I have echoed these sentiments for years. Of course, you are not heard when you say something that is negative, not in a think tank, etc…just keep fighting the good fight.
August 23, 2010
Petraeus’ Dubious Strategy In Afghanistan
By Christopher Layne
Gen. David Petraeus recently began a public relations blitz to convince American public opinion that the U.S. should stay the course in Afghanistan rather than holding to President Obama’s pledge to start withdrawing troops in July.
But most non-military observers understand that the war in Afghanistan cannot be won in any meaningful sense. They also understand a big reason for this is that success in Afghanistan requires a lot more than battlefield victory. To stabilize Afghanistan, the U.S. needs to establish good governance and foster economic development there. In a word, the U.S. must engage in nation-building. The U.S. has a long record of failure at that. Petraeus, however, would have Americans believe that the war can be turned around if we just give his strategy more time, troops and money. In making this case, Petraeus is banking on his prestige as the architect of the 2007 Iraq surge.
That credibility, however, rests on a dubious foundation. The media-savvy Petraeus created a myth — and that is what it is — that the Iraqi surge was successful. Studies of the Iraq war have shown, however, that the surge was incidental to dampening down the violence in Iraq. Most important, however, the surge failed to achieve its overriding objective, which was, as then-President George W. Bush declared, buying time for Iraq’s Shia and Sunni populations to achieve political reconciliation. As the current political stalemate in Baghdad indicates, in this respect the surge failed, and Iraq faces a bleak political future.
The strategy Petraeus advocates for Afghanistan is a dubious one based on the counter-insurgency (COIN) doctrine of which he is the primary author. Col. John Nagl, an influential COIN theorist who is president of the Center for a New American Security, has said it will take “at least a generation” for the U.S. to prevail in the fight against terrorism.
The new strategy assumes that the global counter-insurgency may last as long as the Cold War, and will require a greater mobilization of national resources than has occurred to date.
The problem with COIN is that in the real world none of the preconditions that military planners deem necessary for success can be fulfilled. Neither Congress nor the American public is willing to accept an open-ended military commitment to Afghanistan.
COIN misdiagnoses the root cause of America’s Middle Eastern difficulties. The U.S. is the target of Islamic terrorists because of its regional policies like support for corrupt regimes, its one-sided stance on the Israeli/Palestinian problem, its heavy politico-military presence, and the fact that the U.S. appears to many in the Middle East to be the imperial successor in the region to the French and British who once dominated it. As Andrew Mack, currently on the faculty of the School of International Studies at Simon Fraser University, pointed out in a classic article 35 years ago, there is a good reason that big states lose small wars: The forces of national and religious identity are stronger than the will of outside powers — powers that, inevitably one day will go home.
On its own terms, COIN is a problematic policy. Even more worryingly, it sets exactly the wrong grand strategic priorities for the United States. In an ironic coincidence, the same morning leading newspapers carried reports of Gen. Petraeus’ remarks, another headline announced that China has overtaken Japan as the world’s second largest economic power and is on track to overtake the U.S. by 2030 (indeed perhaps as soon as 2020, according to many leading experts). In the early 21st century, East Asia is becoming the world’s geopolitical and economic fulcrum, and it is U.S. air and naval power that will be needed to meet the emerging challenge from China. That is where America’s long-term grand strategic interests lie — not in fighting futile Eurasian land wars in places like Afghanistan and Iraq.
Christopher Layne, the Robert M. Gates Chair in Intelligence and National Security at Texas A&M University’s Bush School of Government and Public Service, is writing a book on the collapse of the Pax Americana.