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Is Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal someone the president can afford to fire?
- By Greg Jaffe and Ernesto Londoño
People say things about bosses and leaders. Military people are no exception. I was in active duty during the Clinton Administration... In any case, as long as such views do not affect policy implementation... stuff happens.
However, in my mind, this is evidence of a larger problem: We are not achieving our objectives in our Afghanistan. Any strategy that presupposes a viable working government in Afghanistan is not going to work. Even ignoring a political culture that favors localism, 30 years of war have decimated Afghanistan... We cannot hope to establish an effective central government there that can deal with an insurgency in the span of one US Presidential election cycle.
Consequently, two points must be kept in mind. First, regardless of the nobility of our motives, or of ghastly pictures shown each night on television, we must be extremely wary of becoming involved militarily in conflicts where the hatreds run deep, in societies where, traditionally, political accommodation is non-existent. This is not to say that we should ignore conflict, but we must be prepared to use the other instruments of national power, i.e., the political, economic, and diplomatic to help to terminate it. However we should keep in mind what the eminent political philosopher, Hans Morgenthau, observed: "Good motives give assurance against deliberately bad policies; they do not guarantee the moral goodness and political success of the policies they inspire. What is important to know, is not
the motives of the statesman, but his intellectual ability to comprehend the essentials of foreign policy, as well as his political ability to translate what he has comprehended into successful political action." (Politics Among Nations)
Second, given our aversion to casualties and protracted operations, an enemy commander does not need to defeat us but rather must not lose against us in order to defeat us; as long as he is not losing, he is winning. Therefore the greatest threat that we face is the one of getting ourselves in a protracted war. The Chinese philosopher of war, Sun Tzu, warned against protracted war because they will ruin a country "Victory is the main object in war. If it is long delayed, troops become demoralized and their strength exhausted. When this happens your enemy will take advantage of your state. So though there may be blundering swiftness in war, there is no clever operation that was protracted, and no country has benefited from protracted war. Thus those ignorant in the employment of troops will also not know how to use them. Because of this the country squanders its wealth by engaging in ineffective wars."
So the policy question becomes: Can we translate our objectives in the protracted war in Afghanistan into successful political action without squandering our national wealth in an ineffective war?
In answering this question, we must keep in mind that the nature of war involves the use of force. This works both ways, against the enemy and against us. President Obama's administration must ensure, and we must demand, that we do not become involved in a protracted war in Afghanistan to a point of not return. Democracies, in particular, are ill-suited for this kind of warfare, which as Sun Tzu said can only lead to our exhaustion. We must also keep in mind that an enemy commander does not have to win against us, he just must not lose. This does not mean that we are indifferent to the suffering involved, it just means that the military instrument of national power may not be the most adequate one to deal with the problem. We must be creative in integrating the other instruments of national power with the military one in order to resolve conflicts and to help to achieve stability in troubled areas.
Bottom line: We are relying too much on the military instrument of national power to resolve essentially political questions: How much national treasure are we willing to spend in exchange for what?
6/22/2010 1:36:58 PM