What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Game-changers

This is what happens when I don't have much time to write blogs. Frustration I feel is what will bring me back to do it. David Ignatius has just written this for the Washington Post.
" It's not just boots on the ground" that will bring success in Afghanistan, but a range of factors such as governance, economic development and relations with neighboring Pakistan. The idea that we can saturate that vast country with enough American soldiers to provide security for the population seems unrealistic, to put it mildly. "
David Ignatius is unable to grasp a few basic things, to put it mildly.
You can't bring "governance and economic development" to villages you only care to bomb, should some insurgent team move even near it. Insurgents who can move freely, because there are only some Afghan policemen in the area (some of whom never had formal training, some of whom never got paid by their organisation, some of whom want to find a living even while being paid some ridiculously low salary). They may be the only presence in some places because ISAF and OEF troops cannot currently secure these places (of course, OEF wouldn't even want to). And because donors are happy to spend the actually, comparatively speaking, small amount of money they spend on Afghanistan in predictably bad ways, unable to prop up state institutions and make them, for example, more immune to corruption.
Sure it's not a surge in simple numbers, both regarding soldiers and development aid, that would be needed. But I am totally tired of people who want look smart by sounding counter-intuitive. Actually, Ignatius is not counter-intuitive at all. He writes this:
"Rather than more troops, the real game-changer in Afghanistan may be Gates's plan to spend an extra $1.3 billion on surveillance technology to find and destroy the leadership of the insurgency."
That's so much like the early thinking on what would beat the Iraqi insurgency. No thinking, no carrots, no connection of means and ends. Just spend more on gadgets, hit them harder and kill more. How wonderfully imaginative thinking.
Deploying more troops in Afghanistan is certainly challenging logistically. Finding more money to spend on a faraway country seems an equally daunting challenge. But explaining this by saying that continuing cutting off heads of a hydra, with a lot of collateral damage in the process, is actually the best thing we could think of... please, stop saying that.

3 comments:

Ian said...

It's okay to debate whether putting more live human beings into a dangerous war zone is a good move.

I may find Ignatius' resort to gagdetry, and his tendency to report DoD opinions word-for-word, kind of annoying. But I do think there is value in asking questions out loud about an idea that has become a consensus position without any overt discussion in the US.

The media context here is that "the surge is working," which average Americans take to mean that all you have to do is stick 4 brigades in and all problems will solve themselves. That is simply not a serious attitude toward escalation, which has to include new, creative ideas. The US got lucky in the Sunni Awakening, but nothing like that seems to be on the horizon in Afghanistan.

I don't say this to appear smart or counterintuitive, but because 30,000 US soldiers have come back from these wars with injuries. Many more have come back with crippling mental illnesses. Escalating in Afghanistan with worn troops will only increase these rates. The Europeans (save the French, and only after they took losses) are not rushing in more brigades of their own, as far as I can tell.

I've been voicing my skepticism at Registan for some time about escalation, so don't think I'm just picking on you. I understand your and Josh's frustration at Ignatius, but on principle I defend and desire *some* debate about it.

RFE/RL has a report today that the Afghan government is negotiating with some Taliban. Accomodating Taliban into the system of governance is one way, among others, to achieve a state of less violence. Another is massive development investment (which is not being debated in the US media AT ALL--showing how un-debated consensus narratives tend to block out the sun).

Péter MARTON said...

Well, I agree that the addition of more troops is not very possible at the moment, with the intention lacking on all sides, as well as with the issue of how to re-supply them. These are major problems. One way of viewing what I've written is that I just don't like Ignatius' reasoning, even while I know that the gadgetry surge could be among the only feasible options for now. Let's hope that in case some SF unit decides to call in air strikes on a contractor for the nearby US base in the future, the new gadgetry will reveal that in time.
My problem will still be that there are a lot of settlements in Afghanistan that had no problem with foreign troops. Those foreign troops did not, however, have enough of their own to secure these places, left these settlements to be taken by insurgents on some occasions in the past, and then bombed the insurgents out of these places, with, in the best of cases, at least the settlements (houses, canals etc.) left in ruin.
I'm not even saying that having these settlements reinforced will necessarily make it possible to avoid damage done to lives and property there in various ways. But the population should be better defended where roaming as opposed to stationary insurgents are the problem.

Joshua Foust said...

I think the reality here calls for a "grey" solution. It's not "smarter strategy" vs. "more troops" - the two must go hand in hand. I don't actually support just a blind "surge" strategy.