On Consistency

by Joshua Foust on 1/11/2011

General Petraeus says the Taliban’s influence is on the decline in Helmand Province:

LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan | NATO’s top commander in Afghanistan said Monday that a recent pledge by a southern Afghan tribe to stand up to the Taliban shows the military push in the country’s most violent region is making headway and stifling the insurgents’ “central nervous system.”

Army Gen. David H. Petraeus told the Associated Press that a shift in thinking by the Afghan government and NATO means that the tribe’s risky move is being embraced rather than ignored. And that brings the hope that others may follow suit, he said.

Of course, if you didn’t know this was 2011, you could also think this was 2006, and 2007—the previous two times tribes in the South vowed to fight the Taliban, and the government and ISAF promised them weapons and support, and after a few months all that money and weapons went right back to the Taliban anyway.

Put differently: if Petraeus’ evidence for saying the Taliban’s influence is on the decline is the decision by a few elders in a tribe to oppose the Taliban, then the Taliban’s influence has been declining since at least 2006-7. Yet that is clearly not the case—and, just as importantly, clearly wasn’t the case in 2006-7. Yet now, for some reason, we are to ignore experience, history, and basic logic, and believe the Dear General that this time, pinky swear promise, things are somehow different.

This is precisely what my complaint is about the case for the war: it makes absolutely no sense. The goalposts change constantly, demands for data to support assertions is met with rejections of data, then with anecdotes that actually mean the opposite of what they’re meant to. There’s no consistency to it, no reason, no internal logic.

Yet, repeatedly, we are told by the General’s favoured analysts, we should ignore all of that and trust him. Trust in the strategy. Trust in COIN. Give me a break. We have no reason to trust any of that. And a million reasons not to.

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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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