June 03, 2009

And take your Jomini with you! (Updated)

Michael Cohen asks:


Over at abu muqawama, Andrew Exum makes an audacious claim about the proper metric for success in Afghanistan. In responding to a WSJ article about the military's growing use of body counts to measure succes in Afghanistan, Exum writes:

In the context of a counterinsurgency campaign -- which we can all agree we're engaged in -- enemy body count is a poor metric. Civilian body counts, by contrast, are a better metric -- the fewer civilians dying, the better. . . I know the public affairs officers in Afghanistan are trying their best, but by publicizing enemy body counts as part of one's communications plan, you create the impression that we ourselves are using enemy body count as an effective metric to track success and failure. Which I hope to goodness we are not.

First of all, we don't all agree that we're engaged in a counter-insurgency in Afghanistan. Indeed, I'm pretty sure President Obama would not agree that we are engaged in a full-fledged counter-insurgency campaign. (Perhaps COIN-lite or Skim COIN).

Beyond that point, forgive me for asking the obvious question - and at risk of being derided as an old fashioned, lost in the weeds, conventional warrior - but isn't the point of war-fighting to kill the enemy?

Where, dear readers, would you like me to start with this one?

Let's start with my "audacious claim". Civilian casualties were the metric we used to gauge success in Iraq in 2007. This is nothing audacious to anyone who has followed U.S. operations in Iraq or Afghanistan. General McCrystal is saying the same thing, in fact, about Afghanistan:

In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, General McChrystal said the measure of American and allied effectiveness would be “the number of Afghans shielded from violence,” not the number of enemies killed.

If we were fighting, oh, Nazi Germany, the killing of the enemy might be enough to win the war. In an irregular fight in which the enemy does not have a fixed number of troops or when killing civilians might actually create more new enemy combatants than you can kill, that's not really an option.

Moving on, are you serious? Is there really someone left out there that thinks the goal of war-fighting is the destruction of the enemy's fighting forces and not the accomplishment of political aims? Really? Aren't we past this? Has Antoine Henri-Jomini been reincarnated as a fellow at the New America Foundation?

Look, I realize that I am preaching to the choir (choir = people who have read Chapters One and Two of Book I of On War), but the destruction of the enemy's fighting force is just a military objective and not necessarily the end itself.

The political object -- the original motive for the war -- will thus determine both the military objective to be reached and the amount of effort it requires.

For goodness sake, that's on the eighth friggin page of On War! Could you not read at least that far? Now this, from Chapter Two of Book I:

The purpose in question may be the destruction of the enemy's forces, but not necessarily so; it may be quite different.

A few weeks back, a political scientist I know broached the theory that Michael Cohen is a secret GOP plot to re-convince voters to never take Democrats seriously when they talk of defense policy. I laughed when he said this, but I am now thinking he might be right. C'mon, man, we get that you don't like counterinsurgency. Great. But give me this: surely the first, the supreme, the most far-reaching act of judgment that the pundit has to make is to establish the kind of war about which he is running his mouth off.

Update: My comments sections, for once, keeps its cool when I do not. Check out what Ryan (6:44) and SNLII (8:34 and 8:34) have to say.

Update II: Michael Cohen is still steamed over this post. I apologize for my tone, which is immature.