Skip to content

Recent Articles

3
Apr

The Truth That Refuses to Be Spoken

Another tragic sign in the emerging Afghan endgame:  The flight of cash and investment.  As the American and coalition departure looms, more and more schemers are shepherding their profits out of the country, despite the futile efforts of the government to block them.  To paraphrase a famous line from Jurassic Park, “Cash will find a way.” Read more »

27
Mar

The Dangers of Grand Strategy on Auto Pilot

A leading element of the Conventional Wisdom on U.S. grand strategy and global posture is that America’s presence in key regions is essential to dampening mutual fear and hostility, to avoiding multipolar rivalry, and thus to keeping the peace.  But there are increasing questions to be asked about the role we’re playing and how we play it. Read more »

23
Mar

The Younger Kim Makes Strategy … Or Not

Andrei Lankov, for my money the single most thoughtful observer of North Korea we’ve got, joins a chorus of others looking at Pyongyang’s decision to announce a “satellite test” (read: long-range rocket test) just after it reached an accord with the U.S. trading nuclear and missile concessions for food, and is perplexed.  He calls it an “unusually witless move,” but he also says it raises many questions. Read more »

22
Mar

Afghanistan for the Afghans

Just what’s going on at the Washington Post?  In a masthead editorial on Afghanistan today, the Post walked its readers through an argument for more attention to “some of the good news that has been overlooked recently.” Read more »

16
Mar

It’s Not Our War and It Never Was

The depths to which the US strategy in Afghanistan have now sunk can be best illustrated with the following quote, from a senior US military leader, in the wake of President Karzai’s demands that US forces pull back to major bases: Read more »

15
Mar

Tending to Passing Strategic Requirements

In the wake of the Obama administration’s emphasis on Asia, I spoke to a Friend of the Blog in Tokyo—an experienced observer of U.S. and regional foreign policy—for his reactions, and for a sense of how all of this is playing in Japan. This senior analyst has worked in US and Japanese think tanks and foundations and consulted closely with Japanese government offices. His basic message is that Japan likes The Pivot: The core of Japanese public opinion and its leading national security community place great stakes in a positive US regional role, and the reemphasis of that role embodied in the “shift to Asia” has gone down like a fine shot of sake. Read more »

2
Mar

It’s Not Your Father’s Preemption

Yet another op-ed on Iran, this one by Amos Yadlin, one of the Israeli pilots who knocked out Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981, and reviving the argument that Israel has it right in its preemption doctrine.  Osirak worked; Iran cannot be allowed to get nukes, and an Osirak-style strike will impose a profitable delay, with manageable costs. Read more »

28
Feb

The Wages of Democracy

Veterans of the Old Cold War:  Meet the New Cold War.  Vladimir Putin, channeling the scaremongering and scapegoating techniques of the best Western politicians, has found himself pressed by a legitimate opposition.  In need of a rallying cry and without a serious domestic agenda that doesn’t remind people of corruption and repression, he has turned to that old favorite:  Patriotic self-assertion in the face of a largely invented foreign evil. Read more »

25
Feb

Meet the New Imperialism

The half-thought-through ideology of global intervention on behalf of … it’s not entirely clear what, has reached a fever pitch in the shadow of the undeniably tragic events in Syria.  But what’s clear is not so much that we need to act decisively in that conflict; it’s that we need to act decisively to rethink this doctrine of unending global meddling before it burrows its way permanently into the mindset and practice of US national security strategy. Read more »

23
Feb

Afghanistan: The Gaps Grow

Three useful tidbits on the evolving strategy morass that is Afghanistan.

Two intelligence chiefs testified recently, and the message was not hopeful.  Lt. Gen. Ronald Burgess, director of DIA, started his statement this way:  “I would like to begin with current military operations in Afghanistan where we assess that endemic corruption and persistent qualitative deficiencies in the Army and police forces undermined efforts to extend effective governance and security.  The Afghan army remains reliant on ISAF for key combat support, such as logistics, intelligence and transport.  While Afghan Army performance improved in some operations when partnered with ISAF units, additional gains will require sustained mentoring and support.  Despite successful coalition targeting, the Taliban remains resilient and able to replace leadership losses while also competing to provide governance at the local level.  From its Pakistani safe havens, the Taliban leadership remains confident of eventual victory.”

So there’s that.  Meantime the US is reportedly circulating proposals, based on assumptions of declining resources, to cut the size of the ANSF from 352,000 to 230,000 after 2014.  Afghan defense minister Wardak pronounced such proposals a looming “disaster” and “catastrophe.”

Third is a persuasive analysis, up at Small Wars Journal, arguing that the much-touted night raids are not having the claimed effects on the Taliban.  The author, Jonathan Smith, makes a range of points, arguably the most persuasive of which is the chart showing total insurgent attacks, which are again up in 2011.  If we’re really having any sort of strategic effect on the insurgency, why don’t we see it in any measurable outcomes?

The accumulating risk in all of this, the combination of accelerating toward an exit along with growing anti-Americanism and lack of clear momentum etc., is that we are lurching toward a tipping point at which the credibility of the current approach collapses in a heap.  We’ve been yanking the core assumptions out of the strategy one at a time, and for a while nobody will notice—but at some point, gravity will do its work.  Meantime all the good doobies continue to publish their hortatory pieces about Staying the Course and Full Partnership after 2014 and all that nice business, which in theory is fine but looks less and less meaningful in practice.

Yet another example of the distance between Rhetoric and Ambition on the one hand, and Will and Resources on the other.  For the moment, we’re managing to paper it over.  When and if the whole thing gets exposed, though:  What’s our plan?