Friday, April 24, 2009


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.


  1. Gives credence to my argument a few years ago that it took a Republican to have the cajones to take out the Taliban and Hussein, but it would take a Democratic President to rebuild each country successfully...

  2. It's not about Democrat or Republican, and to make it about party affiliation is to miss the point entirely. It's about who you listen to and the team you assemble. Don't know if it's so much by design or by accident, but this team stands a chance. Bush was failed by the dinosaurs that were in place. Those dinosaurs failed to listen to men like Kilcullen, Nagl and Petraeus, and they reaped commensurate results. These were men who won the meeting engagement and lost the rest of it until lucking into Petraeus in Iraq.

  3. Understood, but to defend my point: Republican and Democratic Parties have very different philosophies about the use of coercion and punishment to achieve changes to an individual's or a group's attitudes and behavior. Conservative philosophies tend towards punitiveness and the clarity of meaning implied by coercion. Liberal attitudes emphasize reform and systemic changes to obtain changes in behavior. And those attitudes make up a vital normative aspect of how each party characterizes itself to the American people.

    it's just not a matter of being behind the times or forward-thinking, as many counter-insurgency tactics were developed decades if not a century ago.

  4. The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 04/24/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

  5. Blue, if you're optimistic then I'm optimistic. The previous two articles outlining the rot in the officer corps was disheartening to say the least.

    It took 5 years for Bush to brush aside those types of general officers who so fiercely opposed the very idea of COIN and embrace Petraeus and Kilcullen. Bush owned the surge. Petreaus prosecuted it.

    If Obama starts from that position then there is room for optimism indeed.

  6. I sure wish I could share your optimism but everytime I've looked under the bookcover of the "policies," the most I've found is lipservice.

    It started when I learned that Obama disrespected Karzai while the former was still on the campaign trail.

    It followed when I learned that he was trying to install a leader in Afghanistan to counterweigh him and that the administration was actively working against the elected leader of that ally.

    It worsened when I looked at the White House page for the policy a few weeks back and found NONE.

    I do *hope* you're right but I just don't see how he can formulate a winning strategy while hiding an $80+ billing dollar cut in defense budget, in transparency.

  7. Thanks for your thoughts, Blue. As long as he leaves these well-qualified gentlemen alone to do their job WITHOUT THE FEAR OF PROSECUTION for their actions at a later date, then I will be alright. As it stands, however, I have never in my life seen anyone so arrogant as to want to try the administration that was before them as badly as this Obama does. It does not bode well with me. I am in fear for our troops as well. He's going after them AGAIN...but if it is cool when he gets one thing right, then I'll give him kudos for that. I just won't be jumping up and down proclaiming that I was wrong in my assessment of the man...

  8. I too fear for the troops, or anyone who, in the course of their duties, has to do a tough job on top of worrying if he's going to be retroactively punished for it. The witchhunt is just beginning, and it will involve low- as well as high-level people. I'm just disappointed Gates hasn't been stronger in fighting for the troops, whether in the release of the memos and photos, or in reacting to the DHS memos on vets suspected of being "right wing" recruits.

    That said, RP, conservative philosophies are punitive? They merely begin from a realistic appraisal of what moves Man to act, and they build from there to balance individual freedom with society's needs. The utopian, coercive egalitarianism, imposed from on high, is on the left, not the right. But as BB says, it's not a party thing.


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