March 02, 2009

Barno on Afghanistan; Exum still in his pajamas

Oh, this is ridiculous. My first day of work and it looks like a damn snow globe outside. Federal employees are supposed to arrive to work two hours late today, so taking my cue from them, I'm going to have that extra cup of coffee this morning before walking to the Metro in what will look like a scene out of Napoleon's retreat from Russia.

Abu Muqawama makes his way down Pennsylvania Avenue to report in to Fick

While I'm drinking my coffee, though, I'm going to be reading LTG (Ret.) David Barno's testimony to the Senate on Afghanistan (.pdf). Barno was one of those rare commanders in Afghanistan who actually put some thought into a little thing called "strategy," so his words are always valuable. Why we let this guy retire I have no idea. Perhaps it was because Barno made the mistake of spending too much time in the suspect 75th Imperial Ranger Regiment rather than that secretive and elite group of war-fighters known as the "U.S. Military Academy Department of Social Sciences." (Which, as we all know, is running the wars. That's right. The nerds you used to beat up in high school are now colonels and generals in the U.S. Army. No, I'm not sure how it happened either.)

A freakishly accurate description of your average West Point Sosh P/Member of General Petraeus's staff Members of the 75th Ranger Regiment in their rarely-seen dress reds

Some key excerpts from Dave "Smart Ranger" Barno's testimony:

Any discussion of reversing a downward trajectory in Afghanistan must start with a discussion of objectives. What is “winning?” Can we “win?” And even the most fundamental question: who is “we?”

Success in Afghanistan will require a re-assertion of American leadership.

Put as a mathematical equation, success – meeting the above U.S. policy objectives – derives from the balanced combination of leadership, strategy and resources. Our system distorts our focus toward the resource component: generating more troops, more dollars and euros, more aid workers and police mentors absorbs vast amounts of our energy. But resources cannot be a substitute for the lack of a plan -- nor can they take the place of the most central ingredient: the dynamic leadership necessary to deliver success.

Lack of continuity and coherence in our leadership and our strategy removes any possibility of delivering effective results without a major change of approach. Over the last eight years, our standard response to challenges in Afghanistan has always focused on more resources; at the same time we have cycled through at least six different US military commanders, seven NATO ISAF commanders, six different US embassy leaders, and four chiefs of the UN Mission.

The number of diverse “strategies” has closely paralleled this revolving door of senior leadership. In this extraordinarily complex conflict, strategy is important (and will be explored below), but leadership is vital – leadership that includes both organizational structures (e.g., military commands) and people: the human beings who will fill critical roles in the effort, from senior NATO military commander to US ambassador.

If you're lazy -- and I sure as hell am -- you can just watch the hearing here. On the TeeVee. On your computer. It's the future, kids.

Update: Be sure to read this article in the Washington Post, which ran on the front page under the apt headline "Tactical Success, Strategic Defeat." This article really underlines the importance of partnering every combat operation with effective information operations in Afghanistan. If you don't have a plan to craft a narrative for what you're doing and to explain your actions to the population, you simply do not have a plan for success. This article illustrates precisely what happens when you let the other side run its information operations unopposed.

Update II: Man, I am really becoming a euro-socialist. I was just complaining about how nothing has been plowed in my Southeast DC neighborhood (bet it's not that way in Georgetown!) when this kid knocked on my door offering to shovel the snow off my stoop. My faith in American capitalism has been briefly restored.

Update III:  Charlie, here.  I just walked from Glover Park to Dupont.  Let me sure that the city's sh*tty plowing extends to all corners of the city.  The folks at Dunbarton Oaks, on the other hand, do a mean job shoveling sidewalks.