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

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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.


Afghanistan will not be a military victory 2010-Jul-17 at 19:19 PDT

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Yes, we need to have a military presence in Afghanistan to secure the country and stop the Taliban.  Yes, it’s messy.  And yes, the United States military is smart and flexible, and they’re listening to what works.

Ultimately, the victory will be civilian, it will be jobs, it will be schools, it will be infrastructure.  It will not be purely military, and believe me, President Obama, Sec. Gates, Adm. Mullen, and Gen. Petraeus understand that.  The victory comes when the Afghan people feel like they have enough at stake in their own country to reject the Taliban insurgents and turn to fight them themselves.  Our military is there to provide strong cover and organizational support for the myriad civilian efforts already underway in Afghanistan.

From Unlikely Tutor Giving Military Afghan Advice, by Elisabeth Bumiller, 17-July-2010:

In the past year, Mr. Mortenson and his Central Asia Institute, responsible for the construction of more than 130 schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan, mostly for girls, have set up some three dozen meetings between General McChrystal or his senior staff members f and village elders across Afghanistan.

The collaboration, which grew in part out of the popularity of “Three Cups of Tea” among military wives who told their husbands to read it, extends to the office of Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Last summer, Admiral Mullen attended the opening of one of Mr. Mortenson’s schools in Pushghar, a remote village in Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush mountains.

Mr. Mortenson — who for a time lived out of his car in Berkeley, Calif. — has also spoken at dozens of military bases, seen his book go on required reading lists for senior American military commanders and had lunch with Gen. David H. Petraeus, General McChrystal’s replacement. On Friday he was in Tampa to meet with Adm. Eric T. Olson, the officer in charge of the United States Special Operations Command.

I haven’t read this book yet… I have been really curious about it since I was sort-of reading a little of it over the shoulder of the guy in the seat next to me on a flight last month (sorry about that).  But it’s certainly good to know that Gen. Petraeus has made this required reading as part of how to run a COIN operation.

It’s obvious when you think about it: we need to have contact with Afghan and Pakistani tribes in order to build infrastructure and work with them to give them what they need, and Greg Mortenson has already been doing that for years.  Military and western resources = peanut butter, Three Cups of Tea = chocolate, right?

The horror and beautiful bravery in Afghanistan 2010-Jun-11 at 01:12 PDT

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In case you’re not sure why we’re in Afghanistan, and why it’s important… this is why.  Forgive the long excerpts, but they’re worth reading, I promise.

Taliban Aim at Officials in a Wave of Killings, by Rod Nordland, 9-June-2010

The Taliban have been stepping up a campaign of assassinations in recent months against officials and anyone else associated with local government in an attempt to undermine counterinsurgency operations in the south.

Government assassinations are nothing new as a Taliban tactic, but now the Taliban are taking aim at officials who are much more low-level, who often do not have the sort of bodyguards or other protection that top leaders do. Some of the victims have only the slimmest connections to the authorities. The most egregious example came Wednesday in Helmand Province, where according to Afghan officials the insurgents executed a 7-year-old boy as an informant.

Let that sink in for a moment.  The Taliban killed a 7-year-old for being an “informant.” Imagine witnessing it:

The youngest victim was the 7-year-old boy, identified only as the grandson of a farmer named Qodos Khan Alokozy, from the village of Herati in the Sangin District of Helmand Province. According to Daoud Ahmadi, a spokesman for the governor’s office in Helmand, Taliban insurgents went to his village and dragged the boy from his home at 10:30 in the morning, accusing him of acting as a government informant by telling the authorities of their movements. They killed him by hanging him from a tree in the middle of the village, Mr. Ahmadi said. A spokesman for the Taliban, reached by telephone, denied that the episode took place.


The bravery of some of the elected officials there, and their families, is breathtaking and beautiful against a backdrop of such difficult circumstances.

Assassins narrowly missed in attempts to kill both Kandahar’s mayor, Ghulam Hayder Hamidi, and the Kandahar Province governor, Tooryalai Wesa, last year. Mayor Hamidi, in a recent interview during a ceremony to mark the reconstruction of a local mosque, shrugged off the risks. “When it’s time to die, no one can save me,” he said, pointing out that he travels with a modest security detail.

An exile who lived in the United States until he returned here three years ago, Mr. Hamidi said his daughter, who had come back to Afghanistan first, talked him into doing so as well. “She said you have to come here, that we cannot change the time of death and one day you will have to die and I will cry. It could just as well be from a car accident in the United States.”

I don’t mind saying that I cried when I read what his daughter said.

As for our side, and what we’re doing about the Taliban:

“They read the papers; they know what we are doing,” said a NATO official here, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with his government’s policy. “It’s very much game on between the coalition and the Taliban.”

Game on… and our military plays to win.

Our understanding of developmental levels means that we have to look at this situation as it is, and allow what we understand from developmental psychology to influence the choices we make of how to respond, even when those choices indicate that we have to fight.  Against an enemy acting from unhealthy Red, targeting both Purple tribes and Blue government officials, executing 7-year-old boys… it is the world’s responsibility to see that such an enemy is destroyed. It is our responsibility to provide the public support that empowers our governments to continue to do that.

I’m proud to live in one of the only nations on this planet that still understands that.  It remains my hope and expectation that President Obama’s pledge to begin pulling combat troops out of Afghanistan in July 2011 – under the right conditions – was meant more to motivate the Afghan government to step up than it was a firm commitment… because if he pulls our troops out before we’ve crippled the Taliban, I can’t imagine ever voting for him again.

These are the new moral responsibilities that come with an Integral understanding of levels of development, and how they play out in the development of nations.  See them clearly, feel them deeply, allow them into your heart, your gut, your core, your head… and resolve to do the right thing, even when it’s hard.  This is our generation’s mission.

Afghanistan was rapidly modernizing… in the 1950’s and 1960’s 2010-May-29 at 06:26 PDT

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Once Upon a Time in Afghanistan…, by Mohammad Qayoumi, 27-May-2010

These are amazing pictures, no doubt cherry-picked by the government at the time, but unthinkable today, of a Kabul that was westernizing in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  Western clothing, record stores, medical labs… and then came the Islamic Revolution next door, and the Soviet invasion, and then a civil war, and then the Taliban takeover, and then the U.S. invasion.

No wonder no one in Afghanistan remembers this fragile peek into later levels of development, and why we now think of it as, in the words of British Defense Secretary Liam Fox, “a broken 13th Century country.”

Many assume that’s all Afghanistan has ever been — an ungovernable land where chaos is carved into the hills. Given the images people see on TV and the headlines written about Afghanistan over the past three decades of war, many conclude the country never made it out of the Middle Ages.

But that is not the Afghanistan I remember. I grew up in Kabul in the 1950s and ’60s. When I was in middle school, I remember that on one visit to a city market, I bought a photobook about the country published by Afghanistan’s planning ministry. Most of the images dated from the 1950s. I had largely forgotten about that book until recently; I left Afghanistan in 1968 on a U.S.-funded scholarship to study at the American University of Beirut, and subsequently worked in the Middle East and now the United States. But recently, I decided to seek out another copy.

Interesting.  Here’s a snapshot.  Two dozen more come with the article.


Never forget that development is rooted in time, and that things rooted in time can both flourish and deteriorate.  There is no guarantee of unbroken upward development, and Afghanistan is your proof.  It breaks my heart, really, to see what this country has been through, and will be through for another decade or so.  But globalization is coming… and once that gets into the system it’ll be hard to stop.

I look forward to visiting Kabul 20-25 years from now… it’s going to be glorious.  Again.

The United States gets nothing out of shaming Karzai 2010-May-10 at 12:36 PDT

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Obama makes personal diplomacy part of Afghan strategy, by Scott Wilson and Rajiv Chandrasekaran, 9-May-2010

President Obama has bluntly instructed his national security team to treat Afghan President Hamid Karzai with more public respect, after a recent round of heavy-handed statements by U.S. officials and other setbacks infuriated the Afghan leader and called into question his relationship with Washington.

Karzai’s meeting with Obama in the Oval Office on Wednesday will be the centerpiece of a rare extended visit. Over the next four days, Karzai and many of his senior cabinet ministers will be publicly embraced and privately reassured by Obama of the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan, which officials say will endure long after American forces begin leaving in July 2011.

Karzai has been frightened by the deadline, U.S. officials acknowledge. Obama intends to devote much of his meeting with him to spelling out a long-term relationship that includes far fewer U.S. troops but deeper diplomatic and economic support.

This is a simple, brilliant move by the President.  So let’s just state the obvious truth:

Did Karzai steal the election?  Yeah, probably.

Is his brother completely corrupt?  It sure looks that way.

Does the United States benefit from continuing to remind them of that?  Uh, well… no.  Not at all.  We get absolutely nothing from it.

How can we get the level of cooperation from this government that we absolutely need if we keep reminding them that we don’t like them and don’t think they’re legitimate?  What difficult things will they be willing to do for us if we treat them like this?  What do they expect from us in this situation?

Let me emphasize this sentence: “Karzai has been frightened by the deadline, U.S. officials acknowledge.”  If you were frightened by something that you had to accomplish, and the very people that you’re counting on to help you accomplish it are publicly calling you corrupt and illegitimate, how would you feel?  Would you trust the very people who are criticizing you to be invested completely in your success?  I wouldn’t… and so you start to understand why President Karzai threatened last month that he might even join with the Taliban in trying to govern.

Conservatives generally like to treat foreign policy as a matter of national interests… personalities only matter to the extent they get in the way of talking about true interests.  Liberals generally like to treat foreign policy as if it were a matter merely of psychology… just be nice to people and try to understand them, good things will come.  The Integral perspective is: they’re both true, it just depends on the situation.  It depends on the level of development of the players, and the level of development of the nations involved, and the overall amount of pressure that’s involved in the given negotiation.

In this case, President Obama wisely reconciles the positions by realizing that the psychological aspects of this are getting in the way of our national interests, and ultimately the national interests of Afghanistan as well.  So when the United States says nice things about Karzai… recognize that it’s good for both of us that we do, and if it makes you shift uncomfortably in your seat when you hear it, try to take the broader view that the White House is taking.