Thursday, June 24

Anti-COIN rebellion catches fire with Stanley McChrystal's departure

It might have seemed Mark Safranski spoke to soon when he announced this January that The Post-COIN Era is Here. But with General Stanley McChrystal's departure as the top commander in Afghanistan the disagreements about counterinsurgency and its applications in Afghanistan, which had been largely confined to military/ academic circles and milblogs, have suddenly gone mainstream. Writing for Newsweek today, Michael Hirsh observed:
[T]he counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy that McChrystal championed and Petraeus virtually invented may be fatally flawed, at least as it’s practiced in Afghanistan.
This grim new reality in Afghanistan in turn has given new life to a kind of insurgency-against-counterinsurgency thinking inside the military. Critics say COIN has gone too far in supplanting traditional war fighting in U.S. military doctrine (this is something of an irony since it wasn’t that long ago that the COIN types were saying that they were being ignored). These dissidents lament the “atrophying” of traditional fighting skills, and they say the COIN virus has infected the Israeli military as well because it has done little but that in years of conducting ops against the Palestinians. The critics are targeting Petraeus and leading COIN thinkers like John Nagl, the president of the Center for a New American Security, which the journalist Tara McKelvey has called “counterinsurgency central in Washington.”
At the risk of playing the kid in The Emperor's New Clothes, I would point out for the hundredth time that COIN tactics haven't been delivering in Afghanistan because the bulk of the perceived insurgency is a proxy war mounted by Pakistan's military that's cleverly disguised as an insurgency. That's the same playbook Pakistan's military used in Kashmir against India's government.

If critics of the ISAF mission in Afghanistan don't soon differentiate between proxy warfare and insurgency they'll end up throwing the baby out with the bath water. Population-centric COIN worked just fine in Iraq because there was a genuine insurgency there. To ask it to fight a proxy war is asking it to do something it wasn't designed for -- particularly when the enemy is treated as an ally.


Anonymous said...

You nailed it and thus well worth saying again at a critical turning point in US policy making. Of course, the larger proxy war is China using Pakistan.

Unknown said...

Hullo Pundita:

Since I discovered your blog I've been fascinated by your views on the Af-Pak situation - beginning with your "Alden Pyle" articles, which forced me to reasses what I thought I understood about the situation.

Those two essays of your got me thinking and looking around to try and answer a rather simple question:

Why is it, that while every intelligence outfit on the planet seems to agree about the degree of Pakistani culpability, the politicians in these same countries flatly refuse to move on the issue?

Setting aside the Indians, who clearly lack the resources and ability to take on the China-Pak nuclear duo, even the Russians were advising the Indians to "talk", to the Pakistanis, which seems to be an euphemism, or a polite way of saying: "suck-it-up-and-stop-whining".

But why do we do that? By "we" I mean the west, broadly defined as the US led alliance partners. (I'm from Oz).

It's certainly not Pakistans nukes, or even Chinas. It's long been "rumoured" that the US has "first strike" capabilities against the Russians.

In my view this is more than just a "rumour". I think its correct. (Sorry, I cant back that up, not even by flashing some "qualifications" to buttress that claim. But assume I'm wrong about US first strike primacy against the Russians, does anyone seriously believe, given even a basic and cursory grasp of the US' global sensor matrix dominance, that the US doesn't have a handle on the Pak nuclear establishment?)

The Pakistanis hardly count there.

So what is it?

The only answer that seems even close, and it is quite unsatisfactory, is this:

That any attempt to defang the Pak system would lead to the collapse of Pakistan itself.

The "Grand Strategy" here is simple: A collapse of pakistan would lead to the Indians being strategically unencumbered.

The only strategically unencumbered great powers in recent history are Great Britain and its successor, the US.

There is no Japan or Korea or Taiwan anywhere in Indias sphere that could act as a balancer were Pakistan to collapse.

And a strategically unencumbered India would have the freedom of the US but be better situated - right next door to Mackinders "Heartland" and sitting astride Spykmans Rimland.

And no one wants to see that happen. I find myself agreeing with that view.

If you look at things from the long term view - say 40-50 years (yes, as Keynes ponted out, in the long term we're all dead, but nations endure), then this view actually makes sense.

Islamism, where science outside of the Koran is banned, is not a long term existential threat to technologically based societies - not withstanding the hysteria of the
"demography is destiny" people.

As such, its a problem to be managed not solved. And in one way or another, that's been going on since the crusades.

I realise this is an unsatisfactory explanation, but it seems to be the only thing I've been able to come up with that explains why the Russians, Europeans, Americans and Chinese all seem to want to keep pakistan together as a state.

Nothing else seems to make as much sense.