AF-PAK Sitrep: The Good, the Bizarre and the Ugly
It is becoming increasingly clear that the AF-PAK war will end in yet another grand strategic defeat for the United States. To date, President Obama, has been able to distract attention from this issue, but given the stakes in 2012, that dodge is unlikely to last. Get ready for an ugly debate over “who lost the Afghan War.”
To those readers who disagree with my opening line, I urge you to study Anthony Cordersman’s most recent situation report on the AF-PAK War, THE AFGHANISTAN- PAKISTAN WAR AT THE END OF 2011: Strategic Failure? Talk Without Hope? Tactical Success? Spend Not Build (And Then Stop Spending)? It was issued by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington on November 15. Reading the report is heavy slogging but I urge readers to download and examine it — at the very least, take a few minutes to read the executive summary.
Now compare Cordesman’s systematic, detailed, and workmanlike analysis to the bizarre obscurantism peddled one week later, on 22 November, co-authored by Michael O’Hanlon (Brookings Institution) and former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz (American Enterprise Institute) in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, entitled Defining Victory in Afghanistan.
O’Hanlon and Wolfowitz posit the bizarre thesis that the admittedly less than successful outcome against the FARC guerrillas in Columbia is a favorable model for justifying continuing business as usual in Afghanistan. Viewed through the refractions of their Columbian lens, O’Hanlon and Wolfowitz conclude, “Our current exit strategy of reducing American troops to 68,000 by the end of next summer and transferring full security responsibility to Afghan forces by 2014 is working. In a war where the U.S. has demonstrated remarkable strategic patience, we need to stay patient and resolute.”
Are O’Hanlon and Wolfowitz living on the same planet as Cordesman or do they live in some kind of parallel universe?
I submit it is latter. Here’s why -
Einstein showed how reasoning by analogy can be a very creative way of thinking, but it is also very dangerous, because bad analogies, if not rigorously tested against reality, can capture the imagination and cause one to see what one wants to see. This problem has been particularly evident in the case of understanding the highly evolved complex tribal cultures of Afghanistan, as Jonathan Steele shows in his just released book, Ghosts of Afghanistan: The Haunted Battleground (Counterpoint, Berkeley, October 2011). Steele explains how one of the enduring features of America’s 30 year adventure in Afghanistan is a policy-making decision cycle, [ i.e., what military reformers refer to as the collective Observation - Orientation - Decision Action (OODA) Loop], grounded in an outlook [i.e., Orientation] that is shaped by false assumptions and mythical beliefs. The distorted Orientation causes decision makers and policy wonks to filter information in a way that causes them see what they want to see. When this happens, as I explained here, decisions and actions become progressively disconnected from reality and decision-makers become overloaded by confusion and disorder — a process we in the Pentagon used to call incestuous amplification.
The only innoculation against incestuous amplification is to destroy the “model” shaping the orientation with a blunt dose of cold reality, like the Cordesman Report — yet as O’Hanlon and Wolfowitz have so convincingly demonstrated, the minds of some people are beyond saving. A problem, of course, is that more people will read silly fantasies peddled in the Wall Street Journal than heavy tomes produced by serious analysts.
Cordesman’s report is also important for another reason.