Thursday, June 4, 2009

There Is A Word In English For Being Compelled By Fear

Michael Cohen is at it again, trying to tear away at the War in Afghanistan, selecting seemingly random information and using it out of context to support his fear-driven position. He is afraid that if we succeed in COIN in Afghanistan, it will become a cornerstone of American foreign policy. We have a word for actions that are driven primarily by fear: cowardice. Michael Cohen's writings concerning Afghanistan and counterinsurgency are the most cowardly things you are likely to find in print this week.

First of all, we don't all agree that we're engaged in a counter-insurgency in Afghanistan. Indeed, I'm pretty sure President Obama would not agree that we are engaged in a full-fledged counter-insurgency campaign. (Perhaps COIN-lite or Skim COIN).

Huh? We are fighting against insurgents in Afghanistan. That means that we are countering insurgents. That means counterinsurgency. What the hell does he think that we're fighting? Whether or not we are doing it well is open to discussion... and I frequently do... but contending that it is not counterinsurgency is absolutely ridiculous. It's the type of outlandish stuff that a coward would utter to back up his reason for running away from whatever threat he may find.

The fact is that the new strategy for Afghanistan announced less than two months ago lays out more of a counterinsurgency than we've actually performed in the past seven years. I didn't see Cohen arguing that Afghanistan wasn't a counterinsurgency two years ago. Cohen's analysis starts out with this ridiculous assertion and goes generally downhill from there. It is the rhetoric of desperation and fear. When called on this fact over at Abu Muqawama, Cohen states his fear of success clearly:

"look COIN works - let's do it elsewhere"

This is his greatest fear, and what drives his analysis. It's the most clearly you will ever really get him to state his fear. This is what beats in the heart of the coward. He's afraid, and it drives his thoughts and his actions.

Cohen later follows up Chris Mewitt's question of what objection he's using to reason against COIN with this:

To answer your question Chris, both. It doesn't work and it's bad policy. But if you don't show that it doesn't work - it will become policy.

Notwithstanding the fact that as a military analyst he is completely unskilled, but he attempts it to avoid his phobia... that COIN will become a cornerstone of American foreign policy, by misusing worn-out talking points about Iraq; discounting the effects of the surge as having any influence on the outcome there. Half-informed twisting of that history may sound like informed analysis to those who wish to believe such fallacies, but each has his or her own reason for wishing to believe. Generally, the motives for wanting to believe such a version is self-serving. Self-serving analysis is just as flawed as fear-based (or cowardly) analysis; just as intellectually dishonest.

Cohen then answers Abu M's post with an even more ridiculous and poorly constructed argument, claiming that Exum countered his post poorly; which is just silly. Cohen spews a load of hurt feelings all over his site. It's really not hard to insult the man. Cohen is not only compelled by his phobia into blundering into an area where he is truly ill-equipped, but he is very thin-skinned.

What Cohen fails to realize is that his proponency of failure is in direct opposition to the national security of the United States. Note the International Crisis Groups's evaluation of the results of failure or premature withdrawal from Afghanistan in their April report. It is simple, it is concise, and it is, to my understanding, accurate.

Withdrawing international troops with the threat that any regrouping of jihadis or al-Qaeda can be countered by air power and special forces would simply return the country to the control of jihadis. Air power has not proven successful against insurgents or terrorist bases. Neglect would allow the region to descend into further chaos, as it did in the 1990s.

Cohen advocates doing what even the Brussels-based peace advocacy says should not be done, and advocates against what even they say should be done. History will prove Mr. Cohen to be a very flawed thinker. Those who are driven by fear usually are. Now, Mr. Cohen will object to this characterization of his position, but I'm standing by it and I believe that it will be borne out by the events of the future.

Mr. Cohen also describes himself as a warrior, and yet nothing in his bios that I can find online mention military service in any way. Just giving yourself the title of warrior just because you feel like it is like proclaiming yourself a Ranger and tossing a tab on your shoulder without ever having gone to Ranger School. Whatever, Michael. I'll humor you the same way that I humor a child with a nerf gun who pretends he is a warrior. "Sure, Mikey. You're a warrior, and a tough one, too. Here's a cookie. Go have fun!"

But we really know that people who are motivated by fear are not warriors. Warriors experience fear, but they think and act in spite of it, not because of it. No, Cohen is not a warrior. Calling himself one is absurd. It would be insulting to real warriors if it wasn't so ludicrous.

What continuously slays me about Cohen is that he totally misses which side his bread is buttered on. The civilian capacity-building capabilities that are necessary for success in the counterinsurgency in Afghanistan are exactly the types of capabilities that Mr. Cohen advocates as some primary tools of foreign policy. Afghanistan gives us the strong motivation and the proof to develop such capabilities. Mr. Cohen's disconnect from reality is that developing such capabilities and employing them before insurgencies develop, or early in them, could help prevent such conflicts and/or involvements in the future. Afghanistan gives us the interest and motivation to actually develop such capabilities as part of the counterinsurgency, giving us skilled civilian government employees with experience in such matters. This expertise, developed in war, could help prevent war elsewhere. By arguing against COIN, Cohen weakens his own advocacy. His unreasoning fear, peeking out from behind really poor analysis, is really shooting himself in the foot.

Trying to refute what has obviously become more of a counterinsurgency than it has been in the past seven years as being not a counterinsurgency or "COIN-lite or Skim COIN" blah blah blah is just ridiculous. More really poor analysis. By setting up such obvious straw men, nobody who knows anything follows him any further. Cohen's advocacy for the civilian capacity-building, which would be really good foreign policy that helps to avoid military involvement in COIN in the future, suffers as a result.

Cohen is his own worst enemy. He's not doing the rest of us any favors, either.


  1. Quibble: you use the word "warrior" as synonymous with "soldier", but there is a second definition that is correct, the figurative definition of one who simply acts with great courage or against great odds. I would argue that Thomas Paine or Thomas Jefferson, men who risked death but were not soldiers, were warriors of a kind. Modern activists who risk jail or being tear gassed or whatever might be misguided, wrong, dangerous, or whatever, but they are still showing great courage.

    I wouldn't make the same argument about Mr. Cohen, who risks nothing, but I wanted to make the point in a general sense. The definition he means to use does exist... it just doesn't apply to him.

  2. While it is true that I am using the strict definition of "warrior," we are discussing a war, where the strict definition of "warrior" is more than apropos. It is times like these that demonstrate the difference between the strict definition of "warrior" and the broader usage, which an allusion to the strict definition, and is designed to provide honor and denote ferocity to those engaged in non-combat struggles.

    No, Cohen is not a warrior. He risks nothing except the failure of his proponency, which his lousy logic brings him closer to.

  3. I hesitated to comment, but of course here I am doing it anyway.

    Reading what he wrote -- and I went and read him first and then came back and read yours -- I feel, my opinion now, that he just put a bunch of "stuff" -- comments, hearsay, talk, whatever you want to call it -- into one lump that basically says to me, we can't win, give it up, Afghanistan ain't worth it.

    But I really don't see it as a deeply political, military insight, his beliefs for the war type of thing. Perhaps I'm wrong. But it came across as something rather thrown together, a quick review with some key phrases tucked in that he picked up other places.

    Meaning that I, personally, don't give it a lot of credence.

  4. The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 06/04/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.


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