AfPak and the Neoconization of Obama

Pashtun "National Security Adviser James Jones said Zardari had "assured the president he was properly focused on it (the Taliban threat)," noting that was "very encouraging."

Most foreign policy analysts applaud Obama's new strategy — an acceptance that defeating Taliban militants and their al-Qaida allies is only possible if those groups are rejected by the broader populations in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

To that end, Obama's national security team wants to focus not only on military operations but on broader nation building to make life better for the beleaguered people in both nations.

Can Obama, Karzai and Zardari keep a lid on spiraling violence, sustain sufficient peace for his new policy to work?

The Taliban has significantly stepped up attacks on both sides of the forbidding, mountainous border that separates the South Asian neighbors.

Acknowledging that "the road ahead will be difficult," Obama said he has made a "lasting commitment" to not only defeat extremism in both countries but to salvage their shaky democracies.

"No matter what happens we will not be deterred," Obama said Wednesday with Zardari and Karzai standing at his side in the White House.

Earlier, as the summit began, Clinton called the gathering a "breakthrough meeting," telling reporters the sessions covered trade, water sharing, military training and anti-corruption drives among other issues.

"We are facing a common enemy, and we have, therefore, made common cause together," Clinton said at a ceremonial opening, also flanked by Karzai and Zardari in her department's ornate Benjamin Franklin Room.  Yahoo News


On the Newshour today Andrew Bacevich and John "Eating Soup With a Knife" Nagl debated what ought to be done about the supposed AfPak theater if war.

Nagl, representing, I suppose, the nation builders and COINists argued for a long and far reaching effort to make something new and wonderful out of the Afghanistan/Pakistan moiety.  His argument was a fair exposition of the desirability of a long term American program of "reform" for these two states.

Bacevich argued that the task of re-formulating these countries is beyond the means and strength of the United States.  He said that we Americans need to accept the fact that we are not the saviors of humanity, and by implication I suppose he told us that we are deluded in the matter of our role as the model for the destiny of mankind.

I listened to a group of the COIN enthusiasts at an academic meeting last week.  It was very public and on the record.   This fortyish group of soldier-scholars are famous for their enterprise in writing books that analysed counterinsurgency campaigns of the 20th Century, campaigns that they were all too young to have experienced.  Based on years of library research, they discovered the COIN doctrine of that time.  It truly had "gone missing" for several decades following the defeat of the United States in Vietnam and did need re-discovery.  They now treat that doctrine as though it is holy writ.  When urged to acknowledge that the future is unknowable and that enemies and wars may come in many forms in different places, they often say they accept that notion but there is something unconvincing about their statements.  As the cliche says, "for a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail."  It is a bad thing to become overly-invested in a theory.  I have said this a several times now in these pages and elsewhere.  One of my correspondents, a man of thirty or so, wrote to tell me recently that my lack of focus on the supremacy of COIN methods is a demonstration of advancing age.  Maybe so, but I was a practitioner of COIN in a number of places in the wars that the COINists have studied.  There is a limit to its utility.  It is expensive.  It takes a long time and it is corrosive of popular will to continue. 

Could the United States re-formulate Afghanistan and Pakistan into something other than what they are and thereby "drain the swamp" of violent jihadism? Certainly. This kind of thing has been dome before, always more or less imperfectly.  The neocons argued explicitly and implicitly before March, 2003 that this is exactly what we were going to do in Iraq and that once we accomplished that task the forces of repressed cultural globalization would sweep the Greater Middle East bringing on an earthly paradise somewhat akin to present day Europe.  That did not work very well.  The local "backward" culture proved to be a stubborn thing willing to defend its familiar "backward" ways.  Iraq is a better place now than it was in 2005 but how much different is it, really?

Now we are told that it is American policy to act as a sort of cosmic neighborhood organizer for the "uplift" of these Afghan and Pakistani folks wandering in the wilderness of their own peculiar "backwardnesses."

Bacevich is right.  It is beyond our capacity to do that at any price that we can or should want to pay.  I would have thought that would be intuitively obvious.  pl


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36 Responses to AfPak and the Neoconization of Obama

  1. J says:

    Sadly, it is often times the ‘obvious’ that is cast aside, unless it is brought to the attention of the powers-that-be in a glaring fashion. Then they go ‘oh gee’……

  2. batondor says:

    Your post is a powerful and accurate synthesis/snapshot of the dilemma that Obama faces…
    … but it is incomplete, in my humble opinion, because it does not delineate the three essential elements of this specific predicament that makes a change of strategy so particularly difficult, even for someone as engaged and thoughtful as Obama:
    1) Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri are still “out there”… and are “unpunished”.
    2) Pakistan has a nuclear arsenal… and so does India.
    3) Culture and tradition really do matter… and are not all the same.
    My point is not that Obama is “just the same” as his predecessors but rather that a substantively and explicitly different strategy is hard to imagine short of full-blown invasion and occupation, but then I suppose we should simply acknowledge that the Soviets demonstrated that even their proximity hardly improved that approach.
    I am struck, in fact, by the non-sequitur that the term “Neoconservative” reflects because “Neoliberal” – as in “Neo-Wilsonian” – is just as applicable, no? Doesn’t this reflect the basic reality that there actually are no “sides” to the arguments being presented in favor of current policy. There is no “Left and Right” to these ideological endeavors, making them all the more intractable.
    The American people have been drunk on the elixirs of “self-evident truths” and “exceptionalism” for so long (forever?) that taking a political tack in a different direction would be far more surprising than the enduring effort to navigate these rough and shallow waters with the same charts and methods that got us here.
    I respect Andrew Bacevich but note that his is hardly a prescription for what we should do but rather a cautionary note against that which we cannot… but that is hardly a basis for policy, is it?

  3. HJFJR says:

    Whilst I am in the group you would label a rediscover of COIN doctrine, I would also be in the group that are the Bacevich realist. While COIN intellectually is an interesting concept, which provides a means of countering an insurgency, it cannot be applied in every situation which one believes is an insurgency.
    Based on my study of the Afghanistan-Pakistan situation, what we have is less of a insurgency as it is a series of tribal wars not only against other tribes, but also against a central government whose concept is fundamentally at odds with the tribal culture and ethos.
    Using COIN as a one size fits all solution, is as disingenuous as the US militaries failure to accept that COIN was a viable strategy in the post Vietnam military.
    Building democratic governments in either Pakistan or Afghanistan is not going to happen in our lifetime. We should establish realistic goals and set a timetable for getting out. While I admire Nagel, in this instance he is wrong. Bacevich experience, age, and wisdom clearly show forth in his view.
    Hank Foresman

  4. jonst says:

    The Col wrote: “It is beyond our capacity to do that at any price that we can or should want to pay. I would have thought that would be intuitively obvious.”.
    This wise counsel is rejected by, at least, 3 distinct groups: First, the COIN ‘idealists’. The Col has addressed them–to the extent they would listen– better than I ever could. Let’s move on to the second group; The cynics.
    They know what the Col, and others, are saying is correct, strategically. But the cynics believe such counsel is a losing hand from a political perspective. The cynics are loath to talk truth, and limits, to people engaged in a fantasy. The cynics will not be drawn into this McGovernite trap. The lessen of 1972 burns bright. Almost as bright as the lesson of 1960 ‘go anywhere, pay any price’ burns bright. Dems in late 50s early 60s? The lessons of ‘who lost China’ burned bright.
    The ‘truth’…what is best for America in the long run….none of this matters to the cynics, if it means political defeat in the short run. ‘We’ll keep talking tough…and figure a way to reverse our policy, indeed, sabotage our policy, without letting on that we are doing so.’
    And this leads us to the third group that would oppose the Cols, both Col’s, warnings: The opportunists….the other side of the coin. Embracing, slipstreaming, if you will, the ‘can do’ spirit of the COIN idealists….and the trepidation and moral cowardice of the cynics…. the opportunists push an agenda that is designed to make them look ‘tough’ politically. ‘Grown up’, if you will. Because they think–the Bush debacle notwithstanding–this will play well in the eyes of the electorate. Chamberlain and Hitler in Munich is the lesson that still burns brightest for them/us.
    And wise counsel stands little chance in the face of these dynamics, I would argue. Hence we go forth to remake Pakistan and Afghanistan. God help us. So to speak.
    How do we get out of this trap of our own making? Only when the money runs out. REALLY runs out…for once and for all.

  5. Larry Mitchell says:

    COL Lang
    As I listened to these two men, it occurred to me that COL Bacevich’s comments sounded much like what you have been saying about Afgahanistan. I discovered that he was a West Point graduate who served in VN, and his son was a 1LT who was KIA in Iraq. He has had some painful lessons in COIN reality.
    Obama seems to be making more and more bold statements concerning what the US will do in Afghanistan that uncharacteristically seem to be painting him into a corner. Given our current financial crisis, the enormous military challenges in following this path, and the questionable benefit to the US, I don’t understand his motivation. I guess it must be stark fear of unfriendly control of Pakistan’s nukes. Maybe these statements are more to bolster our allies, who in the end must win this thing. I am concerned that he is not considering an exit strategy.
    Thank you for continuing to present these important topics in this forum.
    Larry Mitchell

  6. charlottemom says:

    Just as the law and order neocons invaded Iraq to rid the world of Al Queda (they are anti-democracy), the neo-libs are proposing an invasion (but it will be called humanitarian intervention by US military) of AfPak to rid the world of the Taliban (they are human rights abusers). Same song, different verse (and different sell job).
    However we are more broke today than yesterday. That could be the ONLY deterent.

  7. Dave of Maryland says:

    Bacevich is right. It is beyond our capacity to do that at any price that we can or should want to pay. I would have thought that would be intuitively obvious. pl
    I confess that I am confused. Do we stay & hunt only for the bad guys (Policy in Afghanistan, 29 April), or do we just get out as best we can?

  8. Patrick Lang says:

    I think these two men are unimportant. Pakistan’s weapons must remain in the hands of its armed forces. we need to stay out of the country’s internal affairs or we will cause a revulsion against semi-westernized elements that might bring an Islamist government to power and control of the weapons. Culture is important? I say that every day. pl

  9. Patrick Lang says:

    We stay and hunt our enemies and forget about building Afghanistan as a program. pl

  10. Harper says:

    I think it is always good, in attempting to prescribe medicine, to get a good diagnosis of the illness first. In the case of both Pakistan and Afghanistan, the devolution has been a long process, going back, really, to the way that the West (especially USA,UK and France, with a very unhealthy dose of Israel) promoted the muhahideen operations against the Soviets in Afghanistan, starting in Spring 1979–months prior to the Soviet invasion on Christmas eve of that year. Bernard Lewis, the fervent Anglo-Zionist, peddled the idea of the “Arc of Crisis” strategy of promoting fundamentalism along the southern tier of the Soviet Union, and Afghanistan was the perfect opportunity. The Saudis jumped enthusiastically into this equation, because suddenly the West was boosting the spread of Wahhabism, which the Saudis were already promoting, bigtime, in Pakistan, through their madrasa funding operations. That Saudi funding of the more recent rise of the Taliban in, first, Afghanistan, and now, more recently, in Pakistan, has gone on unabated. In fact, there is more money flowing to the fundamentalists in Pakistan today from Saudi “princes and businessmen” than there is drug money. And that says alot, because Taliban is raking in hundreds of millions of dollars in dope revenue. In fact, I am told by a senior U.S. intelligence source that Taliban is not looking to take over Islamibad, but is looking to consolidate drug and arms smuggling routes, which already run through Swat Valley.
    Add to this a report from an Indian journalist who went to Pakistan a few weeks ago for CNN and interviewed ISI found Gen. Hamid Gul, and another ISI former chief, Gen. Beg. They both openly said that Taliban “is our ally” against Hindu India, and therefore it is only under intense U.S. pressure that the Pakistan Army is now engaging in a genuine fight against Taliban, which may not last, beyond the Zardari visit to Washington.
    So if you look at these factors–Saudi factor, drug factor, Pak Army/Taliban affinity factor, this situation does not even meet the minimum standards for justifying a prospect of success in a classic COIN campaign.
    This mess is thirty years in the making, and is going to require some really innovative thinking, because the conditions do not exist, in my humble opinion, for a military solution.
    PS There are reports (from India, thus not 100 percent reliable) that a division of Chinese PLA is inside Pakistan, as part of an agreement with the Pak Army and government, to secure the Pakistani nukes, in the event things get totally out of hand.

  11. PL and Bacevich seem to be on the side of truth. Now who will tell the American people that we did our best and time to pull out and all our efforts will be to prevent Taliban or other radicals from seizing control of Pakistan nuclear arsenal. The only issue of real merit and true national security interest. Sorry about deserting efforts to produce democracy, women’s rights, health care, social justice etc in this arena. Just keep those nukes safe and make plans if what should now be a priority NIE on nuclear safeguards shows the Pakistani’s not up to nuclear surety duties. Noting of course that neither was the USAF.

  12. fnord says:

    Sir. You write: “We stay and hunt our enemies and forget about building Afghanistan as a program. pl”
    I think the fundamental point the COIN-folks (exemplified by Nagl) and the “realists”, exemplified by Bacevich and Gentile disagree on is wether this is possible at all. Can you stay in Afghanistan and conduct CT missions using CAS, drones and FOB based raids on selected targets without controlling the countryside? And can you control the countryside without a majority of its populace behind you? Again, I still have to see a model for how to do this non-COIN staying incountry. But I do hope the military kicks mr. 10% out of power in Pakistan. He is such a crook they will have to screw him into the casket.
    There is a third way, though, and that is to internationalize the effort and try to bring the chinese into the theatre. As far as I can see they are the only force with enough manpower and contacts in the area, as well as no beefs with anyone. They also have the political will to follow things through.

  13. batondor says:

    I had not seen the NewsHour segments until this morning… and since I’ve now also seen your response to me, Pat, so here is a somewhat elaborate followup, if I may:
    “I think these two men are unimportant.”…
    … I agree except for the fact that you rightly juxtaposed these two very honorable guys with perspectives that seem incompatible. As much as they agree on the complex and difficult realities in the region in question, they seem to fundamentally disagree on whether “AfPak” should be handled in a unified manner or whether these are two very distinct challenges.
    “Pakistan’s weapons must remain in the hands of its armed forces. we need to stay out of the country’s internal affairs or we will cause a revulsion against semi-westernized elements that might bring an Islamist government to power and control of the weapons.”…
    … I agree 100% and have retracted a lengthy consideration of the alternative.
    “Culture is important? I say that every day.”…
    … Sorry for the misunderstanding: I did not mean to ignore that you emphasize this continuously and clearly. What I intended to suggest, however, is that political entities in the US – whether the elected, the media, or the citizenry – do tend to forget (or chose to ignore) that there are cultures different from our own and that they do matter immensely in determining their futures. I know you agree.
    To summarize my view of both the Nagl/Bacevich exchange and your worthwhile synthesis, I must ask whether there isn’t a strategic equivalent of deadlock or stalemate in the two propositions:
    1- treating AfPak as a single problem pointing at the Taliban as a well-delineated threat to both is to ignore the centrality of the cultural forces at work…
    2- treating them separately with Pakistan as a higher priority leaves Afghanistan as a refuge where the Taliban (and their more transnational allies) can eventually find succor…
    If there is a third possibility that you can offer, I’m all ears (and muddling through it as delicately and as best as we can in the terms that thoughtful folks like you, Bacevich, and Nagl prescribe certainly is an option…).
    My central concern, to be frank, is whether Pakistan can have any destiny that does not emphasize its Islamic (though perhaps not necessarily Islamist) foundations… and how that will “play” to Indian nationalism…
    … and though somewhat off-topic, I would suggest these same concerns apply to a potentially nuclear Iran… and to an already nuclear Israel.

  14. Patrick Lang says:

    fnord et al
    You don’t seem to understand what COIN means. In such an effort we would have to take charge and responsibility for the reformation and virtual creation of Afghanistan. We might as well annex the place if we do that.
    To carry out CT tasks in Afghnanistan is a much smaller self assigned task. “control the cuiontryside?” We will never succeed in controlling the countryside in Afghanistan unless we are willing to become a permanent colonial power there with all that this entails. pl

  15. fnord says:

    Sir. With the danger of being a pain in the arse, I do not disagree with you. This is the whole paradox of the COIN question. It seems to be a damned if you do, damned if you dont problem. I am having a hard time visualizing a light-footstep approach wich seems to basically mean fortifying the major towns and letting the countryside take care of its own. The ANA does not seem at all ready to take up the task.
    I have yet to see any critics of the COIN approach sketch out a doable practical plan for the light footprint model. I appreciate that you dont have the time to pontificate, so perhaps some of the commenters could show me a link that leads to such a text?

  16. Well yes, it does appear that the US imperial faction (of which the Neocons are one part, Pentagon Neo-Coinists another, etc) is making inroads into the White House.
    And yes, the AFPAK project does appear to be a sort of cosmic social engineering thing by white people. Its white European/American advocates seem to be drinking a snake-oil cocktail laced with ample local opium (the black sticky stuff) out there.
    For over three decades of my experience “inside the Beltway” the obsession with Pakistan as a “good guy” has been current year after year after year. The old saw was that the Pak military could be prevailed on to behave like the Turkish military…secular, reformist and all that. Pakistan was perceived as “pro-West” and India perceived as “pro-Russia” through a Cold War optic.
    Pakistan would evolve into a new Turkey sort of thing.
    But just what is the “situation” out there today? The dynamics?
    1. Col. Lang has frankly identified one fundamental factor: Pakistan is an artificial state like Belgium. Glancing at the place today it appears more and more like a failed state.
    It was created via partition in 1947 by the then British empire as a buffer state within the Great Game context and the divide and rule method. The geopolitics of hydrocarbons was in the background.
    The dominant political alliance, reflected in the composition of the military, is Punjabi-Pushtun. During the dictatorship of General Zia, a very powerful dose of Wahhabism was introduced greased by unlimited Saudi money. The Baluchs are tribal and up to their own things. The Sindhis are Sufi and thus on collision course with the takfiri-Wahhabi Taliban. Sufi shrines are already being blown up by the takfiri-Wahhabi Taliban. For that matter Sikhs in the FATA region are now under severe pressure from the takfiri-Wahhabi Taliban.
    Some say Punjabis resent the Sindhis (many migrating from UP) for imposing Urdu as the national language. The Punjabis (from the Zia time about) facilitated a shift of Pushtun population groups into the Karachi area, about a million today some say. This is the base for the takfiri-Wahhabi Taliban in that zone/Sindh.
    The military is most certainly NOT secular along the so-called Turkish model. In fact, it is said the military perceive the Taliban as a better political partner than the Middle Class which is somewhat modern in outlook and has an interest in democracy.
    It appears, looking back at history, that while the majority of Pushtuns in AFPAK may not like the Taliban today, they like white European occupiers still less, whether Macedonian led, British, or US.
    2. The Pak military justifies its dominant political role in the country primarily through its depiction of India as the permanent mortal enemy, that is India is a “Hindu” state on Pak borders. From this doctrine flows:
    a) the necessity to control Afghanistan for the purposes of “strategic depth” against the permanent Hindu enemy, India.
    b) the necessity to strive for the conquest of Kashmir to bring it back to the Muslim geopolitical fold. The striving thing on behalf of Islam plays nicely with the illiterate and increasingly Talibanized-Wahhabized masses in Pakistan.
    3) The Pak military perceives it must have nuclear weapons for prestige purposes.
    A. They are not going to let the Taliban get them as this would reduce the military’s prestige and authority over the state.
    B. Didn’t the Pak military shift the bulk of its nukes to deep bunkers Chitral after 911? Yes or no? And would not the Pak military prefer their allies the Chinese take over responsibilities for these weapons rather than have them fall into the clutches of white folks like the US? Yes or no? And don’t the Chinese have sufficient ground forces in the general area to be able to “help” the Paks protect such nukes in Chitral? Yes or no? And don’t the Chinese want to maintain these Pak nukes for strategic leverage against India? Yes or no? And aren’t Chinese technicians involved with the Pak nukes? Yes or no?
    It does appear, at least to me, that the Neo-COINISTS and others are drinking snake oil and opium cocktails and serving them in the White House.
    Anyone recall the results of Moroccan King Hassan Wahhabizing his subjects with Saudi help? 911 in part…
    Afghanistan: So a limited role for the US with respect to Kabul and the Valley surrounding it emphasizing economic and social development. CT in moderation with “guile.” The Russians and the Chinese in the northern zone for economic development projects. The western zone is helped by Iran.
    Again, IMO, a regional approach is needed. This means US diplomacy has to be at the forefront and work with India, Iran, Russia, China, Japan and other stakeholders not to mention the UN. Contrary to Neo-COINISM and its perverse fantasies, the situation requires diplomacy at the forefront by the US with military and covert components in the deep shadows.
    Can the US do this? Yes it can.
    Will the US do this? I agree with Col. Lang that it does not look particularly likely at the moment.
    Thus the outlook seems negative at the present time given the usual soap opera inside the Beltway.

  17. Babak Makkinejad says:

    You wrote: “whether Pakistan can have any destiny that does not emphasize its Islamic (though perhaps not necessarily Islamist) foundations… ”
    There is none outside of Islamic tradition. I can statet that with metaphysical certainity.
    In that, she is like all the other Muslim States and polities except Iran.

  18. VietnamVet says:

    The South Asian fronts on the Long War are in flux. The basic problem is American policy is that it is built on sound bites and propaganda. Just like the “Toxic Assets” behind the ongoing economic collapse are never discussed or fixed, America’s opponents are never acknowledged as humans with deep grievances that are only addressed by a true believer’s religion and fighting their foreign overlords.
    The fear of being labeled as another Jimmy Carter is so great, that the Democratic Administration cannot not admit that the United States has been sucked into mountain killing fields that have never been conquered by all the previous World Empires and will never be pacified by a bankrupt USA that cannot afford the 500,000 to million boots on the ground to kill and imprison all of the Taliban.

  19. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Clifford Kiracofe:
    Agreed that the political power to change Pakistan & Afghan polities does not exist in the international arena.
    You wrote: “Pakistan is an artificial state”. So are Canada, US, India, Burma, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Lybia, Algeria, Tunisia, and China – at least in their current forms.

  20. says:

    FNORD hit on something that everyone else seems to have overlooked – the China factor. Yes, we should somehow try to involve China. Certainly they are concerned, living so close to this situation, but they also have eons of historical experience in political-military affairs, which likely causes them to be very cautious in approaching such issues. Naturally, they are concerned with the fact that their Xinjiang Autonomous Region borders both Pakistan and Afghanistan and their Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) sponsored annual military exercises reflect this concern. The ethnic Uyghur population in Xinjiang is a sensitive factor, but the Uyghurs also provide a wonderful example of a positive approach to living in an otherwise difficult desert region in their incredible hand dug irrigation tunnels that help them to produce some of the best fruits in all China. The bottom line is that they provide an example that might help in making Afghanistan a more hospitable and amicable piece of parched land, assuming scientific surveys reveal more possibilities. I do agree that we must not get bogged down with excessive dogmatic and ideological constructs and give some serious thought to Deng Xiaoping’s simple, but sensible “seek truth from facts”.

  21. Patrick Lang says:

    “Dear Col Lang:
    I have a technical difficulty which prevents me from posting comments on your blog; however, in regard to AF-PAK I wished to pose the question of the ‘elephant in the room’ of China.
    Your post on AF-PAK elicited the following two comments which give me an opportunity:
    “There are reports (from India, thus not 100 percent reliable) that a division of Chinese PLA is inside Pakistan, as part of an agreement with the Pak Army and government, to secure the Pakistani nukes, in the event things get totally out of hand.
    Posted by: Harper”
    “Didn’t the Pak military shift the bulk of its nukes to deep bunkers Chitral after 911? Yes or no? And would not the Pak military prefer their allies the Chinese take over responsibilities for these weapons rather than have them fall into the clutches of white folks like the US? Yes or no? And don’t the Chinese have sufficient ground forces in the general area to be able to “help” the Paks protect such nukes in Chitral? Yes or no? And don’t the Chinese want to maintain these Pak nukes for strategic leverage against India? Yes or no? And aren’t Chinese technicians involved with the Pak nukes? Yes or no?
    Posted by: Clifford Kiracofe”
    When I originally read the analysis that you posted by Richard Sales on the Pak nukes, I was ultimately puzzled because the analysis really didn’t seem to come down on one side or another on the question of how much control the US has over those nukes–can the US prevent unauthorized use or even use the US doesn’t want, and does the US even know where all the nukes are? Moreover, what size are these things, i.e. how portable might they be?. Moreover there was not a word in that analysis on the role of China.
    From what I’ve read, China helped Pakistan build its nukes, presumably so that Pakistan would be a counterweight to India. But that suggests that China has no interest in Pakistani nukes falling under US control or being destroyed by the US in a take-out strike. Whether the reports from India are correct or not that Harper references (see
    above) I don’t know at all, but surely it would be naive to think that once Pakistan got its nukes “up and running” then the Chinese went home.
    Hence, it seems to me that a thorough analysis of the role of China is necessary in any discussion of what is happening in Pakistan.
    Moreover, if Pakistan’s strategic objective is a Pakistan-friendly Afghanistan, what is China’s objective in Afghanistan? Surely they would want pretty much the same thing as a counterweight to India.
    Are the Chinese completely absent from the Afghan scene or acting very quietly? I don’t know the answers, but surely these are things that should be clarified.
    Best of everything,
    Eagle in the Mountains”

  22. curious says:

    oh man, this post and thread is really making me worried. We are definitely in big long term trouble, at so many levels.
    first of all the term Afpak needs to be used with long foot note. Yes, I know conceptually, the taliban problem lies in border dynamic and it can only exist because there are two countries. And that it needs to be solved coherently as unified framework. In afghanistan and Pakistan.
    the term can make the lazy thinker to actually ignore Afghanistan and Pakistan as sovereign countries. This has to be dealt delicately, less we really want the media to be the force that create the vague concept of “taliban nation”. (remember sunni-shia in Iraq media debacle? )
    – COIN is not a strategy. it’s a short term tactic. It can’t substitude “real” afganis initiative. COIN is like scaffolding to real central government. It’s not real government structure. It’s temporary fix, a life support trick. You can’t put bunch of sociologist/phd level troop trying to subdued all the villages. You’ll go bankrupt. One actually needs “real afghanis leader/partriot or what have you”. It’s part of strategy and arsenal, not a single magic bullet that will cure everything in afghanistan. Think of it, like super expensive antibiotic. It’s potent, but delicate and expensive.
    – I really don’t think pentagon has any real plan for afghanistan except “partying like it’s 2006”. Big machine, big budget, operation, plan, … more shiny machines. We are there and we gonna kick some ass baby… (budget buster, a complete miss match of what the task at hand really is. It’s Rolex solution when Timex would do just as good)
    – Afghanistan as a society has been destroyed. Afghanistan is what a country that has been bombed to stone age looks like. 80% illiteracy, corruption, subsistence farming, warlords, power vacuum, heroin trade, medieval religionism, etc. You can’t POSSIBLY expect the afghanis can build competent army and effective central government overnight. They need to learn to read first. Then they need to feed themselves.
    -This is a marathon, not a 100meter sprint. This is not about momentum, fire power, strategic positioning, higher ground. etc. Primarily this is about how effective was ISI taliban program was.
    -Taliban? seriously. if by now, how they operate, command structure, social habit, supply, funding, etc are not know. And no program to neutralize and subdue them. I think we need to dissolve the Pentagon. Who is going to believe they can win in major war? Just create tons of taliban group, instead of nuclear submarine and air craft carriers.
    at this moment, my prognosis for afghanistan. It’s very similar to Cambodia. Karzai is a mix of Lon Nol and Sihanouk. An ex king under long colonial power. No leadership, real nationalism, nor long term plan for his country. Except playing the “court” game. pleasing whatever power that comes by. US is playing role of external colonial power to be manipulated and appeased for personal gain.
    The bright side, there is no communist movement or any coherent insurgency. In place of khmer rouge, it’s talibanism chaos. Bunch of warlords getting together for thrill ride and religious trip.
    afghanistan and pakistan problem is NOT hard. There is solution. It’s been done all over the world. It’s well understood. It’s what CIA latin america anti leftist guerilla looks like. Almost all country succeed quelling this sort of rebellion, without spending $76Billion/year. And they even getting shot at and under massive US embargo.
    This is truly mind blowing. half the planet is shaking head in disbelief.
    Biggest problem: what if afghanistan turns into full blown colonization? Are we ready for the long issues? It’s going to eat everything we believe. (freedom, democracy, etc. etc) Because the effective concept of “nation building” is basically a form of military dictatorship.

  23. Hypatia says:

    PL wrote: Bacevich is right. It is beyond our capacity to do that at any price that we can or should want to pay. I would have thought that would be intuitively obvious.
    I agree with you. But SOMEONE has to stand up in front of the American people and say “This is how much it will cost and this is for how long it will take. And we still may not succeed. So…still want to continue the “war” in Afghanistan?”
    No one is giving ANY specifics on this point. Instead more of the “git ‘er done” attitude as if this were just a matter of will.

  24. Highlander says:

    Get our Guys on the 130’s and get the hell out of that God forsaken sand pit. If we must, have a parade in Kabul and declare victory before we go (maybe throw the local crooks i.e. leaders a little more cash on the way out,just to grease the tracks).
    But go we should, before nasty things begin to happen “a la” Britain in the 1800’s and Russia in the 1900’s.
    The Taliban in Pakistan are on the verge of attaining a few loose nukes. Can we say nuke an American main force base. In addition logistically the damn place is landlocked. We have to deal with the Pakistanis, Russians, or the Iranians just to keep our troops supplied. This is a recipe for disaster.
    And last but not least, just like in Vietnam the American people’s appetitie for nasty little wars has been used up by our less than sterling leaders. There is no political will left, and damn little money if you want to get right down to it.
    Time to go folks. A lot of life’s success depends on knowing when to “fold your cards”.

  25. Bobo says:

    These have all been good comments and they give me hope.
    Now how soon do the minds of the Taliban and Pak Military open to the idea of jointly ridding the area of the Takfiri Jihadists including numero uno y dos getting the bonus of the departing American forces. Granted it will take a lot of money to enhance that proposition but then we seem to spending it anyways.
    As to COIN being the buzz word of the year lets sell it as COIN light.

  26. COL,
    I surely wish there was this kind of clarity and vision inside our senior government planners and decision-makers.
    My impression is that there is not. Most are trapped within the existing paradigms and/or refuse to act for the greater good that exists beyond their own narrow self interests.
    I wonder if any of them have ever read Tariq Ali? I’m currently working through his latest (The Duel). From what I’ve finished thusfar, it will be miraculous if Pakistan can continue to exist as a whole nation-state entity — with or without the current Taliban effort in Swat and Buner.
    PS – I think I will break my TV if I see one more map graphic of Pakistan that confuses Swat and the entirety of the NWFP and Western Punjab!

  27. stickler says:

    I find the reports of Chinese involvement in Pakistan to be credible but surprising. Why have I not heard anything about this before? Surely this Administration knows about it if it’s true, and hopefully they have a regional strategy to have the Chinese help us out somehow. Emphasis on “out.”
    But Chinese involvement in Afghanistan? Plausible, I suppose, but very surprising indeed. How could that not be rather well-known and -reported by now, given NATO involvement for the last eight years?
    I can believe that the Chinese have interests there — far more compelling than our own — but how could there be significant Chinese presence without us (lay consumers of infotainment) having the slightest inkling of it?

  28. McGee says:

    Great post and an as always illuminating discussion. I’m a great fan of Andy Bacevich and have even audited a few of his courses at Boston University when I’ve had the time. He’s a very careful, very conservative thinker, and I’ve seen his views on this topic evolve over the past three years to where they are today. I think he is spot on re AfPak and the very real limits of what we can afford and/or achieve there. His views are pretty much in alignment with what you have written here in the past. Thanks as always for this forum and the chance to join in and share in the discussion.
    Can the Pakistani military be counted on to prevail and continue to control the nukes? Folks I’ve spoken with who have experience in this part of the world generally do not speak highly of the military leadership there: either the quality, the integrity or for that matter, the ability of their officer corps. The NCO’s do receive better marks, though. Your thoughts?

  29. arbogast says:

    Has the Presidency become a resting place for spineless, photogenic glad-handers capable only of following orders from deranged “insiders”?
    Think how thrilling it must be to tell the President what to do and know that he is too timid and resourceless to protest.

  30. Arun says:

    Eagle in the Mountains:
    China has worries about Xinjiang, and I don’t think it wants an Islamic fundamentalist regime either in Pakistan or Afghanistan.

  31. fnord says:

    “But Chinese involvement in Afghanistan? Plausible, I suppose, but very surprising indeed. How could that not be rather well-known and -reported by now, given NATO involvement for the last eight years?”

  32. Eagle in the Mountains,
    Your problem in posting may be the same as mine. Several of my most brilliant posts disappeared into never-never land, much to my chagrin, before my daughter came up with a solution. My problem was that, when I clicked post,
    a dialog box appeared saying that windows will not accept the message (not the exact words). The solution was to: 1. click Preview, 2. copy the message 3. click a different subject, which empties the post a comment box 4. Paste the message into the box 5. Type anything ( use one letter) which reactivates the post button. Good luck.

  33. FDChief says:

    A couple of the previous posters have touched on these, but they are so important I have to hit them again.
    The problems of Afghanistan are that the U.S. aims are negated by the realities on the ground.
    It doesn’t matter whether you want to do CT, COIN or full-blown colonialism. For any or all of the above you HAVE to have some sort of viable local social, political and military structures in place. The European colonial powers usually didn’t import and entire Western government or military. They typically just knocked off the local leaders in critical positions, filled them with European viceroys and commanders-in-chief, and used the remaining local structures to rule. I understand that even by the late 19th Century there were villagers in India who saw an Englishman once a year or so. The bulk of the troops who did the Imperial policing were native. So were many of the lower civil servants.
    So when you admit that “the ANA isn’t up to the job”, or that the Karzai government is a corrupt, incompetent kleptocracy that “rules” little more than its own offices in Kabul, you pretty much have declared that nothing but an extraordinary, budget-breaking effort will have even a hope of making Afghanistan anything but a chaotic, destroyed tribal chaos.
    And I would add that the notion of full-on colonialism is an exercise in imperial romanticism. The modern proliferation of automatic weaponry and cheap, simple explosives (for manufacturing bombs, mines and booby-traps) has made colonialism too expensive a proposition for the 21st Century’s low-birthrate, risk-averse Western societies. It’s a mug’s game, which is why the Western Europeans got out of it post-WW2 and the Russians post-Soviet. If you can find a reliable local proxy, great. If not, you’re shovelling water.
    Eventually the Afghans themselves will throw up a Baibur or a Gul Shah or a Tamurlane who will impose as much order as possible on the “country” and drag it a little further into the 21st Century, or as close as the natives of the place want to be.
    But to pretend that the U.S. can do this, whether it’s thru CT, COIN or magic fairy dust?
    Vizzini would have two bits of advice for you: “Inconceivable!” and “Never get involved in a land war in Asia”.

  34. Bob in New York says:

    If we dropped a trillion on the failed policy in Iraq (in 18 months there will be hot wars in Kurdistan and Baghdad), given that Pakistan has a population of 170 million (and is majority illiterate)…..
    Well, what do you think we’d get for dropping $5 trillion?
    Pakistan is a wart attached to India – the people are not indigenous to that area; the majority of the pop translplanted from India.
    The idea that recycled baggage handlers and insurance agents (US reserves) are going to wander into that swamp and change it is laughable.
    We should make very clear where our red lines are and then tell the heroin mafia that runs Pakistan (excuse me, the government) that when the lines are crossed, we are going to confer with India about the modalities for wiping Pakistan off the map

  35. samg says:

    i don’t claim to have any idea what the u.s. should do in asia. but, col. lang, isn’t there a clear contradiction between f.b. ali’s long and fascinating post, and your agreement with bacevich a few days ago?
    i assume you agree with ali — at least mostly, because you give him so much space. he says the u.s.should provide “backing and support” for a thoroughgoing pakistani campaign to reform the country’s whole political system. that, ali says should be a prerequisite for the u.s. “to prop up, and later rebuild, the country.” fair enough, if you agree. but a few days ago you agreed with bacevich’s position that maintains just about the opposite. you dismiss any american policy “to act as a sort of cosmic neighborhood organizer for the ‘uplift'” of Pakistanis (and Afghans, too)– which sounds to me just like what ali is advocating. you add that “bacevich is right. it is beyond our capacity to do that at any price that we can or should want to pay.” i think these positions are contradictory.

  36. Patrick Lang says:

    I have a lot of respect for Brigadier FB Ali but I do not agree with him in this matter. I agree with Colonel Bacevich.
    Sorry, you will have to find something else for a “gotcha” try. pl

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