Saturday, February 28, 2009

New Ways of Thinking: Afghanistan

And, the drums of war go on. The mantra-call is, as it always is, that we must be victorious -- winning is everything. American superiority is more important than the lives of those we put in so much jeopardy and who need to be made whole. To accomplish victory, President Obama is increasing troop strength from 36, 000 to 53,000, an increase of 17,000, with a plan that the troop surge will eventually reach 30,000.

It seems to me, without knowing the size of the Taliban forces or the size of the al-Queda insurgency, and without doing a detailed analysis as a commandant might do, but just a gut feeling, this is not nearly enough troops from either our current hard power strategy, or with a strategy utilizing specialized troops within a soft power paradigm.

Kim Sengupta of reports: “Some NATO allies believe, however, that going for the military option would be ultimately fruitless. ‘Even 140,000 would not be enough to get victory,’ a senior European diplomat said. ‘What we need is a new strategy, without so much emphasis on war fighting.”’

In an article for Newsweek, Winning In Afghanistan, Andrew J. Bacevich writes, “All this means that the proper U.S. priority for Afghanistan should be not to try harder but to change course. The war in Afghanistan (like the Iraq War) won't be won militarily. It can be settled -- however imperfectly -- only through politics.”

My expectation of President Obama is that he will strive to understand the inviability of the military option, and that any increase in conventional combat forces should only be a temporary increase. My hope is that it is only one of the ways of reducing troops in Iraq by diverting them to Afghanistan, where in the short term the increasing need of combat forces, within the current strategy, seems to be urgent in consideration of a “resurgent Taliban … and a deteriorating security situation.”

My hoped for expectation is based on President Obama’s foreign policy rhetoric of the universal need for diplomacy and negotiation, with an emphasis on soft power, listening, and creating understanding between all sides of a conflict: Afghan and Pakistani, tribes and warlords. (Pakistan is important because of its harboring of the Taliban and al-Queda inside of their borders; and its vulnerability of becoming a failed state; a state who has nuclear capabilities puts the entire region at risk.) Therefore, if President Obama is utilizing the military for the long term in its current paradigm and within its current mission it would be a contradiction to his stated universal foreign policy view.

I feel it is important to note that the strategy and tactics for Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Taliban should be separated from the strategy and tactics in dealing with al-Queda, despite that the Taliban is pro al-Queda. The al-Queda tactic requires eliminating a threat of terrorism, which in some cases may go beyond arresting and detaining terrorist, but even causing their very destruction. There may be no other choice when in view that it is morally appropriate to kill in ones own self-defense, in this case our national self-defense. It is, after all, al-Queda who was responsible for 9/11, albeit harbored by the Taliban.

It should be clear by now that a military solution is not the answer to the Afghanistan-Pakistan problem. A military solution was not the answer, arguably, in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and it won’t be in Afghanistan, nor will it be a viable solution to the Pakistan question. (It worked in the Gulf War’s Dessert Shield because the coalition of nations used the principle of overwhelming force against a very weak and somewhat rag-tail military force in conventional military style in the open dessert.)

A military solution did not work for the Soviets in their Afghanistan War, either. As it turned out Afghanistan in ways became the Soviet’s Vietnam. It could be another Vietnam for America, also, if we continue with increasing troop strength under current strategy to solve what is essentially not a military problem. It is rather one of diplomacy, and soft power in which a well-developed well-honed human touch would be focused at winning hearts and minds, looking at the long term and not short term, and developing trust over time. This is the change in strategy that is desperately needed.

In The Things We Need to Do Now, Andrew J. Bacevich writes, “Sending more troops to the region, as incoming president Barack Obama and others have suggested we should, will only turn Operation Enduring Freedom into Operation Enduring Obligation. Afghanistan will be a sinkhole, consuming resources neither the U.S. military nor the U.S. government can afford to waste.”

In the Andrew J. Bacevich article for Newsweek, Winning In Afghanistan, he additionally writes, “The new U.S. president needs to realize that America's real political objective in Afghanistan is actually quite modest: to ensure that terrorist groups like Al Qaeda can't use it as a safe haven for launching attacks against the West. Accomplishing that won't require creating a modern, cohesive nation-state. U.S. officials tend to assume that power in Afghanistan ought to be exercised from Kabul. Yet the real influence in Afghanistan has traditionally rested with tribal leaders and warlords. Rather than challenge that tradition, Washington should work with it. Offered the right incentives, warlords can accomplish U.S. objectives more effectively and more cheaply than Western combat battalions. The basis of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan should therefore become decentralization and outsourcing, offering cash and other emoluments to local leaders.”

In the Vietnam War, the Vietcong, a guerrilla force using the tactic of asymmetric warfare, utilizing Laos and Cambodia’s “Ho Chi Minh Trail” as a supply route to South Vietnam, escaping to Laos and Cambodia for retreat and cover, while at the same time winning the hearts and minds of the South Vietnamese gained tactical advantage over U.S., ARVN, and other multi-national forces. Eventually, as their subversive tactics became increasingly successful, the Vietcong were reinforced by huge numbers of North Vietnamese troops, the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN), and in the end accomplished their mission of a unified Vietnam. It was the unwavering mindset of the U.S. in using combat forces with conventional strategies and tactics that lead to our in-country demise.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban and warlords are using asymmetric warfare, utilizing the mountain passages from Pakistan as a route for supplies and equipment, escaping to Pakistan for retreat and cover, and apparently are winning the hearts and minds of Afghans, particularly those in the south. Pakistan as a failed state could conceivably be overtaken by the Pakistan Taliban, who do have the support of many Pakistanis, increase sizably in force, reinforce the Afghan Taliban and in the end accomplish their mission of a unified Islamic republic. -- the unwavering mindset of the U.S. of using combat forces in conventional strategies and tactics in Afghanistan or Pakistan against the Taliban will eventually lead to our in-country demise, as it did in Vietnam.

Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq (up to the more recent troop surge) were being fought with a conventional military mindset and strategy. The turnabout in Iraq, under the command of General Petraeus, Commander of the Multi-National Forces in Iraq, came not with a troop surge incorporating the same strategy, but when a different strategy was employed.

The Vietnam-French experience as with the Afghanistan-Soviet experience, have provided the citizens of those countries with many years of coping and fighting against another countries interference in their affairs, and with their military powers: soldiers, machines of war, chaos, destruction, debilitating long term health issues, death, and all of the other machinations of warfare. In both cases the countries inhabitants, the tribes, the villages, hamlets and all those folks who lived in those hooches remained loyal to their country who along with the Vietcong, or its base organization the Việt Minh, and in the case of the Afghani Taliban in their conflict with the Soviets, were successful in expelling their countries invaders.

There should be no question that a change in strategy, as called for by our NATO allies, Andrew J. Bacevich, et al, is very clearly needed. That change in strategy must include a high emphasis on soft power.

The soft power paradigm of which I speak includes diplomacy and negotiation, of course, but also much more than can be condensed and explained here. However, there is no-one that I know who has, by example, done more to show how viable soft power alternatives can work to our advantage: Greg Mortenson and his Central Asia Institute are exemplary of the soft power America must adopt; it, along with hard power, which may be here-and-there needed, could even become the new military paradigm. The paradigm includes a matrix of asymmetrical strategies put in proper balance with hard and soft power options. Evidence suggests that the U.S. Military is evolving in that direction.

Greg Mortenson has spoken to thousands of U.S. university and high school students about his bestselling “Three Cups of Tea,” the inspirational story of his work building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan to “promote peace, one school at a time.” Mortenson has been invited to confer with the office of Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He has also lectured at Annapolis, West Point, and the Air Force Academy.

Three Cups of Tea is now recommended reading for officers enrolled in graduate-level counterterrorism courses in the Army, Navy, and Marines.

Learning how to work in the Afghan and Pakistani culture, Greg has built schools for girls. Greg Mortenson survived an eight day armed kidnapping by the Taliban, escaped a 2003 firefight with feuding Afghan warlords, and overcame two fatwa’s from enraged Islamic mullahs over the educating of girls. His work demonstrates his belief that the war on terrorism is one of hearts and minds, not bullets and bombs, and that it can be won by providing young people with a balanced education. Particularly girls: “Once you educate the boys, they tend to leave the villages and go search for work in cities. But the girls stay home, become leaders in the community and pass on what they've learned. If you really want to change a culture, to empower women, improve basic hygiene and health care, and fight high rates of infant mortality, the answer is to educate girls.” Greg Mortenson

Greg Mortenson said of the United States Afghan policy, “They’re all thinking firepower, and what we really need is brain power.” “It’s education that will determine if the next generation (in Pakistan and Afghanistan) is educated, or illiterate fighters. The stakes could not be higher.”

Greg Mortenson -- who served as an Army medic from 1975 to 1977 -- was asked to share his views about Pakistan and Afghanistan with General David Petraeus, whose focus on building relationships with local communities dovetails that of the Central Asia Institute.

"When Gen. Petraeus read Three Cups of Tea," Mortenson says, "he sent me an e-mail with three bullet points of what he'd gleaned from the book: Build relationships, listen more, and have more humility and respect.”

A soft power focus, not a model that is designed to brainwash or to Americanize or to change who a community of people are culturally, will uplift those communities and make them whole without putting them unnecessarily in jeopardy.

Soft power, in my mind, is the essence of upholding what are American ideals.