By Stanford Matthews
This blogger regularly albeit infrequently promotes reading George F Will’s columns. That remains. Similar to a previous misunderstood column criticizing the way Americans present themselves Mr Will may or is again coming under fire to some degree. It is unpopular in conservative circles to suggest abandoning military combat operations before victory is secured. But George F Will does make a point, unpopular or not. And he may end up being right but not necessarily for the reasons given below.
Counterinsurgency theory concerning the time and the ratio of forces required to protect the population indicates that, nationwide, Afghanistan would need hundreds of thousands of coalition troops, perhaps for a decade or more. That is inconceivable.
So, instead, forces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent Special Forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters.
Genius, said de Gaulle, recalling Bismarck’s decision to halt German forces short of Paris in 1870, sometimes consists of knowing when to stop. Genius is not required to recognize that in Afghanistan, when means now, before more American valor, such as Allen’s, is squandered.
For several reasons this blog disagrees with the last two sentences presented above. You can of course make your own evaluation. Another opinion on this topic is at the WSJ.
The questions and concerns being raised are legitimate. Clearly, the mission has not been going well. Problems with our basic strategy, especially on the economic and development side, still need immediate attention. Moreover, our Afghan friends have a crucial role to play in both security and development, and if they fail to do so the overall warfighting and state-building effort will not succeed.
Both with Mr Will and the WSJ piece from a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution (O’Hanlon), the downside is discussed. The WSJ piece includes the upside.
These problems need to be corrected soon. Even then, it will take at least 12-18 months to see results. Our chief challenge in Afghanistan is building state institutions and that is an inherently slow process. But as we debate new changes to our strategy this fall, we would do well to remember all that is working in our favor in this crucial effort.
Analyzing armed conflict while it is occurring and from an historical perspective is an unending endeavor. The only decisive outcome is whether those who risk making the ultimate sacrifice were at least allowed every conceivable opportunity for victory. After all, for the rest of us this analysis endeavor is merely Monday quarterbacking.
Perhaps the only statement on war with which we can all agree includes some expression of its futility. But this is what humans do when adequately provoked or someone decides all other options have evaporated. Until we morph into the perfect beings we sometimes think we are this practice will not become obsolete.