The Great Gamble

There are two authorities on the AfPak region that are worth reading, Dr. Anatol Lieven who resides at King’s College, London and Ahmed Rashid.  Dr. Rashid currently has residence at Oxford University.  Both men have impeccable credentials along with language proficiency to manage tribal relations on both sides of the Durand Line.  The only problem is how they continue to characterize the success that American forces are having throughout Afghanistan.  Both men demonstrate a true profound grasp of both the regions history and theology; neither has retained the trust of theatre commanders.  I say this with great regret, but the simple fact is that the success we’re having since the surge is truly remarkable given that Afghanistan is known as the ‘graveyard of Empires.’

For those interested in viewing an authority that possesses both requisite historical command and up-to-the-date Intel, that would be Frederick Kagan at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington D.C.  Dr. Kagan was responsible for shaping along with Dr. David Petreaus the infamous surge; the counterinsurgency campaign that wrestled political control away from an Iraqi insurgency.

I have been in touch with both Dr. Rashid and Lieven.  Although both remain sincerely misplaced in their characterizations of American progress, I am grateful for their responses to my questioning of political assumptions than ran on several published essays during the summer of 2012.  Although I cannot detail the exchanges here, I would like to reveal the misplaced political assumptions that continue to underwrite many professional politicos on both sides of the Atlantic.

The chief difference between the advances that US forces have made relative to any Soviet success is currently on display throughout Kabul, the Afghani southwest and northeast, where US forces are currently surging.  The Soviets never performed as well as the Americas have in this theatre.  Period.  Both Rashid and Lieven fail to make moral distinctions in their uneven analysis.  Both scholars firmly believe that any US success, even current achievement only resembles Soviet advances.  Yes, the Americans will leave behind a mixed group of Afghan forces much as the Soviets did.  Yes, an Afghan civil war very well could erupt with a precipitous US withdraw similar to the Soviets.  Yes, the Pakistani Mujahideen are ridden with deep factionalism, as they were immediately after the Afghan civil war in the late 1990’s.  Dido for the lack of civil society and limited control that Kabul maintains along with drug trafficking and an indigenous army dependent on an outside source.  In fact, any sound empirical view of Afghanistan can find numerous analogous circumstances where Americans limited triumph mirrors that of the Soviets.

The simple fact is that both Lieven and Rashid live in a world of moral equivalency.

Ask the Afghans, as do both Intel and theatre commanders do as they monitor classical counterinsurgency doctrine.  The fact is that the application of C.O.I.N. (counterinsurgency) doctrine requires massive Executive leadership.  Our forces have not gotten that from the political class that dominates the Beltway bed-wetters of Washington, D.C.

Just what kind of political culture was Afghanistan welcoming in its embrace of atheist Soviet Marxism?  Dr. Rashid or Lieven don’t say.  The truth is that Americans know you cannot export nor graft democracy without extraordinary culture assisting the emergence of civil society.  The Soviets never had gained traction on this vital political, cultural benchmark.  Their war aims failed.  Even absent or misguided executive policy out of the White House has only delayed what is emerging throughout Afghanistan.

Both esteemed AfPak experts peddle that a peace deal must be reached.  What they fail to recognize is that item must follow favorable events on the ground, many of which are not war aims. An example is the dysfunctional civilian military culture that dominates Islamabad and its archaic doctrine pursuing strategic depth relative to India.  Their are many others, but you get the point.

The single most significant contribution that both experts make is the complete lack of public policy of how to deal with Afghanistan after the US pullout.  I have an answer.  It will come after Novembers public massacre.

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About William Holland

Systematic Theologian/International Relations
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