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Illusions of Victory

September 28, 2009

There's No Strategy To Win in Afghanistan

By Douglas Macgregor

Douglas MacArthur is regarded as a great commander because he got some very important things right, most famously the Inchon landing. He also got some things wrong, such as his push to the Yalu River.

His catchy statement, "there is no substitute for victory," was also wrong, though not so wrong as the armchair strategists who quote it out of context. In fact, "victory" is often an illusion, a will-o'-the-wisp that can lead nations and armies deeper into the bog of history until they disappear.

Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan had the foresight to avoid the bog, to halt inconclusive military operations in Korea and Lebanon before they consumed America's strength. Such men are rare, and even more rarely honored for their actions. (Continue reading)

This article was published in Defense News, September 28, 2009 and is available in its entirety online.

Douglas Macgregor, COL, USA (Ret.), is a fellow at the Straus Military Reform Project and the author of Warrior's Rage: The Great Tank Battle of 73 Easting. COL Macgregor is one of 45 signatories to the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy's open letter to President Obama, which urged the president to rethink U.S. objectives in Afghanistan.

Posted by coalition at 11:12 AM | Comments (0)

Who's Afraid of a Terrorist Haven?

September 16, 2009

Paul R. Pillar questions the conventional wisdom on whether Afghanistan would again become a terrorist haven -- or even whether we should care.

The article was published in The Washington Post on September 16, 2009, and is available online here:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/09/15/AR2009091502977.html


The writer was deputy chief of the counterterrorist center at the CIA from 1997 to 1999. He is director of graduate studies at Georgetown University's Security Studies Program.


Posted by coalition at 05:38 PM | Comments (0)

U.S. Must Narrow Objectives in Afghanistan

by Malou Innocent and Christopher Preble

Eight years ago, a small number of U.S. personnel, working in tandem with local Afghan leaders, entered Afghanistan with a defined aim: to punish al-Qaida and overthrow the Taliban regime that harbored them. Over the past year, that mission has morphed into the much broader objective of rebuilding the Afghan state and protecting Afghan villages. Most recently, America's top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, said a new strategy must be forged to "earn the support of the [Afghan] people . . . regardless of how many militants are killed or captured."

Such an undertaking, amounting to a large-scale social-engineering project, is unwarranted. The cost in blood and treasure that we would have to incur -- coming on top of what we have already paid -- far outweighs any possible benefits, even accepting the most optimistic estimates for the likelihood of success.

The essential question now is not whether the war is winnable, but whether the mission is vital to U.S. national security interests.

(Continue reading)

This article was published in World Politics Review on September 16, 2009 and is available in its entirety online.


Malou Innocent is a foreign policy analyst and Christopher Preble is director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank based in Washington, D.C. Innocent is the co-author, with Ted Galen Carpenter, of the just-released study, "Escaping the 'Graveyard of Empires': A Strategy to Exit Afghanistan."

Posted by coalition at 07:54 AM | Comments (0)

Letter to President Obama Regarding Afghanistan

September 15, 2009

The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
Washington, DC

Dear Mr. President:

During your campaign for the Presidency, Americans around the country appreciated your skepticism of the rationales for the Iraq war. In 2002, you had warned that such an endeavor would yield "a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, and with unintended consequences." You pointed out the dangers of fighting such a war "without a clear rationale and without strong international support." As scholars of international relations and U.S. foreign policy, many of us issued similar warnings before the war, unfortunately to little avail.

Today, we are concerned that the war in Afghanistan is growing increasingly detached from considerations of length, cost, and consequences. Its rationale is becoming murkier and both domestic and international support for it is waning. Respectfully, we urge you to focus U.S. strategy more clearly on al Qaeda instead of expanding the mission into an ambitious experiment in state building.

First, our objectives in that country have grown overly ambitious. The current strategy centers on assembling a viable, compliant, modern state in Afghanistan--something that has never before existed. The history of U.S. state-building endeavors is not encouraging, and Afghanistan poses particular challenges. Engaging in competitive governance with the Taliban is a counterproductive strategy, pushing the Taliban and al Qaeda together instead of driving them apart. If we cannot leave Afghanistan until we have created an effective central government, we are likely to be there for decades, with no guarantee of success.

Second, the rationale of expanding the mission in order to prevent "safe havens" for al Qaeda from emerging is appealing but flawed. Afghanistan, even excluding the non-Pashto areas, is a large, geographically imposing country where it is probably impossible to ensure that no safe havens could exist. Searching for certainty that there are not and will not be safe havens in Afghanistan is quixotic and likely to be extremely costly. Even if some massive effort in that country were somehow able to prevent a safe haven there, dozens of other countries could easily serve the same purpose. Even well-governed modern democracies like Germany have inadvertently provided staging grounds for terrorists. A better strategy would focus on negotiations with moderate Taliban elements, regional diplomacy, and disrupting any large-scale al Qaeda operations that may emerge. Those are achievable goals.

Third, an expanded mission fails a simple cost/benefit test. In order to markedly improve our chances of victory--which Ambassador Richard Holbrooke can only promise "we'll know it when we see it"--we would need to make a decades-long commitment to creating a state in Afghanistan, and even in that case, success would be far from certain. As with all foreign policies, this enormous effort must be weighed against the opportunity costs. Money, troops, and other resources would be poured into Afghanistan at the expense of other national priorities, both foreign and domestic.

Mr. President, there is serious disagreement among scholars and policy experts on the way forward in Afghanistan. Many of those urging you to deepen U.S. involvement in that country are the same people who promised we would encounter few difficulties in Iraq and that that war would solve our problems in the Middle East, neither of which proved to be the case. We urge your administration to refocus on al Qaeda and avoid an open-ended state-building mission in Afghanistan.

Sincerely,

Gordon Adams
American University

Andrew Bacevich
Boston University

Doug Bandow
American Conservative Defense Alliance

Ted Galen Carpenter
Cato Institute

Jasen Castillo
Texas A&M

Jonathan Clarke
Carnegie Council

Steven Clemons
New America Foundation

Michael Cohen
New America Foundation

Michael Desch
University of Notre Dame

Carolyn Eisenberg
Hofstra University

Ivan Eland
Independent Institute

Bernard Finel
American Security Project

Eugene Gholz
University of Texas - Austin

Philip M. Giraldi
American Conservative Defense Alliance

David Henderson
Hoover Institution

David Hendrickson
Colorado College

George C. Herring
University of Kentucky

Patrick Thaddeus Jackson
American University

Robert Jervis
Columbia University

Chaim Kaufmann
Lehigh University

Sean Kay
Ohio Wesleyan University

Elizabeth Kier
University of Washington

Peter Krogh
Georgetown University

Christopher Layne
Texas A&M

Anatol Lieven
King's College

Justin Logan
Cato Institute

Douglas Macgregor
Colonel, U.S. Army (Ret.)

Scott McConnell
The American Conservative

John Mearsheimer
University of Chicago

Rajan Menon
Lehigh University

Andrew Michta
Rhodes College

John Mueller
Ohio State University

Michael D. Ostrolenk
American Conservative Defense Alliance

Robert Paarlberg
Wellesley College

Charles Pena
Independent Institute

William Pfaff
Author and syndicated columnist

Paul R. Pillar
Georgetown University

Barry Posen
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

John Prados
Author

Christopher Preble
Cato Institute

Daryl Press
Dartmouth College

David Rieff
Author

Paul Schroeder
University of Illinois

Tony Smith
Tufts University

Jack Snyder
Columbia University

Robert W. Tucker
John Hopkins University - SAIS

Stephen Walt
Harvard University

**This letter reflects the opinions of the individual signatories. Institutions are listed for identification purposes only.**

Posted by coalition at 05:13 PM | Comments (0)

Coalition Issues Letter to President Obama Regarding Afghanistan

Contacts: Ted Galen Carpenter (202) 789-5235
Bernard Finel (571) 221-2995

A group of eminent authors and international affairs scholars wrote President Obama today to express their concern about expanding the U.S. military commitment to Afghanistan. The signers included many who had publicly opposed the invasion of Iraq before it began. In the letter, organized by the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, the signatories pointed out that the administration's goals in Afghanistan were growing overly ambitious, that achieving them was unlikely, and that their pursuit would come at expense of other national priorities, both foreign and domestic.

The signers wrote "Today we are concerned that the war in Afghanistan is growing increasingly detached from considerations of length, cost and consequences." They added, "If we cannot leave Afghanistan until we have created an effective central government, we are likely to be there for decades, with no guarantee of success." They urged president Obama not to deepen the U.S. mission in that country, and implored him to situate the Afghanistan war in a broader strategic context.

The Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy is a group of scholars, policy makers and concerned citizens dedicated to promoting a vision for American national security strategy that is consistent with American traditions and values.

To learn more, visit www.realisticforeignpolicy.org or e-mail realisticfp@gmail.com.

Full text below:

The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
Washington, DC

Dear Mr. President:

During your campaign for the Presidency, Americans around the country appreciated your skepticism of the rationales for the Iraq war. In 2002, you had warned that such an endeavor would yield "a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, and with unintended consequences." You pointed out the dangers of fighting such a war "without a clear rationale and without strong international support." As scholars of international relations and U.S. foreign policy, many of us issued similar warnings before the war, unfortunately to little avail.

Today, we are concerned that the war in Afghanistan is growing increasingly detached from considerations of length, cost, and consequences. Its rationale is becoming murkier and both domestic and international support for it is waning. Respectfully, we urge you to focus U.S. strategy more clearly on al Qaeda instead of expanding the mission into an ambitious experiment in state building.

First, our objectives in that country have grown overly ambitious. The current strategy centers on assembling a viable, compliant, modern state in Afghanistan--something that has never before existed. The history of U.S. state-building endeavors is not encouraging, and Afghanistan poses particular challenges. Engaging in competitive governance with the Taliban is a counterproductive strategy, pushing the Taliban and al Qaeda together instead of driving them apart. If we cannot leave Afghanistan until we have created an effective central government, we are likely to be there for decades, with no guarantee of success.

Second, the rationale of expanding the mission in order to prevent "safe havens" for al Qaeda from emerging is appealing but flawed. Afghanistan, even excluding the non-Pashto areas, is a large, geographically imposing country where it is probably impossible to ensure that no safe havens could exist. Searching for certainty that there are not and will not be safe havens in Afghanistan is quixotic and likely to be extremely costly. Even if some massive effort in that country were somehow able to prevent a safe haven there, dozens of other countries could easily serve the same purpose. Even well-governed modern democracies like Germany have inadvertently provided staging grounds for terrorists. A better strategy would focus on negotiations with moderate Taliban elements, regional diplomacy, and disrupting any large-scale al Qaeda operations that may emerge. Those are achievable goals.

Third, an expanded mission fails a simple cost/benefit test. In order to markedly improve our chances of victory--which Ambassador Richard Holbrooke can only promise "we'll know it when we see it"--we would need to make a decades-long commitment to creating a state in Afghanistan, and even in that case, success would be far from certain. As with all foreign policies, this enormous effort must be weighed against the opportunity costs. Money, troops, and other resources would be poured into Afghanistan at the expense of other national priorities, both foreign and domestic.

Mr. President, there is serious disagreement among scholars and policy experts on the way forward in Afghanistan. Many of those urging you to deepen U.S. involvement in that country are the same people who promised we would encounter few difficulties in Iraq and that that war would solve our problems in the Middle East, neither of which proved to be the case. We urge your administration to refocus on al Qaeda and avoid an open-ended state-building mission in Afghanistan.

Sincerely,

Gordon Adams
American University

Andrew Bacevich
Boston University

Doug Bandow
American Conservative Defense Alliance

Ted Galen Carpenter
Cato Institute

Jasen Castillo
Texas A&M

Jonathan Clarke
Carnegie Council

Steven Clemons
New America Foundation

Michael Cohen
New America Foundation

Michael Desch
University of Notre Dame

Carolyn Eisenberg
Hofstra University

Ivan Eland
Independent Institute

Bernard Finel
American Security Project

Eugene Gholz
University of Texas - Austin

Philip M. Giraldi
American Conservative Defense Alliance

David Henderson
Hoover Institution

David Hendrickson
Colorado College

George C. Herring
University of Kentucky

Patrick Thaddeus Jackson
American University

Robert Jervis
Columbia University

Chaim Kaufmann
Lehigh University

Sean Kay
Ohio Wesleyan University

Elizabeth Kier
University of Washington

Peter Krogh
Georgetown University

Christopher Layne
Texas A&M

Anatol Lieven
King's College

Justin Logan
Cato Institute

Douglas Macgregor
Colonel, U.S. Army (Ret.)

Scott McConnell
The American Conservative

John Mearsheimer
University of Chicago

Rajan Menon
Lehigh University

Andrew Michta
Rhodes College

John Mueller
Ohio State University

Michael D. Ostrolenk
American Conservative Defense Alliance

Robert Paarlberg
Wellesley College

Charles Pena
Independent Institute

William Pfaff
Author and syndicated columnist

Paul R. Pillar
Georgetown University

Barry Posen
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

John Prados
Author

Christopher Preble
Cato Institute

Daryl Press
Dartmouth College

David Rieff
Author

Paul Schroeder
University of Illinois

Tony Smith
Tufts University

Jack Snyder
Columbia University

Robert W. Tucker
John Hopkins University - SAIS

Stephen Walt
Harvard University

**This letter reflects the opinions of the individual signatories. Institutions are listed for identification purposes only.**

Posted by coalition at 04:45 PM | Comments (0)

Withdrawal without Winning?

September 14, 2009

by Robert Jervis

Most discussion about Afghanistan has concentrated on whether and how we can defeat the Taliban. Less attention has been paid to the probable consequences of a withdrawal without winning, an option toward which I incline. What is most striking is not that what I take to be the majority view is wrong, but that it has not been adequately defended. This is especially important because the U.S.has embarked on a war that will require great effort with prospects that are uncertain at best. Furthermore, it appears that Obama's commitment to Afghanistan was less the product of careful analysis than of the political need to find a "tough" pair to his attacks on the war in Iraq during the presidential campaign. It similarly appears that in the months since his election he has devoted much more attention to how to wage the war than to whether we need to wage it.

The claim that this is a "necessary war" invokes two main claims and one subsidiary one. The strongest argument is that we have to fight them there so that we don't have to fight them here. The fact that Bush said this about Iraq does not make it wrong, and as in Iraq, it matters what we mean by "them." Presumably if we withdrew the Taliban would take over much of southern and eastern Afghanistan. This would be terrible for the inhabitants, but would it harm us? I don't think anyone believes that the Taliban would launch attacks against us or our allies, so that the menace is not a direct one.

(Read on)

The article was published at ForeignPolicy.com on September 14, 2009.

Robert Jervis is the Adlai E. Stevenson Professor of International Affairs at Columbia University.

Posted by coalition at 06:08 PM | Comments (0)

Doubting Afghanistan

September 11, 2009

A compelling case for continued U.S. involvement in Afghanistan can be made, explains Bernard Finel of the American Security Project, but only if policymakers are willing to answer 10 key questions.

The article was published at ForeignPolicy.com and can be read in its entirety here:

http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2009/08/25/doubting_afghanistan?page=full


Bernard I. Finel is a senior fellow at the American Security Project (ASP) where he directs research on counterterrorism and defense policy. He is the lead author of ASP's annual report, "Are We Winning? Measuring Progress in the Struggle against Violent Jihadism."

Posted by coalition at 12:43 PM | Comments (0)

Should the United States Withdraw from Afghanistan?

September 04, 2009

CATO POLICY FORUM
Monday, September 14, 2009

Featuring Malou Innocent, Foreign Policy Analyst, Cato Institute, and co-author of Escaping the 'Graveyard of Empires': A Strategy to Exit Afghanistan; Celeste Ward, Senior Defense Analyst, RAND Corp.; Patrick M. Cronin, Director of the Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University; Robert Naiman, National Coordinator, Just Foreign Policy; and Ted Galen Carpenter, Vice President for Defense and Foreign Policy Studies, Cato Institute, and co-author of Escaping the 'Graveyard of Empires': A Strategy to Exit Afghanistan. Moderated by Christopher Preble, Director of Foreign Policy Studies, Cato Institute.

The Cato Institute
1000 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001

Nearly eight years after the fall of the Taliban regime, Afghanistan struggles under the most brutal circumstances: corrupt and ineffective state institutions; thousands of miles of unguarded borders; pervasive illiteracy and poverty; and a dysfunctional international alliance attempting to provide security for the country. Can "nation-building" in the midst of a bloody insurgency succeed in such an environment? What constitutes "success," and what price should we be willing to pay for it? Does the United States have a compelling strategic rationale for remaining in Afghanistan?

To learn more visit:
http://www.cato.org/event.php?eventid=6496

Posted by coalition at 02:11 PM | Comments (0)

Win, Hold and Lose

September 02, 2009

by Ted Galen Carpenter

Although President Obama insists that America's goal in Afghanistan is to disrupt, degrade, and defeat al-Qaeda, it is apparent that the objective is much broader than that. U.S. and NATO officials speak of supporting an indigenous political structure that will provide security to the Afghan people and implement good governance. Since the U.S.-led invasion that overthrew the Taliban government in late 2001, hordes of Western military and civilian personnel have been involved in everything from setting up schools to drilling wells to building roads. Although they avoid using the term nation-building, that is clearly what is taking place.

Not only is Afghanistan an extremely unpromising candidate for such a mission, given its pervasive poverty, its fractured clan-based and tribal-based social structure, and its weak national identity, U.S. and NATO officials should also be sobered by the disappointing outcomes of other nation-building ventures over the past two decades. An audit of the two most prominent missions, Bosnia and Iraq, ought to inoculate Americans against pursuing the same fool's errand in Afghanistan.

(continue reading)

This article appeared in The National Interest Online, September 1, 2009.


Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign-policy studies at the Cato Institute, is the author of eight books, including Smart Power: Toward a Prudent Foreign Policy for America (2008), and the co-author with Malou Innocent of the Cato report, Escaping the "Graveyard of Empires": A Strategy to Exit Afghanistan (September 2009). He is also a founding member of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy.

Posted by coalition at 09:59 AM | Comments (0)