Later On

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No guts, no glory

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James Fallows points out (in a post with many good links) this column by “Chuck” Spinney, which is well worth reading:

One of the most pressing problems facing the incoming Secretary of Defense is posed by our denouement in Afghanistan.  For reasons explained by Paul Sperry in an excellent 30 December op-ed in the New York Post, extricating ourselves from this quagmire is now taking on dangerous overtones, and the need to leave may be approaching at warp speed.  The implications for the nature of the American withdrawal may be ominous, but they should not be unexpected.  It is now virtually certain that managing a coherent withdrawal will present a major challenge for the incoming defense secretary.

President Obama’s 2009 surge strategy for what he and Democrats liked to portray as the “good war” in Afghanistan was premised upon the assumption that the US could quickly build up and train large Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), including army and police forces.  Obama and the Pentagon sold this counterinsurgency strategy to the American people by promising a surge in American forces would quickly weaken the Taliban.  The emasculation of the Taliban would permit a rapid expansion of the Afghan security zones controlled by the Kabul government, while the rapid build up of the ANSF would stabilize and grow these zones even further, and thereby set the stage for a quick exit of US combat forces beginning eighteen months from the date of the surge.

Despite its central premise of quickly building up an effective ANSF, the surge-based counterinsurgency plan produced by the Afghan theater commander General Stanley McChrystal did not provide a realistic analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the existing Afghan army and police forces. Yet these forces were the foundation for the both the expansion and the promised sequence of developments that would enable our quick withdrawal.

McChrystal’s grotesque oversight became obvious well before the plan’s approval, when his plan was leaked in the early fall of 2009 (as I explained here). The limitations of this plan were again brought dramatically to the President’s attention by Ambassador Eikenberry in cables that were leaked immediately before the plan’s approval in January 2010 (summarized here). Nevertheless, the President pressed on and approved the fatally flawed plan after an agonizing public debate during the fall and winter of 2009-10.

General McChrystal’s omission was both logically and empirically unforgivable, especially given (1) the contemporaneously emerging awareness of the counterproductive strategic effects of President Bush’s surge in Iraq, (2) the Soviet’s clear failure to build up an effective Afghan army in the 1980s as part of its exit strategy and (3) our own spectacular failure to build up an effective South Vietnamese army (i.e., Vietnamization), which was a central premise of President Nixon’s Vietnam exit strategy.

While hardly unique in its content, Sperry’s op-ed piece provides an excellent summary of how the easily foreseeable consequences of McChrystal’s oversight are now rapidly coming to a head. The problem is not just a strategic one of extracting our forces with dignity; nor is it a political one of fingering who is to blame, although there is plenty of blame to go around. It stems from deep institutional roots that reveal a need for reform in our military bureaucracies and particularly our leadership selection policies.

That is because the next Secretary of Defense must deal with the consequences of a strategic oversight that was made by and approved at the highest professional levels of the American military establishment — a plan which it then imposed on its weak and insecure political leaders.  This suggests a question: Will the new defense secretary succumb to business as usual by sweeping the dysfunctional institutional causes of the Afghan debacle under the rug or have the courage and wisdom to use this sorry affair as a reason to clean out the Pentagon’s Augean Stables?

Continue reading.

This report in the NY Times today takes a look at McChrystal’s memoir about tensions with the Obama administration.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 January 2013 at 11:33 am

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