12 November 2009

Around the Blogosphere...

Today's foreign policy and military analysis, brought to you by some of the usual suspects.

I received a link yesterday from CourtneyME109 regarding an interesting article in Foreign Policy Online entitled "No Good Choices", referring to President Obama's four proposed courses of action in Afghanistan.

I need to begin with the following caveat. I will always be suspicious of computer models regarding insurgent environments, and it stems from my experience fighting the 21st Century Maginot Line in the Aviation Captains Career Course on the JANUS system*. There are far too many variables to be modeled accurately. Decades worth of formulas and wargames didn't help Helmuth van Moltke (the Younger) in August of 1914--and that was a mere 2GW battlefield, not the modern 4GW one.

Nevertheless, they shouldn't be completely discounted, either.

In the article at FP Online, two defense analysts partook in a series of wargames concerning Afghanistan. I'd be highly curious to see the raw data, and the methodology behind the wargames, but it brings up a number of issues which I think I'd suspected all along. Not the least of which is that the counterinsurgency landscape in Afghanistan is significantly more complex than the French experience in Algeria and the British experience in Malaya (around which much of our current counterinsurgency doctrine is based).

Says the article:

What explains the inability of any additional deployment to reduce the likelihood of insurgency in Afghanistan? Our analysis suggests that the U.S. counterinsurgency swims against two very strong currents.

First, the combustible mix of Afghanistan's relatively immutable social and political characteristics -- its ethnic and religious divisions, low level of economic development, and large population -- almost guarantees continued insurgency. The country's poverty and large population encourage competition for scarce resources, and that competition gins up violence. Democracy itself seems to further destabilize the country: Our analysis shows that when foreign countries institute democracy in countries with deep ethnic and religious divisions (and Afghanistan is a tribal-based society), insurgency results.

A second factor suggesting that additional U.S. troops won't do much to quell political violence is the length of the war in Afghanistan. Insurgency develops momentum and is more difficult to eliminate the longer it persists. A force that might nip a fledgling insurgency in the bud is unlikely to do so once it is embedded -- and the rebels in Afghanistan have been around for nearly a decade.

While the continued high probability of insurgency in Afghanistan is bad news by itself, its implications for the survival of democracy in Afghanistan are even more sobering. Indeed, the same ethnic and religious divisions, poverty, and large population that make Afghanistan ripe for the Taliban also undermine the viability of the democratic government -- and additional foreign soldiers do little to ameliorate those underlying conditions.

If the United States keeps the current force in place, our analysis predicts a nearly 20 percent chance that democracy will fail in Afghanistan within three years, 40 percent in five years, and 62 percent in 10 years. The most aggressive force expansion, adding 60,000 troops, actually increasesthe risk of democratic failure, to 22 percent in a three-year time frame and 73 percent in 10 years. Our analysis indicates that larger force deployments increase the risk of democratic failure because they stimulate discontent within the civilian populace -- even if they increase security -- making the durability of the elected government more tenuous.

On the flip side, however...

We also explored the consequences that continued insurgency in Afghanistan might have for its regional neighbors. Our research shows that the successful development of democracy in Afghanistan would promote regional democratization and peace, creating a powerful example for the wider region to follow and encouraging democracy in Pakistan and Iran. But democratic failure in Kabul would carry severe negative effects. In particular, the failure of democracy in Afghanistan raises the risk of civil conflict in Pakistan by a non-negligible 4.2 percent. Not only would the failure of the fledgling Afghan democracy undermine regional hopes for democracy, but the instability would no doubt spill over the country's borders.

Ultimately, our forecasts paint a bleak picture for Afghanistan, regardless of the strategy Obama chooses. Our analysis clearly shows that the time for the stabilization of Afghanistan, if such time existed at all, has passed. The deployment of additional troops to Afghanistan shows little chance of either ending the insurgency or sustaining Afghan democracy. At the same time, the collapse of democracy in Afghanistan raises the specter of something even more worrying: instability in a nuclear-armed Pakistan. As such, our analysis suggests that the resources proposed for the continuation of a losing bet in Afghanistan would be better applied to supporting Pakistan and maintaining its stability.

I'm somewhat skeptical of the claims that instability in Afghanistan will automatically lead to instability in Pakistan (andits arsenal of nuclear weapons). Note that Afghanistan had been stable throughout the 1990s, with seemingly minimal risk to Pakistan's stockpile of nuclear weapons.

Moving along, the next link comes from SWJ's Council and it regards the real threat in the region, al-Qaeda. The guys at SWJ link to another article in FP Online ("Destroying al Qaeda is Not an Option Yet") which discusses the current state of al-Qaeda: one that has been significantly wounded not only by Predator strikes--with a good portion of its top leadership dead--but also appearing increasingly illegitimate in the eyes of many Muslims.

Good news for us.

However, the author brings up a puzzling argument. He believes that the concentration of anti-Western Wahhabists in al Qaeda gives NATO a center of gravity to act upon. Should al Qaeda be destroyed, Wahhabists might flock to a number of other groups, with the dispersion making them that much harder to target and kill.

Oh, you mean like al Qaeda in Mesopotamia (Iraq), al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (Yemen), Lashkar e-Taiba, and any one of a number of other groups? Thanks, it already happened.

The last link isn't about foreign policy--it's about the families of Soldiers. In an article in the Washington Post, the wife of a battalion commander in Iraq notes a number of issues within the family readiness groups Army-wide. One of her top complaints is one which I agree with:

Finally, the Army should directly fund its mandated Family Readiness Groups. Currently, Army regulations require that fundraising be done within units -- so we bake cupcakes and sell them to our own husbands in the motor pool, effectively taking from the people we are trying to support. We shouldn't have to fundraise to treat families to pizza and bowling while their soldiers are deployed.
Yes, the FRG fundraiser. I would be all for nixing these in favor of direct funding to family readiness groups, although for a different reason than the author puts forward...my issue is with the time spent on fundraisers. I'd rather simply pay $50 out of my own pocket than give up a weekend selling cupcakes or sodas, and I'm certain many soldiers and families feel the same way as well. Many fundraisers take away precious time away from families on weekends and weekdays. Not to mention, in this era, many spouses work--when are they going to find the time to participate in a bake sale?

And that's the blogosphere for today. Oh, with one more note for the guys at al-Sahwa.

*--Good luck in your career course. To beat the game, just put tanks all over the battlefield and the Soviet Army will be destroyed. Don't leave a gap in your line like one student did, or the Soviets will break through. Seriously, we have students that fight like the French Army in 1940. God help us all...

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