Wednesday, February 11, 2009

# Posted 2:45 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

AFGHANISTAN, RESOURCES VS. STRATEGY: "We should not allow resources to determine strategy." Standing on its own, this statement embodies a classic fallacy of defense planning. Resources are the foundation of any coherent strategy. However, I would like to suggest that Damir and Daniel may want to place slightly greater emphasis on the context of this quotation from Chris Brose's post on Afghanistan. In that context, the statement is quite reasonable.

Chris meant what he said as a comment on a Carnegie Endowment study that apparently takes for granted our inability to invest significant new resources in Afghanistan. This led to Chris' riposte,
We should determine the optimal outcome we are confident we can accomplish, and then pay for it. After all, we still have a GDP of, what, $12 trillion?
In other words, from a global perspective, we clearly have additional resources available to invest in Afghanistan, which the President has consistently described as the war we must win.

I agree with Daniel that "we musn’t fall into the trap of thinking that if, say, $150 billion per year isn’t doing the trick, then surely $300 billion will." I think Chris' post shows that he understands this problem. The first of his five conclusions about Afghanistan includes the observation that
Half of our problems are self-inflicted: muddled command structures, poor coordination, an embassy not fully on a war footing, lack of an integrated civil-military campaign plan, etc.
These are problems directly related to how we expend our resources, not whether we have enough of them. Although President Obama has yet to deliver a major address on Afghanistan that elaborates his understanding of the problem, I think it's fair to say that Gen. Petraeus, as CENTCOM commander, fully understands that more money and more troops won't work without new ideas.

This brings us to the much tougher question of what counts as victory. Damir asks,
What should our strategy be? A massive state-building project in one of the most primitive and underdeveloped parts of the world? To what end? Is developing Afghanistan an end in itself?
As Damir suggests, I will "color him skeptical." There is a consensus that our most fundamental objective in Afghanistan is counter-terrorism. We cannot allow it become a base for further attacks on American soil. So how do we create a sustainable order in Afghanistan resistant to terrorism? In spite of the heated debate about whether democracy is viable in Afghanistan, there seems to be a consensus that Afghanistan will not be immune to terrorist influence unless its government is legitimate. As Chris reports from Germany,
Another question I asked everyone in Munich was, what kind of political order should we seek in Afghanistan? I hear so many tortured efforts, both by the administration and by commentators, to qualify our definition of the Afghan state: legitimate, accountable, non-corrupt, effective, law-abiding, rights-based, etc. -- in short, anything but "democratic."
I think Chris is onto something here. Even those with strong Realist inclinations seems to recognize that we need a government in Afghanistan that has certain core attributes of liberal democracy. To my surprise Fareed Zakaria -- he of impeccable Realist credentials -- suggested in a recent column in the WaPo,
Make the Afghan government credible. The central government is widely
seen as weak, dysfunctional and utterly corrupt...

The most immediate way to enhance the legitimacy of the Afghan
government would be to ensure that presidential and local elections take
place this year.
If that is the way to keep terrorists out of Afghanistan, I think it would be a prudent investment of our resources.
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