Small Wars Journal

Take the Gloves Off Against a Terrible Political and Military Strategy

Sun, 05/22/2016 - 1:16am

Take the Gloves Off Against a Terrible Political and Military Strategy

Bing West

The op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, ‘Take the Gloves Off Against the Taliban’, by Dave Petraeus and Michael O’Hanlon is at once reasonable, baffling, insufficient and infuriating.

It is reasonable to bomb our enemies – the Taliban. They have killed thousands of Americans and allies. As the authors point out, bombing is financially modest in cost and is relatively safe. Pilots and aircraft are rarely lost.

It is baffling because the average American has no idea that the administration, at some point, stopped bombing in order to ‘signal’ the Taliban that they really weren’t our enemy and couldn’t we all just sit down and get along. This reprise of Vietnam-era stupidity went unremarked by the press, the military, and the foreign policy elite.

It is insufficient because we have been bombing for 15 years - and fought on the ground for 13 years – without achieving any semblance of a lasting outcome.

It is infuriating in its tepid smugness. For some reason, the authors – while knowing we were not bombing for the last few years – chose to remain silent. Now they assert that “simply” bombing “will very likely make much of the difference between some version of victory and defeat.”

How can a reader divine meaning in that sentence? They do not explain their “version of victory and defeat.” They conclude with… no conclusion. And rightly so, because earlier in the op-ed they explain away the mortal failing in the military logic of the 12 US generals who commanded in Afghanistan, and the myriad of military and civilian policymakers who abetted them.

Consider the devious obtuseness of the Op-ed: “Without the sanctuaries they (the Taliban) enjoy in Pakistan, it is doubtful that they could mount an organized threat to the country…”

Now think back to, say, 1965, or 68, or 72 and insert these words: “Without the sanctuaries the enemy enjoys in North Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, it is doubtful they could mount an organized threat to the country of South Vietnam.”

Thus sanctuaries are an immutable fact of warfare. We cannot win while they exist and we are powerless to do anything about them. So let’s fight a war for 15 years in Afghanistan and lose thousands of our young men because, well, because we’re really smart guys. After all, we can always bomb and lose no one. And that “will very likely make much of the difference between some version of victory and defeat.”

I favor heavy bombing. More than that, I favor honest strategists who will tell policymakers when their goals – like nation-building in Afghanistan – are unachievable at any sustainable cost primarily due to the Pakistan sanctuary. Don’t fight for 15 years, and then argue that bombing will make all the difference. Begin by admitting how terrible the political and military strategy was from the start. Bombing is a necessary palliative; gaining leverage over Pakistan to restrict the sanctuary is more imperative.


Madhu (not verified)

Sun, 05/22/2016 - 11:06am

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

Although things are changing in the UK because of changing demographics and economics, the sort of thing linked below always amused me because American Foreign policy mandarins acted as if there was something sacred about their consensus worldview when they were mostly following grubby politicking ("Richard Holbrook and Vali Nasr will solve Kashmir").


<blockquote>I'm not an expert on Kashmir, but I did spent the best part of ten years representing a large number of Kashmiri-origin constituents and, for what it's worth, I've been to Azad Kashmir, India and Pakistan. I tend to focus on cohesion rather than trade when considering our relations with all three. This may be an unbalanced view. But I own up to wondering, when David Cameron criticised Pakistan in India for looking both ways on terrorism, whether he'd thought of the domestic effects of saying so.</blockquote>…

No one tell the Carr Center for Human Rights....well, I think their fellows, especially non-American fellows, know all about it.

The Zbig/NATO lobby and Saudi lobby crowd is pretty interesting on this stuff too.

Madhu (not verified)

Sun, 05/22/2016 - 10:51am

Dream on, Mr. West.

If the US is still interested in regime change in Syria in order to placate our precious Saudi and Gulfie allies in the Mideast (or for whatever stupid reason), there isn't a person in the Beltway that will do anything practical on the subject of "South Asia".

Anyway, bombing or not bombing was never the issue, and neither was counterinsurgency. The issue was always policing, diplomacy, and, as you say, honesty.

The US foreign policy establishment is riddled with parallel and contradictory agendas due to foreign influence agents, money grubbing and careerism. And Pakistan has protectors within the NATO community, the Saudis, the get Iran crowd, etc. There is the bigotry of a certain generation too (most prominently boomer CIA and State), on both the left and right. A curious way of looking at the world that turns "South Asia" into squabbling children in need of saving (Pakistan) or scolding (India).

Chinese lobbying behind the scenes in Washington or with DC officials must be very interesting on this subject too.

And why single out this administration? Is there any evidence that ANY administration since 1947 has done anything other than view the South Asian world through the lens of client states and collecting them? Has the United States done anything about Saudi money sanctuaries as well as Pakistani?

Dream on, Mr. West.

The wages of client collection and alliance sin have come due and no on is going to change a thing.