Missing Subtext, Or Puff the Magic Generals!

by Joshua Foust on 8/26/2009 · 3 comments

What is missing from Spencer Ackerman’s breathless cheerleading of the new McChrystal directives for counterinsurgency operations? Most of them were already put out by McKiernan and his subordinates.

The bit about good road manners, which Nathan Hodge thinks is so fetch, actually has its genesis in McKiernan’s rules about road behavior (most obviously represented in a standing order eight months ago from Colonel Spellmon, the commander of Task Force Warrior at Bagram Air Base, to drive slowly through villages—something many soldiers resented as needlessly risky).

Then there are the omissions. As Ackerman notes, there is nothing about partnering with civilian agencies. It’s a theme I’ve seen cropping up more and more with all these military types and thinkers discussing the civilian side of things: all non-soldiers are, for lack of a better term, black boxes—clouds on a powerpoint slide (when they’re even mentioned in the first place). Even the (in)famous CNAS Triage paper simply advocated the use of civilians, with no understanding of the political briar patch of, say, coopting NGOs into a military base.

It’s the Thomas Barnett approach to foreign affairs: more diplomacy! More civilians! More things I never understand because the military alone is clearly inadequate! Missing in much of the discussion is any mention of utilization, of civilian agency capacity building, or even basic logistics of how they are to be supported (through the military, I presume?).

Ahh, but as we learned from Rajiv Chandrasekaran, it was General McKiernan who was the uncreative, bland character that needed to be replaced. Even though the two generals are not yet materially different in their intents and orders, McChrystal is the exciting, dynamic general who will be Afghanistan’s Petraeus.

Or so one would think reading these things. Maybe that’s why I’m feeling so burned out these days on the policy side of this stuff. I mean, it really does feel like one big [redacted] some days, without an ounce of critical thought or analysis to be had.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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steve August 26, 2009 at 7:29 pm

hang in there dude! i know it must be difficult to point out assinine ‘analysis’ 24/7 while the whole effort circles the drain in afghanistan. i appreciate the shiny little needle you bring to this ridiculous balloon party.

anand August 26, 2009 at 9:05 pm

Glad that I am not the only one thinking these things 😉

Can I please add to the confusion, with some more ambiguously meaningful “ANALYSIS.” (if everyone else can give ambiguously relevant analysis, so can I 😉 ) There seem to be three different strategies . . . on three different planets:
1) Short term “TRIAGE” or improvement in security (McChrystal, Abu Muqawama and most of the press)
2) Medium term Afghan capacity building (CSTC-A, OMLTs, TTs, civilian advisors to GIRoA civilian agencies)
3) Long term economic development (UNAMA’s planet, and the planet that NGOs, Japan’s, India’s, Germany’s, EU’s and many other international aid agencies live on)

Whence will the three planets meet?

“Even the (in)famous CNAS Triage paper simply advocated the use of civilians, with no understanding of the political briar patch of, say, coopting NGOs into a military base.” How about hire a civilian surge from China, India and Indonesia? Count me dumb stupid, but might they not be better and more cost effective than the NGO industrial complex?

David M August 27, 2009 at 9:39 am

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 08/27/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

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