Ann Marlowe of the Hudson Institute considers "the war over the war" among Republicans sparked by Michael Steele, arguing we're due for a belated "reckoning" on controversial if prevailing counterinsurgency policy. She also cites recent comments by Newt Gingrich on the cultural disjunction between us and Afghans that is at the flawed heart of the matter.
Writing at the Daily Beast, Marlowe, who recently completed her sixth "embed" with American troops in Afghanistan, writes:
The former House Speaker cautioned that it wasn't quite so simple, saying that "counterinsurgency doctrine doesn't go deep enough for some place like Afghanistan. You're dealing with Afghan culture that is fundamentally different than us, in ways we don't understand."
Or won't understand beause it contradicts multicultural dogma on universalism.
I wish more Republicans would follow suit, neither claiming support for the war as a litmus test for Republican loyalty nor, like Steele, disowning the war as the Democrats' problem.
Patriotism means that we must support our troops while they're in Afghanistan—but not that we must agree that they should be there, or that they're doing the right things. There's nothing wrong with being a Republican and being deeply skeptical about our war strategy.
Many of the American soldiers I know in Afghanistan are themselves deeply skeptical of the American non-strategy. And many of these soldiers are Republicans. They often find themselves "enacting governance on the local level," in the words of Captain Mike Tumlin of the 82nd Airborne, trying to sideline or remove Afghan officials who steal from, or murder and rape the very people they're supposed to serve, only to see their hard and sometimes bloody work brought to naught by corrupt higher-ups in Kabul. They're not fighting for a good government against the evil Taliban, but for one evil against another.
Michael Steele was foolish to try to position Afghanistan as a Democratic mistake. But he is also wrong to believe Afghanistan was unwinnable from the start.
In his speech this week, Gingrich got to the heart of the problem. We've been applying counterinsurgency doctrine (and that haphazardly), assuming that the people are the center of gravity.
Or, as Gen. Petraeus put it in his Fourth of July message to military forces in Afghanistan, "the decisive terrain in Afghanistan is the human terrain."
Win the people over to support their government and you win the war. But if counterinsurgency is "a war of perceptions," to use a phrase favored by ousted General Stanley McChrystal, it behooves us to understand how Afghans perceive things.
As Newt says, we don't.
Or, again, we won't, fearing the PC consequences. Marlowe continues:
Many American observers were shocked when Dr. Abdullah Abdullah dropped out of the runoff election with President Hamid Karzai this November. It seemed irresponsible and wrong. But Afghan supporters of the opposition candidate—whom I admire—explained to me that in Afghan terms, a candidate who couldn't "protect" his supporters' votes was likely to lose their support. Even if Abdullah lost the second round because Karzai repeated his massive fraud, his supporters would blame him, just as an Afghan father might kill his daughter if she is raped, because that fact alone brings dishonor on the family.
We don't understand, and we may not be so good at predicting how the Afghans will respond to our actions.
Bingo. "Predicting how the Afghans will respond to our actions" -- just as predicting how the Iraqis will respond to our actions -- is the cracked keystone of COIN, the "prediction" our government has been staking the lives of our troops on, the gold of our treasury on and the well-being of our nation on for many years now. "Irresponsible" isn't the word for this see-no-Islam PC policy. In a better world, a Congressional investigation into who could have possibly signed off on the sheer lunacy of it all would be long overdue, as would be pink slips to Pentagon brass, and retirement to pliant yes-men civilian leaders.
We've spent $51.5 billion to date on the Afghan war, about four years' worth of that country's GDP—enough to give every Afghan $2,000 to $2,500. About half of our expenditure has gone to standing up the Afghan National Security Forces. That $25 billion also equals the entire Israeli defense budget for two years.
For what we've spent, we could have re-created the Israeli Army, Air Force and Navy in Afghanistan. Only we didn't. Instead, at enormous cost, we have fielded a marginally competent army and a barely capable police force, both of which lose between 25 percent and 70 percent of their men annually.
Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal recently reported that more than $3 billion has been openly flown out of Kabul Airport since 2007.
What we have in Afghanistan is a counterinsurgency strategy of tactics. COIN is a set of tactics: station your troops among the people, conduct a lot of meetings with tribal elders to find out what bribes they want, protect them from the insurgents, connect them with their officials—every private knows the mantra. But COIN is not a strategy.
Or, COIN is a bad strategy.
Strategy requires a political vision. Throughout history, counterinsurgency has barely worked when conducted by a government with substantial popular support.
Where is the historic model? I asked this question of COIN strategist Frederick Kagan back in March 2009 at a Washington conference that in many ways previewed the Obama administration war policy. At the time I wrote (in a column):
Onto Afghanistan, where we are told U.S. national security depends on denying sanctuary to Al Qaeda and related jihadists. Meanwhile, the world is riddled with jihadism in the form of active agents, sleeper cells, propagandists and sympathizers from the Bekaa Valley to Belgium, from Iran to London, from Saudi Arabia to South Florida. Nearly eight years after 9/11, the United States still has unsecured borders, but it is Afghanistan where we must establish security and clean government -- for our own good.
Why? Frederick Kagan said "we have to establish the legitimacy of the Afghan government (because) that's how you end an insurgency." John Nagl was more emphatic still, stating, "If we ever want to leave, we have to build an Afghan government that can accomplish those goals (of good government) on its own."
If we ever want to leave?
During a coffee break, I asked military historian Frederick Kagan whether there was any successful historical model for this strategy. Ticking off a few non-matches including the Boer War in South Africa, Malaya, and civil war in El Salvador, he, a little sheepishly, offered Iraq.
Iraq? Heaven help the United States.
Back to Marlowe, who writes:
It is much more of a challenge, when the government, like Karzai's, lacks almost all support.
Why should Republicans tolerate waste of our tax money, merely because it happens in Afghanistan? Exactly which Republican values do the Karzai brothers—merchants in drugs and explosives, skimmers of contracts and runners of protection rackets—exemplify? Why is it honorable for Republicans to sacrifice the best of our young people for a miserable kleptocracy?
Good questions. How about some answers?