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The Incompetence Dodge In Afghanistan

Posted by The Agonist on June 28th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

An excellent piece from Michael Cohen, as he pushes back at apologists.

Andrew Exum’s apologia today for war supporters in World Politics Review. Exum makes the argument that “what sunk Afghanistan was not the planning process but the execution.” Exum’s assertion, which appears to be similar to Chandrasekaran’s, is that the United States “squandered its best chance at reversing the momentum of the war in 2009″ by sending troops into Helmand province and by the “vicious infighting among members of the Obama administration.” While there is no doubt that these were serious challenges, they elide the real problems that hobbled the U.S. effort it Afghanistan—namely, adopting an unrealistic population-centric COIN “strategy” that had little chance of success and was practically destined to fail (some people did mention this at the time).

Even with perfect execution, the strategy pushed by the military and adopted by the White House was doomed to failure because it was predicated on a series of unrealistic assumptions, including that Pakistan would be a strategic ally of the United States (it’s not), that the Karzai regime would be an effective COIN partner (it wasn’t), that a civilian surge would help provide good governance to Afghanistan (it didn’t), and that U.S. troops could act like armed social workers and “out-shura” the Taliban (they can’t). This is not to mention the fact that it dramatically overstated the threat to U.S. interests represented by the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.

Yet, Exum implicitly rejects this argument and argues instead that, “the conduct of the Obama administration and the U.S. military in 2009 represents the ideal for strategic decision-making in terms of both process and the relationship between the military and its civilian masters.”

Reading this quote I’m reminded of what George Romney had to say after Lyndon Johnson declared, in the aftermath of the Tet Offensive in 1968, that it had been a failure for the North Vietnamese. “If what we have seen in the past week is a Viet Cong failure,” said Romney, “then I hope they never have a victory.” If Afghanistan is a success I’d hate to see what a strategic decision-making failure might look like.

Read the rest, on how Obama’s generals helped bend his decision-making process surge-ward in the first place, by threatening a breakdown in civil-military relations if it didn’t happen.

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