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"Winning" a war is never clear-cut 2010-Oct-04 at 10:56 PDT

Posted by Scott Arbeit in Blog.
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More great stuff from Fareed Zakaria.  I disagree with him less frequently than perhaps any other major columnist.

From Even ‘winning’ in Afghanistan would include some failures, 4-Oct-2010:

Critics of the president have seized on the book as proof that he is a weakling who doesn’t have the fortitude to wage war. He should learn from Lincoln, FDR or Churchill, they say, and do what it takes to win. No. Those leaders were engaged in massive wars that threatened their nation’s existence. Obama is prosecuting a complex military intervention aimed at weakening a terrorist organization. It requires less Churchill and more Eisenhower, a tough willingness to make strategic choices and impose limits on the use of American blood and treasure. The United States has spent more than $2 trillion in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is understandable, in fact commendable, that the president does not want to write another set of blank checks for the Afghan war.

In a smart new book, "How Wars End," Gideon Rose, the incoming editor of Foreign Affairs, points out that Americans are chronically disappointed by the way their wars end. Even as World War II came to a close, there was the deep sense of betrayal over Yalta. This is because while waging wars, Americans refuse to think through the political and military tradeoffs needed to get to a reasonable outcome. In Korea we continued to fight for one-and-a-half bloody years over an obscure prisoner-of-war exchange that few remember today. At this point, to get a decent outcome in Afghanistan, it’s less important that the president’s heart be in the fight than his head be in the strategy.

When the U.S. "won" in "democratic" South Korea in 1953, we left an autocratic leader there, who ruled for seven years until 1960, until he was overthrown in a coup d’état led by a general, "heavily criticized as a ruthless military dictator," who ruled until his assassination in 1979, followed by a short period of instability until another coup d’état by another general, enforcing a "despotic" rule until 1987, when the first directly-elected President of South Korea was chosen.

To sum that up… South Korea, this shining jewel of democracy and capitalism, has only been functioning that way for 23 years.  Before that, and for 34 years after the Korean cease-fire agreement was signed, that country was not exactly under any sort of government that we’d like to see.  But the support of the United States and other democracies led to the conditions for that nation to evolve from a Red/Blue center-of-gravity to something like an Orange center-of-gravity… at least as far as the government and economy is concerned.  (That Koreans still hold a significant ethnocentric and bloodline-based view is well-known, particularly through the stigma attached to adoption.)  This is precisely what Thomas Barnett would call a "soft-kill" through connectivity.  Get the economy rolling through connectivity to the rest of the world, grow a functioning middle class, and eventually that middle class will demand democracy.

The time and thought I’ve dedicated to understanding the work of Thomas Barnett has helped me over the years to come to a more reasonable view of what "winning" a war looks like… especially when we’re fighting enemies that we will never sign an unconditional surrender with, like the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.  Quelling an insurgency requires a thoughtful use of military power to kill or capture those groups fighting to keep that area disconnected from the world, while inviting in NGO’s and foreign direct investment to build structures and economic conditions that turn the population against the insurgency, by showing them that a better life for them and their children is available when they do.

To that extent, Dr. Barnett has been clear for a long time about the exit strategy for any such insurgency: jobs.  It’s the only sustainable exit strategy, and once it takes hold, it’s the one that we can rely on to scale back American military power.  Jobs are what grows that functioning middle class that eventually demands greater and more transparent democracy.  It also generally takes around 8-10 years to pull that off.  Iraq… seven years so far, and right on schedule.  Afghanistan… I count that as two years since we got serious there.

Either way… eyes on the prize.  Functioning democracies in the heart of Islamic Asia.  The conditions for moving an Orange worldview onto center-stage in a part of the world that has resisted that call to growth for centuries.  And we all have seen that once Orange takes hold, it creates an openness into which Green can flow (in a generation or two) and then Second Tier worldviews.  We’ll never get there without establishing Orange.  And that initial establishment of Orange will be messy and will include corruption and will include parties that are hostile to the United States… but I don’t care.  We just have to get it started… and the rest of the goodness will follow, for all of the generations after.



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