American strategy in Afghanistan flunks Sun Tzu
American-style counterinsurgency does not work. It has failed in Iraq and it is currently failing in Afghanistan. In war, strategy should look to policy - which gives war its direction - and then apply the tools of war, like military tactics, to achieve policy aims in the most cost effective way in blood and treasure.
Proof of counterinsurgency’s failures is the current state of affairs in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In Iraq, the United States spent 8.8 years nation-building, resulting in 4,773 Americans killed, thousands and thousands more with life-changing wounds, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed, close to a million more Iraqis displaced from their original homes with only a handful being able to return to them. Of course there is the billions and billions of American funds spent as well. And from all of that expenditure what appreciable strategic and policy gains has the US achieved? Not much. The country is still mired in low grade war and one dictator has been replaced with another - the latest one allied closely with America’s strategic enemy in the region Iran.
In Afghanistan, and like Iraq, the US has invested heavily since the beginning in a hefty nation-building endeavor. Yet after 11 years of nation-building, the country is still in tatters (if it ever wasn’t), its nascent political institutions are corrupt, the Taliban enemy is still as strong as ever and, despite rosy proclamations by NATO officials, objective reports show a steadily rising level of overall violence in the country despite increased American troop numbers and a so-called new counterinsurgency strategy.
Chinese war philosopher Sun Tzu wrote thousands of years ago about the relationship between strategy and tactics in war, that “strategy without tactics is the slow road to victory” but “tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” His point was simple and clear: if a state gets its strategy right then the tactics of war will fall into place. But let a state gets its strategy wrong and no amount of tactical excellence can save a war fought under a botched strategy.