Cordesman Game Show: So You Think You Can Win This War?


anthony cordesman.jpg

You really think you can dance WIN THIS WAR??
— Anthony H. Cordesman, the CSIS Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy (not really; just hypothetically)

Anthony Cordesman is not the warm and fuzzy type.
Jack Webb’s Joe Friday in Dragnet was a barrel of laughs compared to CSIS’s most severe, anti-glad handing war strategist.
I occasionally run into Cordesman at the BBC’s studios, or CNN, or on some radio interview shows in which we have both been booked — and Cordesman is as austere in real life as his reputation. But there is no one better in Washington today in terms of laying out the facts as they really are.
He is a nuts and bolts, cost and benefit guy.
Cordesman dissects military missions and analyzes resources, command structures, probabilities of success or failure in such granular detail that few can challenge his sobering analyses that cause many a headache in the Pentagon.
Expanding Afghanistan Insurgency.jpg
Cordesman has just issued a set of important powerpoints (pdf here) that give a picture of what is unfolding in Afghanistan — and what the general odds of success or failure are now for General David Petraeus and US Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry.
I have just spent the last 90 minutes absorbing every power point in this package — and to say that Cordesman’s overall analysis is bleak understates things.
On a more frivolous note, I think it would be interesting to get rid of Senate and House hearings on the Hill and start a new game show titled So You Think You Can Win This War. (homage)
And Anthony Cordesman will play the more ruthless in real life than on TV central judge with other guest judges.
My recommendations: University of Chicago terrorism expert Robert Pape, former Middle East National Intelligence Council director Paul Pillar, Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow Charles Kupchan, Boston University military affairs scholar Andrew Bacevich, Princeton’s G. John Ikenberry, Duke University’s Bruce Jentleson, Columbia University senior researcher and former IMF staffer Graciana del Castillo, Harvard University professor and even better Foreign Policy blogger Stephen Walt, Cato Institute defense studies director Christopher Preble, Center for American Progress middle east affairs expert Brian Katulis, and National Defense University terrorism expert Audrey Kurth Cronin.
And for fun and to add to the creative tension, I’d occasionally bring on CNAS President John Nagl, The Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg, Brookings’ Martin Indyk, COIN and war chronicler and blogger Tom Ricks, The George W. Bush Institute’s James Glassman, New America Foundation President Steve Coll, and the Council on Foreign Relations’ Walter Russell Mead. And another, CNN’s Fran Townsend. And David Frum too. And after this piece, Ann Coulter for at least one show.
That would be a cool show. Cordesman would be right up there with Jon Stewart before long.
Just the facts. No smiles. This is war.
— Steve Clemons


22 comments on “Cordesman Game Show: So You Think You Can Win This War?

  1. notes says:

    I’m all for a “national security tax,” too, particularly if if a tax on the most influential players in the political system.I guess that the US just doesn’t have anything better to do with its money…


  2. JohnH says:

    Yes, I’m all for a “national security tax,” too, particularly if if a tax on the most influential players in the political system.
    Of course, there is a very good reason why there is no “national security tax.” It might raise question about what the money is being used for and how wisely it is being spent.
    Those looting the Treasury don’t want to answer any hard questions.


  3. Don Bacon says:

    I’ve got a plan.
    Social security taxes are 42% of US receipts; social security, Medicare and medicaid payments are 39% of US expenditures. Pretty even.
    “National Security” taxes are zero, but “national security”expenditures are 23% of the federal budget. So we need a “national security” tax — pay as you go — that will hit every taxpayer with the realism of US military waste.


  4. JohnH says:

    “What country would be stupid enough to blow its wad on a poor, mountainous country on the other side of the earth?”
    Answer: only a country that wanted to blow its wad without arousing the ire of its citizenry by having some of its people killed. There is a method behind attacking poor, defenseless people. The amount of money being spent is the point, the whole point, and nothing but the point.
    And, of course, some of those enormous sums are being reinvested in lobbyists, think tanks, hired pens and talking heads, Congressmen to explain to the American people why even more has to be wasted and why Social Security and Medicare need to be gutted in order to waste even more…
    Maybe the attempt to loot Social Security will finally arouse the ire of the citizenry.


  5. John Waring says:

    After reading Mr. Cordesman’s article, the only thin dime I wish us to spend in Afghanistan is for containment and withdrawl.


  6. drew says:

    This game-show trope about war has bothered me for a day. It’s
    almost as though the author thinks that what is of interest, in men
    fighting and dying, is the opportunity to be clever and ironic in
    planning (via a game show conceit) *how* those men might best
    fight and die. That’s so funny.


  7. Don Bacon says:

    Osama bin Laden’s program to bankrupt the US is right on target.
    What country would be stupid enough to blow its wad on a poor, mountainous country on the other side of the earth which is full of illiterate people who have defeated every former empire that has invaded them, with the invading country’s leader calling it a necessary war?
    USA! USA!
    But now there’s a plan — cut social security to pay the bill. Who profits from social security? Nobody important.


  8. JohnH says:

    The remaining 50 Al Qaeda must be immensely flattered–the US is spending more than $1.5 Billion per year on each of them. The most expensive, unsuccessful man hunt in history!
    I guess that the US just doesn’t have anything better to do with its money…


  9. Don Bacon says:

    The US has GOT to attack Iran to make sure that Iran doesn’t develop the capability to prevent a US attack on Iran, as North Korea and Pakistan have done. Even Steve knows that.


  10. Dan Kervick says:

    “Bonus question: Should the US continue to increase its expenditures in both countries, as it is currently doing, or in just one, or in neither?”
    Oooh! Oooh! I know! It’s a trick question! We should double the amount we are spending in both countries AND spend the same amount attacking Iran too!


  11. Don Bacon says:

    Continuing the game show:
    To date the US has spent $25,217 per Afghan in Afghanistan, that Afghan having a per capita annual portion of the GDP of $800.
    By contrast, the US has spent about three times as much total and per capita in Iraq (same number of people), or about $80,000, but the GDP per capita is more than three times that of Afghanistan ($3600).
    Question: In which country has the US spent money more wisely, Afghanistan or Iraq?
    Bonus question: Should the US continue to increase its expenditures in both countries, as it is currently doing, or in just one, or in neither?


  12. Dan Kervick says:

    Maybe the Olympians in the American punditocracy should retire to Shangri-la to hold another Idea Festival. They should be sure to find a very high mountain, a pristine non-oily lake, some well-tended forests, some glittering starlets and other assorted beautiful people, and several exquisite artisan eateries – just to make sure they are as far away from regular people and their filthy, unsightly concerns as is humanly possible. Then after this communion of gray matter, they can tell the rest of us what our interests are.


  13. David says:

    I like it. I like any group that includes Andrew Bacevich, Steven Walt, and Steve Coll. Some other truly comprehensive minds in there as well. The ones for showtime draw – well, ok, but I would mute the sound while they were blathering. I would not, however, miss a word of the insightful, informed, honest-to-god thinkers in this group.
    And it is the question the US must face and answer honestly, and then act accordingly. The answer will be, No we can’t, nor should we. This is, as my favorite member from Texas of the House of Representatives, Shirley Jackson Lee, said, a civil war. It is not our civil war, it is their civil war. We need to offer what training and assistance we reasonably can, and then we need to leave, and do it sooner rather than later. Otherwise we will be leaving like the Russians did, although without Russia helping drive us out, or like we did from Viet Nam. Better to leave before then, just do it in as orderly and non-destructive a manner as possible. We blew our opportunity to do anything constructive when Cheney/Bush left Afghanistan twisting in the wind to pursue the neocon Project for a New American Century wet dream, the invasion of Iraq, which was supposed to roll right on into Teheran and elsewhere.
    A military assault on Afghanistan never actually made any sense beyond childish revenge. The Taliban very likely would have given up Osama bin Laden, certainly in exchange for economic benefits, which would have been a pittance compared to what we’ve spent, but then that’s not the “cowboy way.” Hell, we knew where he was and could have bribed a warlord to hand him over for a reward, which no one would actually have disputed, since he was a wanted criminal. But god forbid we call 9/11 a crime and pursue him as a twisted criminal.


  14. Dan Kervick says:

    Hey, what’s so wrong with the Afghanistan war? I hear there are a whopping total of 50 Al Qaeda left somewhere in Afghanistan. Surely chasing them is worth at least another $300 billion or $400 billion.
    And don’t forget the burqha threat! Our burqha eradication program is worth whatever it costs. Money is literally no object, no matter how much Karzai and his cronies are skimming off the top.


  15. John Waring says:
    “No US strategy can succeed if the US cannot obtain sufficient support from the Afghan and Pakistani governments.”
    Game, set, match.


  16. samuelburke says:

    Damn it Steve i like the way you’re thinking.
    our nation needs redirection and soon.


  17. Dan Kervick says:

    “Hope you are well…”
    I’m well enough, Steve, as long as I don’t pay too much attention to politics, or life as we know it in the insane and rapidly degrading country we live in.


  18. questions says:

    Toss in: someone who does Congress, a few women from Afganistan, a couple of political development theorists, a network theorist or two, and someone who can deal with game theory AND irrationality.
    You might end up with: what’s politically possible, what’s ethically demanded, what we have failed to do in the past and whether or not our models make any sense in terms of what countries do for real, how many connections of a good sort people need in order to score well in 6 degrees of good experiences with development, a sense of what happens if we leave things alone (game theory style) and a sense of what happens if we leave things alone (market failure style).
    Out of this will come something about as incoherent as we have now because in fact we have impossible demands, and impossible situation, necessity meeting impossibility and counter necessity.


  19. JohnH says:

    Houston, we have a problem.
    When a cast of interventionists like George Will, Tom Friedman, Michael Steele, Anthony Cordesman, and the Orange County Register declare you’ve got a problem, you’ve got a BIG problem.
    Unless you measure success by how much money you can waste on “defense” contractors…


  20. Michael Miles says:

    Steve, this is really cool, but I think there is a more ‘Wonderland’
    twist needed: it should be formatted like a Japanese game show,
    with contestants having to overcome circus obstacles and games
    while they are answering the questions and making their point.
    Maybe one goal could be to get Cordesman to smile.
    Back to my bottle of Primitivo.


  21. Steve Clemons says:

    Dan — there are some gem problem solvers on that list. And some
    are there for “balance” and “ticket draw” – but some are really
    Hope you are well,


  22. Dan Kervick says:

    There are too many pundits, theorists and gasbags on your list, Steve, and not enough actual problem solvers.


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