February 26, 2011

VICTORY REQUIRES VIETNAMIZATION:

The Next Impasse: a review of THE WRONG WAR: Grit, Strategy, and the Way Out of Afghanistan By Bing West (DEXTER FILKINS, 2/26/11, NY Times Book Review)

West shows in the most granular, detailed way how and why America’s counterinsurgency in Afghanistan is failing. And, in the places where the effort is showing promise, he demonstrates why we don’t have the resources to duplicate that success on a wider scale. Mind you, West is no antiwar lefty: he’s a former infantry officer who fought in Vietnam. An assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration, he admires — nay, adores — America’s fighting men and women, and he wants the United States to succeed. But the facts on the ground, it appears, lead him to darker truths.

West joined American troops in Garmsir, Marja and Nawa in Helmand Province; Barge Matal in Nuristan; and the Korengal Valley in Kunar — all in the heart of the fight. His basic argument can be summed up like this: American soldiers and Marines are very good at counterinsurgency, and they are breaking their hearts, and losing their lives, doing it so hard. But the central premise of counterinsurgency doctrine holds that if the Americans sacrifice on behalf of the Afghan government, then the Afghan people will risk their lives for that same government in return. They will fight the Taliban, finger the informants hiding among them and transform themselves into authentic leaders who spurn death and temptation.

This isn’t happening. What we have created instead, West shows, is a vast culture of dependency: Americans are fighting and dying, while the Afghans by and large stand by and do nothing to help them. Afghanistan’s leaders, from the presidential palace in Kabul to the river valleys in the Pashtun heartland, are enriching themselves, often criminally, on America’s largesse. The Taliban, whatever else they do, fight hard and for very little reward. American soldiers, handcuffed by strict rules of engagement, have surrendered the initiative to their enemies. Most important, the Afghan people, though almost certainly opposed to a Taliban redux, are equally wary of both the Americans and their Afghan “leaders.” They will happily take the riches lavished on them by the Americans, but they will not risk their lives for either the Americans or their own government. The Afghans are waiting to see who prevails, but prevailing is impossible without their help.


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Posted by Orrin Judd at February 26, 2011 9:20 AM
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