Two bright guys go to Afghanistan. One comes back with bad news: If this is all we’ve got, we’re gonna lose. The other comes back with… blabber.
I’m a great fan of Abu Muqawama, and I don’t mean to pick on Exum, but why is it that this up-and-coming hotshot COINdinista has nothing meaningful to say about Afghanistan after spending five weeks in the country, when an old war-horse like Anthony Cordesman comes back from the same trip clear-headed and straight-shootin’?
Let’s compare. Here’s Exum on whether the international coalition has enough resources to hold the ground it takes:
‘I think you’ve got two problems there. One is a conceptual problem and one is a resource problem. Nowhere that I went was I able to get a really coherent definition of what it means to hold and what it means to build, and how you do that. And I don’t think we’ve cracked the nut operationally on how we do those things. So first off, I think there’s some confusion as far as what that means.’
How about a simple “yes” or “no”? Here’s Cordesman:
‘[…] If we somehow believe that a civilian surge of 700 people and tailoring our force posture to the views of a completely different set of strategic priorities, this is going to win, the answer is no, it’s going to lose.’
Okay, so what about the operation itself? Should we have any confidence in ISAF? Exum:
I was tremendously impressed by the quality of the men and women working for General McChrystal at ISAF. […] General McChrystal understands population-centric COIN. Forget all that nonsense about a guy with decades of direct-action special operations experience not being mentally limber enough to adapt to protecting the population. […] McChrystal is not inclined to draw attention to his storied history as a special operator. But when he tells you that it’s impossible to kill your way out of this war, you believe him — because Lord knows, he’s tried.
So The Pope is awesome, but what about this Eye-Saf thing? Here’s Cordesman:
There are outstanding people in every civil organization and military component. Many take serious risks in the field. However, the practical reality is a disorganized mess. The impact of years of inadequate resources, stovepipes rather than unity of effort, a lack of realistic goals and measures of effectiveness, a focus on post conflict reconstruction in mid-war, and a failure to come to grips with the limits and corruption of the Afghan government have taken their toll.
What should be an integrated civil-military effort focused on winning the war in the field is instead a dysfunctional, wasteful mess focused in Kabul and crippled by bureaucratic divisions, Afghan power brokering, national caveats and tensions, and a critical lack of resources at every level.
I don’t always agree with Cordesman, but at least he doesn’t turn into a fawning idiot when put in the same room with a general he digs.