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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ralph Peters Vs. President Obama

As far as military knowledge and analysis there are few people more astute, in my opinion, short of General Petraeus himself than Ralph Peters. I have generally found his analysis of all things related to war as rather spot on. As such, his latest piece is in many ways startling.

• Best. Instead of increasing the U.S. military "footprint," reduce our forces and those of NATO by two-thirds, maintaining a "mother ship" at Bagram Air Base and a few satellite bases from which special operations troops, aircraft and drones, and lean conventional forces would strike terrorists and support Afghan factions with whom we share common enemies. All resupply for our military could be done by air, if necessary.

Peters' assertion is that we are going along in a never ending cycle of escalation with no strategy, and worse yet, no hope of success. Peters believes that we call it a day and remove our troops from Afghanistan as quickly as logistics allow leaving a residual force for certain and very limited roles.

What is startling about Peters' assessment and recommendations are how both are eerily similar to those of folks like the President himself in the beginning of 2007 about Iraq. Peters lays out a hopeless quagmire in which historical alliances and rivalries provide an environment in which we have no hope of bringing about any stability.

Peters is no ideologue and he better than most understands all the diferences, subtle and otherwise, between Afghanistan and Iraq. In Peters view, Afghanistan holds little strategic value for the U.S.

Even if we achieved the impossible dream of creating a functioning, unified state in Afghanistan, it would have little effect on the layered crises in the Muslim world. Backward and isolated, Afghanistan is sui generis (only example of its kind). Political polarization in the U.S. precludes an honest assessment, but Iraq's the prize from which positive change might flow, while Afghanistan could never inspire neighbors who despise its backwardness.

Peters also sees a government that's totally dysfunctional and using our presence in a counter productive manner.

Even "our man in Kabul," President Hamid Karzai, put his self-interest above any greater cause. Reborn a populist, he backs every Taliban claim that the U.S. inflicts only civilian casualties in virtually every effort against terrorists. Karzai is convinced that we can't abandon him.

So, he sees an ever increasing quagmire with no hope of succeeding.

We should do just that. Instead of floundering in search of a strategy, we
should consider removing the bulk, if not all, of our forces. The alternative is
to hope blindly, waste more lives and resources, and, in the worst case, see our
vulnerable supply route through Pakistan cut, forcing upon our troops the most ignominious
since Korea in 1950 (a massive air evacuation this time around,
leaving a wealth of military gear).

Much like in Iraq, Peters also sees Afghanistan's neighbor, this time Pakistan, as the key for success in the region.

In any event, Pakistan, not Afghanistan, will determine the future of Islamist extremism in the region. And Pakistan is nearly lost to us — a fact we must accept. Our strategic future lies with India.

It is a rather remarkable stance that Peters takes. Peters was an early defender of the surge. He always believed that Iraq was winnable. Furthermore, Peters firmly believed that Iraq was of vital strategic importance.

On many of these fronts, there are clear differences between Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet, I can't help but feel there is some cynicism in Peters pessimism. Certainly, the President has provided no plan to go along with his increase in troops in Afghanistan. Yet, there is one common thread between Afghanistan and Iraq. That is that we are facing an insurgency in Afghanistan like we faced in Iraq. The details of the insurgencies are certainly totally different. The terrain is different. Yet, no two insurgencies are the same. Before taking over command in Iraq, General Petraeus wrote the Army's counter insurgency manual. In the manual, he drew on experiences from such obscure wars as one fought in Algeria in the 1950's. While insurgencies are never the same, the blue print comes down to three basic principles: clear, hold and build. Whether in Iraq or in Afghanistan, ultimately any successful counter insurgency perfects those three principles. You clear out the bad guys from all trouble spots. You hold the newly safe area. Then, you rebuild it so that they never come back.

The same person that wrote the manual, that so successfully turned around Iraq, is now head of Central Command. He is in charge of the whole region including Afghanistan. The same principles that brought such a remarkable turn around to Iraq can be applied to Afghanistan. Before we declare defeat, maybe we should let Petraeus apply these principles there.

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