Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The Center must hold

I heard a lot about George Will's column Time to Get Out of Afghanistan yesterday.
Forces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent special forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters. Genius, said de Gaulle, recalling Bismarck's decision to halt German forces short of Paris in 1870, sometimes consists of knowing when to stop.
I think what we see in George Will here is a frustration and desire to just "make it go away."

That is exactly what the insurgents try to do to counter-insurgency forces. They do not have to defeat them in the field, they just have to outlast a fickle opponent.

The simple fact is though that we cannot do what George wants, it is too late for that and it didn't work all that well in the '90s. We crossed that bridge a long time ago.

What we need is patience. Handing AFG over to NATO in early '06 was a mistake. There were lots of interesting theories, but they resulted in an under-resourced campaign run out of Brussels without a real understanding of what was going on.

As we have been discussing here since '08, USA is slowly taking back the keys. We must have strategic patience. This is not one of the three Anglo-Afghan Wars. This is not the Soviet-Afghan War.

Though I trend towards Michael Yon on many days, I believe this is still winable if we have patience. Not easy though. Patience to build up our forces. Patience to build up AFG forces. Patience to accept what quasi-friendly AFG government develops. If we leave now, it will be a catastrophe from a strategic, political, and military POV with long-term, global implications.

This is the tough part - to make this win there must be strong leadership from the front. President Obama must lead. When things were wobbly in Iraq in '07, President Bush was the leader that gave the military the top-cover it needed to move the trend lines back in our direction. The same kind of from the front leadership is needed by President Obama.

Once again, I draw a parallel to
Blenheim. This time however, we need to look at ourselves from the Franco-Bavarian forces POV.

In AFG, by 2011 the Dutch and Canadians will play very well the part of the Elector of Bavaria and Marsin. The left wing will collapse and limp back home while the battle still rages. The right wing are the anti-Taliban Afghans, firmly in place in Blenheim village - not fully engaged but critical to success.

In AFG, the center must hold. From a military perspective, that is the USA forces. The CINC cannot afford to play Tallard and lose control of the battle. He must not allow his advantage to be lost by poor leadership and ineffective communication with allies.

From a political perspective, ironically, we have something similar going on left, right, and center.

The political left, like the Franco-Bavarian left-wing, has abandoned the commander and left the field. The political right is firmly in the pro-victory front, though fairly ineffective with this CINC. The great political center must be brought to strength by a strong leader - that is President Obama. From either a military or political POV, if he doesn't lead - then the center will wind up like the French battalions on the plain,
"[They] died to a man where they stood, stationed right out in the open plain – supported by nobody."
That is the big picture, and I think George is getting weak in the knees and it is not helpful. Everyone needs to support the CINC so he can support his Commander in the field.

If you want to ping on the CINC - ping on him when he drifts away from victory, not to encourage him to join the Elector of Bavaria.

But I'm not done, time to pick on some other things in George's article that bother me.

Here we go again.
Military historian Max Hastings says Kabul controls only about a third of the country -- "control" is an elastic concept -- and " 'our' Afghans may prove no more viable than were 'our' Vietnamese, the Saigon regime." Just 4,000 Marines are contesting control of Helmand province, which is the size of West Virginia.
The South Vietnamese with our help defeated the Viet Cong as an effective military force after Tet. They again defeated the North Vietnamese in the '72 invasion with our air, sea, arms, and financial support. "Our" Vietnamese did fine in the '70s until "we"
cut them off from military and financial support so they could not fight the North when they invaded in '75.

George, read up on your Vietnam War history.

And again,
U.S. forces are being increased by 21,000, to 68,000, bringing the coalition total to 110,000. About 9,000 are from Britain, where support for the war is waning. Counterinsurgency theory concerning the time and the ratio of forces required to protect the population indicates that, nationwide, Afghanistan would need hundreds of thousands of coalition troops, perhaps for a decade or more. That is inconceivable.
Not if we train enough Afghan forces along with enough allied forces to get the right numbers to win as we define it. Jeffersonian Democracy; no. A basic government that will not be a home to Islamic malignancy; yes.

It is not inconceivable. It is only a matter of national will and strategic patience.

We fight to win. If those in DC do not have the vision to stick with this through the next decade, then let us go home now. Right now, as it "last one out of Bagram is a rotten egg" now.

Those who make that decision will have to accept the consequences and they will be dire in the extreme. You cannot walk away from The Long War - it follows you.

Sure, the Democrats still have not been held to account for losing Vietnam in '75, but with each year more and more understand that truth. Now days though, it won't be as easy to spin it away walking away from possible victory in Afghanistan.

Play to win or go home. I hope the CINC ignores George and instead gives Gen. McChrystal everything he needs - including the top-cover only the CINC's patience and trust can provide. In that respect, I find myself in alignment here with Bill Kristol.

A final note. One of my favorite Marlborough quotes is one he gave to one of his officers found retreating on horseback during the battle - I think it applies to George.
"Sir, you are under a mistake, the enemy lies that way … "

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