Tuesday, August 22, 2017

We're taking the 2nd ausfahrt prior to the Friendship Bridge, it seems

President Obama outlined his policy towards Afghanistan in his disastrous December 2009 West Point speech that I covered here at the time. 

For the better part of eight years since I’ve outlined the absolutely wrong-headed nature of this approach to AFG; you can read some of that archive here. In four months less time than his predecessor, yesterday President Trump outlined his plan. A little of the pre-Obama concepts, but adjusted given the realities of today.

If, like me, you have style, substance, or personal reasons not to enjoy listening to President Trump speak, then ignore the video embedded below. Instead, read the transcript in full. Ignore the selective pull quotes, inaccurate opinionating, or bitter political posturing by his perma-opponents who would say Trump was wrong if he said puppy noses were cute – read it yourself.

I’ll bring out some pull quotes of interest in a moment, but here’s the Executive Summary: two of the best military minds of their generation, National Security Adviser McMaster and Secretary of Defense Mattis, helped develop a plan that they believe gives us a chance to salvage something in Afghanistan after seven years of dithering. Not a perfect plan, but a doable one. I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and fully support it. The major reason is that it returns to something I have written about for well over a decade, Conditions Based Planning, and throws away what remains of the Obama Administration's bollocked-up Calendar Based Planning.

Read it all, but here are the significant points.
…nearly 16 years after the Sept. 11 attacks, after the extraordinary sacrifice of blood and treasure, the American people are weary of war without victory. Nowhere is this more evident than with the war in Afghanistan, the longest war in American history, 17 years.

I share the American people’s frustration. I also share their frustration over a foreign policy that has spent too much time, energy, money — and most importantly, lives — trying to rebuild countries in our own image instead of pursuing our security interests above all other considerations.

That is why shortly after my inauguration, I directed Secretary of Defense Mattis and my national security team to undertake a comprehensive review of all strategic options in Afghanistan and South Asia. My original instinct was to pull out. And historically, I like following my instincts.

But all my life I’ve heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office,
Once you get behind the door, the perspective changes. Once you have some of the best minds in the country define the 2nd and 3rd order effects of a decision, you can quickly come to a different conclusion. That is one reason Obama never fully did what he wanted to do in his DEC 09 West Point speech, and this is why Trump is changing his mind too.
I arrived at three fundamental conclusion about America’s core interests in Afghanistan. First, our nation must seek an honorable and enduring outcome worthy of the tremendous sacrifices that have been made, especially the sacrifices of lives.

Second, the consequences of a rapid exit are both predictable and unacceptable. 9/11, the worst terrorist attack in our history, was planned and directed from Afghanistan because that country was ruled by a government that gave comfort and shelter to terrorists.

A hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum for terrorists, including ISIS and Al Qaeda, would instantly fill just as happened before Sept. 11. And as we know, in 2011, America hastily and mistakenly withdrew from Iraq. As a result, our hard-won gains slipped back into the hands of terrorist enemies. …

Third, and finally, I concluded that the security threats we face in Afghanistan and the broader region are immense.
In some ways, we are roughly right where Osama wanted us – involved in a long term war on the ground in Afghanistan – but the circumstances are different than what he and we thought in 2001. 

It is also 2017 now. We are where we are. The key is how to make the best of it.

This is the most important part of the speech;
But to prosecute this war, we will learn from history. As a result of our comprehensive review, American strategy in Afghanistan and South Asia will change dramatically in the following ways.

A core pillar of our new strategy is a shift from a time-based approach to one based on conditions. I’ve said it many times how counterproductive it is for the United States to announce in advance the dates we intend to begin or end military options.

We will not talk about numbers of troops or our plans for further military activities. Conditions on the ground, not arbitrary timetables, will guide our strategy from now on.
That is where Trump went Salamander. We are back to Conditions Based Planning – what military best practices tells us is the best path to success.
Another fundamental pillar of our new strategy is the integration of all instruments of American power — diplomatic, economic, and military — toward a successful outcome. Someday, after an effective military effort, perhaps it will be possible to have a political settlement that includes elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan. But nobody knows if or when that will ever happen.
Did you get that? All the traditional levers of national power. This is not just a military way forward. We are also willing to come to accommodation with SOME of the Taliban elements. Good to open that door.
Ultimately, it is up to the people of Afghanistan to take ownership of their future, to govern their society and to achieve an everlasting peace. We are a partner and a friend, but we will not dictate to the Afghan people how to live or how to govern their own complex society. We are not nation-building again. We are killing terrorists.
That is “no” to nation building as the conceit of the Bonn Agreement begat, and accepts that Afghanistan will have to order its affairs on Afghan terms. Not nice from our perspective, but what works for them.

Now for what I see as the largest risk in this new direction; the India card vs. Pakistan.
The next pillar of our new strategy is to change the approach in how to deal with Pakistan. We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organizations, the Taliban and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond.

It is time for Pakistan to demonstrate its commitment to civilization, order and to peace.

Another critical part of the South Asia strategy for America is to further develop its strategic partnership with India, the world’s largest democracy and a key security and economic partner of the United States. We appreciate India’s important contributions to stability in Afghanistan, but India makes billions of dollars in trade with the United States, and we want them to help us more with Afghanistan, especially in the area of economic assistance and development.
You can never have a more than 5-min conversation with a Pakistani officer without India coming up. Pakistan has always played both sides in AFG, so they've used up too much capital to stop us from pulling that card. India is a more natural ally for the USA anyway. This is a risky play, but probably the right one in the overall game. I wouldn't have recommended going that hard in the open, but not my job.

So, we have our next phase in Afghanistan. This is a good plan, and given everything, probably the best to be expected.

I’ve called during the time of calendar based dithering that we would probably be best to just go home and hope for the best. That was because with a calendar based plan, defeat is inevitable; it is only the timing and method that is in question. This plan gives of a chance to salvage something.

For those looking for End States, Objectives, Decisive Points, Criteria for Success, etc – this isn’t the venue for that. This speech gives us approximately the Commander’s Intent and Initiating Directive. The Operational Planners can build a plan off that, and are.

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