Senator John Kerry Finds A War With Which He Can Flirt

Posted: October 27, 2009 in Uncategorized
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Note: Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New FoundationThe Seminal. Learn how the war in Afghanistan undermines U.S. security: watch Rethink Afghanistan (Part Six), & visit

Senator John Kerry came back from Afghanistan calling President Hamid Karzai a “patriot” and supportive of a plan “closer to McChrystal than to Biden,” meaning he loves him some counterinsurgency, just not in the doses prescribed by Gen. McChrystal. Kerry’s Monday speech to the Council on Foreign Relations shows that in sipping the COIN Kool-Aid, he’s beginning to display the worst habits of internal contradiction prevalent among the counterinsurgency glitterati.

Kerry proceeds from a nonsensical definition of success:

I define success as the ability to empower and transfer responsibility to Afghans as rapidly as possible and achieve a sufficient level of stability to ensure that we can leave behind an Afghanistan that is not controlled by Al Qaeda or the Taliban.

Having the “ability” to do something is not success. Saying you’re going to do something “as rapidly as possible” tells you nothing about how quickly you will do it. What, you think there’s a plausible future where the president tells the American people that he screwed around a bit instead of getting Afghanistan done as “rapidly as possible?” Sloppy definitions make poor policy, and that’s what we get from the rest of the speech. For example, take this goofy piece of self-contradiction:

Second, we simply don’t have enough troops or resources to launch a broad, nationwide counterinsurgency campaign.  But importantly, nor do we need to.

We all see the appeal of a limited counterterrorism mission— and no doubt it is part of the endgame.  But I don’t think we’re there yet.  A narrow mission that cedes half the country to the Taliban could lead to civil war and put Pakistan at risk.

What a mess. We don’t have enough troop “for a broad, nationwide counterinsurgency,” but we can’t cede “half the country to the Taliban” without risking civil war. Following his warning about the dangers of ceding “half the country,” Kerry calls for “narrowly focused” counterinsurgency operations in less than 40 percent of the country.

As ex-CIA man and current Georgetown scholar Paul Pillar noted in his recent House Armed Services Committee testimony:

Regardless of whether a renewed haven inside Afghanistan were attractive and useful to al-Qa’ida or any other terrorist group, there is the question of whether a counterinsurgency would preclude it.  A haven would not require a patron with control over all of Afghanistan, which has an area of 647,000 square kilometers, but instead only a small slice of it.  As described in General McChrystal’s assessment, a “properly resourced” strategy would leave substantial portions of the country—those portions not deemed essential to the survival of the Afghan government—outside the control of that government or of U.S. forces.  In short, even a counterinsurgency that was successful, in the sense of accomplishing the mission of bolstering the government in Kabul and stabilizing the portions of the country where most Afghans live, still would leave ample room for a terrorist haven inside Afghanistan should a group seek to establish one.

In other words, don’t adopt the premise that you need counterinsurgency for counter-terrorism objectives unless you’re willing to go whole-hog; otherwise you’re just talking nonsense. If Kerry is right about his alarmist civil war scenario, he indicts even General McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy, which Kerry already told us in the speech “reaches too far, too fast.”

Kerry then opined about the importance of pairing a troop increase with development. As much as I hate to say it, Senator Kerry needs to take a page from COINmonger Anthony Cordesman, who recently said, “We need to stop talking about smart power as if we had it.” Ann Jones’ excellent piece on women’s rights in Afghanistan notes:

[M]ost American so-called development aid is delivered not by USAID, but by the military itself through a system of Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), another faulty idea of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Soldiers, unqualified as aid workers and already busy soldiering, now shmooze with village “elders” (often the wrong ones) and bring “development,” usually a costly road convenient to the PRT base, impossible for Afghans to maintain and inaccessible to women locked up at home.

Feinstein International Center’s Andrew Wilder wrote that the military’s “money weapon” is based on “wishful thinking”:

[W]e have found little evidence that aid projects are “winning hearts and minds,’’ reducing conflict and violence, or having other significant counterinsurgency benefits.

In fact, our research shows just the opposite. Instead of winning hearts and minds, Afghan perceptions of aid and aid actors are overwhelmingly negative. And instead of contributing to stability, in many cases aid is contributing to conflict and instability. For example, we heard many reports of the Taliban being paid by donor-funded contractors to provide security (or not to create insecurity), especially for their road-building projects. In an ethnically and tribally divided society like Afghanistan, aid can also easily generate jealousy and ill will by inadvertently helping to consolidate the power of some tribes or factions at the expense of others – often pushing rival groups into the arms of the Taliban.

In other words, military-controlled aid is a liability, not an asset, and if our dessicated diplomatic and aid services are supposed to save the day in Afghanistan, we are out of luck as long as we dump all of our funding on Defense and none on State and USAID.  War generally involves spending, not accumulating, cultivated capabilities. We’re not going to be able to revive our “smart power” while our military is grinding gears in Afghanistan.

Kerry then went on to state the necessity of taking on corruption “at the highest levels” of the Afghan government immediately after he praised Karzai and Abdullah, the two greatest beneficiaries of election fraud in the initial August presidential elections, for their support for the runoff process. Excuse me, Senator, but since when did we not consider massive, million-vote election fraud “corruption at the highest levels?” And, the Karzai-picked head of the farcically named Independent Election Commission flat out said that Karzai is going to win the runoff election. That’s exactly the kind of thing I love to hear from my nonpartisan election officials in the weeks before the election, man. Legitimacy, here we come.

And here’s another knee-slapper:

Afghan women’s groups have fought hard to have a seat at the table, and we should support these indigenous efforts because one of the easiest ways to empower Afghans is to empower Afghan women.

I am whole-heartedly supportive of efforts to empower Afghan women, but this is throwaway, pandering, garbage language unworthy of the seriousness of the issue.  “One of the easiest ways,” Senator? Is there some switch you know of that we can flip that changes pervasive cultural attitudes? You do realize that Karzai keeps his wife sequestered in the home, right? According to U.N. agencies, eighty-seven percent of Afghan women are beaten on a regular basis and rape is “an everyday occurrence in all parts of the country.” The government which the U.S. supports with our money, blood and violence has been termed by women’s advocates in Afghanistan as the Rule of the Rapists. But by all means, Senator, press that Easy Button and show us how omnipotent all that superpower super-powerful guns and butter can be.

If you’re looking for the man who once asked, “how do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” you better keep looking. The senator seems to have left him behind. You should probably check in with Matthew Hoh or any of the Vets for Rethinking Afghanistan instead.

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