Friday, June 5, 2009

Mambo # 3

Mambo #3: When you're a lousy analyst, out of your league and talking smack about things that you genuinely are clueless about, and you are called on it, backpedal. Though you have accused others of raising strawmen, admit to raising a strawman on a limited basis, but call it something else, like a "false choice." Claim you did it not because you are a lost ball in tall grass, but for effect. Subtly imply it's because your opponents are really the idiots, and so you had to go for theatrics, not having the ability to use sock puppets on teh internets.

He's getting his intellectual ass handed to him over at Abu Muqawama in the comments, but he's the smart guy.

Like a child with ADHD who's eaten sugary food late in the evening, Cohen just can't shut up. Even though he is ridiculously soft headed on the topic, he still claims to base things on "my analysis." Cohen's analysis of AfPak is about as strong as Nixon's memory, Clinton's monogamy, or Hitler's fondness for Gypsies. His reasoning amounts to proclaiming that it's about to rain because he's seen a duck, and the duck's water repellent qualities are there for a reason. That reason must be an imminent rain storm. He also describes Charlie "Let's forget the lessons of Iraq" Dunlap as "a wise man."

Basically, he thinks that anyone who opposes the application of COIN principles is a wise man. Again, his fear is that it will work, and will then become a cornerstone of national policy abroad. So, in the meantime, he tries to talk everyone out of using it, forecasting defeat. He claims that it is not in our strategic interests to stabilize the government of Afghanistan and that of Pakistan. He asserts that we should, in the next 12-24 months, kill as many Taliban and al Qaeda as we can and then pull out, sending instead a few civilians... not many, just what we can find and afford... to build schools and teach in them, plant daisies, drink chai and some other stuff like making paper dollies.

He then goes on to say that he's all on board with Obama's new plan by way of saying that Obama's on board with his plan...

And it seems that at least one important man agrees with me - Barack Obama. In March when he laid out the US mission for Afghanistan he articulated three clear objectives - the first two are below:

"I have already ordered the deployment of 17,000 troops that had been requested by General McKiernan for many months. These soldiers and Marines will take the fight to the Taliban in the south and east, and give us a greater capacity to partner with Afghan Security Forces and to go after insurgents along the border. This push will also help provide security in advance of the important presidential election in August.

At the same time, we will shift the emphasis of our mission to training and increasing the size of Afghan Security Forces, so that they can eventually take the lead in securing their country. That is how we will prepare Afghans to take responsibility for their security, and how we will ultimately be able to bring our troops home . . We will accelerate our efforts to build an Afghan Army of 134,000 and a police force of 82,000 so that we can meet these goals by 2011 - and increases in Afghan forces may very well be needed as our plans to turn over security responsibility to the Afghans go forward."

Here the President is laying out a very specific strategy for degrading the Taliban's capabilities and offers a very specific benchmark for training the Afghan security forces (two points that I have made repeatedly in my posts here).

All except for point number three, about the "civilian surge."

Now for the third part of the President's plan, which is a bit fuzzier and open to some interpretation:

"This push must be joined by a dramatic increase in our civilian effort. . . . To advance security, opportunity, and justice - not just in Kabul , but from the bottom up in the provinces - we need agricultural specialists and educators; engineers and lawyers. . . That is why I am ordering a substantial increase in our civilians on the ground. . .

We will work with local leaders, the Afghan government, and international partners to have a reconciliation process in every province. As their ranks dwindle, an enemy that has nothing to offer the Afghan people but terror and repression must be further isolated. And we will continue to support the basic human rights of all Afghans - including women and girls."

Now, here's the thing. I'm skeptical about this third part of the President's plan. First of all, we lack the civilian capacity to implement it (an assertion borne out by the fact that much of the civilian surge in Afghanistan is being carried out by the military). Second, I for one am unconvinced that it falls within America's national interests. Third, I think "a reconciliation process in every province" is unrealistic. But it bears noting that the President is a lot less specific about this part of the plan than he is first two parts. And, if the President's first two goals are met (degrading the Taliban and improving the Afghan security services), I would imagine there would be some incentive to jettison the more amorphous third part and get the hell out of Dodge.


Yep, we do lack the civilian capacity. I know that the administration is attempting to build that capacity. As a matter of fact, they are looking to attract National Guardsmen to tap their civilian skills as part of this "surge." Don't know how that's going to work out. Also don't know how many daisy eaters are going to volunteer to join up and put their butts where their little daisy munchers are. It's always a lot harder to do things than to say them, though. I got into a bit of a tiff with a peacenik recently who advocated pulling out all of the troops and replacing them with teachers. I told her that she should go. "Oh, no," she said quickly, "we just organize and advise government on our issues. We don't actually go overseas."

Uh... yeah. Okay. Patriots all. Hey, you don't have to carry a weapon to be a patriot... got that... but the moniker wears thin pretty quick, doesn't it? Real patriots do something. There's an old saying, "Don't confuse meetings with actually performing work." I think that it could be extended to, "Don't confuse 'organizing' with actually accomplishing anything." Come on, lady... put your butt in The Stan and show us how it's done!

Or, you can just shut up. That part's safer. It's tons more comfortable, too. You still get cable TV, soy lattes and organic whatever-you-want down at the hippymart. She will do neither. She will continue to make noise and "organize," and Cohen will continue to "analyze," and they are both just gongs in the wilderness, signifying nothing.

As Cohen goes on to explain how the most powerful man in the world has cleverly laid out a strategy that means, "Joe Biden is the smartestest man in the whole wide world," he admits confusion. Cohen senses the disconnect. He thought that the first two parts meant, "Judge, I wanna kill, kill, kill..."

He thought we were on our way to the Group W bench. He figured that Part Three stuff was just window dressing that we were never going to fulfill, anyway... and that the President could be talked out of when he saw how hard it was.

Suddenly he senses that somethings gone horribly awry... but he can't admit to himself the awful truth.

Now whether you agree or don't agree, something here doesn't smell right. Either President Obama is misleading the American people about his true strategy in Afghanistan or Lt General McCrystal is preparing to carry out an approach there that is decisively more population-focused and less military-centric than what the President described in March.


(This is the moment in the old cartoons when Elmer Fudd realizes that Bugs Bunny actually handed him a bomb. It's the old "Warner Bros Moment of Clarity.")

So, Mr. Cohen, you're confused. Your suddenly worried that the President has no idea what his pick for Commander in Afghanistan is really up to. You raise the insidious thought that perhaps the President himself actually misled the American people. Could it be that you were misled? Could it be that you misled yourself? Perhaps that's because, oh, I don't know... perhaps it's because the President said we're going to do COIN and you thought you heard what YOU wanted to hear!

Could it be that you can barely even spell COIN, and you don't know a COIN strategy when it's laid out in broad terms for you????

In the immortal words of Bugs Bunny, "What a maroon!"


  1. The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 06/05/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

  2. What sort of civilian professional involvement do we really want? I'm struck by this conversation you had about teachers. I'm a peacenick type, but even I thought that commetn about sending teachers over there was absurd. I'm heartened by your comment that the administration is attempting to recruit specialized skills through the Guard. Is there another alternative? Based on what I've read here and from other sources, what seems to be required is not just bodies, but people with unique skills and high committment. We have that in the military, but the skills and manpower are limited. I wonder if maybe we should consider a program other than the Guard and the regular service to build a civilian source of unique talent that would support the COIN effort in Afghanistan. Maybe they already are, but I was curious about how these gaps would be filled.

  3. Hebisner, who do you think the Guard is filled with, some kind of unskilled lowlifes? I certainly hope not. They have teachers, lawyers, police officers, construction workers, CPA's, football players, housewievs, etc. They are CIVILIANS. They are known as the National Guard because they serve their own State. They meet twice a year for a week (I think) and practice twice a month on the weekends (again, I think). Other than that, they go about their lives and work at their jobs. These are the MOST skilled, as are our NAVY, ARMY, MARINES, AIR FORCE, etc. Please don't consider them less than you. You would be sorely mistaken.

    Dear Old Blue,
    I love the way you smack down Cohen. You did it in such a way that takes him into woodshed, back out again, and all the way around it. Very sweet. :)


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