Say what you will about the Obama administration's domestic policies, which this blog is not about, nor will it ever be. Somehow or other, they have managed to put together the dream team on Afghanistan and Pakistan. They have listened to them in forming the new "AfPak Policy," and when you see such men as David Kilcullen testifying before the House Armed Services Committee and hear the things that they are saying... and being taken mui seriously... there is room for hope.
Even though the "new policy" appears to back away from nation-building, it holds more hope for success in and for AfPak than what we've been doing in the past. The "surge" may or may not be a wonderful thing in Afghanistan. It depends on whether the troops are used properly, but if GEN Petraeus pushes his authority and begins to be ruthless with commanders about enforcing a standard of counterinsurgent achievement, it will much more helpful than harmful. I'd like to quote an email from my friend and fellow blogger Vampire 6 here regarding the counterinsurgent behaviors versus words he finds in field grade officers in Afghanistan, but I didn't ask for permission. Suffice it to say that there is a significant variance. Of course, that is only the military side of the question.
What is even more encouraging is the recognition of the importance of the civilian/economic aspects to stabilizing the societies of both Afghanistan and Northwest Pakistan. This war is about society and its conditions in both areas, really. The insurgency will never be resolved through killing bad guys exclusively. While we should never shy away from killing bad guys, an exclusive quest for kinetic engagements is a great way to fail at COIN. While this causes many military listeners to shut down completely (a symptom of the problem we have in successfully implementing COIN doctrine tactically,) the more military leaders can hear that message and understand the linkage, the more success we will find. Each one who "gets it" is then capable of making a difference in their discrete area of operations. All politics is local, and as these discrete areas come under the influence of leaders who are making a difference, the balance will start to swing.
It starts at the top. While today's hearings are only one day's hearings, the momentum towards an effective application of national abilities in the pursuit of sane and rational foreign policy objectives is mounting. I see wicked smart people being listened to at the highest levels, and this is extremely encouraging. Nobody is perfect, and just like a sports team on game day, we play with the team we have. President Bush went to war with a team that had never anticipated or trained for, and had a policy of stringent avoidance of, irregular warfare. He had a Secretary of Defense who was more interested in showing off the conventional primacy of the our nation by beating Iraq's military with one hand tied behind our backs, totally missing the larger picture. He had officers who had never seriously contemplated the challenges of counterinsurgency and an Army and Marine Corps without a relevant doctrine. It took the Bush administration's Army and Marine Corps over five years after the start of hostilities to publish the relevant doctrine, and there are still traditionalist dinosaurs who resist the promulgation of the only doctrine that has a hope of succeeding against an insurgency, which is not AirLand Battle Doctrine, but Counterinsurgency Doctrine.
These are our cavemen. If GEICO were to make doctrine commercials, the slogan would have to be, "COIN; So difficult a caveman can't do it."
There is a saying that one good way to discredit a good idea is to execute it poorly, and as has been pointed out in two recent posts, we have an Officer Corps rife with those who wish to refuse the mission. These leaders will use all the right buzzwords and then proclaim the failure of a doctrine which is not really applied, but instead merely parroted. If the mounting momentum towards an actual integrated policy such as the one being developed by the Obama administration continues, we may yet see the ruthless weeding out of such officers from the ranks and the furtherance of a corps of leaders who have the mental and professional flexibility to actually practice what is being preached.
Hell, they may even start teaching COIN Doctrine to NCO's in their professional education, bringing the Backbone of the Army into play. Training your troops to execute the doctrine you need to win? What a concept.
Domestic policy will never be the subject of this blog. But it would be a kick in the head if President Obama, who was expected to be a domestic policy wonk and never a foreign policy success, actually brings success not only in Afghanistan but the region. The team he has assembled has advocated a plan to do this through the proper and synergistic use of the military and civilian power of the United States to achieve excellent results. The team he has assembled are, without a doubt, world class. There is room for optimism.