tv Public Affairs CSPAN April 5, 2013 7:00pm-8:00pm EDT
assistance to the taliban. so we left, ignored lesson two. in terms of establishing public security, the bush administration took the position that u.s. troops in afghanistan would do no peace keeping, and neither would anybody else. they allowed a small peacekeeping force to go into kabul because the afghans insisted on it. they refused the pleas both from karzai and from the u.n. to expand that peacekeeping force to the rest of the country, and they took the position that u.s. troops in the rest of the country would not do peacekeeping. the result was we turned security throughout a society of 70 million to the afghans, a society that had no army and no police force. so i think it's not remarkable that things deteriorated, that the taliban was able to reconstitute itself, to recruit, to refinance, to reorganize and to begin to project power to get
pakistani sanctuaries back into afghanistan, and the united states responded in dribs and drabs over the years. we tend to say that this is the longest war we've ever fought. if you look at the major wars, it's also the least costly. in terms, certainly, in terms of military manpower, the level of casualties in afghanistan is not only smaller than iraq, but it's much smaller than vietnam or korea or world war i or world war ii. and as a practical matter, the serious fighting has only gone on for the last four or five years. we did another study at rand which looked at what are the prospects for winning a counterinsurgency, and there are a number of elements that have to be in place to give you a reasonable prospect of winning a counterinsurgency campaign. once you have all of those elements in place, which are not just resource elements, they're
also policy elements, dock -- dock tribal elements, it usually takes seven years for them to actually turn the tide and begin to definitively defeat the enemy. well, i don't think anybody would argue we had those elements in place anytime before 2009, 2010 in afghanistan. so i think one as to put in some perspective the concern that this is the longest war we've ever fought, and we're getting tired of it, and we have to leave. nevertheless, i think things have gone wrong. i don't disagree with many of the more tactical points that raj made about the deficiencies in the surge as defined by, as implemented by the obama administration. i do think that, um, we need to stay committed in afghanistan. i think we're going to be committed at much lower levels of manpower and money. i think the intent is to have
reduced the force to something like somewhere in the area of 8-15,000, i think, with the lower level being the more likely level in terms of american troop levels after 2014. but i do think a continued commitment of that sort is going to be necessary. i don't see -- you've got several transitions coming in 2014. one is the transition from american combat operations to afghan combat operations. the other transition is from karzai-led afghanistan to somebody else-led afghanistan. the second of those transitions is by far the more delicate, the more difficult and the more decisive. the afghan army's not going to run away in 2014, but the afghan government could begin to disintegrate if the elections go badly, if they're indecisive, if they're devisive rather than bringing the country together. but assuming those go reasonably well, i believe the kind of
progress that we have seen and that i've suggested from these statistics can be sustained. [applause] >> well, thanks to lou and the cato institute for putting this panel together. also i have to start off, with i was going to ask you to do this, but i have to start out with a disclaimer that says the views that i'm about to present to you are mine and not necessarily those of the u.s. government or the department of defense. so now having said that, let me, i am serving army colonel, and i teach history at west point, and i consider myself to be a student of history. and so if you don't mind, i'd like to start off with some history. and to talk about the american war in vietnam and pose this question of what went wrong for this panel in afghanistan to the
question that people were asking, um, shortly after the united states lost its first war in vietnam as to what went wrong with the war in vietnam. and more specifically, why did the united states lose the war in vietnam? and what came to be, i think, understood is that the reason why i think the right answer for why or what went wrong be many vietnam and why the united states lost was that the united states lost the war because it failed at strategy. and strategy in the vietnam war should have discerned very early on that the war was unwinnable based on a moral and material cost that the american people were willing to pay. i think strategy also failed to appreciate in the post-world war ii world the very real limits of american military power and what it could accomplish when it tried to do nation building at the barrel of a gun.
and also what i think strategy failed to understand, especially the military side of bringing together a strategy, was this -- and i think, also, policy and the american people shared this mistaken belief that in any war that the united states commits itself to, military power or war will work. as long as the operations are done correctly, war can work. these were, i think, the real lessons that came out of the vietnam and answered the question what went wrong. what went wrong was a failure of u.s. strategy. but, you see, what started happening in the 1970s and especially the 1980s -- i'm going to tie this all to afghanistan in a minute -- this basic insight to what went with wrong started to get buried by a different explanation that said what went wrong in vietnam was the way the war was fought.
in this line of thinking, the united states lost the war in vietnam not because it didn't get strategy or policy right, but because it didn't fight the war in the correct way. see, there's a big difference there. it was the way the war was fought. and one of the first to make this argument was a man, an army colonel named harry summers who in 1982 came out with a book titled "on strategy." and harry summers said the united states could have won the war in vietnam if it wouldn't have focused on counterinsurgency and directed its efforts towards fighting the north vietnamese army and the viet cong force units. that was the correct way to fight the war, according to harry summers. and then a few years later in 1988, a different -- really an opposite argument, but still the same coin although a different side, right -- was starting to be put forward. and this argument was first laid out by a man named andrew in his
book "the army in vietnam." and andrew argued, again, like harry summers only different, the war could have been won if it would have been fought correctly. and andrew argued that if the united states had not focused on heavy use of firepower and instead concentrated on winning the hearts and minds of the south vietnamese people or, in other words, done counterinsurgency correctly, the war could have been won. and in the 1990s this explanation really becomes the prominent one. and it is shown in books like john nag l's book, "learning to eat soup with a knife," and h.r. mcmasters' "dereliction of duty." out of this latter explanation comes a story that was built around counterinsurgency warfare. call it a narrative, call it the counterinsurgency narrative. and this narrative said counterinsurgency wars like the
united states in vietnam or the war in iraq, america's second war in iraq, or the war in afghanistan can be won as long as the army and the military fights it correctly, and the way it fights it correctly is by bringing better savior-generals onboard to transform their armies and get them doing the process, the procedures and the tactics of counterinsurgency correctly. which brings us to iraq in 2006. and so after three bloody years of american occupation, people started to ask the same question again, what went wrong or what has gone wrong if iraq? in iraq? and the answer, very quickly, becomes bad tactics and bad generals. and the solution is get a savior-general onboard, and he soon arrives onto the scene, and his name was general david petraeus with the surge of troops who would turn his army around, get it doing the tactics
of counterinsurgency correctly, and the war could be put on a path to success. now, what brought about lowered levels of violence in iraq by the end of 2007 had to do with a lot of other things. but this belief that by turning the tactical approach of the army around as done by a savior-general, this kind of thing can put these wars of counterinsurgency on the path to success. which then brings us to or brings me to the war in afghanistan. in 2009. people asked, again, well, we've been here since 2002, and now it's 2009, what has gone wrong? and, again, we get the same answer. bad tactics, bad generals, and the solution, the answer is to tweak the tactics, get the army to do counterinsurgency correctly, bring an enlightened general onboard -- and this time his name was stanley mcchrystal -- and the war will be put on the path to success. but the solution in afghanistan,
i think -- these are my views -- just like in vietnam and just like in iraq has never been about the tactical use of military force or better generals replacing bad generals. this is the myth that many people have come to believe, but that's not the reality of it. the solution or the answer to this question of what has gone wrong with the war in afghanistan, in my view, is strategy. and let me define what i mean when i say strategy. it's very much informed by -- [inaudible] and it's a simple explanation, but i think it's useful. in war strategy sits in the middle of two other things our planes, right? on this side over here is policy which puts war into place and gives it its overall purpose, and then over here are the resources of war, often times the tactical application of military force. and if strategy is done right, it looks to policy to see what the purpose of the war is for,
and then it applies the resources of war to achieve policy aims with the least amount of blood and treasure spent to achieve that policy aim. so when i say strategy, that's the definition that i'm using for strategy. and u.s. strategy in afghanistan, i think, has been botched from the start. not from 2009, but all the way back to 2002 when the united states committed itself to a nation-building campaign. the core policy for the united states in afghanistan -- and when i say core policy, i mean what is the primary purpose for the united states military in afghanistan -- the core policy in afghanistan as stated by senior generals, secretaries of state, secretaries of defense, both presidents, i mean, i've gone through and i've read the unclassified testimony to both
the house armed services, senate armed services from 2002 all the way up to the present. and when commanding generals, undersecretaries of defense, whomever, were asked by senators or congressmen what are we doing in afghanistan, why are we there, the answer in one sentence has always opinion the destruction of al-qaeda. -- has always been the destruction of al-qaeda. period. period. the destruction of al-qaeda. now, if you think about it, this is a very, very limited core policy aim. but since 2002 the united states has sought to use a max mallist operational method called armed nation building, which american counterinsurgency is one and the same thing, to achieve this very limited core policy aim. and i ask myself why. and i think it's because of this rock solid belief that war, american war, can always be made
to work. you see why this narrative, this counterinsurgency narrative that i talked about a few minutes ago so important and so dangerous? because war in this view can always be made to work as long as the tactics are tweaked and the better general is brought in to place. it's also become very, very hard to break out of this idea that the only way to achieve our limited core policy beliefs in afghanistan is by doing armed nation building because of this idea, also, that i think rajiv mentioned of this moral commitment, some cost. but with that how are we ever going to be able to stand back and look at this objectively and ask what is the right approach or the right strategy for the united states to have taken in afghanistan? and in my view strategy hasn't worked in iraq and afghanistan, and let's look at the costs very quickly. because i think you need to look at both of these together.
first with iraq. ambassador dobbins certainly mentioned some of the better things that have come out of, specifically, the war in afghanistan. but let me set that within another set of figures and statistics with iraq. after 8.8 years of war, 4,486 americans killed, thousands more with life-changing wounds depending on which estimate you want to take, close to $3 trillion american dollars spent, iraq itself close to a quarter of a million iraqis killed, that many more seriously wounded, close to a million displaced from their original homes, very few have returned. we've replaced one strong arm leader with another, this one nouri al-maliki, is allied closely with our regional adversary, iran. then we look at afghanistan. close to 2200 americans killed, that many more seriously wounded, close to a trillion dollars spent, tens of thousands of afghans killed.
i know this is -- i often ask myself this a counterfactual or historical hypothetical, and i ask this just to try to set in context what these wars have cost relative to what we've achieved. and i ask myself if the united states had gone into iraq like it did in 2003 and in afghanistan in 2002 and then left, would the cost of the war, the levels of destruction and everything else, been any worse than what actually happened between 2003 and 2011 in iraq and still ongoing in afghanistan? the very famous british strategist hart said in the 1930s, the object of war is a better state of peace. with this kind of data that i just laid out, how can we say american war as worked in afghanistan and iraq? now, this is not to say that we
haven't achieved tactical success. i can point to success of my own cavalry squadron in west baghdad in 2006 as can others. but in all of this, tactical success is supposed the lead up to something. -- to lead up to something. so with that, i'll close by just doing, posing a derivative question to the one of what went wrong in afghanistan, and i'll ask this question: where is the better peace that this decade of two costly wars in iraq and afghanistan, where is it, this better peace that was supposed to have been produced? [applause] >> thank you so much to our speakers. i think i'll given with a question just for the panel, and you can all just sort of decide who wants to go first, i guess.
um, do you think that the lesson from both iraq and afghanistan and, for that matter, vietnam as the colonel pointed out, that the lesson isn't to be that we should be relearning the lessons of counterinsurgency and armed nation building and knowing how best to set up, you know, reconstruction operations and development programs, maybe the lesson is to avoid those sorts of conflicts? we have the finest military in the world, we have a global superpower, we can make these choices. we have the ability to make these choices, and yet we routinely find ourselves in these situations. would anyone like to -- this is, again, a strategy question, not a tactical question. you can answer from your seat. >> well, i think, you know, it tends to be somewhat situationally dependent. you know, punitive strikes can dissuade or threat of punitive strikes not followed up by any further intervention, you know, can dissuade, can either punish
or potentially deter governments from perpetrating certain acts. but punitive strikes can't stop genocide, they can't stop nuclear proliferation as far as we've seen so far. they can't stop sectarian conflict. they can't stop the civil wars. they can't stop terrorists. so pure punitive strikes as a way of punishing regimes you don't like have limited utility. if you're not going to take responsibility for shaping the post-conflict environment in ways that improve it over the pre-conflict environment, then you're likely to have at most very short-lived success. i mean, john asked, you know, what would afghanistan have been like if we left, and it's -- i think it's easy to -- that answer is easy. it would have been like it was in the early '90s when five
million afghans fled afghanistan, where the level of violence and conflict was at least ten times higher than at any point in the last ten years. you would have returned to a sectarian conflict between the use becks, damagics, pashtuns for dominance in the society. the pakistan would have supported the taliban as it's doing anyway, but it would have supported them in a decisive way without the counterbalancing of american power. the taliban would have become the dominant force in the country, although probably not controlling all of it. taliban remains today allied with al-qaeda, with close links with al-qaeda, and so al-qaeda would again have been able to reestablish itself. the united states would not be flying drone strikes, it would not be taking out terrorists because it wouldn't have any place to base those assets. so i think it's pretty easy to say what would have happened in afghanistan if we'd simply
conducted our punitive attack on taliban, routed them and then left the country. >> gian? raj? are those the missions we should be fighting? should we be stopping sectarian violence? >> yeah. one should not take from my talk an isolationist view, right? i mean, maybe we should be involved in those kinds of things. but what we should ask ourselves at the beginning is what will the costs of military intervention be, what are the -- what's the likelihood of success, and have a real honest discussion of what it will cost. and in so applying military force and the process of doing that which produces actions, reactions, counteractions, will the process of using military force, would it have been worth
it in the first place when we talk about this decision whether or not to go in? i also think that we have to be, there has come to be almost this rule that says when the united states intervenes militarily for whatever reason, the rule says that it has to stay and fix it. and i think that is a very dangerous proposition. if that's the case, it certainly seems to me it commits the united states to perpetual, never ending wars of nation building like we've done in iraq and we're continuing to do in afghanistan. >> uh-huh, please. >> i mean, i tend to view it a little like nuclear weapons. it's something we need to have as part of the arsenal, but we, you know, given its cost we shouldn't be out using it all that often.
and just following up on what ambassador dobbins was talking about with regard to, you know, the early period in the afghan war, and we also look at the early period in iraq, um, we seriously underballed the cost by thinking you could engage in these sort of, um, not just changing the regime, but trying to build a more stable, new administration, countries like that, and do some modest reconstruction with a light footprint. and you can't do that. and i think iraq and afghanistan are clear lessons of that argument. and, but these sorts of interventions are incredibly expensive and costly in terms of lives as well. and it is incumbent to have that
honest discussion up front as opposed to trying to go in with the small footprint, trying to convince the american people that you can do this on the cheap when i think if there's an enduring lesson from both of these endeavors, it's that it can't be done on the cheap, and you have to have an honest discussion about the cost. all that said, i don't think we should look at, um, at a nation-building skill set and say because these things are expensive, because we hope we will never have to fight another land war in asia again, we should just not, um, train, we should not develop that capacity. i think it is an important capacity to have. i think that there's a danger particularly among the civilian agencies in our government, a narrative taking hold that the civilian surge in both iraq and afghanistan worked brilliantly. i think the truth is far from that, and there needs to be an honest lessons-learned process in the nonmilitary side of our government.
and a capacity that is further built up, but one that we have there on the cupboard if necessary. >> could i just add? i yee entirely that we need -- agree entirely that we need an honest debate and a well-informed debate and an effort to likely predict the accurate costs. if we'd dope that before we went -- done that before we went into iraq, the american people would never have sanctioned the invasion of iraq if they had any idea what it was likely to cost and achieve. if we'd had that kind of debate in october of 2001, we would have gone into afghanistan anyway. >> sure. >> and we wouldn't have been wrong. >> right. >> to do so. it's also not true that these operations are always costly. the fact is we didn't lose a single person in haiti. we didn't lose a single soldier or airman in kosovo. we didn't lose a single soldier in bosnia.
i told you about 20 international interventions since 1989, most of those took no casualties and spent very little money. >> just a quick bit to what rajiv said, i think sometimes, too, we make too much of this notion of special skills required to do these kinds of operations, um, especially at the small unit level. because they really -- a well-trained military unit can do these kinds of operations, but with this ongoing focus on lessons learned, figuring out what we did wrong tactically in iraq or afghanistan, it takes the important attention away from what's most important in these kinds of wars, and it's not the tactics of doing them, this idea of special skills and special generals, it's what ambassador dobbins said especially at the beginning of these wars, the strategy and the policy that puts them into place
in the first place. that's what iraq and afghanistan, in my view, has turned on. and not whether or not the army didn't have field manual 3-24 in 2003 if iraq instead of 2006. >> okay. we're going to open it up to questions from the audience. please, state your question in the form of a question, please give your name and affiliation and wait for the microphone to come to you. the gentleman on the far right here in the back. yeah. >> my name is -- [inaudible] malik. recently arrived in washington. i'm an assistant professor, national defense university islamabad and currently 2013 fellow at sais, the south asia program. my doctoral research was on afghanistan, just for context. i agree that there's been a lot of problems, and i'm going to put this in the form of a
question. there was a dire lack of understanding of afghanistan, the linkages between tribes, power bases and how, for example, karzai is utilizing different tribal bases, tribal families, ethnic groups to maintain himself. so it's not a bad thing in itself that he's trying to do that to maintain power in the country. any leader would want to do that. it's definitely done here, but it's the same dynamic overall. i find that the united states, as i said earlier, direly misunderstood afghan society. reform in a quick manner does not work. it's been the case in the 1920s, it was the case during soviet invasion when they tried to implement drastic reforms and, in fact, disaffected a large section of the population which resulted in the war as well. and this was the case again. culturally-sensitive approaches are more appropriate rather than
implementing western-oriented actions, for example, or models in that case. but more importantly, what whatl happen in the future? things have gone wrong. what will happen in the future? will it fall into a civil war like you said? and is that good for society in afghanistan or neighboring nations as well? >> so country-specific context, operating in different culture, different environment with different values, different norms, is that something that you noticed also in your research at these various countries, ambassador dobbins, in terms of adapting, you know, international standards, gender equally, economic and monetary policies in these various countries? >> i think some understanding of local cultures is, obviously, very important. but again, just going back to this -- i don't want to keep harping on it -- the study we did on 20 different, the purpose of that study was to determine what kind of local cultural and
ethnographic and other factors influenced the outcomes in these 20 different interventions and levels of success. and, you know, was it the homogeneity of the population or lack of? was it tribal or clan makeups? all of those things. and we found out that most of those had no, no correlation with outcomes. that the things that had most correlation with outcomes were, first of all, whether the intervention took place on the basis of a peace agreement and a peacekeeping, or whether it took place on the basis of an invasion. that was, that was one of two, you know, dominant ditch shaders, if you will -- differentiators, if you will. but the other two factors were, basically, one, could you
convert neighboring countries from malign to benign policies? if neighboring countries would stop supporting contesting factions, stop feeding the conflict, put convergent pressures on indigenous actors to come together rather than to fight, you almost always succeeded. so geopolitics was more important than sort of cultural sensitivity. it was getting the neighboring, the neighboring countries to stop feeding the conflict and begin adopting benign, helpful policies. and the second was co-opting the contending patronage networks in the country into collaboration. they'd still be patronage networks, they'd still be seeking rents, extracting wealth from the society, but they wouldn't be killing each other to do it. now, in some of these are organized tribally and some by basis of religion, in some cases geographically, in some cases in other sectarian or religious
affiliations define these patronage networks. but if you get the patronage networks to stop killing each other and enter into some sort of collaboration, again, you almost always produce peace, and peace almost always leads to some degree of economic growth and improvement in the life of the citizens. >> just a quick -- i agree with what ambassador dobbins just said. i mean, that's the point that i'm making. in these wars like iraq, afghanistan, really turned not -- because like in the american military now, this whole notion of cultural understanding it's almost become weaponized. it's the idea that cultural understanding is like a weapon, and at the platoon, company, battalion level if you understand the local culture or whatever and all of that involves, then somehow at that level you'll be successful, and you'll produce a better or a good war.
but these wars don't turn on those kinds of things. they turn on the issues that the ambassador just mentioned, and then i think for the united states, of course, within all that we should be asking the fundamental question of whether or not it's our interest at the beginning of it to intervene in those very things in the first place. >> great. just to dovetail with that, um, we're going to take sort of a cold-hearted, realist approach and look exclusively at u.s. interests. wouldn't it be best for terrorists to have haven in failed states, in failed governments? we wouldn't terrorists to con congregate in pakistan or malaysia or germany. we would want a somalia, we would want a yemen, we would want an afghanistan. so should we be changing our approach to failed states and ungoverned space? >> no. [laughter] no, you want, you want terrorists to congregate in areas where there are effective governments that can suppress their activity. you don't want them to be left free to organize. and you particularly don't want
them free to use the organs of a state, its diplomatic pouch, its banking system freely. the reason it's better to have al-qaeda in pakistan than in afghanistan is because in pakistan they're not actually allied with the pakistani government. the pakistani government, while it is supporting the taliban, is not supporting al-qaeda. it's prepared to collaborate with us in suppressing al-qaeda, it's prepared to give us targets that we can strike with drones, they're prepared to go after arabs, they're just not prepared to go over after afghans. and so, you know, what you don't want, you know, the problem with afghanistan is before al-qaeda had hijacked three aircraft in the united states, they'd hijacked a whole country and a government, and it was called afghanistan. and that's what you don't want to replicate. >> anyone else? >> well, you know, just building on that, i totally agree, but taking it to then the whole surge debate in afghanistan, you know, the argument advanced by
the military was that you have to build up an afghan state that would be strong enough, a government strong enough with security forces strong enough to resist the return of al-qaeda operatives from pakistan to afghanistan, and if we didn't surge and didn't pour in all those resources, then the significant outreach of al-qaeda would come pouring back into afghanistan. and i think what we've seen is that's a bit of a fallacy. al-qaeda might do completely irrational thing, but at their core they are rational actors. and if the cost of doing business in afghanistan is incrementally higher than it is in pakistan, they're not going to come back in large numbers. and while, yes, the pakistani government does take actions against them and does provide us with intelligence, you know, certainly for those who are still around pack san has been -- pakistan has been a more has hospitable place to operate than in afghanistan.
and to keep the costs up in afghanistan didn't require 100,000 u.s. troops, you know? a couple of special forces, essential operations task forces could probably have made the cost of doing business in afghanistan incremental greater than pakistan, dissuading significant numbers of them from crossing back over the border. >> that's true as long -- we can stop doing counterinsurgency in afghanistan and only do counterterrorism as long as the afghan government does successful counterinsurgency. so it's not that counterinsurgency doesn't work in afghanistan, it's that it's too expensive to do with americans. you know, a million dollars, you know, per american is just too much. and so we're going to do it more cheaply. >> and the afghans can triage and figure out which parts of the country make sense for them to tackle first and with american support as opposed to doing it entirely for them. >> my point, just really
quickly, is why did it take us, what, from 2002 to today,11, 12 years to figure that out? >> well, you didn't have an afghan government in 2002 that could have done it. >> for the next question, i must emphasize concision. so the gentleman in the back there who had his hand raised. he's standing. >> gordon johnson, my only experience in your arena is postmilitary working on the marshall plan which is a very different situation. >> very much. >> but my question is you haven't talked about perhaps the biggest difficulty that we created for ourselves in setting a deadline when we would leave. if we're going to go in, the calculation should seem to require support of the local people. if vietnam is the lesson for the local people, we're going to leave them before -- we're going to leave any of our, any people who supported us, we're going to leave before we should.
bush had a terrible time with the democrats saying you've got to get out, you've got to get out, and in a sense how can you negotiate with the taliban if you tell them you're going to leave in 2014 when the only thing they care about is when are you going to leave? so if you're going to get support of the local -- if you're going to get the support of the local people, we cannot set a deadline to leave. but if we don't set a deadline to leave, how do we take care of the american people? and it goes pack to, again, vietnam and the minister in williamsburg who asked lyndon johnson, tell me, why are we there? and isn't, therefore, a requirement to not only get the support, to get the support of the local people, we have to explain to the american people a better job of why we are there in order to get, in order to not to have to give them a deadline to get out? but that deadline, seems to me, one of our biggest mistakes. >> so a two-part question.
the host nation government and also the american people. >> i don't, um, comment on a couple of those things. i don't, compared to vietnam at least in a moral way the american people are not connected to these wars. because -- and they were during the vietnam war because there was a draft. i'm not -- personally, i don't think the draft is the answer. i think a much more less ambitious foreign policy and a foreign policy that's premised on the notion of of limits to what american military power can accomplish. i think that is the answer. so i don't think at least over these last ten years of war that the american people have been morally connected to these two wars like they were with regard to vietnam. your other point about time and how long these kinds of wars take, you're right. i mean, a rational strategy that sought to use armed nation building or counterinsurgency to achieve -- if that's -- to
achieve a policy aim, then a rational strategy would say and come out front and be honest about it that if we're going to apply armed nation building to keep al-qaeda at bay in afghanistan, then it is going to take a long time. and it's not going to take 18 months or eight years or 18 years. we're talking about a multigenerational effort. but my point in my talk all along was if we're doing strategy right, the way i explained it, and especially with regard to afghanistan, we have this very, very limited core policy aim which was the destruction of al-qaeda which was pretty much accomplished by early 2002, why did we need to put in place this huge operational framework that committed us to a decade of war, trillions in blood and treasure to achieve that very core, limited core policy aim? that is why i think our strategy from the beginning has been botched. >> first of all, we're not,
we're not leaving afghanistan. the president has committed himself not to withdraw, but to draw down. and he's committed himself to leave some residual troop presence there after 2015 and beyond in order to support, enable, train afghan forces. in 2002 afghanistan had no army ask and no police force. today it has an army of 350,000 men and has a police force of about 250,000 men. and by regional standards, they're not, tear not bad -- they're not bad. it's a question whether they can, whether a minimal american commitment of training and financial support continue to resist the taliban. but unlike vietnam, pakistan's not going to invade afghanistan. um, in vietnam the u.s. left, the south vietnamese government didn't fall. then we cut off all financial
and military assistance, and it fell. but it fell largely because north vietnam invaded, not because an ending juice insur seveny overthrew them. and that's not going to happen in afghanistan. >> we could all agree that it's a very high likelihood that we're not leaving afghanistan. pardon some afghans, though, for being a little confused on this when, you know, white house officials raised the possibility publicly of a zero troop option and, you know, options are put forth of, you know, maybe just a few hundred troops post-2014. that ambiguity that exists here in the policy debate, um, gets multiplied severalfold over as it echoes across the world. but that -- and so two other quick points. you know, the way you build public support is you, if you talk about these wars. i mean, political leaders aren't
talking about afghanistan. you look at the 2012 campaign. i mean, neither obama nor romney said much about this war. if you want to try to build some public support for it, you at least are to hit the hot -- and, you know, bush talked a lot about iraq, but in the early days post--9/11 we were all told to go shopping is the best thing to do to help support the ever effort, the fight against terrorism. but, um, you know, just with regard to the deadline, specifically the question, you know, there is -- look, if you want to mount up with full-on comprehensive counterinsurgency campaign, yeah, a deadline doesn't make sense. it's totally counterproductive. but let's say you're a president, a young president who is very skeptical of a counterinsurgency strategy, doesn't really want to surge but is kind of feels boxed in by his military commanders who don't
really give mihm -- give him much of another option. but recognizes to get to the point where you get the afghans doing the counterinsurgency fight yourself, you need to create a little white space. you need to beat back the taliban, and then you can move to a security force assistance mission. then perhaps, um, a deadline makes sense, and you say, all right, military, you want to go fight this coin fight, well, i'll let you do it because what it is going to do over the short term is going to beat back the insurgents, and then i can, um, push you to shift the focus of the mission perhaps faster than you might otherwise want to get to a point where we have fewer american boots on the ground. looked at that way, then a deadline perhaps becomes a little more rational. >> wow. so many to choose from. ben friedman in the far back.
the gentleman behind him. sorry. >> ben friedman from cato. i agree that counterterrorism doesn't fessly require counterinsurgency, but once we're doing counterinsurgency, why is it the case that we think, it seems to me in the united states, that there's one model? it seems like in the history of counterinsurgency not just in the united states, but around the world there's actually a lot of different models, many of which involve co-opting insurgents like in pakistan where there's reaches of the country or even in india where there's reaches of the country that in the past have had fair amounts of autonomy with the rebels or would-be rebels. and it seems to me what we, the united states, have done in these two wars and to the extent we've been successful, it often involves co-opting insurgents by buying them off or as with the
kurds, just letting them have a big chunk of the country so they don't become insurgents in the first place. and afghanistan, it seems to me -- i'm not an expert on afghanistan, but particularly ill-suited for a tradition alamo knoplyization of violence, build out the central state type model. it seems to me that makes us more like a revolutionary power than a counterrevolutionary power because we're overthrowing local authority structures and, arguably, creating resistance to the central state. so why -- i mean, ambassador to dobbins mentioned these 20 countries, 20 efforts, 20 state--building efforts, is there one model of success, or might there be one strategy for positive any ya that's different than the right strategy for afghanistan, assuming we're there? >> i think -- so, first of all, the best way of marginalizing extremist groups in an insurgency is to support the
insurgents, not to counter them. if you can afford to do that. because there's no insurgent in the world that wouldn't rather have american support than al-qaeda if he's offered that choice. and so we have supported muslim insurgencies in bosnia, in kosovo, we sported a muslim insurgency in afghanistan in 2001. the insurgents were the side we were on in afghanistan. we supported muslim insurgents in iraq in the iraq awakening by co-opting the iraqi insurgents, the sunni insurgents and offering them protection. so, yes, i mean, that's certainly a very viable tactic. there are cases in which you can't afford to do that or where the insurgents won't come over. we offered the taliban the option of handing over bin laden after the 9/11 attack in which case we promised not to attack them, not to invade the country and not to overthrow them, and they refused to do it. so that option didn't work in that particular case.
more generally, i expect gian and i will disagree somewhat on the utility. a successful counterinsurgency requires a variety of different tactical and strategic approaches. you have to put a lot of different things in place to have success. obviously, it is differentiated from society to society and situation to situation to some degree. but the successful counterinsurgency practices tend to run in packs, they tend to coalesce, and when they do coalesce appropriately, they usually succeed. and bad practices usually lead to failure if they're pursued, if they're pursued continuously. >> a couple of just quick points to ben and then what the ambassador said. you can't, you can't find a historical case where american-style counterinsurgency, namely field manual 3-24 which is the same thing as armed state building, i
mean, it is. the lines of effort within field manual 3-24 are about building local governance, national governance, the economy, infrastructure, military forces, all those kinds of things. you can't find a case in history where armed nations -- this kind of counterinsurgency carried out by a foreign occupying power has worked. it's not the reason why the british were successful in malaya. the united states lost in vietnam because it failed its strategy. nor can you use this kind of counterinsurgency to explain why or to use it as the main causative factor as to why violence dropped in iraq by the end of 2007. the premise, ben, to your question which is, i think, an important one because there are different ways of counterrerring and -- countering an insurgency. and i agree with the ambassador that there should be a variety of tasks or techniques or methods that the united states
has when it decides that it is going to use military force to counter an insurgency. the problem with american counterinsurgency today as it was laid out in field manual 3-24 which became elevated all the way up to the level of strategy, policymakers were using its language, is that there really isn't any variety. there is only one way to go about doing it. that's sort of the operational method. i mean, this is what rajiv is talking about. that is for the american military in 2009 when there was a legitimate or there was an attempt at a strategic debate in afghanistan, there really wasn't a debate at all. this is one of the main points he brings out in his excellent book, "little america." and there wasn't a debate because there was only one way to go about achieving the core policy aim. and that was american counterinsurgency premised on the idea that general petraeus and the surge of troops made it work in iraq. so this is the problem that we
have here. if strategy is going to look at problems in the world -- and maybe we do want to use military force to counter an insurgency or deal with instability or whatever -- at least the way it is now we don't have a variety of methods. we only have one. and it's called american counterinsurgency, aka armed nation building. >> yeah. i mean, insurgencies were counted using effective techniques in the philippines in the 1950s, in el salvador in the 1980s, in colombia more recently. by and large, the kind of techniques and tactics that are described in the american field manual were consistent with those campaigns. they weren't connected -- they weren't conducted dominantly by americans, but they were supported and advised by americans. >> great. the gentleman who initially stood the first time.
>> hi, bob adler. thank you very much. you demonstrate impressively being informed, highly intelligent, but i would like to ask you to address a different framework. we, the people, were onboard for the first afghan war because of three very obvious, specific things; 9/11, a determination that bin laden and his associates were responsible for 9/11, and as was just mentioned, the taliban government refused to give them up. so our, the mission of the first afghan war, i would suggest, was to can kill or capture bin laden and his closest associates. that war ended when he left afghanistan. and/or when we realized he left. the second afghan war began immediately afterwards, and that
was to diffuse our embarrassment of having utter orally failed. -- utterly failed. and so all of this about counterinsurgency and phone usage in afghanistan and girls learning to read were not why we, the people, went into afghanistan. and we would be just as happy barely being able to spell after began stand and -- afghanistan and having only a few specialists know where it is. but it was that purpose, and once that purpose was lost because he left, we had, we were fumbling around. so building up a central government or improving life there was not something we, the people, signed on for. it was to kill or capture afghanistan, and the government continues to avoid embarrassment by staying there. could -- >> no, we didn't. >> we didn't invade germany in order to turn it into the most
prosperous country in europe. we didn't invade japan in order to make it a prosperous democracy and a major export power. but we did both of those things very consciously in the aftermath of the war because we didn't want either of those countries to return, in the one case to naziism, and the other case to militarism. and we were quite successful. the reason we stayed on in afghanistan was so that the taliban wouldn't return, so that al-qaeda wouldn't return, and also, incidentally, so we'd have a base to attack al-qaeda in pakistan. >> from the taliban, certainly, isn't on the level of nazi germany or imperial japan. you're not implying that? >> i'm implying you always go into a war to stop something. you go into a war to stop aggression, to stop genocide, to stop something. and then once you've stopped it, you're left with what do we do now? and the answer is, you want to make sure that the situation
after the war is better than the situation before the war. otherwise what was the point? >> right now we're at a point where we're going to be engaging the taliban in terms of broader reconciliation in the afghan government. that's something that wasn't necessarily even an option after we invaded germany. >> that was certainly one of our mistakes, not to have done that a lot earlier. >> but i think you can also, i mean, there's some really big differences, obviously, between world war ii and afghanistan. the overall global threat that was there in world war ii with fascism and naziism, and i think you can also look to world war ii as a historical example where strategy made sense and worked, where you had unconditional surrender as the policy objective and then a very elaborate and well thought through and generally well executed by all the allies, soviet union, the united states, great britain and others, to achieve that policy aim. i mean, i think with
afghanistan, absolutely, we were right to go in and hammer al-qaeda and the taliban for their support of al-qaeda. and then, i mean, i degree with a lot of the points that -- i agree with a lot of the points that you made. we achieved our objective fairly quickly. and so 2002 there's, relatively speaking, only a handful of al-qaeda fighters left in afghanistan. so now we're back to this basic, again, question of strategy: what does it take to keep after that core policy objective? and whether or not we needed to stay and fix and build in order to achieve it. >> we have to, also, understand that the cost of staying, fixing and building in 2002 and 2003 were exponentially less -- >> right. >> -- than they were in 2009 and '10. and had we committed more resources than we did but nothing on the order of today, um, we wouldn't be having this
discussion today. i mean, had washington listened to people like ambassador dobbins among others, um, and more properly resourced some basic state building, some basic training of afghan security forces, some basic peacekeeping efforts in major cities -- and, mind you, back then much of the burden would have been distributed among our nato partners and others -- it would be a far different discussion. and, um, you know, but when you get to 2009, you know, it may not be that there are two afghan warses, it's probably more like there are three. the initial 2001 period, then the sort of period of drift that goes from, you know, 2002, late '02 to early '09, and then the decision to sort of recommit. and by that point, um, the cost
of get withing there was -- of getting there was so much greater. and that's when there really needed, in my view, to have been a even more substantive argument over, well, yes, you know, it would be great to have a functioning afghan state. you don't want ungoverned spaces because of, you know, what that potentially yields in terms of, you know, bad actors operating in those areas. um, but is the cost benefit analysis which probably could have been very easily calculated back in '02 and come out on the positive by '09 the costs, at least to me, seem to be far, far too great. >> sadly, with that we've actually gone over time, substantially over time. but i'd like to thank all of the speakers here on the dais with me today. [applause]