Archive for the 'The Long War' Tag
Robert Kaplan’s OCT 2015 article, Wat in the World, is a great tonic to those who think, again, that we are just on the edge of transforming, offsetting, or just plain wishing away the strong, deep currents of history and the nature of man. It is worth a revisit in order for us to make sure we are taking the full view of history and the nature of man as it was, as it is, and as it will be.
National Socialism, Communism, Maoism; the last century saw a parade of gore hard to fathom from the 1915 Armenian slaughter, 1930’s Ukranian Holodomor, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, through to the 1970’s Cambodian killing fields and more – yet it is not fresh.
With the end of the Cold War, we have faced another -ism, Islamism, but even in its wholesale cutting of necks, burning, drownings, and genocidal pedophilic sex slavery, in our consciousness – in spite of the slaughter is has wrought on our own shores – its cold reality has yet to soak in.
That is unfortunate, as both history and our understanding of the constant nature of man should inform us that there is never an end to history, there is never a New Man. The tools and the players may change, but the baseline story remains.
That day that dawns another mass slaughter and war may never come again in our lifetime, but I doubt it. If you think the days of large fleet battles are done; that we will no longer see large armies in the field in the millions slogging against each other; that somehow next time it will be better, cleaner, quicker, less deadly – well – take a deep breath and read the whole thing.
Ponder the nature of man;
… utopia is, in and of itself, the perfect political and spiritual arrangement, any measures to bring it about are morally justified, including totalitarianism and mass murder. But what, on the individual level, has always been the attraction of utopian ideology, despite what it wrought in the 20th century? Its primary attraction lies in what it does to the soul, and understanding that makes clear just how prone our own age is to a revival of utopian totalitarianism.
Aleksander Wat, the great Polish poet and intellectual of the early and mid-20th century, explains that communism, and Stalinism specifically, was the “global answer to negation. . . . The entire illness stemmed from that need, that hunger for something all-embracing.” The problem was “too much of everything. Too many people, too many ideas, too many books, too many systems.” Who could cope?
So, Wat explained, a “simple catechism” was required, …
Then there is loneliness. Toward the end of The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt observes: “What prepares men for totalitarian domination . . . is the fact that loneliness, once a borderline experience usually suffered in certain marginal social conditions like old age, has become an everyday experience of the evergrowing masses of our century.” Totalitarianism, she goes on,
is the product of the lonely mind that deduces one thing from the other in linear fashion toward the worst possible result, and thus is a “suicidal escape from this reality.” Pressing men and women so close together in howling, marching formations obliterates individuality and thus loneliness. But even with all of our electronic diversions, is loneliness any less prevalent now than it was when Arendt published her magnum opus in 1951? People are currently more isolated than ever, more prone to the symptoms of the lonely, totalitarian mind, or what psychiatrists call “racing thoughts.”
If that assumption about the human condition is accurate, then how do you plan for it? How do you try to shape it? How do you mitigate it?
The vast majority of the world’s people are not Muslim, so are not likely to join in the -ism of the moment, Islamism. Does that mean that we can just contain that -ism, and not worry about the rest of the planet’s restive masses finding their own -ism?
People everywhere—in the West, in the Middle East, in Russia, in China—desperately need something to believe in, if only to alleviate their mental condition. They are dangerously ready for a new catechism, given the right circumstances. What passes as a new fad or cult in the West can migrate toward extremism in less stable or more chaotic societies.
The jet-age elites are of little help in translating or alleviating any of this. Cosmopolitan, increasingly denationalized, ever less bound to territory or parochial affinities, the elites revel in the overflow of information that they process through 24/7 multi-tasking. Every one of them is just so brilliant! They can analyze everything while they believe in nothing, and have increasingly less loyalty to the countries whose passports they hold. This deracination renders them wholly disconnected from the so-called unwashed masses, whose upheavals and yearnings for a new totality, a new catechism, in order to fill the emptiness and loneliness in their souls, regularly surprise and shock them.
Syria and the general Arab Spring, latest case in point that we are not too good at predicting even the near future.
The ascent of the Islamic State and other jihadi movements, both Sunni and Shi‘a, is not altogether new in imperial and post-imperial history. The seasoned, Paris-based commentator William Pfaff, who covered international politics for decades before he died, observed that the rise of radical populist movements, demanding in many cases the restoration of a lost golden age, occurred twice in mid- and late 19th-century Qing China (the Taiping and Boxer rebellions), once in mid-19th-century British India (the Sepoy Mutiny), and once in late 19th-century British Sudan (the Mahdist revolt). In that vein, as Pfaff explains, groups such as the Ugandan-based Lord’s Resistance Army and the Nigerian-based Boko Haram, which we in the West label, in almost infantile fashion, as merely “terrorist”, are actually redemptive millennial movements that are responding to the twin threats of modernism and globalization.
What is next then?
Globalization, as it intensifies, carries the potential to unleash utopian ideologies by diluting concrete, traditional bonds to territory and ethnicity, for in the partial void will come a heightened appeal to more abstract ideals, the very weapons of utopia. And it is not only the Middle East that should concern us. China is in the process of transforming itself from a developing country into a national security state that in future years and decades could adopt new and dangerous hybrid forms of nationalism and central control as a response to its economic troubles. Russia’s Vladimir Putin may yet be the forerunner of even greater xenophobia and nationalism under leaders further to the Right than himself, as a response to Russia’s weakening social and economic condition. In an age of globalization, not only religion, but nationalism, too, can become still more ideological, illiberal, and abstract.
We must be both humble and vigilant, therefore. Humble, in the sense that we don’t assume progress; we shouldn’t feel safe in smug assumptions about the direction of history. Vigilant, in that we always stand firm in the defense of an individual such as Aleksander Wat, who, however doubt-ridden and self-questioning, refused to submit to pulverizing forces.
I worry that too many people think they can shoe-horn the world to their vignettes, CONOPS, and POM cycles. Has it ever? What is the danger if we think we can?
Hat tip Jack.
Part of our naval mythology is informed by fiction as well as real history. With a few exceptions, as a nation, the USA always likes to see itself as the good guys, the shining city on the hill where good people want to go to do good things. In some ways this aspirational self-reflection is good, but it isn’t reality.
You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.
– Winston Churchill
In the Cold War fiction The Hunt for Red October, we had our preferred universe,
Capt. Vasili Borodin: I will live in Montana. And I will marry a round American woman and raise rabbits, and she will cook them for me. And I will have a pickup truck… maybe even a “recreational vehicle.” And drive from state to state. Do they let you do that?
Captain Ramius: I suppose.
Capt. Vasili Borodin: No papers?
Captain Ramius: No papers, state to state.
Capt. Vasili Borodin: Well then, in winter I will live in… Arizona. Actually, I think I will need two wives.
Captain Ramius: Oh, at least.
That is nice to read, but that isn’t where we are today.
We need to be ready for our co-existing parallel universe where the USA and specifically its forward deployed Navy is not seen as the good guys worth running to – but a high value unit worth everything to destroy.
If one small harbor boat can take out the USS COLE (DDG 67), put on your red hat and ponder the next act that could follow a successful operation from this cell;
At least five officers of the Pakistan Navy received death sentences in a secret military trial for allegedly trying to hijack a Pakistan Navy vessel to attack a U.S. Navy refueling ship, Daily Pakistan reports.
The attackers allegedly attempted to hijack the F-22P Zulfiquar-class frigate Zulfiqar, the lead ship of its class, with the intention of using the ship’s missiles to attack a U.S. Navy refuel vessel in the Arabian Sea (other sources claim that the target was a U.S. aircraft carrier).
The frigate they were going to take control of was the Pakistani version of the Chinese Type 053H3 frigate. With a crew of 170 and the offensive surface punch of 8 C-802 ASCM and a 76mm gun – not to mention 3,144 tons and 404-ft of ramming if they wanted.
In nations with significant penetration by Islamic radicals, there is a lot of exceptionally capable naval kit for the taking, if you have the right team. How many on a ship need to turn to make a national asset to a terrorist weapon? Depends on the ship and the clever nature of the conspirators.
The more you think about it, the more you see how lucky we have been that compared to the ground, the seas have been relatively secure. Don’t assume, “if,” but “when” we see Green on Blue at sea.
Something to ponder on a when on watch as the ship from nation X is not quite acting right, not where you expected her to be, and – well – makes your skin itch a bit.
Everyone has their own name for the series of conflicts spinning off from the waxing of the most radical interpretation of Sunni Islamic Extremism, but with each passing incident, I become more and more comfortable with “The Long War.”
At its core, this is a religious war, and those wars last the longest time as you are not fighting primarily for land, resources, power, or ego – but for ideas and the pursuit of a home for your immortal soul. Many are not comfortable with that concept, but they need to get over it. Regardless of what your motivations are, if any; if you are being attacked by someone motivated by a religion, then you are part of a religious war.
The latest attack on Brussels is just that, a tactical action in this phase of a war that pre-dates 11 September 2001. Others can argue the start date, but it is older than those fresh faces showing up at boot camp this summer.
Why Brussels this time? Simple, Brussels isn’t just the capital of the small nation of 10-million souls, Belgium – it is the capital of Europe. In the mind of the Islamic State, Europe is the heart of the West. The West is the home of secularism, Christianity, and tolerance of Jews. It also happens to be a place where there are sanctuaries near targets where, relatively unmolested by authorities and under the protection of cowed co-religionists, they can plan, support, and if needed, hide after their operations.
There is ease of mobility and an ability to blend in that makes the most difficult part of any operation is gathering the weapons and explosives to do the killing. Basic OPSEC is all that is needed. Money is of little issue, nor is finding willing fighters.
After a half-century of an uninterrupted and failed experiment in multi-culturalism, Belgium and other Western nations now have a critical mass of unassimilated native born radicals. Even better, they have been recently reinforced by well over a million unaccompanied military aged males born and raised in even more radicalized cultures. The direction unaccompanied, unemployable, and alienated young men usually head points to one thing – there will be more and more attacks like we saw in Brussels. An attack, by the way, that is just another iteration of what has been seen in the USA, UK, France, Spain, Russia and other nations over the course of the last few decades. There is nothing new here, except that a few more people are noticing.
Besides the self-inflicted demographic foolishness Western Europe beclowned itself with over the last half-century, in Europe’s near abroad forces are continuing that will drive more and more radicals their way to join the cells that are planning additional attacks.
From sectarian Iraq to the Madmaxistan that followed the Arab Spring from Libya to Syria, reality has hopefully put to bed any fevered dreams of democracy in North Africa through to the Middle East’s Arab states. The least radical nations, and our best allies, are those who have a strong monarchy like Jordan, or that have a military strong man keeping a lid on the bubbling Islamists that are woven through their society, like Egypt. The best we can hope for is something like Tunisia where the political elite are doing their best, but as the graphic shows, they do not have a benign populous that can be relied on to create a civil society in mass for at least a generation – if then.
Even inside the Western umbrella, there are huge problems. Turkey continues to drift out of the Western orbit, by design. Their leadership’s increasingly authoritarianism, handmaiden to the refugee crisis, and open flirtations with Islamism sends another clear signal that the once sick man of Europe is drifting to something not seen in the modern period. It isn’t pleasant, but the facts are right there for all to see. The modern, secular West has lost the war of ideas in Turkey. That leaves them one way to go – and they are half-way there already.
The Gulf States are small, but important and fickle allies. Their security is balanced on their benefactor against Shia and Persian ascendency in the East – Saudi Arabia.
Lower oil prices has emphasized that the House of Saud’s nation is held together with bailing wire and duct tape. They are rightfully focused on the problem in Yemen – a challenge that is beyond the scope of this post, but is more important than the press it gets.
OK. That is a lot of “what” and “so what;” what about “what’s next?”
Two things. First, we need to look very seriously about which nations we allow visa free travel from. The UK, Belgium, Sweden, and Germany among others already have a significant critical mass of native born radical Islamists – and their numbers are about to increase dramatically.
Second; the Islamic State must be destroyed. If not, well … let’s use as a planning assumption that it will be. Syria and her allies will push from the west. The Kurds will clean up their lines and serve as an anvil in the north. The Shia-led Iraqi forces with American help will squeeze the Islamic Forces out of Sunni Iraq. As that happens leading up to the inevitable fall of Raqqa, many of the thousands of Western passport holding Islamic State militants will return home. Some will try to just get back to a normal life, but many will not. They will be tasked to either move to other ungoverned areas of the world to continue the work of the Caliphate there, or will return home to attack from within with their fellow radicals who stayed home to build the logistics, intelligence and HUMINT needed to get the best effect from attacks inside the belly of the Western beast.
What about the USA and her navy? Regardless of the results of this year’s election, this war will continue to come to us. As we have back away, it has followed us – and will continue to. As we saw in Brussels where Mormon missionaries and a USAF officer’s family were wounded – they can kill American anywhere. Also know this; we will be attacked again here just like we were in Boston, San Bernardino, Ft. Hood, and Chattanooga. As you read this, there are multiple cells working on the next mass casualty attack in the USA.
There will be ungoverned areas in the world, or poorly governed areas, that will be sanctuaries and areas of expansion for radical Islamists. We will have to work with local forces where we can, and take independent action where we must. Though many want to re-focus on some imaginary possible future great power conflict on the high seas – and we must – or want to keep rejustifying the results of the CONOPS playsets of the 1990s with LCS/FF, but we must also man, train, and equip for what we have now and will have as an ongoing engagement – The Long War.
From high-volume, high-accuracy naval gunfire, to special operations, to land attack cruise missiles, to TACAIR, we will need to be able to project national will ashore from waters, airspace, and property that we alone control. We must be able to do it with no notice, or with great fanfare. A light footprint with as little risk to casualties as possible, or lighting punitive expeditions ashore that accepts losses.
That is the reminder from Brussels. This enemy gets a vote, and it is voting for war. To paraphrase Trotsky; we may not be interested in a religious war, but a religious war is interested in us.
Please join us at 5pm (EDT), 2 August 2015 for Midrats Episode 291: Nashville, Omar, Nigeria and Kurdistan, Long War Hour w/ Bill Roggio
This summer, the terrain shifted in the long war that we thought we needed to bring back one of our regular guests, Bill Roggio, to discuss in detail for the full hour.
Bill is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Bill is also the President of Public Multimedia Inc, a non-profit news organization; and the founder and Editor of The Long War Journal, a news site devoted to covering the war on terror. He has embedded with the US and the Iraqi military six times from 2005-08, and with the Canadian Army in Afghanistan in 2006. Bill served in the US Army and New Jersey National Guard from 1991-97.
Robert D. Kaplan over at FP is looking at the world from the Atlas to Hindu Kush and harkens back to something that no one is looking for, wants, or realistically thinks can be done;
A new American president in 2017 may seek to reinstate Western imperial influence — calling it by another name, of course.
The challenge now is less to establish democracy than to reestablish order. For without order, there is no freedom for anyone.
The article is now called, The Ruins of Empire in the Middle East – but you can still see in the web address its original title, “It’s Time to Bring Imperialism Back to the Middle East.”
Yes, the title was bad – but I am curious as to the thought process behind choosing it – … and just as bad as the idea.
I’m also not sure how a review of the present major candidates for 2016 shows anyone who wants to try to force peace on a peaceless people. There is only one effective way to do that, but piles of skulls and salted fields are not in alignment with our laws, national character, or relatively sanity.
To start out, let’s review the very accurate summary of events that Kaplan outlines in this besotted part of the world that for thousands of years has been at peace only under one system – the mailed fist;
… the region historically has been determined by trade routes rather than fixed borders. … Middle Eastern chaos demonstrates that the region has still not found a solution to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I. For hundreds of years, Sunnis and Shiites, Arabs and Jews, Muslims and Christians, in Greater Syria and Mesopotamia had few territorial disputes. All fell under the rule of an imperial sovereign in Istanbul, who protected them from each other.
… the Islamic State has brought to an end the borders erected by European imperialism, British and French, in the Levant. … the United States, remember, since the end of World War II, has been a world empire in all but name.
To that point; in two elections the American people voiced their desire to back away from that role – to give the world a chance to police itself – to “lead from behind.”
Well, we have seen the results – desired or not – of that policy.
The fall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Muammar al-Qaddafi in Libya, and the reduction of Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria to that of an embattled statelet has ended the era of post-colonial strongmen. … the so-called Arab Spring has not been about the birth of freedom but about the collapse of central authority,
Old school realists, and the growing cadre of neo-realists warned of this outcome, but strategically we tried another way. The fuzzy faculty room theories desiring a word of self-affirmation, ran up against the grizzled hard realities of a world governed by the aggressive use of force, religion, and the attraction of and to power.
(some nations are) geographical expressions and … with much weaker identities — and, in fact, many have identities that were invented by European imperialists. Libya, Syria, and Iraq fall most prominently into this category. Because identity in these cases was fragile, the most suffocating forms of authoritarianism were required to merely hold these states together.
Algeria, also an artificial state, essentially invented by the French … Jordan, too, is a vague geographical expression, but has enjoyed moderate governance through the genius of its ruling Hashemites and the overwhelming economic and security support this small country has received from the United States and Israel. Yemen may also be an age-old cluster of civilization, but one always divided among many different kingdoms due to its rugged topography, thus ruling the territory as one unit has always been nearly impossible.
Totalitarianism was the only answer to the end of Western imperialism in these artificial states, and totalitarianism’s collapse is now the root cause of Middle East chaos.
The Ottomans disintegrated, the French and British were exhausted, and the Americans seem to be trying to shrug off the burdens history gave it.
Kaplan is not alone in this train of thought, looking for some solution to a rapidly deteriorating region, and when you look at what has become of the Muslim world in the last half-decade plus, it is easy to despair at what has oozed out of the tube – but what has happened has happened.
You cannot have imperialism without imperialists, and in a world bereft of those seeking that title in a benign manner – what can the West do that is in line with both its national security interests and its modern sensibilities?
Most interested parties would agree that if nothing else, the events of the last few years should largely put an end to two neo-imperialist concepts; Responsibility to Protect (R2P) on the left, and the Wolfowitz Doctrine on the right.
How do we, the West in general and the USA in particular, respond? What are our options besides neo-imperialism? Let’s set out a few planning assumptions.
1. There will be no more nation building or coercive democracy injected in places that do not create it organically or desire it. It doesn’t work, and there is no popular call or political will to try it again.
2. Libya was the low high-water mark of R2P internationally. Today’s Mediterranean drowning pool is Ref. A. on the international community’s preferred answer to R2P.
3. Economics and demographics will drive the virulence of secular pressure to export strife outside existing or natural borders of nation states. As these borders deteriorate and if pressures build, so will your ability to contain undesired effects on the cheap.
4. Forward deployed, global reach, long dwell, deep strike. If you are not training, manning, and equipping your military forces bounded by these essential concepts, you are doing it wrong. If you are not prepared for scalable, quick infiltration and exfiltration of boots on the ground, you are doing it wrong. Hedge big heavy; light and mobile gets priority.
5. China will continue to build, reinforce, and prepare to defend critical nodes on her new land and sea “Silk Road.” She is and will continue to be a growing, global, mercantile power – one without Western sensibilities.
6. There is only one significant power that is showing actual expansionist imperial desire; Russia. Watch her closely in the former Soviet republics to see where she either takes physical land as in Ukraine, or expands her constellation of sad little satrapy such as Belarus.
7. No matter how hard we shrug, we are and will remain for this century the indispensable nation. We are the imperial republic, in a waning phase of desire for now – but with no other suitable global replacement, we will still be look at to help keep the chaos at bay.
What could we do now, even with the political, economic, and diplomatic restraints and constraints – to at least partially answer Kaplan’s call?
The first step, not shocking for a maritime nation, should start at sea. Use the template of NATO’s standing naval forces. We should help build standing naval forces in the Indian Ocean. The core is already there off the Horn of Africa – why not work to make something a bit more established from CTF-150, 151, the EU’s ALALANTA and the other patchwork nations who are there?
Why not have one fom WESTPAC? USA, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Australia looks like a good core. Singapore, New Zealand, Vietnam, and The Philippines would play now and then. Feeling cheeky – invite Taiwan for a time or two.
There is low risk and high reward for this minimal step – keep the open seas … open. Give space and capability to inject power and influence when needed, without finding yourself staked to the ground – and provide flexible options for future leaders who may face different global realities that have yet to appear to the present eyes.
If the goal is to try to bring order, in the 21st Century, the Western democracies do not have the desire to play the game of empire wholesale. It isn’t profitable, it isn’t appreciated, and to be blunt – it is probably a fool’s errand.
Contain, influence, and help those who help themselves? Sure. Soak the sands of the Middle East with blood from Ohio, Essex, New South Wales, Burgundy, Maastricht, and El Salvador for failed theories of the past? To tilt at the windmill one more time?
No, no time soon.
By Mark Tempest
Please join us live on Sunday, 7 September 2014 at 5pm EDT US, for another discussion on the fight against terrorism, especially the terrorism and action of radical jihadist groups, as we host Episode 244: Long War update with Bill Roggio
If you fell asleep on Memorial Day and woke up on Labor Day, your head is probably swimming. The situation in the Muslim world from Libya to the Iranian border has turned in to some strange chaos if you have not been paying attention – but when you look at the details and trendlines, the logic is a lot clearer.
The long war has not gone anywhere, like a field untended, the weeds have returned and are prospering.
To help us understand developments over the summer, coming back to Midrats for the full hour to discuss this and more will be Bill Roggio, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Bill is also the President of Public Multimedia Inc, a non-profit news organization; and the founder and Editor of The Long War Journal, a news site devoted to covering the war on terror. He has embedded with the US and the Iraqi military six times from 2005-08, and with the Canadian Army in Afghanistan in 2006. Bill served in the US Army and New Jersey National Guard from 1991-97.
As noted, Bill was with us recently (Episode 225: The Long War Becomes a Teenager), but recent events suggested that it would be good to have him back sooner rather than later.
Join us live if you can or pic the show up later by clicking here.
In his twitter feed, our co-blogger here at USNIBlog and SHAPE, Admiral Stavridis, points to a link for a very nice story that really is worth your time to read, as it does represent the very best of our partnering with the ANSF – and what should have been the general condition of our relationship in 2012, vice just a specific instance;
1st Lt. Michael Molczyk had heard stories about “insider” attacks — and the Afghan soldiers and police officers who grew to see their partners as enemies. As a platoon commander, he couldn’t ignore those assaults on American troops, which during bad weeks were reported day after day.
But to him, he said, the stories sounded like news from a different planet. In Molczyk’s corner of eastern Afghanistan, uniformed Afghans had saved American lives time and again. They had developed a brotherhood with their U.S. partners that felt earned and unassailable. … no relationship mattered more to Molczyk than his partnership with Jalaluddin, the head of the Afghan police in Jaji district …
Sadly, that relationship between two specific individuals is not in line with the general trend in Afghanistan – and with each Green on Blue we need to look that fact square in the face. While there are always individual stories that can tell any side of an issue – it is the general trend that you need to keep an eye on.
The bottom line is this; we are well along the scheduled withdraw on a calendar-based vice conditions-based OPLAN. That is a polite way of describing a retreat under fire. Those we will leave behind, and those who will fill the vacuum after we leave are acting in a rational manner, and the second and third order effects of our decision to leave the field will continue to fill your news feed as the process takes its natural course. We have been here before.
As noted last month;
The last of the 33,000 American surge troops sent to Afghanistan two years ago have left the battlefields of Afghanistan, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said.
Actually, it was four years ago that the uplift of forces started – but let’s not quibble.
That little note from last month was one of the critical junctures following President Obama’s 2009 West Point Speech where he announced the end of conditions based planning for AFG. Gone was the “Shape-Clear-Hold-Build”, and in was the race to slap something together with bailing wire and duct-tape until our then 2011 (and now 2014 thankfully) drive to whatever will be our version of the Friendship Bridge.
Defeat, like decline, is more often than not a choice. In AFG, it is/was unquestionably a choice. We threw away a good chance for an acceptable outcome the minute we told our enemies, and more importantly our friends and those on the fence, that we lacked the strategic patience to follow through on our promises, creating in essence a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure. They have seen this before.
As the cliche states, “Hope is not a plan.” In war, hope is a path to self-delusion and defeat. So it has always been, so it will always be.
In the executive summary from the International Crisis Group’s, Afghanistan: The Long, Hard Road to the 2014 Transition, they cut right to the chase;
Plagued by factionalism and corruption, Afghanistan is far from ready to assume responsibility for security when U.S. and NATO forces withdraw in 2014. That makes the political challenge of organising a credible presidential election and transfer of power from President Karzai to a successor that year all the more daunting. A repeat of previous elections’ chaos and chicanery would trigger a constitutional crisis, lessening chances the present political dispensation can survive the transition. In the current environment, prospects for clean elections and a smooth transition are slim. The electoral process is mired in bureaucratic confusion, institutional duplication and political machinations. Electoral officials indicate that security and financial concerns will force the 2013 provincial council polls to 2014. There are alarming signs Karzai hopes to stack the deck for a favoured proxy. Demonstrating at least will to ensure clean elections could forge a degree of national consensus and boost popular confidence, but steps toward a stable transition must begin now to prevent a precipitous slide toward state collapse. Time is running out.
Yes, our timing is that bad.
Quiet planning should, nonetheless, begin now for the contingencies of postponed elections and/or imposition of a state of emergency in the run up to or during the presidential campaign season in 2014. The international community must work with the government to develop an action plan for the possibility that elections are significantly delayed or that polling results lead to prolonged disputes or a run-off. The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) should likewise be prepared to organise additional support to Afghan forces as needed in the event of an election postponement or state of emergency; its leadership would also do well to assess its own force protection needs in such an event well in advance of the election.
Does anyone see a ISAF, post-USA withdraw, getting involved in AFG domestic police actions? Really?
No, they/we won’t. The Taliban also know we won’t. They know we have left the field for them, and they are patient. We no longer have the ability or will to break their back, and with only one more fighting season left until we are totally focused on withdraw – we can’t.
I am reminded of one of the heartbreaking scenes – for a military professional – from the 1984 movie, The Killing Fields.
In the background as Dith Pran and Sydney Schanberg watch the fighting between Khmer National Armed Forces and the Khmer Rouge, we see Tom Bird’s US military adviser character do what he can to push his Cambodian forces on, to let them know that the USA was with them. Pointing to himself (in bold below);
00:27:00 What did he say?
00:27:01 He said he thought all American people left already.
00:27:05 Made in the USA.
00:27:10 Are we winning?
00:27:12 No, you’re not winning.
We have seen this before, and so have those who were our friends.
Much more will be written about our AFG experience over the next couple of decades. Somewhere there is a young man or woman who will be the next McMaster, who will cut their PhD teeth on how this all came apart. How a conscious decision was made to slide from a position of strength and progress to one of weakness, vacillation, insecurity, and decline. Why thousands of years of sound military experience was thrown away one evening in New York State, pretending that the lessons of history didn’t apply to us. We thought that because it was spoken, so it would be done; that hope and luck would beat the calender and patience. Through it all, the silence of “make it happen” marched forward in to the maw, again.
Rest assured, we won’t be leaving these problems behind in AFG. No, then enemy has a vote – and they too have seen this before.
“There is this narrative coming out of Washington for the last two years,” Logan said. It is driven in part by “Taliban apologists,” who claim “they are just the poor moderate, gentler, kinder Taliban,” she added sarcastically. “It’s such nonsense!”
She made a passionate case that our government is downplaying the strength of our enemies in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as a rationale of getting us out of the longest war. We have been lulled into believing that the perils are in the past: “You’re not listening to what the people who are fighting you say about this fight. In your arrogance, you think you write the script.”
The Taliban and al Qaeda, she made clear, “want to destroy the West and us,” and we must fight fire with fire, She appeared to leave the assembled alternatively riveted and just a bit troubled by a critique with interventionist implications clearly drawn from her reporting.
When you have the person who just tried to kill you on the ground, with your knee on his chest and your knife at his throat, but then you get off and try to walk away without finishing the job – should you be shocked when he gets up and attacks you? Should you be shocked if he does not stop his attack simply because you stopped it? Will he stop if you cry uncle? If you bow, apologize, and plead?
So there we are; we have emphasized the meme of the weak horse, and the butcher’s bill will be dear because of it.
What is the solution? Frankly, I think it is too late to get back to where we were in late 2009. We are almost three years in to the signal of retreat that we sent. Those allied nations in ISAF who have not already left will soon. Those AFG on the fence have already made plans and associations with our enemies to protect the interests of their families, villages, and tribes in the expectation that we will abandon them. Smart move, if I were them I would do the same thing.
A precursor to the Soviet withdraw were their version of Green on Blue – the AFG remember that and are seeing it again. They have indications and warnings too.
Could the NOV USA election change anything? No. With the lack of top-level support and enthusiasm for the mission, the American people lost whatever will they had to aggressively sustain operations in AFG – and with much of the uplift gone and force levels back to late-’09/early-’10 levels and falling, that momentum is gone and even if the will was there – it would be difficult to get back.
We are at the point now where the die is cast. This version of the war in AFG for USA forces will soon be over regardless, by design. All that remains is to see if we drive across our version of the Friendship Bridge, or leave in a helo under fire; all the while doing our best to avoid Gandamak.
Until then, there are things that can be done on the margins, but one question remains; if we are not in this to win it – do we have the political will, rules of engagement, and operational plan to create the effects on the ground to further our national interests besides just “getting out?”
Is, “Do the best we can until the summer of 2014 and then wish them luck.” now by default our Mission Statement? Has the military leadership been realistic about what can be achieved inside the POLMIL guidance it has received? What Decisive Points have we achieved in our Lines of Operation? Are they in-line with expected time-line dates? What about our Effects Matrix?
District by District, Province by Province – is the Afghan government on, behind, or ahead of schedule to take over security responsibilities? Are the criteria used to determine that status tighter or looser than they were three years ago?
Yes, much of that is classified – but it won’t be forever. This story will be told, and people will be held to account. If history is any guide, that won’t mean much to the thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or millions who will die because we did not finish what we started.
The last time we abandoned a nation like this, the losses were in the millions.
Modern warfare and counter-terrorism bump up against international law and the “law of war” on a moment to moment basis – and that’s the subject of this week’s Midrats show – Episode 72 Lawfare and the Long War 05/22 by Midrats on Blog Talk Radio:
Never in our history have we fought a war where law, lawyers, and layers of legalese have impacted all levels of the war, Political, Strategic, Operational, and Tactical.
Why do we find ourselves here and in what direction are we going?
From Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and even domestically, the legal definition of the use of military power is evolving.
To discuss the impact of Lawfare for the full hour with Sal from the blog “CDR Salamander” and EagleOne from “EagleSpeak” will be David Glazier, CDR USN (Ret.).
David is a Professor of Law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. Prior to Loyola, he was a lecturer at the University of Virginia School of Law and a research fellow at the Center for National Security Law, where he conducted research on national security, military justice and the law of war. He also served as a pro bono consultant to Human Rights First.
Before attending law school, Glazier served twenty-one years as a US Navy surface warfare officer. In that capacity, he commanded the USS George Philip (FFG-12), served as the Seventh Fleet staff officer responsible for the US Navy-Japan relationship, the Pacific Fleet officer responsible for the US Navy-PRC relationship, and participated in UN sanctions enforcement against Yugoslavia and Haiti.
Glazier has a JD from the University of Virginia School of Law, an MA from Georgetown University in government/national security studies, and holds a BA in history from Amherst College.
So, with experience ranging from warrior to law of war scholar, Professor Glazier has some interesting (and perhaps unexpected) views on the matters described above.
Join us this Sunday at 5pm Eastern as we delve into the world of “lawfare.” I promise that the name of Hugo Grotius will be invoked somewhere along the way.
Link to the show page here.