25 September 2009

Strategy vs. Tactics

Apparently, I missed a huge COINdinista festival hosted by the US Marine Corps. Attendees included Thomas Ricks, Dave Dilegge, General Petraeus, Brig. Gen. H.R. McMaster, Robert Haddick, and Spencer Ackerman (who posted about it at his blog, Attackerman).

(As an aside, I should mention that Dave Dilegge told me that there's great food and coffee at these functions. He even provided me with an in-depth analysis of who has the best snacks. Yes, this is what I have to look forward to.)

Anyway, since I can't partake in COINtoberfest, I have to settle for the milblogosphere, primarily, SWJ. They provided a link to an article in the New York Times, entitled The Afghan Imperative. This particular article caught my eye, as it represents someone who just doesn't get the debate. Quoth the author:

Always there is the illusion of the easy path. Always there is the illusion, which gripped Donald Rumsfeld and now grips many Democrats, that you can fight a counterinsurgency war with a light footprint, with cruise missiles, with special forces operations and unmanned drones. Always there is the illusion, deep in the bones of the Pentagon's Old Guard, that you can fight a force like the Taliban by keeping your troops mostly in bases, and then sending them out in well-armored convoys to kill bad guys.

There is simply no historical record to support these illusions. The historical evidence suggests that these middling strategies just create a situation in which you have enough forces to assume responsibility for a conflict, but not enough to prevail.

The record suggests what Gen. Stanley McChrystal clearly understands — that only the full counterinsurgency doctrine offers a chance of success. This is a doctrine, as General McChrystal wrote in his remarkable report, that puts population protection at the center of the Afghanistan mission, that acknowledges that insurgencies can only be defeated when local communities and military forces work together.

This is a straw man argument at its worst. The debate isn't between those who want to apply few troops to counterinsurgency efforts in Afghanistan and those who want to surge. That's a tactical question. Rather, the debate is between those who want to continue nation-building and counter-insurgency in Afghanistan, versus those who want to concentrate on a counter-terror campaign. The question is strategic—what are the national objectives, and how do we go about achieving them. If you believe that counterinsurgency against the Taliban is in our interests, then yes, you need more troops. However, if you feel that al Qaeda is the real enemy (and, I dare say, it is), then the question isn't about how to conduct counter-insurgency—it's about re-framing the strategic picture.

Bonus: This point wasn't lost on the editors who referenced this article in the comments section of Small Wars Journal. They were able to provide me with a link to Cato@Liberty for a more in-depth deconstruction of the aforementioned article.

No comments: