War is no time for half measures.
Military thinkers from Sun Tzu to George Patton to David Petraeus all echoed one of the key thoughts on the art of war; if you’re going to fight it, fight it to win, win big, and win now (or as soon as possible). To do anything other than force your enemy to the negotiating table or into a shallow hole is to trifle with the lives of your soldiers. If you are going to fight, then for God’s sake fight; close with the enemy and beat them.
Of course, counterinsurgency war is a different cat to skin entirely. Rolling barrages of artillery fire that would work against a field full of enemy tanks or fortifications are counterproductive against an enemy that mingles among the civilians; the enemies that survive can crawl from the rubble and tell the civilians that survive “See? You want to side with those guys, the ones that shelled your village back to the stone age?” (Someone tell this guy). The fight is more subtle; the template in the 2006 Surge in Iraq iterated the same pattern the US used in the Philippines in 1906-1911 and in Nicaragua in the ’30s and in Vietnam in the late ’50s (before Kennedy fouled it up by trying to make a conventional war of it), and El Salvador in the ’80s and ’90s, and the Philippines again in the 2000s, the same as the British used in Malaysia in the ’50s and ’60s, and in India from the 1500’s to the 1900s – co-opting the people against the enemy, protecting them from the enemy until they realized which way the wind is blowing, and making sure the rewards for joining the good guys, mainly security and the chance to live a normal, even prosperous life, are real and tangible. It’s “low intensity” warfare, but it takes troops. Especially infantry, and especially the infantry’s specialized cousins in Special Forces and Civil Affairs.
And as we saw in Iraq over the past three years, invoking this effort against a motivated insurgency that currently has the momentum against you takes manpower – not just to close with and kill the enemy, and to guard the locals against being closed with and killed by the enemy you miss, and to cut the insurgents off from the locals, but to do it decisively enough that you don’t overstay your welcome with the locals (as we did in Vietnam). (I think I described the process on a dumb civilian level pretty capably, here and here).
Anyway. A good chunk of Minnesota’s US House delegation spoke out on Afghanistan this past week. And to some extent, their reactions are predictable. Former (and forever) Marine John Kline bleeds green, naturally:
Kline’s son is an Army helicopter pilot who is scheduled to go back to Afghanistan next year. Kline said the additional troops will not only stabilize Afghanistan but also target any potential unrest in neighboring Pakistan.
And Keith Ellison? He’s from the “Please Forgive the US’ Sins” caucus”
DFL Congressman Keith Ellison disagrees and said sending more troops is a mistake.“What is going to bring us a good resolution is helping build and strengthen institutions, training Afghans to provide security for these institutions and then getting out of their country.”
“This is not what is going to bring us a good resolution,” Ellison said. “What is going to bring us a good resolution is helping build and strengthen institutions, training Afghans to provide security for these institutions and then getting out of their country.
Which is a fine platitude – but until the country can be made safe for regular Afghans to openly side with the government, it’s all baked wind.
“History is trying to tell us that whether you’re the Brits or the Soviets or anybody else, this place is known as the graveyard of empires for a reason,” he said.
Right – but not the reason Rep. Ellison thinks.
But it’s “my” “representative”, Betty McCollum, that caught my attention.
DFL Congresswoman Betty McCollum said she doesn’t support sending 40,000 troops to the region but could support a smaller troop increase if certain conditions are met. For example, McCollum said she wants to see a stronger police force and a stabilized central government in Afghanistan.
While I try to avoid some of the more facile stereotypes the right throws out about public school teachers, I’m afraid this statement so utterly beggars reason that it makes teachers look dumb by association.
McCollum’s “philosophy” in a nutshell; give McChrystal a fraction of the troops he says he needs to do the job (in other words, ensure that he can’t do the job effectively), in exchange for two goals that are largely nebulous – but both of which require pacifying the countryside, which was the goal of General McChrystal’s original troop request in the first place!
If only we could give Rep. McCollum’s next re-election bid as effective a recipe for failure.
And for those of you who think McCollum’s position might give her some extra jolt of wisdom on this issue? Please – don’t. Just don’t. This was what she had to say three years ago:
Article: Afghanistan, Iraq are like night and day, McCollum says; Rebuilding Afghanistan and pushing back the Taliban is “doable,” she said, unlike the no-win situation in Iraq.
Don’t blame me. I voted for a competent candidate who knew some history.