4 years ago
Paul Miller at Foreign Policy has an interesting take on counterinsurgency as nation-building.
General David Petraeus, Commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, told Congress this week “I am concerned that funding for our State Department and USAID partners will not sufficiently enable them to build on the hard-fought security achievements of our men and women in uniform. Inadequate resourcing of our civilian partners could, in fact, jeopardize accomplishment of the overall mission.”
Congressional testimony is usually bland and does not often contain any real news. Petraeus’ remarks mostly wrote themselves: he started by announcing that the Taliban’s momentum “has been arrested,” but progress is “fragile and reversible.” You might as well say “Progress Made, Challenges Remain.” Nothing new here.
But then Petraeus came out with that bombshell about funding for civilians near the end of his testimony. He could not have been more stark. We will lose the war in Afghanistan unless we pony up more money for our civilian efforts-which is to say, for nation building.
Nation building, as I’ve argued earlier, is not international charity. It is not a superfluous and dispensable exercise in appeasing western guilt, an expensive tribute to humanitarianism, or an act of unvarnished selflessness and goodwill. Nation building is a response to the threat of failed states that threaten regional stability. It is a pragmatic exercise of hard power to protect vital national interests. In the context of Afghanistan, nation building is the civilian side of counterinsurgency, the primary objective of which is to “foster the development of effective governance by a legitimate government,” according to the Counterinsurgency Field Manual Petraeus wrote.
Afghanistan’s weakness threatens America’s security. State failure, chaos, or Taliban rule in Afghanistan will provide a safe haven for al-Qaida, destabilize western Pakistan and endanger its nuclear weapons, become a worldwide headquarters for narcotics traffickers, discredit NATO, invite Iranian and Russian adventurism, and sully self-government and civil liberties in the Muslim world. We must rebuild Afghanistan to prevent these catastrophic outcomes.
Miller makes a good case for the campaign in Afghanistan, one I have made here many times before. Furthermore, I have advocated against seeing this or any other campaign as merely out to spread benevolence, good cheer and harmony. This includes democracy programs. The U.S. doesn’t have the necessary wealth to take on every possible democracy project on earth. There must be an inherent self interest for the campaign to be worthy, and in Afghanistan, there is inherent self interest.
I’m with Miller until the last sentence. Actually, I might take issue with the notion of a legitimate government if it is seen as a central government. The republic envisioned by John and Abigail Adams cannot be installed in Afghanistan. It doesn’t have the cultural and religions foundation for such a republic. But I’ll leave the stylistic issues to Christian Bleuer and Joshua Foust. They know more about that than me.
Now to the last sentence of Miller’s advocacy for nation building. The value is in the nuance. Notice that Miller has said that in order to “prevent” these catastrophic outcomes we must nation-build. Must we prevent these outcomes, or simply respond to them?
In Fallujah 2007, the Marines had a very high bar for performance of the Iraqi Police, and they left such a strong force to protect Fallujah that I claimed to Tom Ricks that al Qaeda would never return. The only reasons that I tired of Operation Iraqi Freedom were the ridiculous Status of Forces Agreement and the lies to the Sons of Iraq told by the weasel Nouri al-Maliki. Or maybe I just tired of Nouri al-Maliki.
Marines with whom I talked after three years in Anbar were all of the same opinion. The Marines were finished in Anbar. They (the Anbaris) had been given a start. If they screwed it up and Anbar became a safe haven again for Islamic globalists, the Marines could do the job again in five years, or ten years, or twenty years.
The difference is profound. The difference envelopes cost in American lives, cost in American wealth, the quantity and quality of American support for the mission, the training, purpose and organizational framework for the U.S. armed forces, and whether a specific people, religion, culture and locale can support a self-sustaining constitutional republic. The American experiment cannot be exactly duplicated anywhere on earth. It’s wasteful of lives and wealth to pretend otherwise.
But that doesn’t mean that we should retreat to within the boundaries of the U.S. and wait for the insurgency to cross our own borders. It just means that we have to maintain a modest appraisal of the possible outcomes of our international involvement, and if necessary, do it again, and again, and again.