Streetwise Professor

October 8, 2009

Whoops, They’re Doing It Again

Filed under: Derivatives,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 10:55 am

The essence of my earlier criticism of Obama’s strategic re-review was that it is idiotic to decide on a strategy without considering the resources necessary to implement it.   Today’s Washington Post reports that this idiocy is apparently habitual in the Obama White House: the reason a re-review is needed is because those performing the original review also failed to evaluate thoroughly the forces needed to implement the counterinsurgency strategy the administration chose:

To some civilians who participated in the strategic review, that conclusion was much less clear. Some took it as inevitable that more troops would be needed, but others thought the thrust of the new approach was to send over scores more diplomats and reconstruction experts. They figured a counterinsurgency mission could be accomplished with the forces already in the country, plus the 17,000 new troops Obama had authorized in February.

“It was easy to say, ‘Hey, I support COIN,’ because nobody had done the assessment of what it would really take, and nobody had thought through whether we want to do what it takes,” said one senior civilian administration official who participated in the review, using the shorthand for counterinsurgency.

The failure to reach a shared understanding of the resources required to execute the strategy has complicated the White House’s response to the grim assessment of the war by the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, forcing the president to decide, in effect, what his administration really meant when it endorsed a counterinsurgency plan. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal‘s follow-up request for more forces, which presents a range of options but makes clear that the best chance of achieving the administration’s goals requires an additional 40,000 U.S. troops on top of the 68,000 who are already there, has given senior members of Obama’s national security team “a case of sticker shock,” the administration official said.

It would be wrong to say I’m speechless. It’s just that most of the words that come to mind are modified with another word that begins with “f” and ends with “ing.”   Reading this kind of thing evokes a load of f-bombs that only a B-52 could carry.

A couple of issues.

First.   Is it really true that NOBODY had done the assessment?   Nobody in the Pentagon?   Really?   Or is it more accurate to say that nobody in Hope and Change-land had done the assessment, or paid attention to the assessment, or had a clue of what counterinsurgency really entails?

Second.   Wasn’t there anybody in the administration capable of asking a question?   Oh, I dunno, like: “How many troops are required and over what time period to implement this strategy?”

Do these people buy a car or a house and not inquire about the price?   Just asking.

This is yet another example of “senior administration officials” damning themselves with their own lame excuses.

Like Casey Stengel once said: Can’t anybody here play this game?

Some other Caseyisms that fit:

Most games are lost, not won.

Been in this game one-hundred years, but I see new ways to lose ’em I never knew existed before.

The 1962 Mets are not a good foreign policy role model, but Team Obama would have to look up in the standings to see them.   It’s both pathetic, and tragic.

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  1. Maybe, just maybe, it’s not that tragic.
    Now we should hope that Team Obama will mess up everything, so that next elections they will be kicked out of the Oral Office.

    I think they all are on illegal drugs.
    Obama announced that there will be no America anti-ballistic shield in Poland and the Czech republics. Then they realized that Russians are free to have C-400 anywhere they want and to develop C-500. They announced that a better version of anti-ballistic shield will be installed in Europe.

    It’s all good. The worse they are, the better it will end.

    Comment by Michael Vilkin — October 8, 2009 @ 3:04 pm

  2. It’s time to pull out of Afghanistan.
    We should say the following: “Taliban sheltered Bin Laden, and that is why America came to Afghanistan and killed thousands of them. Now we are moving out. But, if government of Afghanistan again provides a shelter to terrorists, government of Afghanistan will be bombed from time to time”.

    When we move out, Sunnies and Shia will be busy to fight with each other.
    Even if they are not, they will move north, to liberate Russian Muslims in Chechnia and Dagestan. Either way, it is a Russian problem, no ours.
    Russians believe that stupid Americans will fight in Afghanistan forever, protecting Russia from Muslim terrorists. Well, stupid Americans should become smarter.

    Afghanistan was a good place to test new weapons. It’s time to move on.

    Comment by Michael Vilkin — October 8, 2009 @ 3:49 pm

  3. […] Wanted – a Grown-Up in the White House. BO is starting to make Jimmy Carter look like a professional. Whoops, They’re Doing It Again […]

    Pingback by USA Politics - Hamster Wheel - Page 41 - PPRuNe Forums — October 8, 2009 @ 4:15 pm

  4. A quick search of SWP shows no criticism at all of the Afghanistan “Strategery”. Ever. To the extent that there’s criticism of a politician over Afghanistan, it’s directed at Obama, even before the elections last November.

    So, the Shrub Administration can bring things in Afghanistan to the point where Our Side is clearly losing, and SWP breathes not a word of criticism of the Shrub Administration strategery. But even before Obama is even elected, SWP is all over him for his approach to Afghanistan.

    Looks to me like SWP trades in politicized spleen-venting rather than actual strategic analysis.

    Good to know.

    Comment by rkka — October 8, 2009 @ 5:34 pm

  5. The Obuma approach has been “wait, wait, wait, wait, we need to study this thing to death.”

    A general who is in the field is a mission. He comes to Obuma and says – “this is what we need to accomplish the mission we’ve been given.”

    So Obuma goes to Copenhagen – with his wife, and Oprah, and a whole entourage, just like the big Hollywood rappers do. I wonder what kind of “strategy” hints Obuma picked up in Copenhagen?

    And after giving away money left and right, like Alfred E. Newman (what, me worry?) to Wall Street, and for the purpose of clunking some pretty darn good cars, he focuses on – Obumacare, the “you’re going to die” Obumacare plan, courtesy of His Wonderfulness and Lightness, Obuma – mmm, mmm, mmm.

    Afghanistan? What, me worry? Where is the “brilliance” of Obuma? Lots and lots of speechifying.

    But in the end –

    Paralysis by analysis.

    Or rather – paralysis by no analysis.

    He is putting military lives in danger. He needs to take his Portuguese water dog, and get out of the White House.

    Obuma needs to go back to community organizing, and let the grown-ups back in the White House.

    Comment by elmer — October 8, 2009 @ 9:45 pm

  6. “The Obuma approach has been “wait, wait, wait, wait, we need to study this thing to death.”

    As opposed to the previous administration, who d*cked around there for 6 1/2 years and put our war there in the present losing condition…

    And why anyone thinks that another 40,000 US troops, on top of the 17,000 the President sent in the spring, would accomplish anything useful there is beyond me.

    Fundamental decisions do have to be made. Since war is not a senseless act of passion, but is controlled by its political object, the value of this object must determine the sacrifices to be made for it in magnitude and also in duration. Once the expenditure of effort exceeds the value of the political object, the object must be renounced.

    Comment by rkka — October 9, 2009 @ 3:36 am

  7. McChrystal, the general who is on the ground in Afghanistan, is not just anyone.

    He’s the one who has assessed the situation, and made the request to be able to deal effectively with his given mission.

    His request was not made out of “passion,” but out of a necessity to have the resources to complete his mission.

    Obuma apparently does not care to remember Vietnam, where “limited warfare” and Johnson, a Democrat, personally picking targets, did not work, and resulted in massive loss of lives on both sides.

    Obuma apparently is too busy to remember the Weinberger doctrine, a lesson learned from Vietnam – except by leftie Dumbocrats – which eliminated the idea of “half-in, half-out” missions, like Obuma is doing now.

    Maybe Oprah can analyze it all for Obuma, in the comfort of all the Hollywood lefties.

    Comment by elmer — October 9, 2009 @ 8:33 am

  8. rkka:

    You say: “the value of this object must determine the sacrifices to be made for it in magnitude and also in duration. Once the expenditure of effort exceeds the value of the political object, the object must be renounced.”

    Thank you for making my point. If you read the posts, it’s blindingly obvious that my primary criticism is that when deciding on a strategy, Obama clearly failed to determine the sacrifices required to achieve the political object. He did this not once, but twice.

    And that’s true regardless of what Bush did, or how the Trojan War turned out. Both are equally irrelevant now.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — October 9, 2009 @ 2:31 pm

  9. I’ll agree that the past can serve as a useful source of information as to how to proceed.

    I would caution, though, that you can’t just extrapolate from the past to arrive at current policy recommendations.

    Case in point. A good part of the reason why Afghanistan was not as high profile an issue pre-2008 was that things were, objectively, relatively quiescent. The Taliban was somewhat active, but not nearly to the same extent as today. What’s changed? Well, the most important changes have taken place in Pakistan. The dynamics are quite complex, and I don’t understand them fully, but key factors include the Taliban ramping up things in Pakistan; putting pressure on the government; getting the government to enter into “peace” deals. All this strengthened the Taliban. It is also quite possible that Pakistan has deflected them into Afghanistan, for a variety of reasons.

    This means that the strategic and military situation 2009 is quite different than 2002-2006/7. I think that the main criticism that can be leveled against Bush and the Pentagon is that they did not adjust to that situation rapidly enough. You could also argue that they handled Pakistan badly, but I don’t see anyone who could credibly say how to do better in that swamp.

    You can’t separate Afghanistan and Pakistan, and I believe that Obama understands that. That said, how you deal with the situation is devilishly complicated, and I don’t have an easy answer. I can say, however, that “strategy first, means later” is almost guaranteed to give you the wrong answer.

    What the recent past can tell us is that, under the current circumstances, the existing force levels and operational methods are not sufficient to stabilize Afghanistan.

    Absent nukes in Pakistan, I’d probably say that Afghanistan isn’t worth the candle. With nukes in Pakistan, I think a case can be made for waging a battle against Muslim fundamentalists in Afghanistan, not only for the effect on that country, but on Pakistan. But that battle would require far more manpower than Obama has committed, and seems willing to commit.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — October 9, 2009 @ 4:29 pm

  10. I don’t think the Taleban present any significant threat to Pakistan or its nukes. For that they’d actually have to take over the country, and that involves actually conquering territory defended by (relatively) modern armed forces. Besides much of their financing and support has actually come from elements of the Pakistani military and the ISI. So this won’t happen unless Pakistan itself collapses as a state.

    I think the optimal strategy for the US would be to leave Afghanistan, bomb / cripple Iran and expand aggressively into the post-Soviet space, expand ABM and support Islamic militants against Russia.

    Comment by poluchi fashist yadernuyu bombu — October 9, 2009 @ 5:04 pm

  11. Trouble is, there’s no reason to believe that giving McCrystal his 40k will do the trick.

    Opening my well-thumbed copy of FM 3-24 Counterinsurgency, I find that managing the violence of an insurgency takes ~20-25 troops per 1000 ppulation, in order to secure the population. Taking a good guess at Afghanistan’s population at ~28 million, you’re talking ~560k. The US/ISAF will come to around 140k if the good general gets his way, and the ANA adds almost 90k.

    Not gonna cut it.

    Now, the 20-25 troops per 1000 population is backed academically by stuff like RAND’s James Quindlivan’s ““Burden of Victory: The Painful Arithmetic of Stability Operations”. In other work of his, he studied US army occupations and counterinsurgencies, and found that unresisted occupations like those of postwar Germany and Japan can get away with 2-5/1000 population, while more unstable situations required 10-15/1000.

    The insurgency is mainly Pushtun, and there’s about 12 million of them. They’ll take the full 20-25/1000. The rest of the country might be able to get away with 10/1000. So the required total comes to ~370k.

    Still won’t cut it.

    Comment by rkka — October 9, 2009 @ 5:27 pm

  12. rkka–

    Again, you prove my point. You are evaluating strategic alternatives based on a consideration of the force commitment required. I haven’t said I agree with McCrystal. My entire point is that Obama isn’t doing what you are doing. He has once, and probably twice, made decisions about strategic direction while deliberately refusing to consider the cost of the strategy. My criticism was about reasoning and process. You cannot have any confidence in a decision resulting from a completely idiotic process.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — October 9, 2009 @ 6:12 pm

  13. “You cannot have any confidence in a decision resulting from a completely idiotic process.”

    Oh, the last shreds of my confidence in our process for Afghanistan dissolved back in February 2003. Barack had nothin’ to do with it.

    Comment by rkka — October 9, 2009 @ 9:23 pm

  14. But Barack Hussein Obama, mmm, mmm, mmm, has to deal with it now. And he’s not. No matter how bad Bush 43 was in the eyes of all the lefties and commies that adore Barack Hussein Obama, and Oprah, mmm, mmm, mmm, now.

    Comment by elmer — October 9, 2009 @ 9:30 pm

  15. Sure he does. I expect that he’ll deal with it by winding it down.

    Comment by rkka — October 10, 2009 @ 6:18 am

  16. Oh, look! Frank Rich at the NYT makes my point about troop numbers, and points out how McCain advocated the policies that put our effort in Afghanistan to the disasterous position it is in, and all without any word of criticism from SWP.

    And yet, the trashing of Obama over Afghanistan started here even before election day.

    Comment by rkka — October 11, 2009 @ 7:08 am

  17. If you expect citations to Frank Rich to sway me you are delusional.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — October 11, 2009 @ 9:27 am

  18. Well, lets see.

    Frank Rich cites US Army/USMC doctrine, written under the supervision of GEN Petraeus.

    Is SWP swayed by US Army/USMC doctrine, written under the supervision of GEN Petraeus? Apparently not, since it is Frank Rich citing it.

    Frank Rich also quotes Sen. McCain in his efforts do divert resources from Afghanistan at a time when a good outcome was far more likely than it is now.

    Is SWP swayed by these citations of Sen, McCain’s positions at the decisive time for Afghanistan? Apparently not, since it is Frank Rich citing them.

    So, it is delusional to expect SWP to take account of US Army/USMC doctrine, written under the supervision of GEN Petraeus, or to pay attention to the efforts of Sen. McCain to divert resources from our efforts in Afghanistan while that war was far easier to win than it is now.

    Yup, I had it right the first time. SWP prefers politicized spleen-venting to actual analysis.

    Comment by rkka — October 11, 2009 @ 1:46 pm

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