Monday, July 25, 2011

AFPak Attrition


The artful dodge of watching near field competitors, frenemies or enemies getting rubbed away or worn down by friction. A gradual diminution in their number, sheer power or strength.

Because of constant stress.  

Kinda like the near epic policy battles over AFPak betwixt the Counter You Know What approach posse and COIN and it was way more than style over substance

"...While it is true that an insurgent can use terrorist tactics, the differences between the two types of actors are significant. To begin with, insurgency has as its goal changing the whole regime which it targets, and has the capacity to do so thanks to mass mobilisation.

"...In contrast, terrorism is a weapon of weaker or more marginal groups, and usually tries to force an alteration in just one element of a regime, in just perhaps one policy (for example the Provisional IRA and autonomy for Northern Ireland). 

Essentially meaning that insurgers really want and sometimes can actually xform into the gov while terroristical creeps usually only want to change the attitude and behaviour of the gov mainly because they lack the abilities to build a 'counter state.'

All the cool kids know Great Satan's avuncular Veep was totally hot for Counter Terrorism. And constant stress wore down a lot of players:

The stakeholders who fought hard over which way to go on Afghanistan were akin to the top Strategic Command generals and Soviet experts in presidential administrations during the Cold War.

Who were they and where have they gone?

America's most famous general, P4- one of these policy gladiators recently 'strategically redeployed' to direct the Central Intelligence Agency where his attentions will be global and more broadly strategic than the policy silos he has been running. One of Petraeus' honest but least heard statements made when recommending the number of troops and duration of deployments to Afghanistan was that he was not taking into account the global strategic needs that the US faced elsewhere and that he was focused just on the AfPak challenge - devoid of the larger picture. That narrow clarity is now over for the general and largely neutralizes his definitive hold on America's Afghanistan policy.

But others who had power stakes on Afghanistan and who fought hard inside Washington for their piece of the action were General Jim Jones, national security adviser to President Obama; Defense Secretary Robert Gates; AfPak envoy Richard Holbrooke, General Stanley McChrystal, US Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry. Vice President Joe Biden too was a key force in the debate.

These were the players who skirmished and intrigued against each other building and breaking political alliances as some advocated a Taliban-conquering "all in" approach vs. those who believed America needed to narrow its objectives and not repeat history by doubling down endlessly in a Vietnam-like trap.

General Jones who at one point allied himself with Ambassador Karl Eikenberry to try and get Richard Holbrooke removed - which might have worked had draft letters between the men not leaked out - is no longer National Security Advisor and is now a senior fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center working on energy policy.

Defense Secretary Bob Gates has now stepped down, succeeded by Leon Panetta. Gates was remarkably successful at securing the resources and policy parameters on Afghanistan that his lead generals advised but then would give speeches at the Center for the National Interest criticizing over-militarizing our approach to the Afghanistan problem. Gates would say that there was no military solution to Afghanistan but of the resources we were committing to solve the problem, 99% was on the military side of the equation he would say -- and would underscore how short-sighted this was.

Richard Holbrooke died too young, his last words to his doctor, "you've got to end this war in Afghanistan." Holbrooke, who of all the key players, had the nightmare realities of Vietnam imprinted on to his DNA and who worked hard to prevent a recurrence of mistakes made in that war, nonetheless partly reflected the reality that the past had become the present. 

Stanley McChrystal's position collapsed when Rolling Stone correspondent Michael Hastings captured a culture of commentary in the command staff around McChrystal in Afghanistan that was disdainful of civilian authority, particularly of Vice President Biden. McChrystal was fired for the transgressions - though Obama has buffered the general's fall with a modest advisory post. McChrystal is returning the favor by allegedly telling a number of journalists that "no trust" exists any longer between the Pentagon's generals and those running the National Security Council. But McChrystal is no longer relevant to the AfPak beat.

Ambassador and former ISAF Commander General Karl Eikenberry has just stepped down from his post in Kabul - famous for leaked memos to the White House profiling Hamid Karzai's bipolar behavior and emotional meltdowns and his incredibly bleak reads on the performance of the government and armed forces of Afghanistan. Eikenberry, in a set of farewell interviews recently, takes pride in the "civilian surge" in Afghanistan and feels that he is leaving the war-torn nation better off than when he arrived - but bottom line is that he too is off the Afghanistan beat.

One might argue that there should be others on this list - perhaps Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, our National Security then deputies Tom Donilon or Denis McDonough. Mullen kept his powder dry on many of the AfPak battles . Hillary Clinton didn't seem to play a defining role other than ferociously protecting Holbrooke from his rivals - which was in fact an important assist. Donilon and McDonough intervened on the edges but facilitated the voices involved rather than defining an outcome, with the one famous exception that McDonough told the assembled team during the final phase of the strategic review that a proposal to the President that didn't have a withdrawal trigger date for the surge forces being committed wouldn't be acceptable.

The last one standing is Joe Biden - not because he is the Vice President, but because he has clung behind the scenes to his original position that the US needed to scale down its military and political objectives in Afghanistan while his rivals have fallen by the wayside or have been replaced by others in their roles with lesser stature.

Pic - "It was Marjah" - "No, it was after Marjah"


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