February 10, 2008

Charlie's Weekend Notes

Charlie's back from a whirlwind weekend in NYC, though her recovery may continue a bit longer (there are vague memories of holding seminar in a bar with West Point cadets, a beer run in the pouring rain with Nate, George's devastating play, champagne in a limo, epic shop talk, and someone calling her the "Angelina Jolie of the COIN world." Or maybe that was still the champagne talking).

But in service to you, dear readers, she tracked down these thoughtful articles upon her return.

Charlie's favorite retired Army colonel, Bob Killebrew, continues his campaign for a reinvigorated Military Assistance and Advisor Group (MAAG) program.

Iraq and Afghanistan are worst-case examples of “enabling and empowering” allies. The secretary’s real thrust — and the topic of debate in Washington, D.C., today — is how to merge military power with other government agencies to support allies in emerging states before events reach crisis proportions, and to help our friends manage their own affairs without U.S. conventional forces. This is a challenge the U.S. has successfully faced before, yet the Washington policy establishment appears singularly ill-informed about how to go about it. Here are some fundamentals.

This follows closely on the heels of Sean Naylor's article on Mike Vickers and the "indirect approach" (a favorite here at AM).

“The Afghans themselves will tell you, they want and expect to win this war with assistance, [but] they want to do the fighting themselves,” he said. “Substantial foreign assistance and continued engagement is critical, but I think in the long run it will be the Afghans that do it with our support.”

Therefore, Vickers said, it was essential that the U.S. not repeat the mistake it made in the 1990s when it turned its attention away from Afghanistan after Soviet forces had left the country.

He was less sanguine about Afghanistan’s southeastern neighbor. “The situation in Pakistan is very worrisome,” he said. “It’s getting worse in Pakistan.”

And finally, a needling I-told-you-so from Slate's Fred Kaplan regarding NATO in Afghanistan.

The alliance isn't "evolving into a two-tiered alliance," as Gates said. When it comes to Afghanistan, it's been that kind of alliance from the start. As the fighting has grown fiercer, the inadequacies of this crazy quilt have become clearer.


What is needed now goes well beyond Germany's reticence, goes well beyond NATO. What's needed is a full-blown initiative—military, economic, diplomatic—involving all the nations of the region. It requires imagination, tireless negotiations, heaps of money (in part to pay for other countries' troops, since we have so few to spare), and some unpleasant deal-making with some otherwise unpleasant nations.

What we have here, between these three articles, is the makings of a strategy not just for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but for the Long War. The indirect approach is the only thing that's sustainable over the long run, whether that's working through proxies in Afghanistan or rebuilding our pre-crisis advising efforts elsewhere. And such advising efforts are by nature an interagency, or whole-of-government, approach of the sort Kaplan suggests.

Ultimately we'll need to empower ambassadors, mil-group leaders, and local commanders to escape Washington's 10,000 mile screwdriver. But that requires getting the right folks in charge. Because, as we've seen, when they're good, they're very good. But when they're bad, they're terrible.