October 27, 2009

Two Things That Annoy Me

1. Yes, it might be true that NATO and Afghan troops outnumber insurgents 12-1. This is as irrelevant a statistic in guerrilla warfare as enemy body count. The only things worth measuring in any war are those things that bring each side closer to or farther from realizing expressed political objectives. We do not set our troop levels in counterinsurgencies or any other war based upon those of the enemy but rather upon what levels are appropriate for operationalizing the expressed strategic goals of the civilian leadership. Only if we had the option of pursuing a strategy of annihilation against the Taliban would their troop levels matter. As long as the Taliban and other insurgent groups continue to have the effect on the Afghan population they are having, their troop levels can be 600 guys or 60,000 guys and it does not matter.

2. I like how pundits who spend their time casting doubt on the assessments and opinions of those with in-depth understanding of Afghanistan and NATO operations there jump at the chance to sing the praises of others with in-depth understanding of Afghanistan and NATO operations when they conveniently advance assessments and opinions that match up with conclusions they themselves have already reached. (Here's but one example.) Afghanistan and the U.S. presence there is a wicked problem about which many intelligent people can disagree. But suddenly the opinion of a junior State Department employee -- talented and patriotic though he may be -- is the only opinion that matters? So Matthew Hoh is wise but Carter Malkasian and Kael Weston* are what, fools? Or Rory Stewart is clever but Ashraf Ghani and Clare Lockhart are dim? All three are clever, of course, and that's what makes policy options on Afghanistan so devilish. Look, if someone writes something and it matches up with your opinion, by all means say so. But I know about 50 really smart people on Afghanistan with lots of time on the ground there, and no two have the same opinion about what U.S. policy should be. Let's not turn one dude whose opinions on Afghanistan happen to line up with the zeitgeist into the flippin' Delphic oracle.

*To name two people currently doing the same work as Hoh -- in conditions equally tough.

Also and finally, do not miss my post this morning for the awesomely named "Daily Beast." The key take-away:

The Obama adminstration has, I believe, some leverage at the moment, which it could use to affect the composition and behavior of the next Afghan government. As long as Afghanistan’s ruling politicians—Hamid Karzai especially—think the United States might reduce its commitment to Afghanistan, they could be willing to accede to U.S. demands on key ministerial and provincial-level appointments. Just as an Afghan government consisting mainly of those politicians thrown out by the Taliban in 1996 would spell continued insurgency and mission failure, a more inclusive and competent Afghan government would enable the success of a counterinsurgency strategy.