McChrystal’s revenge: Everyone hates Karl Eikenberry

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

Supporter’s of General McChrystal’s counterinsurgency policy are heart-broken over his firing. Not that they don’t agree with it, very few COINdinistas took the position that McChrystal should be permitted to undermine civilian control of policy as he did so plainly in the Rolling Stone piece. Support for McChrystal came instead in the form of “he’s our only hope” and warnings about ruining the war effort. Nevertheless, McChrystal was fired, and now his supporters want revenge.

The target of this vengeance is quite clear: Karl Eikenberry, US Ambassador to Afghanistan. Take a look at these snippets from across the blogosphere, keeping mind that this is just a sample of the anti-Eikenberry sentiment out there.

Josh Shahryar:

When McChrystal finally got troops, he had to figure out a way around Eikenberry’s meddling into what was supposed to be his operation.


So now I am waiting for that POS Eikenberry to be fired along with that ineffective Holbrooke. The relationship between the military and civilian leadership in Afghanistan is a two-way street. If the Ambassador and Special Envoy don’t get along with Karzai and cannot influence him or even get a meeting with him then they need to be FIRED asap and some people need to be put into place that can be effective at their job and get along with the military leadership.

Anonymous at Danger Room:

In fact, one e-mails: “It would be a travesty if we fired McChrystal and kept Eikenberry.”

Not only is McChrystal the “only one with any sort of relationship with [Afghan president Hamid] Karzai,” says this civilian advisor to the McChrystal-led International Security Assistance Force. Eikenberry “has no plan, didn’t get COIN [counterinsurgency] when he was the commander and still doesn’t.” Plus, the advisor adds: “The Embassy hates Eik. That’s not necessarily an indictment (I’m no fan of the Embassy). But it contributes to the dysfunction and it means that half the Embassy is focused on keeping Eik in line.”

Streetwise Professor:

Eikenberry was a backstabber from day one.

See the narrative building? McChrystal was doing a good job (they’ve leaked red meat to give pro-McChrystal progressives some lefty cover), it was that “POS Eikenberry” and his “meddling” that are really at fault. He’s a backstabber and dysfunctional. McChrystal’s violation of the relationship between civilian government and the military is no longer at issue, it’s practically ignored.  They’ve moved on to the blame game.

So McChrystal’s supporters want a scalp of their own, and they’ve chosen Eikenberry as their target. McChrystal and Eikenberry have been feuding for some time now, so it’s no surprise he draws the most wrath from the general’s dismissal. But if we actually look closer at the tension between Eikenberry and McChrystal, we see that the Eikenberry-haters are way off base. Their attacks are, at best, childish displays of sour grapes, and at worst, a fundamental misunderstanding of their own strategy. Ambassador Eikenberry is not at fault here. In fact, Eikenberry was right all along. Continue reading “McChrystal’s revenge: Everyone hates Karl Eikenberry”

Crazy COIN Strategy: US-Pakistani Nuclear Deal

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

Our strategy in Afghanistan is pretty bad, but aside from the obvious broken logic of creating peace through war, I wouldn’t say it qualifies as “crazy”. Counterinsurgency is weird in its ability to co-opt humanitarian arguments about human rights and so forth, but it’s still somewhat rational considering the military is, after all, a war making institution.

But I nearly spit out coffee this morning reading through the new RAND report – “Counterinsurgency in Pakistan” by Seth G. Jones and C. Christine Fair.

Of course, it’s COIN, so I was prepared for most of the usual junk (“population-centric” bloody occupations, learn from Algeria or the Philippines or [insert incomparable favorite country from a bajillion years ago], etc). This report even had a lot of good stuff going for it, including a very honest assessment of Pakistan’s domestic unrest issues (disappearances, land ownership, foreign tariffs, etc) as well as thoughtful examinations of the history of US-Pakistan diplomatic “persuasion” techniques.

And then it got crazy fast:

The United States should consider more politically valuable initiatives, given the willingness and equities of other regional parties. While an effective U.S. role in reaching an Indo-Pakistani accommodation on Kashmir is unlikely, partly because of Indian opposition, there are at least two initiatives that could benefit Pakistan.

First is a criteria-based civilian nuclear deal for Pakistan. Pakistan complained about the exceptionalism of the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal, in which India agreed to separate its civil and military nuclear facilities and place its civil nuclear facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. In exchange, the United States agreed to work toward full civil nuclear cooperation with India. Pakistani officials argued that its sacrifices in cooperating with the United States should merit comparable consideration. Pakistan legitimately fears that the agreement may allow India to improve and expand its nuclear weapon arsenal. Pakistan sought to undermine the Indo-U.S. deal, arguing that it would spark an arms race on the subcontinent.

That’s right, in exchange for “doing more” against the militant elements in the region, the US should give Pakistan more nukes. The report is very honest about it: It’ll be just like the deal with India, in which the US basically subsidizes the civilian nuclear industry, and “inspects” it, while the military program remains completely separate and unaccountable. Better yet, the military no longer has to compete with the civilian power industry for materials, so they’re free to weaponize countless stockpiles of enriched uranium that we specifically agree to not inspect.

That’s happening in India right now. And this report says we should do that with Pakistan. For real. This is where I look around, wondering if that sounds as crazy to you as it does to me, because apparently the folks at RAND find nuclear proliferation to be totally normal. Continue reading “Crazy COIN Strategy: US-Pakistani Nuclear Deal”

Afghanistan: What Happens When Our Allies “Do More”

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

If you’ve been following the recent military operations in Helmand and Kandahar, you’ve likely noticed that it’s been something of an unmitigated disaster. And not just a disaster in the sense that most of our military efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan have been disasters, this is the make-or-break moment for the US counterinsurgency strategy. My colleague Derrick Crowe writes:

No reporter should let Secretary Gates, General McChrystal, or President Obama off the hook in the coming months regarding the make-or-break nature of the Kandahar operation for their (poorly) chosen COIN strategy in Afghanistan. As described in the report to Congress, Kandahar/Helmand is the main effort, and everything else is either a “shaping,” “supporting,” or “economy of force (read: leftovers)” operation. Kandahar/Helmand is the COIN strategy. If ISAF fails there, it fails, period.

Fail there, fail everywhere. Couldn’t be any more clear than that. And that’s not his characterization, he’s citing the people in charge. Derrick then offers us some advice:

Members of Congress considering funding the ongoing Kandahar/Helmand/escalation strategy should read these comments from Secretary Gates with alarm. He’s hedging and trying to set expectations because he knows the COIN effort is in serious, “bleeding ulcer” trouble. Congress should save us all a whole lot of trouble and vote against the $33 billion war spending supplemental under consideration.

Right, when you pressure your representative to block the funding, they need to be made fully aware that our strategy is broken and ruinous. But the problem is, it won’t be that easy. Politicians can be very slippery, even the ones we like, and they’ll try to shift the blame on to someone else. “No, it’s not the strategy,” they’ll say, “it’s our allies. Our allies need to do more.” The folks on Capitol Hill are big believers in Counterinsurgency doctrine, and as we’ve seen, COIN is not a doctrine, but an ideology that can never be proven or dis-proven. Communism isn’t the problem, it’s “human nature” that fails. Conservatism can’t fail, only you can fail to be conservative. And our COIN strategy can’t fail, it has to be the fault of our allies.

But that’s wrong. Our allies have been doing more, a lot more. NATO, Karzai, and Pakistan have all been participating in President Obama’s escalation strategy, and that is only making the problem worse. If we see what it is our allies are actually doing, we’ll find that the COIN defenders are wrong. Our counterinsurgency strategy, the idea that occupation and war have anything remotely to do with stabilizing and developing a nation, is the problem. The US will try to shift the blame onto our allies, but as we’ll see, Derrick is right, it’s our war that is the problem. Continue reading “Afghanistan: What Happens When Our Allies “Do More””

The fundamentals of radical, transnational counterinsurgency

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

There’s a lot of hate speech floating around out there. You’re used to it by now. The President is a black Muslim Nazi, LGBT destroy families, immigrants are disease-ridden criminals. It’s not just that these lies are offensive, though, is it? It’s that they hint at something darker, more wicked underneath. The argument isn’t that immigrants have diseases (they don’t), so let’s try to help them. It’s that they have diseases, so they’re filthy and must be hunted down and annihilated. The folks who spread this hate speech are not lying out of altruism or compassion, they’re lying as an expression of the dangerous, sociopathic capacities they possess. We know this from our foreign policy as well. It’s not just that the overt anti-semitism of terrorist videos will double you over with vomit, it’s the psycho undercurrent of suicide bombings that really keeps us awake at night.

I thought about this when I read Steve Hynd’s “COIN is like Soviet Communism?,” wherein he exposes counterinsurgency not as a strategy, but an ideology. He’s right, but it’s not just that counterinsurgency is a demented ideology, that it propagates vicious lies like obliterating a houseful of Afghan civilians is “protecting the population.” It’s that COIN is a symptom of an idea more primeval and dangerous: violence is the solution. The fundamental idea behind counterinsurgency is that war is the right tool for the job. It may look different and sound different, but it’s still war, still violently brutalizing a population, us and them, for isolated and selfish political ends. Continue reading “The fundamentals of radical, transnational counterinsurgency”

Rethink Afghanistan: Clinging to guns and counterinsurgency

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

There’s been a lot of public debate lately about our counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan. Derrick Crowe looked through the government’s own reports and discovered it’s a giant failure. Steve Hynd wonders if it isn’t stratagem at all, but an ideology. I asked if we even had any idea what’s going on with the strategy. Gareth Porter finds that Pentagon leaders don’t like the Afghan strategy, and Nancy Youssef piles on that the military itself is turning against COIN. And it was in Youssef’s piece that one of the Grand Dragons of the COIN blogosphere, Andrew Exum (Abu Muqawama to the cool kids), appeared to distance himself from the strategy. “I can’t imagine anyone would opt for this option,” he said.

Exum later clarified his statement, sort of, but he had a good point here:

If you continue to have a problem with the fact that we are now pursuing a counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan, by the way, you should spend less time whining about the generals and think tank researchers and take the issue up with the president. As the secretary of state said today at USIP, while holding forth on the strategy reviews that took place in the spring and fall, “the president reached a conclusion [after the reviews of 2009] that should be respected by Americans.”

Obviously it’s a bit of stretch for Exum to throw all the blame on the politicians, seeing as how he and a host of other COINdinistas built their Beltway careers on aggressively proselytizing counterinsurgency religion to those very same politicians. But our leaders are primarily responsible for the policy failure. For instance, Afghan president Karzai visits Washington with a peace plan, and we just take it as normal that he has to “persuade a sceptical Barack Obama that it is time to negotiate with the Taliban.” Skeptical about negotiating? Obama has a Nobel Peace Prize, and he’s skeptical? And Exum’s quote from Secretary Clinton is equally outrageous. We’ve so completely lost sight of our peaceful capabilities, so misunderstood the point of our civilian foreign policy agencies, that even our diplomats demand our military occupations be “respected.” Our problem is not picking the right military strategy, but picking any military strategy at all. Continue reading “Rethink Afghanistan: Clinging to guns and counterinsurgency”