Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Why books matter

They matter because they inform policy. Food for the brain, however, garbage in - garbage out.

Peter Spiegel and Jonathan Weisman from the WSJ have a gem of an article that demands your attention.
The struggle to set the future course of the Afghan war is becoming a battle of two books -- both suddenly popular among White House and Pentagon brain trusts.

The two draw decidedly different lessons from the Vietnam War. The first book describes a White House in 1965 being marched into an escalating war by a military viewing the conflict too narrowly to see the perils ahead. President Barack Obama recently finished the book, according to administration officials, and Vice President Joe Biden is reading it now.

The second describes a different administration, in 1972, when a U.S. military that has finally figured out how to counter the insurgency is rejected by political leaders who bow to popular opinion and end the fight.

It has been recommended in multiple lists put out by military officers, including a former U.S. commander in Afghanistan, who passed it out to his subordinates.

The two books -- "
Lessons in Disaster," on Mr. Obama's nightstand, and "A Better War" on the shelves of military gurus -- have become a framework for the debate over what will be one of the most important decisions of Mr. Obama's presidency.

On Tuesday, in a White House meeting that went well over its allotted hour, Mr. Obama discussed the war with 31 members of Congress. Republican leaders, and some Democrats, pressed him to quickly accept the judgment of his commanders and send as many as 40,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. But some Democrats asked if the war was winnable.

In Washington, books are flying off shelves. None of the major bookstores near the White House have the recently released paperback edition of "Lessons in Disaster" in stock, and one major shop in the Georgetown area, Barnes & Noble, said all its remaining copies were being held for buyers.

The impact of all the book-reading on the Afghanistan decision isn't clear. The administration's review of its Afghan strategy is expected to last until the end of this month, and views are likely to evolve. "A Better War" shaped the debate over the 2007 troop surge in Iraq: Military commanders and top Pentagon civilians pushed the book ardently on surge skeptics, winning important converts.

Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.), long an advocate of the narrative detailed in "A Better War," warned that while Vietnam may appear to have some parallels to Afghanistan, the better comparison is Iraq, where many of the same commanders now managing the Afghan war learned the value of surging more troops into a battle zone. "Vietnam fell to a conventional invasion of the North Vietnamese military," Mr. McCain said. "The closest parallel to Afghanistan today is Iraq, the strategies that succeeded and the generals that succeeded."

You can also tell a lot about a person - and their perspective - by the books they read.
"Lessons in Disaster" entered West Wing circulation after Deputy National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, one of the top foreign-policy voices in the White House, gave it to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel after reading it himself.

Mr. Emanuel read the book in a weekend, then showed it to the president, who was already working on his own copy. Instead, Mr. Emanuel gave his copy to senior White House adviser David Axelrod, according to an administration official familiar with the book's path.
Like input to a computer - faulty input - faulty output.

History has more than one story to tell - the you have to look at the full story. Don't just take a snap shot at the middle before it plays its course; no, you have to judge it to the end. The story of Napoleon did not end at Jenna.
For opponents of a major troop increase, led by Mr. Biden and Mr. Emanuel, "Lessons in Disaster" -- which traces the hawkish war stance and eventual disavowal of it by Vietnam-era national-security adviser McGeorge Bundy -- encapsulates their concerns about accepting military advice unchallenged.

"Bundy said we debated a number and not a use," said Gordon M. Goldstein, the book's author, referring to troop deployments. "That's a really critical observation which goes to the heart of what's going on right now in the White House."

Administration officials in the Biden camp fear they too could close off the path to a more peaceful resolution of the conflict if 40,000 more troops are sent. They believe most of the Taliban fighters, and some of their leaders, are neither hard-core, violent Islamists nor sympathetic to al Qaeda.
"I believe that the loss of stability in Afghanistan brings huge risks that transnational terrorists such as al Qaeda will operate from within Afghanistan again," Gen. McChrystal said.

That view is shared by the bulk of the senior military leadership, which has signed on to Gen. McChrystal's 66-page war assessment that calls for a large increase in force levels.

It is a view echoed by Lewis Sorley, author of "A Better War," which argues that once Gen. William Westmoreland was replaced in 1968 by Gen. Creighton Abrams, the war began to turn.

In Mr. Sorley's account, Gen. Abrams abandoned the "search and destroy" tactics of his predecessor for a policy of protecting villages, and began to push for Vietnamese institutions to take over tasks once run by Americans -- just the policies Gen. McChrystal has advocated in Afghanistan.

The book was published to little acclaim in 1999. It became a bible to counterinsurgency experts in the debate over the Iraq surge three years ago. Lt. Gen. David Barno, commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan until 2005, passed out the book to his staff. "The first thing he did was tell people, 'Read Lewis Sorley's book,'" recalls Maj. Gen. Bernard Champoux, then a subordinate to Gen. Barno.
Read what they are reading - get in their nogg'n.
In case you are wondering what the CINC is reading in the pic above, it is Fareed Zakaria's The Post-American World. That was from last year. Like I said - get in their nogg'n.

No comments: