October 16, 2009

(Criticism - Constructive Alternatives) = (Udders + Bull)

As I watched the Frontline documentary on Tuesday night and read the Dexter Filkins profile of Stan McChrystal in the New York Times Magazine yesterday, I found myself thinking the same thing as Spencer Ackerman*: when are the people so eloquent in their criticism of counter-insurgency strategies actually going to step up to the plate and offer constructive alternatives?

The only real alternative I have heard with respect to Afghanistan has been articulated by Robert Pape, and while I do not think it would work, I give the University of Chicago professor full marks for putting it out there like a man and letting people take a swing at his argument.** Because it's easy -- really easy -- to make a public argument for why a counterinsurgency strategy is a bad idea in Afghanistan. Heck, I think we should execute a counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan yet cogently argue the other side of that particular coin in debates with peers and colleagues on a regular basis. What I cannot do is defend -- in an intellectually honest way -- alternative strategies. Like our commanders in Afghanistan, I just do not think alternatives will work without accepting a lot more risk than the president has thus far allowed himself to accept with respect to Afghanistan and Pakistan as safe havens for transnational terror groups.

I'm an East Tennessean and apparently face limits with respect to my cognative capacity that perhaps some of you smarter folks out there do not. So you guys tell me if there are alternate strategies out there of which I, in either my ignorance or blind adherence to counterinsurgency doctrine, am unaware. But I challenge some of those who have been effective and intelligent critics of counterinsurgency strategies in Afghanistan to come up with alternatives and hint at how they might be operationalized. Otherwise, those folks are not being terribly helpful in this public debate.

*CNAS Writer-in-Residence, Class of 2023

**There is the much-written-about but less-known-about-in-specifics Biden Plan, I guess. I would want to know more about this plan before I started slinging stones at it.