Archive for September, 2009

The Long Road Ahead in Afghanistan, V

Posted in Afghanistan, Afghanistan War with tags , on September 30, 2009 by whatafteriraq

Assume for argument’s sake that the war in Afghanistan can be “won”: objectives can be formulated that are acceptable to all parties and through a combination of political and military actions, the opposition can be vanquished. If the war is won, however, will the peace be won or lost?

For the postwar peace to be one in which the Better State Of the Peace is not only initially achieved but sustained, Afghanistan must become a better place for Afghans, so they will transfer their loyalty to the new status quo represented in the American and Afghan government BSOP. The reason for such a sustained transfer of allegiance has to be based on the perception of the Afghans–and especially those who have not previously supported the government–that their lives are better under the regime than before (or under that proposed by the insurgents). If that occurs, there is a reasonable chance (but no certainty) that peace may “break out;” without it, the BSOP is likely to be simply an interlude in the fighting.

The nub of the problem is what is sometimes called “nation-building,” but is more properly called state building (since that term refers to the government and supporting structures). What this means is that a new government must be visibly superior to that before the insurgency, both in terms of governmental performance and improvement in the general conditions of life in the country.

In the case of a post-insurgency country, the building of a better state begins with several built-in disadvantages. The first is its own legacy: as noted in other parts of this series, there would probably not have been an insurgency had the government been praiseworthy in the first place. Indeed, the legacy of the Afghan government is one of considerable corruption, maldistribution of what little wealth exists, authoritarianism, rural-urban split, and a variety of other reasons people have opposed it. Before any loyalty is likely to be transferred to a new post-insurgency government that has elements of the old regime at its core, the people must be convinced that the “new” government is a considerable improvement over the old. In the case of Afghanistan, the probable core must be the perception that the regime is not anti-Pashtun.

There is also the legacy of the war itself. Going back to the Soviet invasion of 1979, Afghanistan has been more or less constantly at war for thirty years today, and some years will of combat will be added before the BSOP is reached. Warfare takes its human and physical tolls, and the amount of post-war rehabilitation and reconstruction that will be needed will be enormous under the best of circumstances. Afghanistan was and is a very poor and extremely underdeveloped place, and this is a two-edged sword: on one hand, there was less to destroy than in a more developed place; on the other, the agenda of needed change is more extensive than in a place that was better developed in the first place.

The state-building process will be extremely difficult. Its bottom line must be an Afghanistan where there is hope and a sense of a better state of life for the citizens. The problem is what that means in a strictly Aghan sense. The agenda is both uncertain and extensive.

Start with a rejoinder. Although the conditions in Afghanistan are admittedly deplorable, the measures by which that misery are described are almost certainly suspect. The CIA World Factbook description of the Afghan population serves as a shocking warning. Until very recently, most sources have listed the Afghan population at a little over 33 million, but recently the estimate has been revised downward to something over 28 million, a drop of around five million or about 16 percent. Why? According to the Factbook, “the previous estimate…was extrapolated from the last Afgham census held in 1979, which was never completed because of the Soviet invasion; a new Afghan census is scheduled to take place in 2010.” In other words, the figures on which all per capita estimates about Afghanistan are based come from admittedly flawed 30-year-old data that are to be updated next year in the middle of an ongoing war. Does this inspire confidence in any statistical representation of the Afghan condition?

State building must be underpinned by economic development, and the prospects are grim. Only 28 percent of the population is literate, as measured by 8 years of education. That provides a limit on the kinds of productive activity in which the country can engage. After poppies, the largest exports of the country are hand-woven rugs and textiles, the most primitive forms of manufacture. About 80 percent of the population is engaged in agriculture, mostly subsistance agriculture, while 10 percent are involved in industry and 10 percent in service activities.

The transportation and communications infrastructure are similar. Afghanistan has 14 airports with paved runways (the figure for the United States is 14,951). There are 7,719 miles of paved roads in a country the size of Texas compared with 2,631,246 miles in the US. Afghanistan has 27 radio stations and 7 television stations. There are approximately 5.4 million cell phones in operation, compared to 255 million in the US.

The misery level in human terms is even great. The life expectancy of Afghans is slightly less than 45 years. Per capita GDP is $700, which ranks it 219th in the world and compares to $46,900 for Americans. The unemployment rate is estimated at 40 percent. In 2003, the last year for which statistics were apparently available, 53 percent of the population lived below the poverty line. The atstistics go on and on; the reader gets the picture.

The process of even beginning to transform this situation is daunting, to say the least, and must be put in context. Within the educational levels, for instance, males are much more likely to have an eighth-grade education than females, 43.1 percent to 12.6 percent. Effectively, this means half the population (women) are locked out of the economic system, but it is not clear that many Afghans, for cultural reasons, want that to change.

It is also clear that it is not entirely certain that we know what we want to do about all this. The commitment to transforming Afghan society into something else will clearly be another part of the very long road ahead in Afghanistan, and the outcomes are neither certain nor entirely predictable. In those circumstances, what should the United States do? Given the constraints on the current era, what can the United States afford to do? What levels will the American people support?

The answers to these questions are not certain, but it is probably necessary to determine them. If the United States will not commit itself to a massive rebuilding of Afghanistan after it wins the war, it will likely lose the peace and see much of the BSOP dissolve before its eyes. If that is the case, then should the effort be undertaken in the first place?

All of the questions raised in the five installments of this series have serious implications for the ongoing American effort. While these articles were being written, General Stanley McChrystal has returned to the United States with a new assessment of what is needed in Afghanistan. In the next posting, those requests will be analyzed in terms of the framework described here.

The Long Road Ahead in Afghanistan, IV

Posted in Afghanistan, Afghanistan War, Current Events in Iraq, Iraq War with tags , , , , , , on September 22, 2009 by whatafteriraq

The military dimension of the counterinsurgency in Afghanistan requires establishing a high enough degree of security in the country that the Afghan people will transfer their loyalty away from the Taliban (or will feel adequately unthreatened by the likelihood of a Taliban return to express opposition to the insurgents). As noted in a previous posting (“The Afghan ‘New Math'”), the prospects are daunting because of the size of the force necessary to secure and protect the entire Afghan population (a force in the range of 650,000 ocunterinsurgents). Current plans and projections call for a force around half that size that includes a quarter million Afghan troops and over 100,000 police the source of which is unclear. The result currently is a mission-force mismatch that can only be resolved if one assumes that only about half the population needs securing. That possibility is never publicly discussed, but since the Pashtuns make up about half the Afghan population and are the support base for the Taliban, a security strategy aimed at the Pashtun areas would at least match force size to mission. Whether it would successfully pacify Afghanistan is a separate question.

A sustainable COIN strategy must go beyond merely beating down insurgent forces to the point that they no longer pose a physical menace. Doing so (which is no small task) can leave a political vacuum where the only source of authority may the occupation forces posted as a barrier to the return and reimposition of authority by the insurgents. The occupiers, especially when they are foreigners as in Afghanistan, may provide the shield behind which positive development can occur in the battle for the hearts and minds of men. They cannot, however, carry out the political role of loyalty transfer to the counterinsurgency. Only the indigenous population can perform that role, and if those who support the counterinsurgency cannot gain the people’s trust and support, the counterinsurgency is likely doomed to fail to achieve its political objectives.

As FM-3-24 points out (and as quoted in the last posting), success in COIN occurs “when the populace consents to the government’s legitimacy and drops actively and passively supporting the insurgency.” This construction depicts the task in reverse chronological order: before the populace can be attracted to support for the government, its ties to the insurgency must first be severed. This construction also obliquely admits the major barrier the counterinsurgency faces: a set of initial political perceptions that does not favor the counterinsurgents.

The point is obvious but cannot be overstated. Insurgencies neither rise or prosper to the point that they tthreaten a government if that government clearly deserves support. Insurgencies arise when people are discontented with governance, which they perceive as dishonest, unjust, corrupt, prejudicial against their group, or otherwise unattractive and undeserving of their support. Insurgents may–and do–accentuate and even distort the sins of the government and use force–including terror–to enforce disloyalty to the government and reinforce the appearence of support for the insurgency, and supporters of the counterinsurgency will latch onto these aspects of the insurgent campaign in order to provide a rationale for their own actions.

The simple point is that insurgencies arise because there are political problems that some members of society conclude can only be rectified by forcefully removing and replacing the government. If the insurgency survives and prospers, that in turn suggests that their message must resonate with at least part of the population. Thus, the COIN calculus must start from the recognition that there is a serious political problem that must be addressed and solved in order for the effort to succeed,

This political dimension of COIN is likely to be underestimated by a potential outside force, as are the possibilities of solving it. No country (including the United States) can long justify intervening on behalf of a government it finds reprehensible and maintaining the illusion that such a government is praiseworthy and deserving of continued support and sacrifice. Such a justification is easiest if the government being helped is (or appears to be) virtuous as seen through the eyes (and in terms of the values) of the outsider.  From an American viewpoint, this translates into political leaders and values that are western and pro-democratic. The espousal of values and appearances that please the outsider may, however, be quite irrelevant toand even be offensive to the indigenous population. It has always struck me, for instance, that the excellent English that Hamid Karzai speaks undoubtedly enhances American support for him and his regime, but is irrelevant and possibly offensive to most rural Afghans (especially Pashtuns), who see it as further evidence he is part of the corrupt Kabul-based elite against whom they are fighting.

If the government is both corrupt and venal, the problem is even worse, because that government may learn how to manipulate the outsider to its own narrow advantage in ways that actually worsen the prospects for the COIN effort and implicate the outsider in its venality. The case of South Vietnam’s Ngo Dinh Diem comes to mind. Once the United States committed to buttressing Diem’s regime, the South Vietnamese president came to realize that the stake the U.S. developed in him made it impossible for the Americans to dump him. As a result, Diem concluded that he could ignore well-intentioned American advice to reform his practices to gain more popular support, because to punish him the United States would have to admit implicitly it had made a mistake backing him in the first place. The result was that American influence over Diem actually decreased, as did its ability to affect the political dimension of the counterinsurgency. This dynamic may also be at work in Iraq, whwere the American ability to influence the al-Maliki regime as steadily decreased over time.

Iraq also demonstrates another political dilemma acssociated with outside intervention in internal wars. The dilemma is this: outside intervention may be critical in avoiding the military success of the insurgency (South Vietnam would almost certainly have fallen in 1965 without American intervention), but the contionued presence of the outsider may make the COIN politically more problematical. This is true for at least two related reasons. First, the interveners are, after all, foreigners, and their presence serves as a rallying cry for the insurgents, who will promise to drive them out. Second, the association of the government with the outsiders is politically debilitating, because it allows insurgents to portray the regime as hapless incompetents who could not survive without the outsiders and as indigenous quislings beholden to the outsiders. It is not clear how, or if, an outsider can balance the positive military impact of its intervention with the corrosive political impact of its continued presence, or how the indigenous government can avoid being fatally tainted by its collaboration with the occupiers. Al Maliki is struggling with this problem, and Karzai undoubtedly will in the future.

The political battle to establish “legitimae authority” is thus a very difficult problem that tends to get downplayed in the desperate military struggle for control. The point is that the counterinsurgents enter the competition on this dimension with some disadvantages, including perceived shortcomings that were among the reasons for the insurgency in the first place. The presence of outside forces may exacerbate rather than helping the political situation. These perverse dynamics extend to the problems associated with the post-insurgent period if the COIN succeeds. These are the subject of Part V.

The Long Road Ahead in Afghanistan, III

Posted in Afghanistan, Afghanistan War with tags , , on September 18, 2009 by whatafteriraq

Assuming the counterinsurgent partners (in this case, the Afghan and American governments) can agree on a desired outcome that consititutes its version of the better state of the peace (BSOP), the next question is how to achieve that condition? This means determining what political and military conditions must exist to be able to declare the counterinsurgency a “success,” and thus the effort to have attained “victory.” The key terms here have been put in quotation marks because neither is as intuitively obvious as is sometimes supposed in the political debate.

The goals agreed upon supposedly provide the central direction for the coinsurgency (COIN) effort. A good political objective (or goal) will provide both adequate guidance for those eeeking to achieve it and a rallying cry for popular support of the war effort, and especially its military dimension. That seems obvious enough on the face of it, but in fact, translating the objective into a COIN strategy that can succeed is more difficult than a simple construction suggests, for at least four possible reasons.

First is the problem of conflicting goals. As noted in the last posting, the US and the Afghans may indeed have very different acceptable outcomes that may lead to different means to achieve them. What, for instance, should happen to the Taliban? Are they to be defeated or destroyed? Accommodated into a new government? Or coopted into opposing Al Qaeda? Each outcome may lead to different approaches to “victory,” since victory is defined differently depending on the outcome desired.

Second, the goals may too ambiguous to be translated into a coherent COIN military and political strategy. The current American goal, for instance, has much more to do with neutralizing an opponent, Al Qaeda, that is not even meaningfully present in Afghanistan, where the war is being conducted. What does the goal of disupting Al Qaeda tell the military to do?

Third, the goals may be impossible to achieve. In Afghanistan, for instance, there is a long and well publicized history of foreign invaders entering that country, trying to reshape it to some image they have, and ultimately retiring in defeat or disgrace. Likewise, the United States apparently wants an outcome that includes a strong Afghan central government that will resist the return of Al Qaeda. But Afghanistan has never really had such a government for any sustained time. Exactly what are we supposed to do to reverse these two historical facts is not entirely clear.

Fourth, the means available may be inappropriate to the goals being pursued. As government experts will quickly acknowledge, the heart of a successful COIN effort involves both political and military activity aimed at weaning those parts of the population currently loyal to (or at least not opposed to) the Taliban to switch sides. Such a conversion would logically seem to fall to the Afghans themselves, but it is a task which the United States must currently shoulder. Can this possibly work? One particularly egregious example was made public in mid-September 2009, when the Americans announced that it would create a command to recruit native Afghan security forces that would be commanded by a three-star American or NATO (it was not clear which) general. Huh?!

A successful COIN strategy, of course, must contain both military and political dimensions, and the two are intimately related to one another. This is simply a part of the dynamics of insurgent warfare, and it creates particular unique characteristics for this kind of war. The heart of the matter is that insurgent wars are about gaining control of the common Center of Gravity in the country–that which is crucial to success. In this case, the center of gravity is the loyalty of the population, and both sides must compete for it. Part of the competition is military–one side appearing to defeat the other militarily and thus be seen as the winning side. Part of it is political, trying to appear more appealing than the enemy.

In practice, a major result is that military actions have a much more direct political impact than in non-insurgent warfare (i.e. interstate war), and combatants must weigh the military advantages of any action against possible adverse political effects. The American policy of bombing suspected Taliban strongholds is a particularly poighnant case in point. While such attacks may kill important Taliban, they also almost invariably also create casualties among the civilian population, and it is rarely the case that victims of bombings reward their bombers with political loyalty.

Within the military dimension of COIN, there can be two basic objectives: attrition and security. A strategy of attrition is aimed at killing the maximum number of enemy combatants, with the goal of attriting them to the point they can no longer be effective. The problem with attrition, as Admiral Mullen has put it, is that the Taliban has an “apparently inexhaustible” supply of recruits (which says something very important about the political battle for the country) and thus can replace fallen warriors as fast as they are “attrited” (indeed, since actions intended to kill the enemy also sometimes include killing civilians, those actions may stimulate recruitment).

A policy of attrition has been rejected by the US military as counterproductive. In the words of FM 3-24 (the Counterinsurgency Field Manual), it posits that “Sometimes, the more force is used, the less effective it is,” because “the more force applied, the greater the chance of collateral damage and mistakes.” Moreover, strategies of attrition may simply cause the insurgents to adapt their tactics to avoid attempts to isolate and extinguish them.

A strategy based in providing security has thus been adapted. Indeed, the basic definition of success in FM 3-24 reflects this position: “Victory is achieved when the populace consents to the government’s legitimacy and stops actively and passively supporting the insurgency.” The victor, in other words, is whoever wins Lynodon Johnson’s “battle for the hearts and minds of men.”

The problem is how to achieve that security, which is at the heart of the current controversy over whether to increase troops and other resources to Afghanistan. As FM 3-24 points out, it is a difficult task. “Maintaining security in an unstable environment requires vast resources. In contrast, a small number of highly motivsted insurgents with simple weapons, good operations security, and even limited mobility can undermine security over a large area.” Keeping people safe, in other words, is harder than making them feel unsafe, which is a fundamental advantage the insurgents have. If one is looking for personal example, contrast the US goverment’s attemptsd to keep Americans feeling safe against terrorists with the relative economy of Al Qaeda threats to us.

The implications of this asymmetry confound the problem faced by those tryint to implement a COIN strategy. For one thing, it requires a sustained commitment  to the operation. In FM 3-24’s own words, “successful COIN operations require a high ration of security forces to the protected population (20 soldiers for every 1,000 in the population). For that reason, protracted COIN operations are hard to sustain.”

The very difficult task of maintaining support for a protracted COIN is at the heart of the dilemma facing supporters of the American effort in Afghanistan: will the United States public support another five or more years of sacrifice in the name of the country’s longest war in a place where they are not entirely sure of the legitimacy of the goal? Moreover, as long as the effort at conversion is primarily being shouldered by outsiders rather than Afghans themselves, its success will be problematical. These and other dilemmas will be raised in Part IV.

The Long Road Ahead in Afghanistan, II

Posted in Afghanistan, Afghanistan War with tags , , , , , , on September 15, 2009 by whatafteriraq

The last posting opened with the question of what was between the United States and attaining its goals in Afghanistan. To pose and frame the question, a “formula” of sorts was put forward to describe the process and barriers to reaching the desired end (Goal Attainment=Successful COIN+Successful State-Building). In the first posting, questions were raised about whether the goals the United States (or any other outsider) and the indigenous population (the Afghans) might be incompatible, and why. It concluded that incompatibilities might exist and need to be reconciled. It left off with two dimensions of the goal question: whose goals are more important to them? and whose goals should prevail? This posting attempts to clarify those concerns.

In an internal war in which an outsider has intervened, there are almost certainly going to be three different sets od preferred outcomes, or Better States of the Peace (BSOP), as defined in Part I. The government against which the insurgency is aimed has one set of goals, paramount amongst which is its own survival (without which no other goal has much meaning). The insurgency has the opposite goal of toppling the government and replacing it with its own government. Like the government’s goal, this vision of the BSOP is generally quite singular and resistant to compromise: there can, at the end of the day, only be one government.

The third BSOP is that of the intervening third power. Part of its goal is the preservation of whichever side it assists (generally the government), but it may have other goals as well. In Vietnam, for instance, the United States wanted the South Vietnamese to prevail and maintain their control, but it also was acting out of a desire to stem the spread of communism in the world. The two were, of course, related, in that the success of the counterinsurgency in preventing a Norrth Vietnamese takeover would help stem the spread of communism. In Afghanistan, the other U.S. goal is the destruction of Al Qaeda, which a successful counterinsurgency will presumably facilitate by denying Al Qaeda an Afghan sanctuary.

The success of one or another set of goals is affected by the natural of insurgent war. Internal, civil wars are inherently desperate affairs for the internal sides. The outcome is almost always the victory of one side (government or insurgents) at the expense of the other, and the consequences for the losers are potentially very bleak, up to and including their own physical extinction.

The insurgents may have the advantage in this grim calculation of motivations. In some cases, the government is able to insulate itself from the potential deadly effects of losing by padding their own wealth, usually at the expense of the national treasury, so that they can flee into comfortable exile if their side loses. The top leaders in South Vietnam did this, and there are some indications that members of the Karzai regime may be looting the till to prepare for a similar exit. For the insurgents, there is a good chance that they will not be able to escape the country should their side lose (the possibility of the Taliban slinking back across the border into Pakistan is a partial exception).  At the level of supporters of both sides, the likelihood is great that they will have to endure whichever BSOP prevails, and the consequences of the wrong side winning can add to their desperation and their resolve to avoid an untoward outcome.

Civil wars, in other words, are total wars in the sense that the outcomes involve who rules and how, and this involves fundamental political questions. It also means that internal elements, and especially the insurgents, will take the whole affair very seriously, and will likely be willing to incur considerable hardhips and privations. In language used in From Lexington to Baghdad and Beyond, their cost-tolerance (the willingness to endure privation to achieve ends) is likely to be quite high.

The situation is different for intervening parties. For outsiders, the situation is neither so desperate nor the outcomes so stark as they are for the indigenous parties. The internal losers will suffer the consequences of their loss personally; the intervening party will leave physically intact, and the major post-war impacts will be psychological in terms like national pride upheld or injured, depending on the outcome.

For the outsider, these wars are limited in the sense that the intervening party’s government will not be overthrown nor its society fundamentally disrupted regardless of the outcome. The United States supported the losing side in Vietnam and withdrew to watch its side lose. Vietnamese on our side left behind suffered greatly, but Americans did not. In Afghanistan, if the American side loses, the Al Qaeda problem may increase, but that will simply make that problem more difficult, not fundamentally different.

What this means is that an outside intervening party will almost always have a lower cost-tolerance than the indigenous sides, because the outcome is simply not as important to it as it is to the natives. Indigenous populations come to understand this imbalance of importance, and insurgents will seek to exploit it. Insurgents are almost always militarily weaker in a material sense than the interveners, but because of the desperate nature of their cause, their cost-tolerance is almost always higher. The secret is thus to find a way to exceed the intervening party’s cost-tolerance, and the way to do this is generally to convince the outsider that staying around and enduring pain and hardship is simply not worth it. More on this in the next segment.

This leaves the question of whose goals should prevail? It must start from the recognition that there is a profound internal disagreement within countries experiencing internal wars, or those wars would not exist. Insurgent movements do not prosper in conditions of good, fair, and popularly supported government. They do emerge when governments are tyrannical, incompetent, corrupt, and venal. Thus, the first element in determining who should win is who, based on the kind of governance it proposes or has been administering, deserves to win. This is often a difficult question to answer, since the government has a track record (probably bad) and the insurgents have not previously governed and are thus an unknown quantity (this is, of course, not true of the Taliban, who have their own record of mismanaging Afghanistan). Still, who should win is rarely a clearcut matter, although it will be depicted as such.

Outsiders, of course, will always portray the side they support as virtuous and the side they oppose as undesirable, at a minimum. Such depictions are almost always going to be oversimplifications of what are generally very complex, difficult assessments. One always looks for the “side of the angels” to support; it may be that there are more demons than angels on all sides.

This abstract discussion should indicate that figuring out what is the goal to be attained in a counterinsurgency is not a simple matter, since goals will contrast fundamentally. In the end, some side’s goals are almost certainly going to be served at the expense of someone else’s. The fact that the outcomes are very important to some participants and potentially less important to others will affect whose BSOP prevails.

The next element of the formula is the question of prevailing in the insurgency-counterinsurgency contest itself, and this question has both military and political dimensions, the discussion of which will begin in the next post.

NOTE: OBAMA the HERICLITEAN HISTORIAN. The September 15 New York Times contained a story in which President Obama dismissed comparisons between Vietnam and Afghanistan. He is quoted as saying: “Each historical moment is different. You never step into the same river twice. And so Afghanistan is not Vietnam.” The quote is Hericlitean in the sense that it follows the Greek philosopher Hericlitus’ observation that change is constant: the river is never the same at two points in time, because different water is flowing through it. It is an historian’s observation that events are unique and that there is thus a limited ability to generalize from and apply lessons from one experience to another. Taken too literally, however, it suggests that we can learn nothing from history that can inform the present and future. Such an assumption denies the very basis of education, which is vicarious experience (learning from other’s experiences rather than having to learn everything from scratch by experiencing it personally). I doubt that the President taught that historical precedent is unimportant in constitutional law since the historical “river” in always different.

The Long Road Ahead in Afghanistan, I

Posted in Afghanistan, Afghanistan War with tags , , , , , on September 11, 2009 by whatafteriraq

Recent developments in Afghanistan–discontent over the elections, increased violence, likely US military calls for additional manpower, growing U.S. public disaffection with the effort–have all coalesced to increase the intensity of discussions about what the United States seeks to accomplish in that far distant country, what the barriers are to achievement, and how long it may take to get to wherever we want to go. The general consensus among decisionmakers and supporters of the war outside the government is that the effort will be long and hard. No one seems to dispute that assessment. What the assertions leave out, however, are two crucial elements to analyzing and reaching some reasoned judgment about the whole thing: what are the barriers to getting to a desirable end state, and is it worth it?

Answers to the first question can be enumerated, based on past experience that the United States and others have had in these kinds of situations but which the defenders appear either to be unaware of or choose to ignore–mostly because they do not like the answer they get. The second question asks for a more subjective judgent, although it is one that is best informed if one fully understands the barriers along the way.

Let me suggest that there are analytical ways to approach the problem of what can be done in Afghanistan. It is the purpose of this, and subsequent articles in this series, to raise some of the things that must be addressed and resolved before a reasonable, realistic assessment of the road ahead in Afghanistan can be determined. Almost all of the elements in the analysis are based in prior experience, most notably in Vietnam but alsewhere as well. For analytical purposes, let me propose the following “model” to help organize the discussion. It can be represented by a simple heuristic formula:

Goal Attainment=Successful COIN (both military and political)+Successful Post-COIN Development (State-building).

The formula suggests three complex sets of concerns: what do we (and the Afghans) want as an outcome? how do we overcome the insurgency and provide a framework for post-conflict Afghanistan? and what activity is required to produce a post-conflict that achieves the overall goals?  This posting will begin to address some of the complexity of the first element in the formula; subsequent posts will will address the other elements.

The question of goals is the situation in the target country, in this case Afghanistan, that is dictated by the interests of the various parties to the conflict. It is the definition of Sir Basil Liddel-Hart’s “better state of the peace” (hereafter BSOP, a concept developed in Snow and Drew, From Lexington to Baghdad and Beyond). What kind of post-war Afghanistan is one in which the United States can say it has won?

Here the problem begins, because what the United States wants out of the Afghanistan experience may well not be the same thing that Afghans want. This is a familiar problem that occurs whenever an outsider interferes in an otherwise internal war, and resolving differing visions of the BSOP may complicate a successful resolution and may even make a resolution acceptable to both the outsider and the side it is assisting impossible (of course, the U.S. BSOP is fundamentally incompatible with that of the opponent, the Taliban, although that also may be a variable in the deliberations).

For the United States, the preferred BSOP is a free, stable, preferably democratic (although what that means is negotiable), anti-Taliban Afghanistan that fulfills the most basic American interest, which is an Afghanistan that excludes and facilitates the destruction of Al Qaeda. The real basic American interest, of course, is the last one, and the other elements of the BSOP are what we see as conditions that will facilitate the basic interest of Al Qaeda destruction.

It is not so clear what the Afghans see as the BSOP or if, indeed, there is any single set of conditions that would form a national consensus. It is not, for instance, at all clear that many Afghans care much one way or the other about political democracy or that they actually want a strong, stable central government unless their particular ethnic group has sufficient authority within that entity to protect their group. That rejoinder in mind, one can hypothesize an Afghan set of conditions that constitute their BSOP: an Afghanistan that is stable, prosperous, and which ends the occupation by the outsiders, including the United States.

Clearly, these sets of objectives are not the same. Since the Afghan BSOP is my own construction, one can argue that it is biased to make my point regarding incompatibility, but I would suggest that regardless of how one constructs the Afghan BSOP, one is unlikely to find a set of outcomes that is clearly entirely compatible with those of the United States. Most importantly, any set of objectives that does not include removal of the occupiers represents a distortion about how any country feels about outside interference, and that is especially true in Afghanistan, given its history.

Are the goals reconcilable? If so, how? It is the general practice of an outside party to find “natives” who share their worldview and to promote them to power and counsel. Hamid Karzai fulfills that role in Afghanistan. But does what he wants represent the desires of the rest of the country? Probably not, and support for Karzai is almost certainly inversely related to the degree of his association with the Americans (a dynamic the al-Maliki government is learning in Iraq).

One of the differences is certainly about what kind of postwar stability the country wants. From an American perspective, the answer (although rarely phrased this way) is the westenization of the country: a strong central government with popular support that can engage in the kinds of orderly development that can transform Afghanistan into a vibrant, secure, and anti-Al Qaeda place.

But is this what the Afghans want? Afghanistan has NEVER had a strong central government, and the ethnic basis of Afghan politics suggests that the emergence of a government that represents the aspirations and loyalties of most of the population is a pipe dream, or at least a long-term goal well beyond the immeidate or near-term horozon of possibility. What if the best one can expect in Afghanistan is a reversion to the very loose, tribally based system of government (based around the loya jirgas) that existed in pre-Soviet Afghanistan? Such a structure would be, as it always has been, highly decentralized, with great degrees of regional autonomy and tribal control. What if this is what the Afghans want? And what if that autonomy included the continued de facto provision of sanctuary to elements of Al Qaeda?

These are not fanciful questions to ask. They are also indicative of the kinds of conflicts that almost always emerge between the indigenous elements in the kinds of states where outsiders intervene and the intervenors. If there was agreement about how to run the place, after all, there would probably not be a full-scale insurgency that required countering. The indigenous population eventually has to sort out the situation and reach its own accord, which may or may not have much to do with the interests and desires of the intervening party.

In these situations, who prevails? There are two additional dimensions of the question of how to resolve incompatibilities between the BSOPs of the indigenous population and intervenors. One is to whom this the outcome more important? The other is the value-laden question of which set of objectives should prevail.  These questions will form the base for the next posting.

Looking Down the Afghan Road

Posted in Afghanistan, Afghanistan and Election with tags , on September 6, 2009 by whatafteriraq

What must the United States do in Afghanistan in order to be able to maintain at the end of our overt military involvement that we have succeeded? From a strictly American point of view, the narrow answer is that the Afghanistan we leave behind will be a strong and stable place from which Al Qaeda has been removed and to which it cannot and will not return (preferably because it will have ceased to exist). From an Afghan point of view, a more prosperous country in which Afghans experience a better life would seem a reasonable hope. The two visions come together in the sense that an Afghan population that is happier with its lot in life will presumably be less prone to harboring the “violent extremists” that President Obama promises to obliterate than an unhappy people.

How do we get there? For the moment, let’s set aside the two major obstacles–the civil war and instability within the Afghan government itself. Clearly, it is difficult to assume (possibly even fanciful) that the United States and its partners will be able to vanquish the Taliban, or that a stable and–especially–non-corrupt government that has the population’s loyalty will evolve in Kabul. These two conditions, of course, are vital to thinking about how to help construct the kind of post-war Afghanistan that would help vindicate the sacrifices that have been and will continue to be made in the name of a “better state of the peace” in Afghanistan (the term is lifted from Sir Basil Liddel-Hart, the interwar British strategist, and incorporated in Snow and Drew, From Lexington to Baghdad and Beyond). I am not sanguine that either will be achieved, but they are certainly necessary conditions for a happy post-war Afghanistan.

It comes as no surprise to say that the key to a stable Afghanistan is development, principally in the economic sector. In the Afghan case, this means uplifting the standards of living and basic conditions of life to levels that have never existed in the country. The premise is that doing so will give Afghans of all basic ethnicities and prior loyalties a stake in the Afghan future that will make them forces for stability, not fractious instability.

This will be no small task. Afghanistan is one of the poorest, most underdeveloped countries on the face of the Earth. As noted earlier, about the only part of the economy that is productive (if that is the right word) is the portion devoted to the production of opium poppies: remove the drug trade, and there is little left of the Afghan economy.

I have collected a few statistical examples (from the 2009 World Almanac and Book of Facts) to suggest the problems ahead. The per capita gross domestic product of Afghanistan is $1,000 (the equivalent figure for the United States is $45,800). Approximately 80 percent of the Afghan population is engaged in agriculture (10 percent each is involved in industry and services), although only 12 percent of the land is arable (Afghanistan suffers from a very arid climate and has numerous areas that are classified as deserts). Most of the agriculture (beyond poppy cultivation) is subsistance farming. The leading industries in the country are textiles, soap, furniture, and shoes, all basic necessities for internal consumption. In 2006, Afghan exports totaled $274 million, while imports were at $3.8 billion. These figures, of course, are from the legal economy and do not reflect exports of illicit products.

The infrastructure is basically non-existent. For a population of 33 million, there are, for instance, 41,000 automobiles and 100,000 commercial trucks. Afghanistan has 12 airports. There are 14 television sets and 136 radios for every 1,000 people in the country, and 81,200 telephone lines total in the country. The literacy rate country-wide is 28 percent. The life expectancy of Afghan males is 44 years, 44.4 for females. The infant mortality rate is 154.7 per 1,000 live births.

Where does one even start to turn this situation around? Under current conditions, a massive, Marshall Plan-like effort is almost certainly impossible on at least three grounds. First, given current government corruption and inefficiency, a large amount of it would almost certainly be stolen. Second, the country lacks even the rudiments of infrastructure to absorb and usefully use large amounts of funds. Think of the spectre of the 1990s and the influx of large amounts of funding into many east Asian countries and the overheating of economies that ensued. Third (and at a practical level, most important), there is no way that the United States and its allies will underwrite a massive program.

It is sometimes alleged that had the United States made “modest” investments in Afghanistan in the early 2000s (in the range of $5-8 billion per year) that the situation in that country would be quite different than it is today. Given the sheer enormity of the Afghan problems of which these examples are mere tips of the iceberg, it is hard to see how investments at those levels would have made such a critical difference. But I may be wrong about that.

This brings us back to where we are. In order to get to the point where the United States can begin to undertake the transformation of Afghanistan from its current situation to a happier one, two things have to occur: the civil war must be won, and an exemplary government must come into existence. Both of these are major, possibly insurmountable, mountains to climb. And even if we climb them, there is still the further mountain of transforming Afghanistan. Are the first two climbs worth the effort, given what lies beyond?