Sunday, February 15, 2009

Required Reading on Afghanistan

Courtesy of FormerSpook, comes this lengthy but indispensable essay by Fred Kagan on the challenges facing General Petraeus and the Obama Administration as we prepare to ramp up our efforts in the Af-Pak theater. As I have written previously, the tasks of adapting the sophisticated counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy which has been so successful in Iraq to the profoundly different terrain and cultural milieu in Afghanistan represents a formidable set of tests for the resiliency and resolve of our military and diplomatic corps. Kagan lines up nine general categories of challenges which we face, and offers suggestions on how to develop plans to overcome them.

Those of us who are diligently watching the fledgling Obama administration's handling of the geopolitical tasks which it has inherited would do well to read this essay very carefully, and to pay very close attention to the signs that its prescriptions are being followed. This is one which Obama absolutely has to get right, and simply throwing troops into the theater without such a carefully thought-out strategy is a recipe for a very costly disaster. Still, Obama has so far been smart enough to keep Bob Gates on as SecDef, and has shown no inclination to mess arround with the command structure of our military (most notably, he has tasked CENCOM head General Petraeus with developing the strategy for winning in Afghanistan. Very good sign, that). This is going to be a very difficult campaign, requiring steadfast and intelligent committment. Let us hope most fervently that Obama is made of the sort of stuff which it will take to see us through it. As Kagan sums up:

This essay does not provide a plan or a strategy for success in Afghanistan. It provides, rather, a set of guidelines for thinking about how to develop one, and for evaluating plans articulated by the administration, its generals, and outsiders. Ultimately, a plan for winning in Afghanistan has to be developed in Afghanistan, just as the plan for winning in Iraq was developed in Iraq. It is a truism that any plan must involve not only the U.S. and allied militaries, but all relevant civilian and international agencies, and must deeply involve the Afghans themselves at every level. Our military and civilian leaders understand that truism. We have failed to date in accomplishing the objective not because we haven’t known that we must, but because it is very hard to do.

But hard is not hopeless in Afghanistan any more than it was in Iraq. The stakes are high, as they always are when
America puts its brave young men and women in harm’s way. President Obama has an opportunity in the difficult challenge he faces. So far, he appears determined to try to do the right thing. He deserves the active support and encouragement of every American in that attempt.

Again, Obama has seen fit to keep some very capable people at the reins of this very balky beast. Let us Hope that he gives them everything they need on the dark and dangerous path they must walk.

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