The New Wiseman: Informed Critics Of Afpak Strategy

Decades ago Washington insiders always spoke reverently about the need for any President to have a ‘wise man’ continuously informing and constraining the President’s policy options:  Roosevelt had Hopkins, Truman had Acheson, Kennedy had Macmillian.  Today’s President either arrives into Washington beholden to old ‘inside the beltway wise men’ who are dangerously unfit to perceive the dynamic movement of geopolitical strategy or possess a Reaganite grasp of mastering both policy decisions and events themselves.  Most never measure up to the task of forming themselves to acquire such acumen.  It can only be gained through the timeless patient rigor that is self education.  Sadly enough this is unfit for today’s soundbite.

Our decentralized political economy is yielding tremendous gains for the executive who possesses the self confidence to pursue such guidance.  The new ‘wise men’ are not found in media, journalism nor academia.  Most are discovered, developed in industry or a hybrid mixture.  Gone are the days of looking to Yale or Harvard to discover the playing fields for future wise men.  Instead, the ‘consensus making’ model that dominates institutions throughout Washington is unfit for molding the kind of minds and people that can survey and craft policy criticism.  We are curiously analogous to England in the early 19th century when men like T.E. Lawrence, Henry Rawlinson, Fredrick Roberts, Livingstone, Arthur Conolly, Austen Henry Layered and Cavagnari left Oxford and Cambridge and demonstrated both personal bravery and intellectual responsibility in living in Pakistan and Afghanistan as officers fit to guide and inform Downing Street.  Their capacity to endure hardship, learn languages and discern policy and trade craft was astonishing.  Today, the United States has such people, but they are not to be found among Washington elite ‘inside the beltway’ cocktail parties.  Such people are not formed from inside institutions.  They are formed in the field under duress and hardship.

Ann Marlowe and Ralph Peters are contemporary T.E. Lawrence’s.  They develop their craft from outside official regimen and gain vision to inform the institutions that shape the minds of both media and Washington officials.  Both have spoken about the American failure of our counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, both have made enormous contributions to the craft of COIN (counter-insurgency doctrine) especially regarding how General McCryrstal (now General Petraeus) COIN campaign has been blunted by the failure of the local population to develop indigenous political institutions centralized from Kabul.  Both Peters and Marlowe bring fresh insight into the implementation of COIN post McCrystal.

For Peters, Petraeus has reviewed the rules of engagement in hunting down the Haqqani network, further intensified special operations, and has personally affronted both Hamid Karzai and Obama on the political requirement for success:  political leadership in Washington, Kabul and Islamabad.  Petraeus’ leadership style shows new realism in a region badly in need of clear direction.

Here are the four points that Peters and Marlow in consultation with Petraeus have developed for COIN in our Afpak strategy.

1.  Counterinsurgency is not a strategy, its a means, a tactic to engage and centralize political command.  How do we get there?  Simple:  Pick your tribes.  Give the Afghans reasons to fight.  Stop dreaming of unity governance; we don’t even have such here in America!  If you want to win, back your guys and slaughter the enemy.

2.  Exploit the existing culture that dominates throughout the region.  Stop trying to change the nature of tribal society.  Consider what the locals want.  Change what you must to achieve what tribal culture desires.

3.  Recognize your own limits.  All successful COIN tactics recognize intrinsic limitations, especially political.  Academic studies on successful COIN suggest that it requires about 15 years!  If we are not prepared to go the limit then we pay the political and cultural consequences; this is very damaging in our contemporary world where proliferation and terrorism easily transgress state lines.

4.  Only negotiate from a position of strength.  This is simple to understand.  Annihilate the insurgents first, then negotiate.  From a position of strength we can begin to recognize which ally shares our agenda.  We must be more cunning than our allies.   This ought to inform us as to our success in trying western style governance in Afghanistan.  We must be cunning in our analysis of what can work to our advantage in all of Central Asia, but particularly in the Afpak region which is already nuclear, tribal and close to Iran.  Its a tinder box ready to explode if we don’t manage our affairs on the ground properly.

Ralph Peters and Ann Marlowe remain hardened COIN critics similar to B.H. Liddel Hart, David Galula, Martin van Creveld and David Kilcullen all revered COIN operators who understand that our immediate future resides in the hands of a few along the Afpak border.  If they fail, America will be irrevocably lost.

We are no longer a culture that shapes men for governance from the feeder institutions of Harvard or Yale.  This Republic is on the cusp of radical social, political transformation in moving from a command political economy to a completely decentralized political economy.  People like Peters and Marlowe reveal that Reagan was right.  America’s best years are yet to come.

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About William Holland

Systematic Theologian/International Relations
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