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

Saturday, December 12, 2009

COINterinsurgency basics... and the Pentagon's new map

(You have here two posts in one. It evolved this way as I was writing it. First I planned to post something generally relevant, but altogether quite relaxed. Then I bumped into the leaked schematic plan that is apparently being used by the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, forming the basis of the remaining counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan. Mission creep set in: I discussed that document, too.)
Scroll down on this page for some serious fun right till where the Matrix is discussed. The Cracked team describes the bafflingly bad decision making its plot possible:
"We evil machines need a new energy source. All our mechanical lives, we've depended on solar power, but now the sun has been blocked out by our human enemies. Wait. Our human enemies... Enemies... Enemy... Enermy... Energy! That's it! We'll harvest the natural electrical energy of the only things in this world that pose any danger to us! We can just breed them by the billions and keep them docile by forcing them to play the most boring MMORPG in history! It can't possibly fail!"
(MMORPG stands for "massively multiplayer online role-player game" in there.)
Well, the machines certainly made a mistake, right? You can say they did so from a counterinsurgency point of view, let's add. They could have used lots of hamsters spinning hamster wheels to power them and then they would not have had those pesky rebel humans to deal with for the long run.
This is pretty fundamental to counterinsurgency. You don't really want to make others play your game, or play a game with you, at all cost. As the former Communist leader of Hungary, János Kádár, said, faced with the challenge of having to govern Hungary in the wake of the bloody 1956 uprising (and the reprisals that directly followed it): "who is not against us is with us." Kádár took this from a source that was not standard reading for a Communist leader: from Mark's gospel, namely.
The first thing one should carefully think of, when one has an insurgency to deal with, is whether there are people one should not necessarily be fighting. Rule number one...
Now, I am writing this while in another window, that I have just opened, I am peering at the gameplan for Afghanistan, from the office of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, but apparently prepared by a London-based consulting firm, PA Consulting (thinking of this, London as a possible location where this scheme comes from, could be explanation regarding why "tribal governance" is paid so much attention).
It is fun-tastic, but I think we would need some maps here, too.
Irony aside. If you carefully go through this, you can realise that the Plan does make sense to a degree. Important variables are indicated, key relationships between them are characterised and highlighted. It is useful to make calculations regarding a number of things. But it is all within a box. Problems include that one can't find captions such as "outside (incl. our) support given to those giving outside support" on this thing, around the part where the insurgency is schematised. Neither can "our support accidentally reaching insurgents" be found there, and many other things that sustain the need to play the counterinsurgency part of the game.
On the other hand, "narcotics" is indicated directly in the vicinity of the insurgency's area, and no arrows go from it to "government capacity" for example. Or to corruption. And "Counter Narcotics/Crime Ops" is there impacting just "criminal trafficking capability" and "illegit agricultural production." Let me illustrate, right from the Plan's visualisation, how carefully this was thought through:
See? Counter-narcotics comes in out-of-the-blue, in blue. It is so much out of context. They stuck it on top of all else, in a map where placing everything according to colour was obviously an ordering principle. It's telling, isn't it? Counter-narcotics is the only item that they couldn't place according to this principle. It is this well integrated into the whole effort, one may be tempted to conclude.
Finally, I am not sure if the sort of democracy that was invented for Afghans at the start of the game, which is the democracy of a weak king (Karzai) and a lot of quarrelling princes, one where it is really astonishing that voting irregularities ended up surprising so many, is the sort of MMORPG (= offline MMRPG here) that we want to make Afghans play; and really just for the long-term fun of it.
(Alright, I will stop here. For four full days, in fact, while I am off for a conference on a non-Afghanistan-related topic.)
Update: via Armchair Generalist, here is the full presentation (pdf) where you can watch people build up this scheme and then use it to disinguish tasks within it important from COIN, governance and development perspectives.

No comments: