Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Full COIN Monty

Professor Austin Long of Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs has a good article in Foreign Policy that argues a light foot print counter-terror effort in Afghanistan would work better than the massive counterinsurgency (COIN) campaign that Gen. Stanley McChrystal is proposing.

He’s right.

Long refutes a Sept. 24 USA Today piece by Michael O’Hanlon and Bruce Reidel of the Brookings Institute, both minions of the war mafia, that says the alternative to go with a smaller mission in Afghanistan than the one Gen. Stanley McChrystal proposes won’t work. It’s got to be the full counterinsurgency (COIN) Monty, they argue. That will involve a lot more troops for a lot more years.

These arguments go back and forth until you can’t see straight. Nobody can predict what will happen if we follow their proposals, even though they pretend to. In this contest, Long makes the far better argument. Perhaps it’s better to say O’Hanlon and Reidel make the worse one.

O’Hanlon and Reidel’s rhetoric is the same wheeze we’ve been hearing for years. If we don’t go full COIN Monty, the Taliban will take over Afghanistan, al-Qaeda will be invited back in the country and become resurgent, and we’ll have more 9/11s.

Things in Afghanistan have been deteriorating since 2001, they caution, but if we don’t commit to putting a lot more troops there right this minute, the government will fail. Not putting a lot more troops in Afghanistan will amount to abandoning Afghanistan. Then we won’t have airbases from which we can bomb Muslim weddings in Pakistan.

Then O’Hanlon and Reidel play the “sanctuary” card—poorly. Al Qaeda doesn’t actually need sanctuary—nobody does in the iPhone age—but we don’t want to give them a sanctuary anyway, O’Hanlon and Reidel assert.

They toss the NATO card on the table (our allies will abandon us if we don’t escalate), and they pull the “this was Obama’s idea” ace from their sleeve.

One always has to remember that anyone who argues in favor of war these days is getting paid to do it. O’Hanlon and Reidel are part of the Long War mafia, now a wide network of pseudo-intellectuals who support the neoconservative effort to keep us in low-intensity Orwellian wars for virtual perpetuity.

Tom Hayden has an excellent Oct. 14 article in The Nation that describes how the Long War concept came about and how it perpetuates itself. The more we invade and occupy countries to theoretically “combat” terrorism and insurgencies, the more terrorists and insurgents we create. The more terrorists and insurgents we create, the more we need to escalate our military efforts, thus creating more terrorists and insurgents. The difference between combat and assassination disappears. We can’t say for sure if we protect more civilians than we kill.

A grim slice of the McChrystal farce is that the general himself is not a counterinsurgency expert, as was claimed during his Senate confirmation hearing. He is an assassin. As commander of the Joint Special Operations Command from April 2003 to August 2008, he was in charge of tracking down and killing high value targets in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. If we wanted McChrystal to do what he’s good at, we’d adopt the light footprint strategy that Long and other respected analysts have suggested.

Another piece of the comedy surrounding the Afghanistan debate is the confusion between counterterrorism and counterinsurgency. The propagandists arguing in favor of the big foot approach in Afghanistan would have us believe the two are synonymous. They are not.

Counterterrorism is what McChrystal is used to doing. The justification for all of our Silly Simon wars in Asia has to do with countering terror, and fighting wars is the precise wrong way to go about fighting terrorism. That is best done through political and policing solutions.

For all the virtuous sounding hoopla about counterinsurgency, it’s about propping up tin pan hooligan leaders in countries we shouldn’t be mucking around in. It’s neo-imperialism, a foreign policy whereby we pretend not to be taking over another nation’s territory when that’s exactly what we’re doing. It makes no sense, foreign policy wise, but it suits the interests of the war mafia.

Counterterrorism, on the other hand, is about popping dudes with the remarkable surgical strike capabilities we have.

The war mafia is the most malignant aspect of American society today. Its proven ability to keep us, in Orwellian fashion, focused on non-existent threats to our existence, keeps us from conducting the real business of our nation, which is taking care of ourselves and, as a sole superpower, setting an example of enlightened thinking and actions that founders like Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Franklin endorsed.

The mafia extends far beyond Bill Kristol and his neoconservative crew. You can’t count the number of lowbrow and highbrow sophists-for-hire who have gone on the long war dole. Among the most loathsome of them is David Kilcullen, a war wonk who made his bones as an adviser to both McChrystal and Field Marshal David Petraeus. Even Kilcullen admits that counterterrorism isn’t an important aspect of the Afghanistan project. He thinks it’s more important that we keep NATO intact.

None of the jackdaws in the right-wing tank thinkery who are pushing for escalation of the Afghan war have a legitimate bean in their digestive systems to contribute to the debate, and yet they’re getting big media attention. That’s in part because of the right wing media, and partly because the mainstream media that cover the military have become so access poisoned that they will publish anything they’re told by the Pentagon’s unnamed truth ministers for fear of being shoved off the general’s jeep if they don’t.

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books), a lampoon on America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now.


  1. This is beyond pipelineistan. i agree that part of this campaign is to justify the reason, and usefulness of NATO. It is at the same time placing NATO,in a key geographical area of the region. The west is encroaching Russia, and China, using NATO, and private mercenaries. The west can now claim that Al QUAIDA, and or The Taliban are in one or all of the Stans. There by having a justification to invade yet another country. Pakistan is now the main bulls eye. China and Russia will have more input now.

  2. Bonnie8:09 PM

    Great commentary; very informative. Thanks. Keep up the good work.

  3. Anonymous8:56 PM

    Counter insurgency is less apt to work in Afghanistan than in Vietnam.

    O'Hanlon is correct a small foot print COIN without huge war profit won't work in in congress any more than Afghanistan, nor will it be any better than a large footprint except that makes a lot of money for the war profiteering militrists.

    He and Brookings are authors of propaganda.

    COIN is the latest faulty logic confidence game on a national scale to squander Gramma's fortune on the war profits.

    Look to wht will waste the most tax money and that will be the popular choice.

    There is no strategy therefore there is no win.