Weekend Mashup—August 21 to 23

This past week, the New York Times ran the op-ed “The Land of 10,000 Wars” by Ganesh Sitaraman. Hard to resist the urge to post the entire op-ed here. Check it out if you haven’t read it already.


The challenge for General McChrystal is creating a comprehensive and integrated strategy for Afghanistan out of the hundreds, if not thousands, of peoples, identities, and conflicts in the country.


This next quote from Sitaraman’s op-ed reminds me of the work of then-Captain Jim Gant and Captain Michael Harrison, which I wrote about in the post “Gifts of Honor: A Tale of Two Captains.” It takes getting to know people on a one-on-one basis. As Tom Daly wrote in his guest post “Lessons from Ramadi”—which Neptunus Lex also pointed out to his readers (Thanks, Lex!)—“step one is showing up.”



Paradoxically, the right strategy for the Afghan war is one that recognizes there can be no single strategy. To be sure, broad principles and strategic direction are absolutely necessary, but the strategy must be flexible and adaptive. It must recognize that what works in one province or district might not work in the next, and that some of the most important strategic decisions cannot be made by generals in Kabul or Washington, but only by the soldiers and civilians who are out in the villages.


About two weeks ago, Seth G. Jones made some of the same points in his Wall Street Journal op-ed “Going Local: The Key to Afghanistan—The U.S.’s strategy of building a centralized state is doomed to fail in a land of tribes:”


One of the biggest problems, however, is that since late 2001, the United States has crafted its Afghanistan strategy on a fatally flawed assumption: The recipe for stability is building a strong central government capable of establishing law and order in rural areas. This notion reflects a failure to grasp the local nature of Afghan politics.


When I started writing this blog, I came under fire for what some perceived as a lumping together of everyone in Afghanistan. Not the case or intention. My point has always been that the tribes should be worked with—understanding that each tribe and region is different. Jones adds:


Tribal, religious and other local leaders in Afghanistan best understand their community needs, but they are often under-resourced or intimidated by Taliban and other insurgents. This is where the Afghan and U.S. governments can help. A key starting point is security and justice. In some areas, local tribes and villages have already tried to resist the Taliban, but have been heavily outmatched. The solution should be obvious: They should be strongly supported.


This past Thursday, the elections in Afghanistan took place, and the following two quotes from the article “Of Afghan Warlords and Polling Places” (from Stratfor’s Geopolitical Diary) caught my eye:


What we have here is a clear indication that the underlying geopolitical nature of Afghanistan has not been altered by attempts to steer the country toward democratic politics. Political parties have not supplanted ethnic- and tribal-based warlordism. On the contrary, warlordism determines electoral outcomes. . . . 



Given the objectives of the Taliban, any political settlement would not come in the form of a democratic framework, and especially not Western-style democracy. Ironically, it is the politics of warlordism that could provide a framework for calming down the insurgency. A wedge will not be driven between pragmatic Taliban elements and the more hard-line ideological types because the pragmatists play by the rules of a Western-style political system; rather it would materialize as deals are cut with various Taliban commanders who would be willing to lay down arms in exchange for recognition of their domains of power.


Then there’s the report “Afghan Voters Defy the Taliban” from CBS’s “Washington Unplugged.”


The segment features John Nagl (Center for a New American Security) and T.X. Hammes (National Defense University). Afghanistan election talk aside, T.X. asked:


Are we destabilizing Pakistan? We’re driving the drug dealers out of Afghanistan. Where are they going? Are we destabilizing Pakistan? What is the impact on India? We’ve almost got this reversed. We’re all focused on Afghanistan, but the important players—India and Pakistan, and all the effort is focused on Afghanistan. . . . Is Afghanistan the right place? Would we be better spending a third as much money in Pakistan and working for Pakistani stability? And what’s the impact on India? Those are the bigger questions you have to answer.


This would be the never-ending-mashup if I tried to include everything from the past week, so I’ll leave you with just one more thing.


Among other things, this week marked the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. The interviews and articles related to the anniversary vary, but overall, people seem to agree that we support our troops these days—Yellow ribbons, #militarymonday on Twitter, etc.


But I wonder if saying we support our troops really means we support our troops. How have we changed in the past 40 years? Some of us said we didn’t support the troops then, but we say we support our troops now? Is the change in just the wording? After Vietnam, veterans went untreated. Same story today. And within the services, there’s still a division over support of Reservists and National Guard members. Some have said they receive even less support.


Here’s a story of support in action that I really get. Michael Yon wrote it this week.


A gunshot ripped through the darkness and a young British soldier fell dying on FOB Jackson. I was just nearby talking on the satellite phone and saw the commotion. The soldier was taken to the medical tent and a helicopter lifted him to the excellent trauma center at Camp Bastion. That he made it to Camp Bastion alive dramatically improved his chances. But his life teetered and was in danger of slipping away. Making matters worse, the British medical system back in the United Kingdom did not possess the specialized gear needed to save his life. Americans had the right gear in Germany, and so the British soldier was put into the America system. 


British officers in his unit, 2 Rifles, wanted to track their man every step of the way, and to ensure that his family was informed and supported in this time of high stress. Yet having their soldier suddenly in the American system caused a temporary glitch in communications with folks in Germany. The British leadership in Sangin could have worked through the glitch within some hours, but that would have been hours wasted, and they wanted to know the status of their soldier now. So a British officer in Sangin – thinking creatively –asked if I knew any shortcuts to open communications. The right people were only an email away: Soldiers Angels. And so within about two minutes, these fingers typed an e-mail with this subject heading: CALLING ALL ANGELS. 


Soldiers’ Angels Shelle Michaels and MaryAnn Phillips moved into action. Day by day British officers mentioned how Soldiers Angels were proving to be incredibly helpful. The soldiers expressed deep and sincere appreciation. Yet again, the Angels arrived during a time of need.


There’s much more to this post, including information on Soldiers Angels, provided by Shelle Michaels. Please read it in full.


Now that’s support!


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1 Comment

  1. Jay Taber on August 22, 2009 at 5:00 pm

    The political principle of subsidiarity — solving social problems at the most appropriate level — applies universally, whether in Afghanistan, Spain or the UK. Autonomy in education, economics and governance doesn’t always require independence, but it does require respect. If the original nations like Scotland, Wales and Catalonia are deserving of self-determination, why not the Pashtun?

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