Tuesday, September 29, 2009

McChrystal's Myth

There is no such thing a "victory" in the kinds of wars we’re fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. The best one can hope for in these types of conflicts – counterinsurgency efforts in far-flung corners of the globe with fuzzy objectives and vague necessity – is to not be seen as having "lost." For that to happen, unfortunately, you have to stick around for so long and fade away so gradually that, by the time you leave, nobody notices you’re gone.

The neoconservative apparatus that got us into Iraq for reasons we still haven’t decided on threatens to keep us in Afghanistan indefinitely for reasons yet to be determined. Everything we’re doing in Central and Southwest Asia supposedly has something to do with eradicating al-Qaeda, yet there is no sign of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. The argument for persisting in Afghanistan says that we have to make sure al-Qaeda doesn’t go back there, yet as former CIA officer Philip Giraldi recently noted, credible assessments suggest that "Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda has likely been reduced to a core group of eight to ten terrorists who are on the run more often than not."

For the sake of keeping fewer than a dozen evildoers out of Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal and his legion of supporters in the Pentagon, Congress, and the media insist we need to bring increase U.S. troop levels to over 100,000, and the overall coalition force level to a half-million, the number of troops we had on the ground at one point in Vietnam.

The half-million figure comes from the counterinsurgency field manual (FM 3-24, Counterinsurgency [.pdf]), which calls for 20 to 25 counterinsurgent forces per every 1,000 locals, and Afghanistan contain a tad over 28 million locals. Your cat can do the math from there. What your cat can’t tell you is the thought process behind the conclusion that it makes sense to pit a half-million persons under arms against a force of eight or ten persons who aren’t in the vicinity of where you plan to place your half-million armed people.

That’s because your cat’s thought process isn’t as short-circuited as the cognitive quagmire going on in the minds of McChrystal and the people backing him.

The short version of this loopy logic equation goes like this: you put McChrystal in charge and he’s asking for what an official doctrine manual says he should ask for, so you have to give it to him. This skips over a trail of false assumptions that, lined up end to end, would span the Khyber Pass.

The requirement for a half-million to ten superiority ratio should have been laughed out of the discussion the moment it was mentioned. The counterinsurgency manual’s dictum that we must "convince the people of the government’s legitimacy" contains two dismal flaws in the context of Afghanistan (and Iraq as well). There is no convincing the Afghan people of the legitimacy of the Hamad Karzai government or any other government we replace it with.

The biggest flaw in the pro-McChrystal plan argument is that the counterinsurgency manual reflects tried-and-true tactics and strategy. There has never been such a thing as a triumphant counterinsurgency conflict. These types of wars have all been indecisive and draining quagmires; the sorts of conflicts that Sun Tzu warned us about over two thousand years ago when he said "No nation ever profited from a long war."

Yet it is that the military-industrial-congressional complex has adopted the "long war" concept, a gem of tank thinkery straight out of Orwell designed to keep America on a permanent wartime economy and in an endless state of fear and loathing of enemies vaguely defined and overly demonized.

Lacking a peer military adversary since the end of the Cold War, the American war mafia, headed by Bill Kristol’s Israeli-centric neoconservative cabal, casts about desperately for a "new Pearl Harbor" to justify its existence. The 9/11 attacks gave them the "catalyst" they needed to justify the invasions in Iraq and Afghanistan. It remains to be seen if we’ll be able to pull out of the flat spin they have flown us into.

The greatest fallacy in the counterinsurgency doctrine is the notion that we can partner with the host nation to establish order and security. As U.S. Army Col. Timothy Reese recently observed, our years of effort at establishing a competent and reliable government and security apparatus in Iraq have come to naught. The "ineffectiveness and corruption" of Iraq’s government, he wrote in a recent memorandum, "is the stuff of legend." Of Iraq’s security forces, he wrote, "corruption among officers is widespread."

Laziness is "endemic," Reese said, and "Lack of initiative is legion." These and other compelling reasons are why Reese recommended that it’s time to "declare victory" in Iraq and go home.

To think we can do better than this in Afghanistan is the epitome of delusion. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, which we backed in a long war against Iran during the 1980s, was a real country with a real army and real institutions and infrastructure. Afghanistan has always been a fourth-world wasteland. When it comes to Afghanistan, our counterinsurgency manual amounts to little more than a ream of latrine linen.

The only reason we’re still playing political patty-cake about what to do in Afghanistan – or anywhere else in that part of the world – is to determine who gets the blame for "losing." A popular adage of war says it’s the losers who determine when they’re over. So, the logic goes, as long as we don’t quit, we can’t lose. Hence the "long war."

It’s all about seeing who gets the blame for failing to do the impossible.

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. Jeff, I think I found one of the adults needed to sort out the Iran hype, Scott Ritter. Christ Floyd over at Empire Burlesque called the veiled threats at the G20 "announcement" sword waggling.

    I was reading somewhere today that Make-a-new-plan Stan has only met with Obama once since he began his Afghanistan adventure. Do you think this might be the reason there appears to be two sides to this - the military and the government? McChrystal seems to think that the little people who are actually on the hook for the cost of this don't really matter.


    By the way, I checked the war logic with my cat, Big Fluffy. He raised one eye whisker at me, directed his gaze toward the ceiling for a few seconds and then went off in search of a drink.

  2. I suspect a really massive bombing of Afghanistan (or Iran, or any other "bad" country for that matter) would make most US citizens happy enough for the time being to allow the Commander in Chief to then withdraw from Iraq without our fellow citizens, and by extension our fellow Congress members and President, being subjected to overwhelming feelings of being a loser.

    In other words, kick some ass, any ass, and then we can slim the ops down to just one major theater. The problem of endless wars (and their associated corruption and taxes and debt and government expansion of wartime power) is cut in half.

    I'd pity the target of the fireworks though. And hopefully the target doesn't have allies who pity them.

  3. Anonymous9:56 PM

    Schrödinger the Cat has informed me that if the US attacks Iran, bad things will occur in the Persian Gulf. I suspect that he has Persian ancestry.rext

  4. Anonymous7:09 AM

    How American taxpayer dollars are being used to fund the Taliban

    The American Conservative (TAC) Magazine, November 01, 2009 Issue

    Copyright © 2009 The American Conservative

    The Taliban’s Toll

    By Kelley Beaucar Vlahos

    The allegation that millions of dollars of U.S aid and military funds have been siphoned off by the Taliban through elaborate extortion rackets is not something US government officials readily discuss. But the departing head of the US Army Corps of Engineers recently conceded that there was little his agency could do to stop it, and the U.S. State Department launched an investigation after reports of the scandal finally penetrated the mainstream news.

    The Pentagon did not respond to TAC’s inquiries about charges that local contractors who deliver supplies and equipment to remote NATO bases in Afghanistan are charging Western governments protection money to pay off the Taliban, or Taliban-connected middlemen, to protect convoys along dangerous overland supply routes. Yet a growing consensus supports a fearsome prospect: U.S. taxpayers are funding the enemy.

    “If you don’t pay, you will get attacked, you will not get through,” says Peter Jouvenal, a British expat and former BBC journalist who has been living and working in Kabul for nearly 30 years. He has operated several businesses in Afghanistan, including a small trucking company. “Everybody wins in the short-term,” he tells TAC. “The Taliban get their money, and the contractors get their money, and the soldiers get their food and fuel supplies. The only one that loses out is the United States taxpayer, who has to foot the bill for all this. That would be acceptable if we were achieving something, but we’re not.”

    For the rest of the article, see:

  5. Kelley is wonderful.

  6. Jeff,

    Recently you did a great piece on the military and its use of Power Point. Here is Betrayus from a few days ago in a talk and sure enough he breaks out a power point presentation. The talk is all smoke and mirrors and his Power Point presentation confirms exactly what you were talking about.


  7. "There is a remote, although gaining, possibility America's military will intervene as a last resort to resolve the "Obama problem." Don't dismiss it as unrealistic.

    America isn't the Third World. If a military coup does occur here it will be civilized. "

    Source: http://cloudfront.mediamatters.org/static/pdf/newsmax-20090929-perry_coup.pdf

  8. Yeah, I saw that too. Kinda looks like the the loony right has finally gone off the rails. The original article is archived here. (Not surprised to see where it was first published. Mark Ames also has a column about this at The Exiled, which is where I first saw it).

    Man, those people give me the willies. Notice how the author's litany of evil contains nothing at all that transpired during the Bush years. Like this, for instance:

    They can see that the economy — ravaged by deficits, taxes, unemployment, and impending inflation — is financially reliant on foreign lender governments.

    Yeah, we didn't have any of that under Bush. And then there's this:

    They can see the horror of major warfare erupting simultaneously in two, and possibly three, far-flung theaters before America can react in time.

    Since the “they” the author references is our military leaders, it is in fact quite easy to see how “they” would be aware of the horror of major warfare in in two far-flung theaters, since they're the ones orchestrating it (and itching to get #3 up and running).

    I seem to remember a lot of talk during the Bush years about liberals needing to be executed, usually for no better reason than being insufficiently jingoistic to suit people like Michael Savage and Ann Coulter. But aside from the odd assassination fantasy, I never heard anyone on the left advocating a military coup against the U.S. President.

    So, how about it, Commander? In your opinion, would this qualify as treason (or at least sedition?). Maybe the DOJ can arrange a quick show trial and execution for this guy (or perhaps a nice military tribunal, since the author has obviously declared himself as an “enemy combatant”).

  9. It's major insubordination.