TERRORISM SALON: Greg Djerejian on Rethinking Afghanistan Strategy


(Greg Djerejian is a financial services professional and publishes the popular blog The Belgravia Dispatch)
I agree with almost everything Peter writes below (particularly his “second” mistake, the clever subtlety he flags in his “third mistake”, and then too his last paragraph-to which I’d add the need to effectively engage with Syria too).
A small quibble however. I’m not sure that Zbig Brzezinski’s statement that “We are running the risk of repeating the mistake the Soviet Union made… Our strategy is getting in deeper and deeper” means he (or I) are grotesquely misreading history. No one is saying we are employing a brutish, ham-handed Soviet approach to the Afghan campaign. The question is still legitimate (no one on this email list seems to want to take it on, and so we risk missing the forest for the trees on the ‘military’ prong of the second prompt) whether multi-year (or even possibly decades long) nation building efforts in each of Iraq or Afghanistan are ultimately beneficial to the U.S. national interest, or the GWOT (an increasingly silly phrase, in my view), or whatever supposed strategic objective we are pursuing in the region. I think this is what Brzezinski is really probing around, keeping in mind too Afghan’s historic aversion to foreign interlopers and their perhaps less than universal alacrity to comply with the democratic diktats emitting from the soi disant wholly enlightened Karzai government.

I’ve beaten the horse dead already, so won’t go on, save to say I have spotted Peter of late on CNN agreeing with the consensus view more troops are needed in Afghanistan, although he says they must be the “right” kind of troops. While I certainly agree with him that National Guardsman from Alabama don’t fit the bill, we alas don’t really have a teeming Colonial Corps deeply schooled in the ways of the Pashtun at the ready, and I’d like to suggest that before we as a nation (and indeed NATO Alliance, or which many of the members are already highly skeptical of this mission) sign off on deepening our presence in Afghanistan — even with the best of whatever counter-insurgency specialists we have available — we should at least accompany this clarion call with a mission statement to warrant same. Ideally, a highly convincing one, of which I’ve not yet seen or heard, though others may disagree. Peter allows below that:

…our policies in Afghanistan are failing and require a complete rethink.

Perhaps if his schedule permits he can share with us more about how and why in this forum so that we might fall into informed discussion re: better going forward options. Given he’s spent much time in theater it would doubtless be a highly valuable contribution to our discussions.
— Greg Djerejian
This week long terrorism salon will continue to be hosted by The Washington Note and UN Dispatch.


8 comments on “TERRORISM SALON: Greg Djerejian on Rethinking Afghanistan Strategy

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  2. Sun Tzu says:

    Are there viable strategic options in Afghanistan? Will continued U.S. military engagement stem the tide of Terrorism being cooked up in the Middle East. John A. Warden III in his most recent Strategic Thinking blog thinks there are two strategic options the U.S. and the West could take in Afghanistan. Sun Tzu favors option two–would the U.S. and the rest of the West do so as well?


  3. Mr.Murder says:

    Obama wants to listen to world leaders, the same way he didn’t want to debate Hillary Clinton or John McCain.
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  4. greg djerejian says:

    just a quick note in haste to point out steve’s colleagues (understandably given getting all these exchanges up is doubtless not an easy task) erroneously transcribed a portion of my email exchange w/ peter. “so distant” should read “soi disant”. I’m not necessarily a huge fan of the Karzai govt, truth be told…


  5. JohnH says:

    More informed commentary about America’s anti-terrorism efforts: “In looking back, one of the most remarkable features of this struggle is that almost from the start, and at almost every turn along the way, the Bush administration was warned that whatever the short-term benefits of its extralegal approach to fighting terrorism, it would have tragically destructive long-term consequences both for the rule of law and America’s interests in the world.” http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2008/07/26/10634/
    You don’t have to implement the “brutish, ham-handed Soviet approach” to have an incompetent program that alienates growing numbers of potential insurgents, jihadis, and ordinary folks who provide cover. Such seems to be the legacy of the NATO mis-adventure in Afghanistan.


  6. JohnH says:

    I agree that the Afghan adventure needs a good public airing of the US strategic interest, which is not something that appears permissible in this “democracy” these days. Once that is established we need a good discussion of the mission and how to best accomplish it. Again, not really open to much public airing.
    But I disagree with Greg about current US tactics. In fact, people are saying that the US is “employing a brutish…approach to the Afghan campaign.”
    One example, pulled up quickly from a Google search, points precisely to the US approach as a problem: “The aggressive U.S. approach “doesn’t seem to be in tune with the philosophy of the British Army. On several occasions, senior British commanders have expressed a desire to try to modify the allegiances of potential insurgents, rather than try to kill them.”
    On another note, it’s interesting that none of the experts responded to Steve’s comment about Lieberman’s request for a pardon of convicted Cuban terrorist Eduardo Arocena (without actually naming him). This suggests that the experts are interested in synch with the political leadership in only condemning foreign terrorism, while being quite comfortable coddling US-sponsored terrorists, like Luis Posada Carriles.
    So would the experts clearly state their position–are they opposed to terrorism? Or are they just opposed to terrorism not condoned by the US government? If it’s the latter, Steve should change the topic headline to “Challenges of Anti-US International Terrorism,” for that really seems to be what we’re talking about here.


  7. Dan Kervick says:

    Unfortunately, the Afghanistan issue has turned into a bit of a presidential campaign football and debating point, and that it is making it harder to achieve clear thinking on the topic. So let’s talk politics, and recap where that political debate seems to stand:
    First, there has been a debate going on about the surge. The three-word formula that has emerged as the conventional wisdom of the moment is “the surge worked”. This seems to me like a rather simple-minded and misleading way to look at the surge, which has been a mix of successes, failures, and pyrrhic victories, but let’s accept the simple formula for the sake of argument. Let’s acknowledge that the surge has helped to stop, or at least slow, the bleeding. What follows?
    Well, we can see where McCain wants to go. He clearly wants to jump from “The surge worked” to “We therefore win the war.” And from there he wants to conclude that the Iraq War has actually turned out to be a glorious American victory and success story, and that those nattering nabobs of negativity who opposed the war from the beginning, or wanted to end it earlier, are unpatriotic defeatists who fear or hate success, and who sought to deprive the United States of this shining triumph.
    This is frankly ridiculous, and fortunately polls show that the public is making a more subtle judgment. A majority appears to believe that the surge worked, but that the war itself was a big mistake. They appear to understand that just because some heroic paramedics succeed in stopping the bleeding at the scene of a wreck, that doesn’t mean the wreck was not a wreck after all. The troops who participated in the surge might be like those skilled paramedics; but that still leaves the administration and early war backers as the reckless fools who crashed the car of state, and caused the wreck that needed to be cleaned up.
    But here’s where I find the Obama position a bit frustrating. It is up to his campaign to continue to inform and remind the public about the panoply of problems and calamities caused by the Iraq War, and make sure that their positive assessment of the surge doesn’t evolve into an erroneous judgment on the war itself. What is the Obama campaign saying about this? *Why* was the war a mistake? *Why* is it not a glorious victory? Well, Obama, seems to have settled on the idea that Iraq was a mistake primarily because it distracted us from Afghanistan, and also distracted us from the Global War on Terror.
    This is disappointing. You would think that for a war that has cost us between one and three trillion dollars; that has resulted in thousands of dead, wounded and crippled American soldiers; that has killed hundreds of thousands – possibly a million – Iraqis; that has set to wandering a few million refuges; that has done deep damage to Iraq’s economy and infrastructure; that has slowed oil production and put Opec in the driver’s seat as global oil demand skyrockets; and that has not improved our strategic position in the world one bit – well, you would think that faced with such a crack-up the candidate who is the critic of the war could come up with something a little better than “It distracted us from Afghanistan and Al Qaeda.”
    One big problem with this approach is that Obama is boxing himself in on Afghanistan, and has now succeeded in raising the need for more troops and a deeper commitment in Afghanistan to the status of yet another bit of bipartisan conventional wisdom (although Greg is fortunately bucking the trend, and raising some doubts here). Obama has effectively coupled the withdrawal from Iraq with a commitment to pour troops into Afghanistan. Well, what happens if there is a reappraisal of Afghanistan, and it turns out we don’t need to pour more troops and resources into that country? Is Obama then going to argue that Iraq must be a glorious victory after all, because it was not really much of a “distraction” in the end?
    An additional problem is that the whole Global War on Terror has been a bit overhyped. And it is hard to make a compelling case that Iraq has seriously damaged our efforts against Al Qaeda when there has been no terrorist attack on the US since we started the GWOT back in 2001.
    I think Obama and his people are missing a big opportunity here to make a much stronger case. One way of seeing this election is that it is the first round of a debate that may last decades on the historical verdict on Iraq. Obama’s reputation, and the reputation of his party, is on the line here. I think he really needs to stake out a much stronger and more forceful position on this issue, or he’s in danger of getting driven from a grudging acceptance of the fact that the surge helped stop the bleeding into the idiotic conclusion that the war wasn’t so bad after all.


  8. Arun says:

    McClatchy newspapers asked Obama a couple of questions:
    Relevant excerpt:
    By Margaret Talev, McClatchy Newspapers Sat Jul 26, 9:55 PM ET
    In an interview with McClatchy Saturday night as he returned from his overseas trip, Sen. Barack Obama answered questions about sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan and other issues in his campaign against Republican Sen. John McCain .
    Q: Afghanistan is something you’ve spoken a lot about…Take us to the next level, why, as you’ve said, and how, we need to put more U.S. forces into Afghanistan . To the Soviets it became a quagmire. How do you avoid that? How do you measure success? If you could give us a little more detail about what you think you’d like to do.
    A: I’m not here to lay out a comprehensive military strategy. That’s the job of our commanders on the ground. I can tell you what our strategic goals should be. They should be relatively modest. We shouldn’t want to take over the country. We should want to get out of there as quickly as we can and help the Afghans govern themselves and provide for their own security. Our critical goal should be to make sure that the Taliban and al Qaida are routed and that they cannot project threats against us from that region. And to do that I think we need more troops. I also think that we need to deal with the situation in Pakistan and the fact that terrorists are able to operate with relative freedom of movement there right now.
    Q: Do you have an idea of how long it might take?
    A: A lot of it depends on not only our military actions but on our diplomatic initiatives with countries like Pakistan . And it also depends on how quickly we can get the Afghan government to cut down on corruption, take seriously the problem of the narcotics trade. So there are a lot of moving parts there. You don’t know until you know.
    I hope the panelists here have an opportunity to further discuss this with Obama.


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