Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Clausewitz v. Neo-Medievalism, Part 3.1: Afghanistan as a post-Westphalian challenge to the United States

With the semester formally underway and smoothing out, I can finally return and complete the three-part essay I'm offering; Part Three, however, will be offered in 2 parts, beginning here. I am seeking to reach a conclusion about what happens when (1) U.S. Policy in Afghanistan is viewed from a Westphalian, state-centric perspective, with important modifications acknowledged but, ultimately state-based solutions are seen as preferable by the United States, and (2) the armed conflicts in Afghanistan are viewed from a post-Westphalian, Neo-Medievalist perspective, emphasizing not only the non-state actors involved in the conflict, but more broadly the non-state nature of society in what we call Afghanistan. Part 3.1 will for my purposes represent the Neo-Medievalist view; Part 3.2 will represent the Westphalian/Clausewitzian view as well as offer tentative conclusions.

I offer the views of two greatly experienced individuals as expressed in the professional magazine, Joint Force Quarterly in 2010. The journal is freely accessed online through the National Defense University, where it is published for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (having been inaugurated by CJCS Colin Powell). The first is featured in an article by retired Army General Volney F. Warner. In "Afghanistan: Context and What's Next," Gen. Warner writes that he is neither experienced with nor an expert on Afghanistan nor the various ethnic, religious, and tribal populations that make up Afghanistan and the broader region. Therefore, he interviews "C", a person with over 30 years experience in Afghanistan and its cultures, but whose name cannot be revealed. Warner simply offers that, "He has an extensive background in the Intelligence Community, Department of Defense, and the defense industry." (19) Warner explains the purpose of his interview: "As one who believes in preemptive peace more than preemptive war, I have over the past months peppered him with questions that would enable me to better comprehend the nuances of the war in Afghanistan. Do we have a clear understanding of what 'winning' means? What does it mean to the region? What does it mean to the Afghan people? What would be the consequences of negotiating a political settlement enforceable by the region's interested powers?" (19)  The views of C are representative of a post-Westphalian realization that the state is not always the best form of socio-political organization.

In his responses to Warner's questions, C reveals much about the people of Afghanistan and their worldview. He emphasizes a couple of key points that I will highlight by excerpting his comments.I rely on extensive quotes.

C's fundamental thesis is exemplifed here: "Over these many years, I have come to care for the Afghan people, their way of life, and their compelling desire to be left alone to their form of civilization. I appreciate how they settle disagreements and how personal rights and wrongs from many generations ago have colored their outlook today. Whether they are termed tribal leaders or 'warlords,' the government they have is largely the government they know and want. This is a point that those who attempt to judge without understanding the culture mostly miss. It is akin to the facile view of too many academics prone to believe that Afghanistan is a conventional nation-state. It is not! Some of us who have lived with the Afghans know that it qualifies as a country, defined as a parcel of real estate with people. These are people who have little desire for social or economic intercourse with strangers because history has convinced them that such interchanges only benefit the stranger....Consider that there are no roads because the Afghans are a private people and do not want to share their land or be imposed upon to offer Islamic hospitality to strangers. What would visitors bring besides disruption to a lifestyle practiced over thousands of generations? History confirms this." (19)

Later, C continues with the point: "It has escaped and continues to escape the idealists and the new COIN practitioners who are eager to prove their convictions that Afghanistan has only exhibited the characteristics of a nation when it was under autocratic rule. At all other times, the tribes lived their own lives; plied their trades; swapped foodstuffs, raw materials and products; and made some AFAs [afghani, the unit of currency] off of tourists. This is their way of life, even with the Taliban present in some of the provinces." (20)

On counter-insurgency (COIN): "A point that the COIN [counter-insurgency] aficionados and the neophytes in the new U.S. administration is that we do not have an insurgence in Afghanistan; rather, it is a civil war." (19)

On what the US needs to do: "We need to bring our Afghan enterprise to a close quickly and in a manner that gives some hope of future stability without further alerting the Afghans." (19)

Further on this point:

"I reject COIN as a workable solution over the long run unless the United States wants to rent Arabs and Pashtun for the foreseeable future. I say 'rent' because we cannot buy them." (20)  He clearly believes this applies not only to Afghanistan, but to Iraq as well: "Going into Iraq was a terrible miscalculation; Iraq is not a national entity, but another Yugoslavia cobbled together as a quick and dirty solution by Western interests -- and it will balkanize after we leave." (20)

"I am very pessimistic about attempts to bring about a unified national entity in Afghanistan that most Afghans would place above their village and tribes. The best I can see is a federation of tribes -- a kind of medieval Poland -- where borders, land, and water-sharing are clearly spelled out." (22)

"Most of the Afghans I speak with barely acknowledge, if at all, President [Hamid] Karzai as other than a Western puppet. Whatever he embraces, they will not." (22)

The final paragraph: "My experiences living with the Afghans yield a totally different take than the news media's pro-Karzai attitude and wat we face in "nationbuilding." It's high time the American people were faced with the reality of what Afghanistan is not and what it will cost in national resolve, blood, and treasure to realize their politicians' idealism. Alice's wonderland is a closer reality, and I say this knowing and loving the Afghan people." (24)

You should read the article for yourself, as there is a good deal more valuable information and insight, for example, regarding Pakistan and C's ideas on the need for immediate and extensive PSYOP programs. C's opposition to counter-insurgency and nation-building in favor of an approach more akin to counter-terrorism are the basis of what he sees as the necessity for strong action to create conditions ripe for our departure. He puts forth in clear terms his determination that ruthless demonstrations of strength against terrorists is a necessary ingredient of strategy, and cites two examples that make his point without question (parental discretion advised):

"The Soviets had the right solution to terrorism when four of their diplomats were kidnapped in Lebanon by Hizballah 23 years ago. The KGB kidnapped six fundamentalists and sliced off a few fingers, sending the severed digits to the fundamentalist leadership with the message 'release our people or you'll get yours back piece-by-piece and more to follow. In the 1970s when terrorists attempted to skyjack a Royal Ethiopian Airlines flight, they were overcome by the flight crew and first-class passengers. They were moved to tourist class, and the skyjackers were beheaded. The crew radioed Addis Ababa to call the world press, and upon landing the pilot walked out with the heads of the skyjackers and kicked them down the stair ramp, saying, 'This is how we handle terrorists.'" (20)

When Gen. Warner then asks C, "But then why did we not eliminate the Taliban and pursue bin Laden and company into Pakistan when we had the chance?" His response points to the "ill-conceived and unplanned venture" in Iraq that removed troops from General McChrystal and diverted the "strategic threat vision" to OIF. (20-21)

C's preference for counter-terrorist strategies is critiqued by the following article.

General Warner's interview of "C" is followed by "Winning Afghanistan at the Community Level: A Rejoinder to Volney F. Warner and 'C;," by Colonel Christopher D. Kolenda, who states about his authorship of the article: "I do so as a Soldier serving in Afghanistan. The sentiments here are entirely my own and should not be attributed in any way to the leadership of the International Security Assistance Force." (25) My summary of this article is coming next.

No comments:

Post a Comment