The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

“Success is Still Achievable”

September 22, 2009

General McChrystal’s strategic review concludes that the situation in Afghanistan is serious and getting worse, but “success is still achievable” as long as he gets more troops to wage a more aggressive counterinsurgency campaign.

According to the review, the US/ISAF objective in Afghanistan is to get to a point where the “insurgency no longer threatens the viability of the state.” To this end, it calls for a new strategy in which the focus is winning over the population.

But I find this assessment striking:

“Afghan social, political, economic, and cultural affairs are complex and poorly understood. ISAF does not sufficiently appreciate the dynamics in local communities, nor how the insurgency, corruption, incompetent officials, power-brokers, and criminality all combine to affect the Afghan population.”

And, the “insurgents control or contest a significant portion of the country, although it is difficult to assess precisely how much due to a lack of ISAF presence. . . . “

Take a moment to unpack this. To repeat: ISAF does not control much of the country (nor does it know how much it controls), it does not know how local politics are playing, it does not understand the relationship of the insurgency, corruption, incompetent officials, power brokers, and criminal activity and how they affect the Afghan public. Think about what these gaps mean in the context of a request for more troops to wage a counterinsurgency strategy and to win over the population such that the insurgency does not threaten the “viability” of the state.

And, we’ve been at this for eight years.

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Jon Western has spent the last fifteen years teaching IR in liberal arts colleges at Mount Holyoke College and the Five Colleges in western Massachusetts. He has an eclectic range of intellectual interests but often writes on international security, U.S. foreign policy, military intervention, and human rights. He occasionally shares his thoughts about professional life in liberal arts colleges. In his spare time he coaches middle school soccer, mentors the local high school robotics team, skis, and sails.