Quotes of the Day

by Joshua Foust on 6/11/2012

John Nagl, as quoted by Andrew Bacevich in October of 2008:

Instability creates ungoverned spaces in which violent anti-American radicals thrive. Yet if instability anywhere poses a threat, then ensuring the existence of stability everywhere—denying terrorists sanctuary in rogue or failed states—becomes a national-security imperative. Define the problem in these terms, and winning battles becomes less urgent than pacifying populations and establishing effective governance.

War in this context implies not only coercion but also social engineering. As Nagl puts it, the security challenges of the 21st century will require the U.S. military “not just to dominate land operations, but to change entire societies.”

John Nagl, in his NYT op-ed last week:

Unsatisfying wars are the stock in trade of counterinsurgency; rarely, if ever, will they end with a surrender ceremony and look like a conventional victory. And yet this is the sort of war we have fought, almost exclusively, for over 50 years… Like any successful counterinsurgency, Afghanistan is likely to end somewhat unsatisfyingly for Americans, with a corrupt but gradually improving government in Kabul, advisers helping Afghan security forces fight a weakening but still dangerous Taliban, and a schizophrenic Pakistan alternately helping Afghan and Taliban fighters.

Anyway, I’m sure we all evolve, etc. But this is one of the main intellectuals in the U.S. Army responsible for promoting counterinsurgency doctrine, back when he presidented an influential think tank in the DC and helped to craft U.S. strategy in both Iraq and Afghanistan. And he seems to have no the foggiest idea of what he’s talking about, or what a possible end state is, or what even sort of counts as an endpoint in war. It’s just… endless, misshapen muck.

Which kind of summarizes the rest of his output on Afghanistan.


Good God, I’m already bored with this. Moving on to Carl Prine, who really does hit the nail on the head in his uniquely hate-filled way:

At best, he grumbles, Afghanistan might not turn out to be a complete waste of time, money and lives before we exit in large numbers in 2014.

Oh, what happened to the Nagl who served as the go-to quote in DC for the most outlandishly optimistic sitreps on Kabul this side of Michael O’Hanlon or Max Boot? Most especially when he was championing an uber-special COIN that was going to magically morph those sullen Afghans after a few twirls of the wand by David Petraeus or Stanley McChrystal?

Yeah. I know. It didn’t exactly pan out like Professor Nagl predicted so he’s “moving the goal posts,” as the power tie set says in DC, while erasing the past. Don’t believe me? Well, King David and Stan the Man might not have worked their spells on Afghanistan but Nagl yesterday said “presto!’ and transformed the “Surge” in Iraq into something it never was…

The standard for mendacity today should be any op-ed that claims as the causation for the temporary pacification of Iraq mistakes made by a small number of insurgents and the brilliance of the occupation forces, without inking a tittle or a jot about the blood-splattered civil war that was won by Iraqi Shiite and Kurdish militias and their nascent security forces. Five years after the “Surge” in Baghdad began, can’t he at least come to terms with the much wider and more important civil strife that roiled the nation?

No he cannot. Few who dedicated themselves to demanding war really can.

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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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