Posts Tagged ‘Matthew Hoh’

The Afghanistan Study Group report is out, and the fight is on. A number of critiques have been leveled at the report, one of the most influential being Joshua Foust’s over at, chunks of which are percolating upward into larger outlets. Foust is a smart guy with whom I regularly debate, but there’s a particularly offensive landmine hiding at the end of Foust’s post that I want to highlight:

But in a real way, this is symptomatic of much of the anti-war movement in this country: it starts with a conclusion and works backward to develop justifications for it. That is an inversion of reasoned argument, as it relies on assumption and beliefs to shape reality, rather than using reality as a base for arguments and beliefs.

That’s pretty rich, especially considering the outrageous intellectual dishonesty on display over the past couple of weeks with regard to the pro-counterinsurgency decision-makers in this country, who spent the last few weeks furiously redefining not only reality but their own doctrine. I don’t mean to deflect from Foust’s substantive critiques of the ASG’s report, some of which I plan to return to in a latter post, and I should be clear that I also have some points of contention to raise with some of the particulars of the report, but this drive-by smear is too offensive to let go without a detailed response.

I read Joshua’s swipe as calling out the anti-war movement in the current debate as being the parties particularly guilty of this activity, and if that’s the case, let me go out on a limb here and say that such an assertion is flatly ridiculous on its face. This is particularly offensive given that in the last couple of weeks, our opponents have worked furiously to construct a dishonest narrative of “progress” while their strategy is clearly failing to arrest the deterioration of security in Afghanistan.

To get a sense of the pro-COIN crowd’s continuous intellectual dishonesty, let’s take the most glaring example: how they deal with the “north star” of counterinsurgency, “a legitimate host nation government.”

A writer might mean “legitimate” in a couple of different ways:

  • Winning tangible local support such that the population is either a) tangibly supporting government efforts to root out insurgents, b) refusing to tolerate insurgent operations in within their area or population, or c) all of the above.
  • Relatively non-corrupt. This aspect of legitimacy influences the prior aspect. It’s an especially important aspect of legitimacy in the current conflict because corruption was a major factor seized on by the Taliban in their last rise to power (hypocrisy notwithstanding).

Now, let’s talk about that “tangible local support” for a second. The dream of the counterinsurgent is that “living among the population” and “protecting them” from the insurgents (U.N. condemnation of this practice as one that endangers civilians notwithstanding) is supposed to give locals the “freedom” to side with the counterinsurgents and the local government. Two of the most important manifestations of that support are supposed to be:

  1. increased intelligence from the locals about insurgent activities, and
  2. a measurable increase in the number of locals willing to put their lives on the line by siding with the local government against the insurgents.

As Matthew Hoh points out in his response to Foust and others, the Afghan population only reported one percent of the improvised explosive devices found or detonated in June. That number has been in decline every year since NATO started adding troops in Pashtun areas in 2006:

In late 2005, the civilian population was informing U.S. and NATO troops of about 15 percent of of all IEDs planted. That proportion fell to just over nine percent in 2006, to less than seven percent in 2007 to about three percent in 2008, and again to 2.8 percent in 2009.

In the first six months of 2010, that ratio dropped to 2.6 percent, and in May and June it fell to 1.4 and one percent, respectively.

This is especially salient given that one of the other bloggers attacking the ASG report, Andrew Exum, previously identified this as a core metric for local support and security:

Conversely, a drop in the proportion of IEDs found and cleared indicates the population is not passing on information to security forces, and is standing by while they are attacked — a sign of deteriorating security.

Spontaneous tip-offs from the population, where local people volunteer information about the enemy (known as “walk ins” in the intelligence community), indicate confidence by the people in the government and security forces, and are another useful measurement of cooperation and progress.

And, as I pointed out earlier this week, efforts to recruit for the Afghan National Army out of the local populations that form core insurgent constituencies are failing abysmally, with the only 66 of the more than 3,000 recruits in August coming from the southern Pashtun population (Recall that in February, the deputy commander of the NATO Training Mission called the ethnic makeup of the ANA a “very sensitive issue.”).

In other words, on points 1 and 2, U.S. and our allies are failing to see the signs of increased legitimacy among local populations that are essential for counterinsurgency. Yet, war supporters drone on and on about how public opinion polls–that don’t mean squat without #1 and #2 above–show “popular support” for the Afghan government and opposition to the Taliban.

And corruption. Oh, corruption. Over the last few months, we’ve seen a string of statements from U.S. and NATO officials, including Petraeus, that corruption is, “an enemy,” “counter to our strategy,” that addressing it is “an operational imperative.” Petraeus’ most recent counterinsurgency guidance (.doc) calls corruption one of the “recruiters for the Taliban.” He tells his forces:

Act with your Afghan partners to confront, isolate, pressure, and defund malign actors – and, where appropriate, to refer malign actors for prosecution.

President Obama said last Friday that tackling corruption was essential to “helping President Karzai stand up a broadly accepted, legitimate government.”

Let’s not leave out the admonitions from Andrew Exum from last year, either:

In the next 12 months, however, the priority of civilian-led efforts should be neither small-scale development projects, nor ambiguous “capacity building.” Instead, the civilian surge should have one overriding objective: visibly decreasing corruption inside the Afghan government in order to increase the confidence of Afghans in their own government.

And yet, the moment the full extent of the corruption of our “partner” in Afghanistan breaks into full view with a financial fraud and political corruption scandal that implicates virtually the whole top echelon of the Kabul administration, we get headlines like these:

Exum also abruptly “admitted” he “was wrong,” saying “I am not sure that we should focus to heavily on corruption as an issue unless we plan on retaining a very strong presence in Afghanistan well past June 2011.” Admitting when you’re wrong is laudable. However, it’s one thing to say you’re wrong and another thing to admit just how far into your position’s premises such an admission eats. As recently as September 1, Exum wrote:

Corruption is not something to be opposed merely on the grounds of principle or morality…There are many other reasons, but perhaps the most damaging in the current climate is the effect it has of alienating the disenfranchised and propelling them to turn to non-state actors to provide security, legal redress or relief.  It shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone that ending corruption is a recurrent theme with extremists.

I don’t understand at all–nor does Exum’s explanation illuminate–how one can support a policy that views “Karzai as our man in Kabul” while holding the above (correct) view. If one is intellectually honest, admitting that highly caustic corruption is so endemic to your local partner that you can’t address it without the whole enterprise coming apart is tantamount to admitting you shouldn’t be doing counterinsurgency with that partner. After all, as Exum points out, Pillar #1 of counterinsurgency doctrine is supposedly “protect the people,” to which all other COIN directives must be subservient. Yet we’ve seen that the people we have to protect the people from apparently includes the Karzai administration and the private business cronies around it. How exactly does building a nice, shiny security force that answers to corrupt human rights abusers “protect the people?”  I wait with bated breath for a real explanation.

Petraeus is trying to put lipstick on the pig by saying things like, “So, there’s actually been quite a bit of activity in the realm of anti-corruption,” pointing to the arrest of a police official as his evidence. Well, yes, general, they did arrest a “very important provincial police chief,” but that’s a little myopic while government workers and security force employees are being literally beaten away from trying to get their salaries out of the president’s brother’s corrupt bank, isn’t it? (This, by the way, is emblematic of Petraeus’ spin campaign: use tiny bites of “progress” to try to paint a narrative while the broader strategic picture is rapidly deteriorating. If the reporter had pressed him a bit on this, you would have seen his other standard response, “Yes, absolutely, more needs to be done, but we’re making progress.”) This is intellectual dishonesty in the extreme and a blatant case of starting with a conclusion (“progress”) and working backwards to find facts that fit the frame.

Foust is a frequent critic of the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. He thinks “the fight in the south is a waste of resources” and says so, so I don’t want to try to try to lay the burden of defending all the outrageous contradictions listed above on him. But in the context of the above, it really takes some gall to try to portray the anti-war movement as the faction starting with a conclusion and working backwards to develop justifications and frame reality.

Every movement has elements that frame facts to fit their interpretation to win arguments, on both sides, and it’s fair to call those folks out when it happens. If one wants to assert that a particular person is being dishonest in their interpretation of facts, just make your case and be done with it. This kind of swipe is an evolution of the old smear that those with anti-war views are irrational and “don’t live in the real world,” and it betrays more bias in those that use it than in those it targets. Here’s a little bit of that bias peeking through in Foust’s over-the-top criticism of ASG’s report, emphasis mine:

“[T]he Afghanistan Study Group blames our problems on Afghanistan—the civil war, the al Qaeda safe havens, and so on. It’s the equivalent of complaining, “math is hard” when you do poorly on a math quiz. …To be clear: the real problem in Afghanistan isn’t Afghanistan itself…So [ASG’s report is] misdiagnosing the problem, and perpetuating the likelihood that a similarly mishandling of policies and expectations will happen next time.That is a incredibly dangerous thing to do, and, ultimately, cowardly.”

But I don’t recall him calling Exum “cowardly” when Exum showed a similar tendency last year while he was helping with McChrystal’s strategy review, emphasis mine:

I was and am still haunted by one of the last paragraphs in David B. Edwards’ majesterial Heroes of the Age: “Afghanistan’s central problem [is] Afghanistan itself, specifically certain profound moral contradictions that have inhibited this country from forging a coherent civil society. These contradictions are deeply rooted in Afghan culture, but they have come to the fore in the last one hundred years, since the advent of the nation-state, the laying down of permanent borders, and the attempt to establish an extensive state bureaucracy and to invest that bureaucracy with novel forms of authority and control.” Ooph. With that paragraph in mind I set about examining ISAF operations and strategy…

To try to indict the anti-war movement as being particularly guilty of framing facts to fit untrue realities after the last nine years is intellectually dishonest and, may I say, total garbage. I would, however, be happy to hear a clarification from Foust that I’m reading his comment incorrectly, and I’ll be happy to correct this post if it turns out he took Exum to task for his “cowardly” frame of mind during McChrystal’s strategy review. (I don’t think any of this is necessarily intentional. Mostly I think Foust got carried away by requests he received for him to “destroy” the ASG report.) But I’d be even happier to hear counterinsurgency pushers either stick to their doctrine and announce that we have no business doing COIN in Afghanistan if Karzai is our “partner,” or admit that the stuff they’ve been shoveling for the last 9 years on Afghanistan originates from the back end of a bull.

Update: Foust let me know that he did criticize Exum for a number of contradictions last year, and I want to include the link here to be fair.

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

If Matthew Hoh could tell you one thing to help you understand the U.S.’s predicament in Afghanistan, he’d tell you:

The presence of our ground combat troops is not doing anything to defeat al-Qaida.

Think about that for a moment. We are paying roughly $1 million per troop, per year in Afghanistan. That’s roughly twice the per-troop cost in Iraq. We’ve suffered well more than 800 deaths in Afghanistan. And yet here is the former top civilian official in Afghanistan’s Zabul province, a former Marine who served in Anbar province in Iraq, telling us that the presence of our ground forces does nothing to defeat the organization that’s supposedly the target of our operations in that country.

So, if we’re not going about the business of defeating al-Qaida in Afghanistan, what are we doing?

We’re involved in a civil war in Afghanistan. We’re only taking one side in that civil war. And, our presence there is only encouraging the civil war to go on.

Hmm. This is all sounding very familiar.

I spoke to Matthew on Friday afternoon by phone from the front seat of my car. My first call to him went straight to voicemail, where I learned that apparently he’d had so many press calls about his resignation letter that his voicemail message directed inquiries on that topic to his email address. If you recall, the State Department took his letter seriously enough that it prompted job offers from Ambassadors Eikenberry and Holbrooke to get him to stay. Since then, Hoh has been the focus of a great deal of media attention, and for good reasons:

  • With all the rhetoric about the “success” of the so-called “surge” in Iraq and its supposed lessons for Afghanistan, the opinion of a person with experience with both has a lot of heft.
  • The fact that his feelings about the situation were strong enough to provoke a resignation and a subsequent rejection of a position in Washington gave him moral authority.
  • And, Hoh was the beneficiary of good timing: his resignation came at a time when the media and policymakers had been cajoled into a willingness to entertain views outside the Washington, D.C. conventional wisdom that failure to send more troops immediately would lead to disaster.

Over the course of the past year, groups opposed to deepening U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan (such as Brave New Foundation’s Rethink Afghanistan project, the Get Afghanistan Right coalition and many other groups and individuals) worked relentlessly to keep a critical perspective on the war in Afghanistan in the public debate. These escalation opponents relentlessly hammered the proponents of a counterinsurgency (COIN) effort for their inconsistencies and self-contradictions, especially with regard to the COIN doctrine’s need for a legitimate host-nation partner. By the time the Afghan presidential elections exploded into a showcase of abject corruption and illegitimacy, these activists had laid the groundwork that helped the American people interpret the events of late August 2009 as a serious blow to the assumptions underlying the rationale for a deep military involvement. At the same time, President Obama refused to be rushed into a second troop increase in Afghanistan by an increasingly abrasive Pentagon whisper campaign, allowing the nation to take a collective breath and widen the debate about options. These factors, combined with cratering public support for the war effort, pushed policymakers and the media into a willingness to entertain views dissenting from those presented by General Stanley McChrystal. Enter Matthew Hoh.

Matthew’s letter is a four-page punch in the gut to the rhetoric of pro-counterinsurgency factions. It wrecks the idea that the U.S. will ever have a legitimate partner (referred to by the COIN field manual as a “north star”) in Afghanistan or that our strategy will lead to the destruction of al-Qaida. He ends the letter with regret that assurances can no longer be given that those who died in Afghanistan gave their lives in a mission worth the cost in “futures lost, love vanished, and promised dreams unkept.”

Hoh sees our presence driving the conflict in at least two ways. On one hand, our military support for the corrupt Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan assures the Kabul cartel that we will not allow them to be overrun by insurgents. Because of that perception, the GoIRA is not willing to work out a political settlement with their opponents to form a true national government. The support we have given thus far (which is very close to the maximum possible support we can give), however, is not enough to allow the GoIRA to crush the insurgency totally. Thus, within the constraints on U.S. and Afghan national power, the only possible solution to the conflict other than strategic failure is a political solution negotiated between GoIRA and it’s opponents–and that’s precisely what the GoIRA won’t seek as long as they can be assured of our continued military support.

[T]he only way to end this civil war is through political reconciliation, through some kind of political negotiation reaching to some kind of settlement. …The Afghan officials who are on our side have no interest in doing that. …They have no interest in giving up the position they have right now. And our presence there keeps them in power that way. I don’t really see them having any interest in taking Afghanistan into, you know, a modern age or a progressive country, all of the things we believed we were doing there for the past 8 years.

On the other hand, the U.S. presence fuels the ever-expanding insurgency, pulling people who resent our support for a corrupt, predatory government and who intensely resent outside interference in their lives into conflict with coalition troops.

In both the east and the south, where our troops were heavily engaged in combat…on a daily basis, those are areas populated by rural Pashtuns…The bulk of those people were fighting us just because we’re occupying them–not out of any ideology, not out of any real ties to the Taliban, not out of any hatred for the West. It was just because they did not want foreign troops, or, for that matter, the Afghan national army or Afghan national police, which do not represent them, in their valleys and villages.

…If you take the Korengal Valley, for example, which is well-known to the American people as “The Valley of Death,” …it’s 15-20 miles long, it only has about 10,000 residents, they speak Korengali…these are people who are not interested in things outside their valley. They prefer to be left alone. Of course, putting more troops in their valley is something they’re going to rebel against, especially troops from the central government, which does not represent them. …It’s really a question of these people wanting to determine their own existence and …govern themselves. For every Korengal we’re in, there’s a hundred that we’re not in, and if we were in [them], it would be the same issue of us having to fight them only because we’re occupying them.

On the topic of that corrupt, unrepresentative government, Hoh offered a couple of anecdotal examples of the corruption that permeates every level of government in Afghanistan:

I know a USAID official who got into a plane…with the governor of his province, and the governor had about $300,000 in a duffel bag with him. …The governor that I worked with had been removed from another province as the governor because he had been caught red-handed in a fairly extreme corruption case. Now this governor, Governor Sari, has been a friend of President Karzai for 35 years. So, after the U.S. embassy exposed this and complained about it, all Karzai did was move this governor…from one province to another province….To believe that the vast majority of Afghan officials that you’re working with have any allegiance to what we’re trying to do other than to enrich themselves or to make out in some manner is wrong.

I asked Hoh about the recent report on the quadrupling of the insurgency since 2006. According to at least one estimate, 10 percent of the estimated 25,000-man-strong insurgency were hardcore religious extremists, while the rest accepted training and funds from the “Taliban,” but lacked ties to their ideology or broader agenda beyond throwing out the invaders.

I completely agree. The number I’ve seen is that there are 25,000 “Taliban” (which I believe is an incorrect term to apply to the people who are fighting us because it makes a reference to the Taliban regime of pre-September 11, 2001, and I think that misleads people and causes confusion, particularly among the American public about who we are actually fighting there.). But if you go with that 25,000 number…only a few thousand of those are actual hardcore “Taliban” with a capital “T.” The majority of the rest of those groups are local fighters who are pretty independent of one another, just primarily concerned with their local areas, their valleys, their village, and who are tied to the Taliban with a capital “T” only through monetary or funding allegiances, and through a desire not to be occupied by a foreign power or by the other side in a civil war.

…But, if there are 25,000 troops now, Derrick…if we put more troops into the south, if we put 20,000 or 30,000 or 40,000 troops into the south, next year there will be 30,000, 35,000 or 40,000 enemies fighting us. As we move into more valleys and more villages…people are going to rebel against us.

So, the continued presence of massive numbers of U.S. troops removes the incentives for the GoIRA to negotiate a political settlement while providing the fuel for the growth of the insurgency. Hoh’s advice to policymakers? End combat operations and sharply reduce U.S. troop levels. Doing so would pull U.S. troops out of areas where locals fight us just because we are there and would compel the GoIRA to negotiate with their opponents. Otherwise the U.S. presence will continue to fuel an unsustainable dynamic whereby the GoIRA has a near-term upper hand but cannot decisively defeat their opponents while the opponents use our presence as a recruiting tool for the resistance movement.

You’re either characterized as all in our all out, and that’s wrong. I don’t think anyone is calling for us to completely wash our hands of Afghanistan and just walk away. When I call for withdrawal I call for stopping combat operations because it just doesn’t make any sense; all it does it just prolong the conflict. I call for some kind of political reconciliation to end the fighting there. So a withdrawal would have to be somewhat gradual while negotiations were going on.

But wait, one might ask: what about al-Qaida? Hoh’s policy prescription deals mainly with settling the civil war between the “Taliban” and the GoIRA. How does al-Qaida fit into this? Aren’t they the reason we’re in Afghanistan in the first place? Wouldn’t our withdraw allow them to reestablish “safe havens” and allow them to keep the ones they have in Pakistan?

I don’t believe al-Qaida needs or wants safe havens [like they had in 2001]. They just don’t operate that way. they recruit worldwide. They are really an ideological force that exists on the Internet. They influence individuals or their operations are carried out by these small, independent, autonomous cells that really don’t require much to operate other than a couple of rooms and a satellite phone or an internet connection. and if you look at the vast majority of attacks that have happened over the last decade regarding al-Qaida, they’ve been carried out by people not from the Afghanistan/Pakistan region, but residents of North Africa, residents of the gulf states or citizens of Europe or citizens and residents of the United States who do their preparation and their training in countries where the attacks occur. So this idea of a safe haven and their requirement for it is not borne out by any evidence of the way al-Qaida has operated for at least the last decade. After 2001, they evolved. They don’t need a safe haven. It would be great for the United States if they did have safe havens because then we could bomb them. So we have to attack al-Qaida as the organization as it exists and not as we want it to exist.

The concern that our presence their encourages people to respond to their ideology is a valid one. We’re currently occupying two Muslim countries, and we have to understand that lends credence to al-Qaida’s argument that it is defending the Muslim world from Western invasion.

How many recruits do they [al-Qaida] get per year? A hundred? Two hundred? The Muslim population is over a billion. You’re talking about such a small fraction. It’s really associated with such a fringe movement that we have to attack using human intelligence and using law enforcement techniques. Army brigade combat teams do not affect al-Qaida. Having 60,00 troops in Afghanistan is not affecting al-Qaida. …[T]he destruction of al-Qaida should be our priority…but we need to go after that organization as it exists and not with ground combat troops in Afghanistan.

Matthew said he’s pleased with the state of debate following his resignation and return to the United States.

I can tell you that one of the things that pushed me to resign was this feeling that I had, and I think most people had, or a lot of people had, particularly guys I was serving with in Afghanistan, that an escalation of troops and an open-ended commitment to supporting the Karzai regime seemed almost like a done deal all throughout the summer…There was no discussion of any other type of strategy…it seemed almost like a guarantee…I got home in September and that’s when I first heard there were debates on this within the administration…I’m very pleased the way the debates have been going. I’m not sure what’s going that’s going to happen with [the troop ]increase–I’m sure we’re going to get one. The best thing though …is that we’re going to get some kind of withdrawal date, which is what we need.  If we can get a withdrawal date within a year or two I’ll be very happy, because that’s so much better, so infinitely better, than some type of open-ended commitment or some type of 4- or 5-year plan. My thoughts are hopefully we can get some type of commitment to withdraw and stop combat operations within the next year or two.

I guess that’s being a realist. I’d like to see it stop tomorrow.

Brave New Conversations
recently filmed a conversation between Hoh and Daniel Ellsberg. Here’s a clip:

You can find the full episode on the Brave New Conversations website.

Note: Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New FoundationThe Seminal.

Fahim, Karzai and Khalili: The Unholy Trinity of Afghan Corruption

Fahim, Karzai and Khalili: The Unholy Trinity of Afghan Corruption

You know what’s funny? Hamid Karzai, Electioneer-in-Chief, stood between these two guys, Mohammed Qasim Fahim and Karim Khalili to declare [h/t and photo credit, Wired’s Danger Room blog]:

Those who spread corruption should be tried and prosecuted. Corruption is a very dangerous enemy of the state. …Afghan ministers should be professional and servants of the people. The government officials should register their earnings.

Just for the record, Hamid Karzai had roughly a million fraudulent votes thrown out in the election. You can learn all about Fahim and Khalili in a Human Rights Watch report titled (and I’m not even kidding) Blood-Stained Hands which details the war crimes for which they and their subordinates were responsible. So by all means, gentlemen, explain to us how you’re going to lead Afghanistan into a new era of peace, prosperity and transparency.

As Matthew Hoh noted in his resignation letter, the corruption at the very top in the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is only the most visible symptom of the rot that’s set in within the Afghan state from top to bottom, which includes:

  • Glaring corruption and unabashed graft;
  • A President whose confidants and chief advisors comprise drug lords and war crimes villians, who mock our own rule of law and counternarcotics efforts;
  • A system of provincial and district leaders constituted of local power brokers, opportunists and strongmen allied to the United States solely for, and limited by, the value of our USAID and CERP contracts and whose own political and economic interests stand nothing to gain from any positive or genuine attempts at reconciliation; and
  • The recent election process dominated by fraud and discredited by low voter turnout, which has created an enormous victory for our enemy who now claims a popular boycott and will call into question worldwide our government’s military, economic and diplomatic support for an invalid and illegitimate Afghan government.

The Afghan government is not worth one more American life or dollar. This cartel is a very large part of the problem, not the solution, in Afghanistan. We should be reducing, not increasing, or military commitment in that country, post haste.

Tomorrow I’ll be interview Matthew Hoh on the situation in Afghanistan. Until then, here’s another clip of his conversation with Daniel Ellsberg about the need for us to start the drawdown.

I’m convinced that when we look back on the key events on the road out of Afghanistan, we’ll mark Matthew Hoh’s resignation as one of the milestones. Hoh’s resignation letter is a devastating four-page indictment of the misguided U.S. policy in that country, and his experience in Anbar, Iraq gave his views heft in the debate about whether an Iraq-style “surge” provided a template for “success” in Afghanistan. Do yourself a favor: if you haven’t yet read the letter, do so.

Matthew Hoh recently sat down with Daniel Ellsberg for a Brave New Conversation, the trailer for which you can see above. I’ll interview Hoh later this week to get his thoughts on the way forward in Afghanistan and the reaction to his resignation. For now, though, enjoy the conversation.

Note: Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New FoundationThe Seminal.

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

The Progressive Caucus just sent a letter to President Obama asking for a meeting to discuss “a comprehensive rethinking of our military mission, a complete redesign of our reconstruction and stabilization strategy and a courageous reconciliation strategy for Afghanistan.”

Signed by Congresswomen Lee and Woosley and Congressmen Grijalva, Honda and McGovern, the letter lists several concerns about the ongoing mission in Afghanistan, including:

  • the prospect of additional troop commitments without a clear mission and without criteria with which to evaluate success;
  • the failure of foreign aid to rebuild Afghan “institutions, infrastructure, and individual capacity”;
  • the lack of legitimacy of the Afghan government, demonstrated and worsened by the stolen election, corruption in aid distribution and “foreign intelligence and security alliances.”

The letter comes as the president prepares to announce his decision regarding the future of U.S. policy in Afghanistan. This is the latest of several high-profile attempts by current and former U.S. officials to push back against calls for another troop increase in Afghanistan:

There’s political space for the president to refuse to increase troops, and growing public support for bringing them home. If the president put his considerable public charisma behind a policy of de-escalation, he could relieve his presidency of a burden that threatens to sink it.

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.