number of points need to be made here:

- With regards to the comment that "our NATO allies haven't exactly stepped up to the plate in Afghanistan either", it's useful to keep in mind that when the NATO allies offered their troops to the War in Afghanistan, it was understood (at least initially) that this was in response to 9/11, that the goal was to overthrow a rogue regime there that was harbouring terrorists, and that the U.S., the country that was attacked by elements in Afghanistan, would be leading the charge. When the U.S. then withdrew much of its military resources to go to Iraq, the case that then had to be made within Canada at least (and I'm extrapolating to the other NATO countries, since I'm assuming that a somewhat similar dyanmic has to be taking place there as well) is that we are contributing troops to a cause that the U.S. themselves don't consider a high priority, and that in fact increasing the number of NATO troops would simply allow more U.S. troops to be withdrawn to fill the holes in Iraq.

- The NATO effort in Afghanistan has had a cycling leadership in terms of the country overseeing each of the regions under NATO control or concern. Within each region, the Taliban has specifically targetted troops from the country overseeing that region, and thus that particular country will (at least temporarily) have a sharp increase in the number of casualties. Although the U.S. may be used to having casualties, and have specific restrictions on the reporting of soldiers' coffins or funerals or the like, this is not the case elsewhere: the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the Canadian equivalent of the BBC) specifically shows the arrival of each of the coffins into Canada, with full honor guard and moments of silence, and this coverage cuts into whatever was being shown at the time. In addition, Hockey Night in Canada, a Canadian tradition which is watched every Saturday night by a large number of Canadians, specifically has tributes every week to soldiers who have been killed in Afghanistan (as well as police officers who have been killed in the line of duty). The deaths of our soldiers hit us hard, and we've taken more casualties in Afghanistan than in any conflict since the Korean War. Thus, although I personally support the war in Afghanistan, I can understand why there is a real political debate not about whether we need to send more troops but instead about what we're doing in a country that is seen as a low priority by the U.S. (see argument above). In a splintered media environment like in the U.S., it's difficult to simulate the same level of outrage for each individual casualty, especially when you are taking so many more than we are in Canada. (And I in no way am trying to minimize the loss of your soldiers, who understandably are heroes who deserve respect and commendation, more just commenting on the dynamics implicit in the media coverage of each one.)

- Whenever I've seen the Democratic presidential candidates attacking Bush over going to war in Iraq (although this was certainly more true with Kerry-Edwards in '04), it's almost specifically been in the context of "taking our eyes off the ball in Afghanistan". I think the implicit acknowledgment there is that there will be a return to making Afghanistan a higher priority, even if they aren't saying so "loudly or in much detail". My guess is that if they increased their volume or amount of detail, it would move the conversation from Afghanistan back to Iraq, and the natural political response from the Republicans is to force the Dems to provide detailed solutions to a situation that has no solutions. Understandably, keeping the argument focussed on the need to go back to trying to achieve "victory" in Afghanistan is an easier argument to make than a "here's-my-proposed-least-worst-solution" for Iraq.

Posted by: msmackle on November 25, 2007 at 9:05 PM | PERMALINK

Right after Kevin posts a comment lamenting the superficial, poll emphasizing, media coverage of American politics, his next comment cites, credits and relies upon a purported poll from Afghanistan about highly subjective subjects such as whether the government cares what you think. I wonder what that number would be in the U.S.?

As to the democrats, I don't think they have ever sincerely believed that there should be an increased presence or effort in Afghanistan. It just became an easy way for them to criticize Bush on Iraq and still try to look like they are aggressive in the war on terror. If the U.S. had troops in Afghanistan but not Iraq, I think it is pretty likely the liberal left would be adamently against the troops and policy in Afghanistan and arguing for withdrawal. Kevin's comment even indicates what democrats would be saying about Afghanistan, that we can't win no matter what we do (which the liberal left was saying before we won against the Taliban in Afghanistan, and before we started winning again in Iraq).

Posted by: brian on November 25, 2007 at 9:20 PM | PERMALINK

It sure would be nice to actually stay in Afghanistan and keep the Taliban from regaining power, since unlike Iraq, Afghanistan actually was a hotbed of oppressive fundamentalist extremism that harbored al Qaeda, and it will likely go back to being that again if the Americans pull out.

Perhaps withdrawing from Iraq and focusing on Afghanistan would also lead to greater contributions from U.S. allies. So, on the whole, (a) seems pretty sensible.

Posted by: Tom on November 25, 2007 at 9:34 PM | PERMALINK

Wars cannot be won on foreign soil. The 'enemy' will outlast all efforts by interlopers (witness the IRA in Ireland, and now the Taliban in Afghanistan). We need to stop spending money and consuming lives trying to change the way countries operate. Containing the 'cult' of terrorism is not a country vs country issue, it is an international policing issue. Rather than having spent upwards of $1 trillion invading other countries, wouldn't that money have been better spent improving international policing methods? There cannot be a 'war on terrorism' because terrorists are not an organized group; terrorists arise as a result of encroachment by nations such as the US into the borders and affairs of other nations. Stopping terrorism requires the cessation of imperialism. Invasion of countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq only fuel more terrorist actions. The US needs to get a functioning brain. A good start will be when GW Bush is gone.

Posted by: Dilbert on November 25, 2007 at 10:01 PM | PERMALINK

Dilbert: Wars cannot be won on foreign soil.

False. There are numerous examples that prove otherwise. If you mean that foreign soil cannot be held without the tacit support--or at minimum the acquiescence--of the population, then yes, that is generally true.

Posted by: has407 on November 25, 2007 at 10:27 PM | PERMALINK

K.Drum...
"...but it's equally true that our NATO allies haven't exactly stepped up to the plate in Afghanistan either."

As a Canadian i find this statement infuriating.

Posted by: Albert on November 25, 2007 at 11:20 PM | PERMALINK

You are Vietnamese-American and your claim to fame is to have America's rare war defeats named after you!


Posted by: Matt on November 25, 2007 at 11:35 PM | PERMALINK

"...but it's equally true that our NATO allies haven't exactly stepped up to the plate in Afghanistan either."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
I'm with Albert on this statement. As an American who has been paying attention to Afghanistan since the beginning, I believe you owe our European & Canadian friends a big apology, Kevin.

Many of the comments here spell out why. A couple more: Britain is leaving Iraq because they, like us, ran out of replacements, but still wish to reinforce their troops in Afghanistan. Germany (& Japan) have for the first time since WW II sent troops outside their own borders to support our Afghanistan effort. In both cases, there was a lot of national debate about this departure from their national policies. I believe the Dutch are also there. Of the 40,000+/- coalition troops in Afghanistan, about 15,000 are from our allies, mostly from Europe or the Commonwealth.

Like you said, there is plenty of blame to spread around, shore nuff. But we need look no further than the Bush Administration & War Dept. to place it where it all belongs.

Posted by: bob in fla on November 26, 2007 at 12:07 AM | PERMALINK

Americanist: Especially with the current Administration, we most certainly do NOT need a "theological angle" to our dealings with certain rogue Islamic elements. W. would be mentioning the word "crusade" every third sentence.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on November 26, 2007 at 12:16 AM | PERMALINK

Afghanistan was probably doable, but Bush and the neoconservative advisers had a different agenda.

I would not underestimate the destructive influence of political correctness on the wars. Different cultures should be analyzed objectively, not with a lib view that "democracy, freedom, and feminism" are "universal cravings" sought by everybody since we are all alike.

Posted by: Luther on November 26, 2007 at 2:13 AM | PERMALINK

As of October 2007, there are more non-American NATO member nation troops in Afghanistan than American troops (26,036 vs. 15,108) as part of ISAF. The of the non-American NATO nations, the largest contributors are Great Britain (7,740), Germany (3,155), Italy (2,395), Canada (1,730), the Netherlands (1,516), and Turkey (1,220). This means that, percentage-wise, Great Britain has more of its armed forces in Afghanistan than the US, as does Italy, Canada and the Netherlands. Then there is the fact that NATO member nations Luxembourg, Norway, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Italy all provide more development aid to Afghanistan than the US in terms of per $ GDP.

So, you know, NATO gives Afghanistan about the same priority as the US does, or maybe even a little more.

Furthermore, as others have mentioned, NATO was not given authority over the mission in Afghanistan until August of 2003, although the organization had declared the 9/11 attack to be an assault against all 19 member nations within 24 hours, and had officially invoked Article 5 early in October 2001. The Administration essentially said "Thanks, but no thanks." So let's not be too hard on ol' NATO. This whole GWOT deal is really not what it was made for anyway.

Posted by: josephdietrich on November 26, 2007 at 6:25 AM | PERMALINK

Note to moderators: "[Handle hijacked. Content deleted.]
Posted by: theAmericanist on November 25, 2007 at 7:52 PM | PERMALINK "

That WAS me. Who are you guys, and what do you think you're doing?

Posted by: theAmericanist on November 26, 2007 at 7:30 AM | PERMALINK

Even supposing that Col. Tu said anything of the kind, the exact same exchange could have been occurred between Nathanial Greene and George Cornwallis after Yorktown.
H.P. Wilmott makes a point about generals who do not know the difference between battle and war. If those generals work for us, start learning Mandarin.

Posted by: Steve Paradis on November 26, 2007 at 8:44 AM | PERMALINK

You've read the Senlis Council Report?

After five years, the United States-led international reconstruction mission has failed Afghanistan and its people. An all-military approach and aggressive poppy crop eradication strategies led by the US and the United Kingdom have triggered a hunger crisis and accelerated the return of the Taliban in southern Afghanistan. The US and the UK are responsible for these humanitarian and security crises, which make Afghanistan a renewed menace for its own people and the world.

We've sent plenty of soldiers to Iraq and Afghanistan, provided loads of material and sent heaps of money. Why should we 'step up the plate'? It is never enough and the US doesn't have a realistic policy so it is wasted anyway.

This US gov. report (pdf) from end 2006 quotes the French policy:

France does not accept the view, held by some U.S. officials but nowhere present in NATO’s ISAF mission statement, that part of NATO’s brief is to build democracy in fghanistan. In the French view, Afghanistan is a highly diverse ethnic state with no tradition of democracy; at best, for the foreseeable future, a more representative and tolerant society can be built.

Their view sounds a lot more realistic. Why should we provide more troops to follow the US strategy of shooting on all that looks scary?

What is the use of the giving aid if the money is not spent on things that are important for the Afghans? Or are even undermining the Afghan government? Have you read this Washinton Post article about how the US construction fails because the money isn't spent locally?

And all we here is that the US wants us to provide more of the same, because 5 years of not getting it right can be overcome by the International Community "stepping up de plate".

Posted by: dutchmarbel on November 26, 2007 at 8:48 AM | PERMALINK

I'm pretty familiar with the external dynamics in the US, Canada, and Europe . . . but I'd need to hear more about what's going on inside Afghanistan. My impression is that we are financially supporting and encouraging various non-Taliban warlords and tribal leaders and using C130 gunship diplomacy in Taliban areas. In Kabul we have an impotent California exhile propped up and placed on a short leash. The economy apparently sucks and is based in large part on poppies. I don't think "more troops" is the simple answer for a peaceful and democratic Afghanistan. That will require some feelings of national unity, economic prosperity, and self determination.

Posted by: B on November 26, 2007 at 9:00 AM | PERMALINK

Um... it COULD have been said by Lord Cornwallis, but it wouldn't have been true.

We won more than a few battles against the Brits and their mercenaries, e.g., Ticonderoga and Trenton, the Carolinas. Hell, we won Yorktown, you knucklehead. That the main REASON we won not just the land battle (a set piece of envelopment and artillery bombardment) but also the war was that the French defeated the British Navy doesnt' change the facts: the scene at the York river is what victory in battle AND war looks like.

How come you don't know that? Seems sorta basic before posting on the subj.

Besides bone-deep ignorance and the classic progressive arrogance against our military, there's ALSO no reason to doubt the late Colonel Summers' famous anecdote, which he used to set up "On Strategy", his classic Clausewitzian analysis of Vietnam. Hell, Colonel Tu was as proud of the story as Harry Summers was. (I guess you didn't know that, either.)

I talked to Summers a couple times about the British historian John Keegan, who is essentially an anti-Clausewitzian and whose analyses of places like Afghanistan are pretty timely.

I can't speak for the guy, of course (and I told him he really SHOULD have said his piece about Keegan, but so far as I know he never did write it out), but Summers' basic rap against Keegan was that he was a Brit, and thus never understood the unique bond between America and our military. THAT, Summers told me, was why Keegan was wrong to dis the applicability of Clausewitz to places like Vietnam....

... and, I think Summers would have argued, Afghanistan. Keegan basically insists that war is NOT policy with extra tools, in much of the world and for much of history, it is a way of life: people fight cuz we're savage, not to accomplish anything in particular. Summers (who was a real warrior, not simply a scholar like Keegan) passionately disagreed.

I expect that's the essential point that Summers would have seen in Afghanistan, and Iraq, the very first thing in the ROTC manual: what is our OBJECTIVE?

Posted by: theAmericanist on November 26, 2007 at 9:07 AM | PERMALINK

Mr. Drum,

Concerning your comment about NATO allies not stepping up to the plate, would you please explain that to the families of the 66 Canadians who have died in Afghanistan. Not to mention those whose sons and daughters have been wounded.

Posted by: bert on November 26, 2007 at 9:27 AM | PERMALINK

(softly) We are, as always, grateful to Canada.

Posted by: theAmericanist on November 26, 2007 at 9:44 AM | PERMALINK
Obviously our obsession with Iraq is #1 on the hit parade, but it's equally true that our NATO allies haven't exactly stepped up to the plate in Afghanistan either.

If we hadn't made clear that our priority was Iraq and gotten our most capable NATO ally to make a major commitment there for years, and at the same time produced regional instability that threatened another of our NATO allies, well, "our NATO allies" might be far more capable in Afghanistan.

So, while their may be plenty of blame, no matter how much you try to spread it around, most of it comes back to the same place.

Posted by: cmdicely on November 26, 2007 at 11:31 AM | PERMALINK

...but it's equally true that our NATO allies haven't exactly stepped up to the plate in Afghanistan either.

What the hell are you talking about? Canada has taken about as many casualties per capita in Afghanistan as we have.

Afghanistan: The bloodiest military campaign in Canadian history

by Kevin Potvin

August 12, 2006– Now 26 Canadians have been killed in combat in Afghanistan. It is the largest death toll of all 37 nations participating in the war there, except for the Americans, who have lost 327 soldiers, and the Afghans themselves, of course, whose number of dead is uncounted.

On a national per capita basis, Canada’s rate of blood sacrifice is 80% that of America’s.....marking a death rate of 0.15% of the total deployment, per month. By way of comparison, the US has lost soldiers in Afghanistan at a rate of 0.03% of their total deployment to that theatre of war per month since their arrival in the fall of 2001, a rate only one-fifth that of the Canadians. Even in Iraq, US forces have dealt with a rate of death less than one third of the rate of death dealt with by Canadians in Afghanistan—0.04% of the total US deployment to Iraq has, on average, been killed per month during that war.

The Canadian rate of death by size of deployment, per month, is actually approaching to within 80% of the rate of death by size of deployment, per month, reached by Canadian forces in World War II....

In fact, should the rate of death continue at present levels for a few more months, the 2006 Canadian campaign in Afghanistan will come to mark the highest price this nation’s military has ever paid in our country’s history, as measured by annual death rate by size of deployment.

www.republic-news.org/archive/145-repub/145_kevin_potvin_canada.htm - 21k -

Posted by: Stefan on November 26, 2007 at 1:25 PM | PERMALINK

Said theAmericanist:
"Um... it COULD have been said by Lord Cornwallis, but it wouldn't have been true. We won more than a few battles against the Brits and their mercenaries, e.g., Ticonderoga and Trenton, the Carolinas. Hell, we won Yorktown, you knucklehead. That the main REASON we won not just the land battle (a set piece of envelopment and artillery bombardment) but also the war was that the French defeated the British Navy doesnt' change the facts: the scene at the York river is what victory in battle AND war looks like."

Apparently that seminar you took one summer didn't take. Anyone with the slightest knowledge of the Revolutionary War knows that Nathanial Greene's campaign in the south was one losing battle after another--Guilford Court House, Hobkirk's Hill, Eutaw Springs all ended with the British in posession of the battlefield, the classic definition of victory in that age. Each British "victory" weakened the victorious army, which is why Cornwallis was encamped at Yorktown and why Rawdon had to retreat to Charleston.
That was why I used his name to introduce the idea that victory is more than a sum of battlefield successes.

"How come you don't know that? Seems sorta basic before posting on the subj."

Indeed.

Posted by: Steve Paradis on November 26, 2007 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

Oddly enough, Steve, some of us know a bit more than what you find on Wikipedia. Let's count your errors:

1) The proper comparison wouldn't have been between Greene and Cornwallis, but between Greene and Tarleton, or Cornwallis and Washington. Since you mentioned Cornwallis, I took your larger error to account. But we can do a small one, too.

2) Even within the blur of your own myopia, you're wrong: Cowpens (in which Morgan commanded the American forces, but he was subordinate to Greene who had sent him) was an American victory.

So was King's Mountain -- again, the battlefield commanders weren't "Greene and Cornwallis", but the latter was still the Boss and anyway -- psst: wars aren't fought for individual statistics. Nevertheless, no less than Teddy Roosevelt regarded the American tactical victory at King's Mountain as the strategic turning point of the war OVER Cornwallis: not much left to your profound grasp of the Revolution, is there?

So, finally,

3) Your biggest error is missing the frigging point of EACH part of the analogy: Harry Summers got bellybumping drunk with Colonel Tu in Paris, and was sorta belligerent with him along the lines of "you KNOW we kicked your ass...." in every battle.

To which Colonel Tu wisely replied, in effect: So what? We won the war.

Summers used this personal anecdote to launch what most professionals regard as the definitive Clausewitzian analysis of Vietnam.

Yet YOU, knucklehead that you are, doubt it even happened.

The central theme of Summers'analysis is that the kind of warfare that you hallucinate won the American Revolution could NOT have won in Vietnam -- and didn't.

Psst -- it didn't win the Revolution, either.

So you're simply wrong to huff that Cornwallis could have made the same boast to Greene that Tu made Summers: if he'd tried to make it, Greene would have laughed at him. Whose army was surrendering at Yorktown? (And when did the US Army surrender in Vietnam, asshole?)

Why didthe British surrender? Because they were outnumbered 2-1, surrounded and being pounded to dust at point-blank range by artillery from land AND sea.

Just how is that REMOTELY like Vietnam OR Iraq OR Afghanistan?

Posted by: theAmericanist on November 26, 2007 at 4:02 PM | PERMALINK

"So you're simply wrong to huff that Cornwallis could have made the same boast to Greene that Tu made Summers: if he'd tried to make it, Greene would have laughed at him. Whose army was surrendering at Yorktown? (And when did the US Army surrender in Vietnam, asshole?)"

They pulled out before the surrender ceremony, unless you think that was an American VICTORY in Viet Nam. Kind of like what we'll doing soon enough in Iraq, and the new Harry Summers will be along to tell us how we REALLY won.

Posted by: Steve Paradis on November 26, 2007 at 7:34 PM | PERMALINK

theAmericanist -- Keegan pretty much universally diss's Clausewitz; he didn't particularly go out of his way in the case Vietnam (or wherever).

Steve Paradis -- Summers' in no way tells a story of "how we REALLY won". It is an excellent book.

Posted by: has407 on November 26, 2007 at 8:10 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah -- I tried to get Summers to write about his comprehensive rejection of Keegan, but he never did.

As something of a Keegan fan (within limits), I think he's on to something with the idea that Clausewitz was never universal, that 'the continuation of politics with an admixture of other means' has been applied waaay beyond its value.

But that's why Summers' insights were so potentially significant. Like I said, I can't speak for the guy, but I THINK I understood what he meant -- Keegan, being a Brit, has a different sense of the relationship between the nation and the military than an American would.

LOL -- and Steve: you're WAAAY off-base.

Posted by: theAmericanist on November 26, 2007 at 9:02 PM | PERMALINK

theAmericanist -- I envy that you met and personally learned from Summers. Obviously pure speculation on my part, but I think Summer's reticence was likely because Keegan's dismissal of Clausewitz has a very odd, and generally not very factual, basis.

Even though many of Keegan's positions are compatible with Clausewitz--as many others have pointed out--he seems peculiarly obsessed with proving otherwise. Oh well. (That said, I am also a fan of Keegan; there is much truth and much to be learned from both Keegan and Clausewitz.)

Posted by: has407 on November 26, 2007 at 10:22 PM | PERMALINK

"LOL -- and Steve: you're WAAAY off-base."

Perhaps Summers was being disenguous with his remark about the battlefield, or trying to preserve his amour propre--or doing an imitation of Shaw's Major Swinden, another officer could not tell the difference between a battle and a war. By claiming battlefield dominance for the US Army, soldiers could console themselves that the Army had not been defeated, even if the country was.
But if Summers says what you say he does, the Army IS the country, and soldiers much higher in rank than he had forgotten that. Men in green signed off on those decisions in Washington--as platoon commanders they would sacrificed their own lives to save their men; now they were unwilling to sacrifice a star.
That, or they were in need of schooling by Col. Tu.

Posted by: Steve Paradis on November 26, 2007 at 10:31 PM | PERMALINK

I mostly worked with Summers on the POW/MIA issue; he was a good man.

Steve -- you're full of shit. Have the wit to acknowledge when you've made a fool of yourself, and been called on it.

A less fact-challenged analogy for Afghanistan would have noted that in the American Revolution, we won with substantial (but not overwhelming) popular support and critical foreign alliances. The British lost key setpiece battles to us, both with foreign support, and before we had any worth counting -- artillery pieces at Ticonderoga, a whole army at Trenton, the South in the Carolinas, and finally the war itself at Yorktown.

We did not win our independence with guerilla warfare.

In Vietnam, the truth is, the American military pretty much crushed both the Viet Cong and the NVA from the beginning and throughout the conflict.

No serious scholar fails to recognize that the Viet Cong was essentially annihilated after Tet 1968, and in fact the Republic of South Vietnam did NOT fall to guerrilla forces in a civil war, but to a heavy army invasion from the North AFTER the US broke our word and left it defenseless in 1974. (Things were different in 1972. while the US was still providing ammunition and air cover. The ARVN managed to pull off a significant victory even after a crushing tactical setback in the Central Highlands: think about THAT sometime, cuz it ain't pretty.)

So ya gotta understand the basics before you can see Summers' point: Has is right, he wasn't saying we really "did" win the war. As you might expect from the second to last US Army officer to leave Saigon, Summers just understood HOW we lost -- which, evidently, you don't.

And lord! we could use folks who understand the basics now, in Afghanistan as well as Iraq.

Posted by: theAmericanist on November 26, 2007 at 10:50 PM | PERMALINK

Steve Paradis: ...if Summers says what you say he does, the Army IS the country, and soldiers much higher in rank than he had forgotten that...or they were in need of schooling by Col. Tu.

Yes. Although Summers' might have as equally stated that "the country IS the Army". Which in any case are two sides of the same coin, and which is the foundation of Clausewitz's (and Col. Summers') positions. That the exchange between Col. Summers and Col. Tu is so oft repeated--as if we need a constant reminder of such forgotten and hard-earned lessons--is both ironic and tragic.

Posted by: has407 on November 27, 2007 at 1:10 AM | PERMALINK

Yeah -- I think Has puts it more like Summers would have, that America doesn't have a military, America IS our military. It isn't a tool, it's an expression of ourselves.

There was a famous exchange (which should've caused him to run for President himself, dammit) between Colin Powell when he was Joint Chair and Madelynn Albright as Secretary of State: Powell was objecting to putting American forces in harms way as a "demonstration". Albright finally asked what is the point of having this powerful military if you never use it?

And Powell nearly had a stroke.

If you don't understand that story, well...

Posted by: theAmericanist on November 27, 2007 at 7:57 AM | PERMALINK

"We did not win our independence with guerrilla warfare."

Not sure if I said that anywhere; I thought my reference to Greene would be understood as a reference to the Fabian strategy he exemplified and which he adopted from Washington's strategy after 1776, in which the emphasis was on preserving the army and wearing down the enemy through time and attrition, giving battle only when no alternatives were present.

It's what the North Vietnamese did, and the Army's mistake may have been in thinking that the Viet Cong and the NVA were separate entities--the Viet Cong may have thought so, but the leadership in Hanoi did not, and that was how they prevailed. Hanoi's attitude towards the Viet Cong was almost precisely that of Wellington's about the Black Watch protecting a crossroads: "They won't run away, and it will take the French a long time to kill them all."

The Army's idea that they could fight a war of attrition against an enemy with a near-limitless hinterland of unsecured territory was the Marine complaint in the early 60's. While they do not seem to be repeating that mistake, they do not seem to be able to communicate to the public how such an anti-Fabian war is won--other than with bromides like "staying the course."

Posted by: Steve Paradis on November 27, 2007 at 9:19 AM | PERMALINK

Wow -- speaking as the resident epitome of arrogance (on purpose), that post was ... breathtaking, Steve.

You don't seem to GET it.

Posted by: theAmericanist on November 27, 2007 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

Its a virtual cinch that everybody who invades Afghanistan comes out losing. Its one of the surest bets in military history.
Mind you we could have beaten the odds had we not decided to open up a second front.
Come to think of it, maybe George Bush IS a little like Hitler!

Posted by: stonetools on November 27, 2007 at 8:39 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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