Iraq: Let's not "kid" ourselves, the Maliki government appears to be reverting to Shia sectarian "protectionism" as its basic policy. Success in creating security and governmental "reach" in Iraq has been based on inclusion of Sunni Arab groups (tribes, parties, etc) in the country's polity. The US did that and dragged the Maliki along behind it in the drection of that policy. Did money play a part in that? Of course it did. Does anyone "here" live without money? Well, neither can the Sunni Arabs in Iraq. Now the Shia dominated government there is showing signs of seeking to "put down" the Sunni Arabs. The predictable response has been for those Sunni Arabs to begin once again to support the Sunni extremist enemies of the Shia. This phenomenon has little to do with the impending US troop withdrawal except that this future seems to have made the Maliki government feel free to "get on with" its true agenda. This problem is something that can be dealt with if the US exerts itself and stops "kidding itself" about the nature of the Maliki government and the limits of national unity in Iraq.
Afghanistan: The announced Obama policy set the goals as essentially negative actions intended to confound and disrupt America's enemies. Covert action, limited SOF commando strikes, political support for our friends, some measure of basic infrastructure aid (roads, etc), these would be the kind of tools in such an effort. In spite of the announcement of these reasonable goals and implied actions, there continues to be a constant drum beat of talk, leaks, panel discussions in which people both within and without the administration insist that the real policy is a full blown COIN campaign in which the United States will commit itself to an effort to create a socety in Afghanistan so attractive that rural Pushtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Turkmen, etc. will support a unifying national government against Islamic zealots who do not believe in the legitmiacy of national governments at all. Such an effort would be hugely expensive and would last for decades. Well, which is it, Obama Administration, which is it? These two visions of the future are not comptible. pl
WOW! Great post! To be Viet Nam or not to be! Looks like the choice to me!
PL wrote:This problem is something that can be dealt with if the US exerts itself and stops “kidding itself” about the nature of the Maliki government and the limits of national unity in Iraq.
Please elaborate on how the US could exert itself. Diplomatically? Militarily?
The journalist Ahmed Rashid opined that it would be possible for the US and the Karzai government to make peace with the Afghani Taliban only after their sanctuaries in Pakistan were shut down. Rashid even alleges that the families of these Taliban at those sanctuaries have been held hostage by the Pakistanis to keep the Afghani Taliban from talking to Karzai.
I can’t think of a policy that can fix the problem of Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan. So if Ahmed Rashid is correct in his assessment, there isn’t much hope.
They might test such a program in Idaho or back country Nevada. No special language skills required.
“Please elaborate on how the US could exert itself. Diplomatically? Militarily?”
NO. I am doing this to help you learn to think, not to think for you. pl
Thanks for posing your updated perspective on both subjects… and for juxtaposing them because you highlight the central distinctions that I will modestly present as a request for clarification:
1) Regarding Iraq, are you suggesting that the reassertion of the Shia majority was inevitable and that we should just accept it as such?
2) Regarding Afghanistan, did you see the hearings at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week and, in any event, are you surprised that Islam was not mentioned once in any of the prepared statements?
3) Regarding both, isn’t the fundamental difference that there is a relatively well-established geopolitical entity called Iraq while the attempt to solve the problem by bringing order to an ill-defined region bordering both Afghanistan and Pakistan is a fool’s errand?
Judging by recent complaints voiced by a number of Iranian officials in international fora regarding US approach to Afghanistan, I am led to suspect COIN it is.
Nir Rosen’s 6th anniversary trip to Iraq was anything but encouraging:
Now that the return to klepto-narco state is complete in Afghanistan, I don’t think the real interest is there. We’re gearing up for Pakistan. The York Harding paper will be coming out very soon.
– I do think that it was inevitable that inter-communal struggle at the political level would re-emerge. The pre 2003 Iraq was a half-baked cake. We stopped the cooking and put the flour in charge by insisting that the cake was already baked and was uniform in structure and consistency. We did that through the mechanism of one person, one vote elections in a country where only those seeking escape from group identity like Baathis and Communists voted for people not members of their own ethno-religious group. Usually the distinctions were down to party level but it is the same thing.
In 2006, 2007 and 2008 we reversed the process of group struggle and Shia triumph by seducing the Sunni Arab groups. Still believing in the nonsense about “one Iraq” we then let the Shia government have more power in the hope that all would be well. The Sunni Arabs now feel betrayed. Mufaja’a!!
-You have correctly identified the problem in Afghanistan. There has been a state there in the past, but, as in Yemen, the Makhzan, the government area, has never been anything like 50% of the whole. If you want an Afghanistan of the kind implied by nation building (COIN) we will have to create it. pl
In regards to the “Afghanistan problem”, I’m guessing that certain US foreign policy neocon flunkies of a “dictatorial” persuasion are pushing their counterparts’ buttons in both Afghanistan and Pakistan for a return to rule by military diktat.
These would of course, be the very same US foreign policy neocon flunkies who wet-dreamed about “imposing” democracy on Iraq.
The Kagans, Kristols, Perles, Gaffneys and the rest of their ilk, have no reason to stop their foolishness because they are never held to account for their past failures, much less deign to admit so.
On Iraq, maybe the “Biden plan” is about to make a comeback.
Col. Lang, three years ago you wrote that partition was inevitable. My sense is that your opinion has not changed much. If some kind of partition is inevitable then ISTM the key policy question is whether the US should work to maintain support for a strong central government, take a hands-off approach and let the Iraqi’s figure it out for themselves, or apply US power to bring greater regional autonomy.
I agree that some would like to see a return to military in Pakistan, if only as a ‘simple’ solution to the nuclear problem, and perhaps in Afghanistan if the current approach continues to degrade…
… but I don’t think Obama and Co. (esp. w/ Kerry at the FRC) would be amenable to this if it meant a recapitulation of the type that existed under Zia al Haq
But here’s a thought: what if the Afghan and Pakistan militaries decide to cooperate concretely and in concert with other (Sunni) Muslim countries backed by logistics from the NATO? (… or perhaps just the US and China?).
Just to be clear, I know that the scenario that is laid out above is the product of wishful thinking, but that’s about all I can muster when envisaging the future of this conflict (though I should state, as background, that about a month ago I read Krepinevich’s speculative essays on major threats to global stability and the disintegration of Pakistan is the very first case treated (and the corroborating news last week from that region and the latest news on a potential pandemic originating in Mexico was encouraging only for his publisher…)…).
On the other hand, I always felt the same was true about Iraq once we dipped our wick into it “again” (meaning ’91 was a big enough risk and that the occupation in 2003 was about as botched as anyone could have imagined… and meaning that we should have been far more demanding of the Iraqis, the international community, and especially other Muslim countries before signing onto anything once the mandate based on UN Resolution 1441 lapsed for the final time (and otherwise we should have ‘simply’ pulled up stakes… lock, stock, and barrel…).
I know (or at least presume) that you would have disagreed with this assessment at the time because you and your HTS colleagues did a fine job of patching together a COIN approach that pulled the country back from the precipice in 2007, but is that any consolation if the ultimate result is no different that that which was foreseeable in 2002?
Which leads me back to the question that got me started here: what do you think the current administration should do if the situation degrades in Iraq in ways resembling 2006?
`Reverting’, in a way, presupposes that Dawa and the SCIRI have been loyally trotting down the path laid down for it by the US.
Perhaps this is not the case at all.
Actually, Dawa and the SCIRI seem to have been walking down the decades old path laid by and to Islamic extremists in Iran which has been re-paved with American blood and treasure.
What is really confusing on the Af/Pak issue is that there is much talk about a “limited CT effort” taking the place of the full-blown COIN option. Yet noone seems willing to speak about how that is doable in practical terms. A couple of parameters I have yet to see is how the US purposes to create a log-train and economy that will sustain a Afghan military force of between 100 and 130 000 people, wich is indicated is part of the CT-perspective.
And apropos log-trains, does anyone know how much the Pakistan developments in Swat, etc., effects logistics?
I am pleased, as ever, to see that the old guard of the Vietnam veterans supports the same goals as (what i perceive as) the new guard of internationalists.
I just don’t understand what all the scare quotes around “kid” and “kidding” in the first paragraph are supposed to represent.
Are you signalling that anyone who supports a multilateral approach to Central Asian policy is to be considered immature, Colonel?
For my part, the immaturity comes when expecting vastly disparate cultures to act in line with expected North American norms of behavior.
Am i wrong, in my scope of those scare quotes? Were they ironic, or pointed? For my part, after years of reading you, I cannot easily tell.
As ever, I thank you deeply for your forthright honesty and devotion to our country. As ever, I have no doubt that our armed forces are better served by having people such as you leading them.
As ever, I hope that you can tell I am sincere. Beyond that, I can only pray.
“Are you signalling that anyone who supports a multilateral approach to Central Asian policy is to be considered immature, Colonel?” No.
I am going to post an indelibly unambiguous something tomorrow on AFPAK. pl