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Embrace the Powell Doctrine

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After returning from his minor flop of a trip to Asia, President Obama has convened yet another strategy meeting on Afghanistan. Of course, part of the politics of this empty trip seems to have been to delay supporting the troops again. Perhaps Rham Emannuel counseled that sending reinforcements now would undermine Democratic nerve on the health care bill. Who knows? One thing we do know is that the Chinese pulling the plug on Obama's nationwide town hall was an embarrassment plain and simple. And what trip would be complete without a bow or two. The bow to the Japanese emperor proves one thing is improving in the Obama Administration. The presidents' bowing is getting much better. He really has the bend down pat. Though in the interest of variety, next time the president might curtsy, just to show he's versed in other ways of showing submission before a king or dictator.

Moving from the vapid Asia trip onto an issue the President should have addressed four months ago, Afghanistan continues to fester. Honest Americans can debate this war in all of its aspects, but the Taliban are still there, Pakistan is still tottering and Bin Laden is still on the lam. From this point of view, the question is not whether, but how many troops should go. Concurrently, the President should seriously enlarge the Army. Obama promised to do so already, but there is scant evidence he is following through on this pledge. More troops are needed in Afghanistan. A larger Army is needed so that troops don't have to spread thin throughout the world and redeployed over and over again in combat theaters. No question these are hard decisions. However, when American troops need reinforcements, the job of the President is to call for those troops, not sightsee on the great Wall of China. The mixed up priorities of this novice executive had better straighten out and fast.

Apart from the blundering manner  in which this decision is being reached, the leaked number seems completely inadequate. Multiple news reports place the number of troops being committed in the 30,000 to 40,000 range. While nobody here is a general, we can draw some basic conclusions. Land wars in Asia are expensive in every way. Going in with few troops or a light footprint is a recipe for losing, as Iraq certainly proved.   Afghanistan  is much larger that Iraq, much more mountainous and has almost no government outside of Kabul. Iraq required 150,000 troops. Afghanistan looks like it needs 250,000 to 300,000 troops, allies included. If Obama looks to go with a lighter surge than requested, say around 40,000, he'll still be about 150,000 short. Our NATO allies perhaps could bump up to 50,000, but to expect more than 20,000 or 30,000 capable Afghani troops seems a stretch, at least for a year or two. Do the math. We're still short 75,000 to 100,000 troops. With highly porous borders with Pakistan and Iran, even 300,000 may be too small a force.

Obviously, we, and even the generals, can only make educated guesses as to the size of the force truly needed. We can however have an approach that seeks total victory. What would comprise total victory? The first criteria would be a stable democratic central government. Next would be secure control of the border and interior of the country. Vanquishing the Taliban and al Qaeda. would be necessary for victory as well. At this stage, all these pose serious challenges, but first secure control of the country must be established before any democratic or governmental progress can occur. While General McCrystal seems to have an idea as to what to do on the ground, the U.S. government needs an overall strategy. As it happens there is one that might give some insight and direction to a policy that seems confused.

Here's one. The strategy is called overwhelming force. Who, you ask, is credited with such an idea? The man would be Obama supporter, Colin Powell. Overwhelming force or the Powell Doctrine at war might be summarized as taking the size of the force you think you need, then double or better triple it. This constitutes overwhelming force. This is our modern version of the Von Clausewitz idea of using more force than your enemy. However, this is not some lab theory. The Powell Doctrine was a large part of the United States winning the first Gulf War. The surge in Iraq was another success in a very similar vein. In this case, that means Obama should commit at least 80,000 to 120,000 troops to overwhelm the enemy. This provides the Karzai regime time and security to plug the holes in the leaky Afghan nation state. Since Colin Powell publicly endorsed Barack Obama during the campaign, he should be happy fill in this rather uncertain, shallow president on the merits of such a strategy.

As said before, this is a President who promised us a larger army. Now that we need it, we've started to hear unnamed officials say the military can't provide more than 30,000 additional troops at this time. This is war. The president should not permit lolly gagging in logistics or anywhere else. This piecemeal approach is what doomed us in Vietnam and almost lost Iraq. We need a heavy footprint or none at all. It does little good to let understrength forces get shot at so we can crow at some news conference we are doing something. Obama needs to embrace the Powell Doctrine of overwhelming force, so we can win this war in the shortest time possible and go home. Overwhelming force is the surest, quickest route to victory, if that is actually our goal.

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About Mr Dock Ellis

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    Let’s clear some things up here with a bit of actual fact.

    Overwhelming force did not win in Iraq and it was not Colin Powell who set the policy that did win. The “surge” did not include overwhelming force, merely a small increase in the number of men deployed.

    What was important was that it was accompanied by a change in strategy which came down to bribing opposition leaders to side with the government instead of against it. That’s what won the war, not more men.

    The idea that 30,000 or 60,000 or 300,000 more men could win the war in Afghanistan is laughable. More manpower will just cause the war to spread to adjoining regions. As in Iraq the sensible solution is to play smart politics and win over or bribe elements of the Taliban and local tribal warlords including those in the opium trade to our side, divide and weaken the enemy, and this can actually be done more easily with fewer troops, not more.

    Dave

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy

    Dave,

    the sensible solution is to play smart politics and win over or bribe elements of the Taliban and local tribal warlords including those in the opium trade to our side, divide and weaken the enemy

    This sounds laughable. These guys are not Iraqis. The Pashtun have been playing this game with all sorts of enemies for centuries and just another dumb foreigner like Obama is not going to teach grandma how to steal sheep without losing his woolen undies. The monster you Americans created – the Taliban – is going to defeat you. Get used to that fact.

    The only thing you can do, if you want to finesse the Taliban, is to steal away adherents from this phony religion. For that, you need Pashtun, Pashtun who know the Pashtun-wali and who can foment feuds within the groups now “loyal” to the Taliban, based on the Pashtun-wali.

    Then you need to get the hell out, and let the elements of feuding kill off the Taliban for you. If anything, you may have to act to try and seal off support for the Taliban from elements in Pakistan, so as not to re-infect the wound.

    Finally, you need an element to provide something that you do not have now; something to make the báni israíl look to something better – money pointing to a better future. That is what they want, more than anything else. That will not come from America. America has only empty pockets and Chinese credit chits.

    And Dock – a thought for you – forget about ever capturing bin-Laden. In one of the very few prophecies revealed in the Torah Code, it states, “cursed is bin-Laden – vengeance is for the messiah.” Obama ain’t the messiah. Some lucky Jew, a descendant of King David himself, is going to do this bastard in. Americans will be deprived of that honor.

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy

    Dave,

    the sensible solution is to play smart politics and win over or bribe elements of the Taliban and local tribal warlords including those in the opium trade to our side, divide and weaken the enemy

    This sounds laughable. These guys are not Iraqis. The Pashtun have been playing this game with all sorts of enemies for centuries and just another dumb foreigner like Obama is not going to teach grandma how to steal sheep without losing his woolen undies. The monster you Americans created – the Taliban – is going to defeat you. Get used to that fact.

    The only thing you can do, if you want to finesse the Taliban, is to steal away adherents from this phony religion. For that, you need Pashtun, Pashtun who know the Pashtun-wali and who can foment feuds within the groups now “loyal” to the Taliban, based on the Pashtun-wali.

    Then you need to get the hell out, and let the elements of feuding kill off the Taliban for you. If anything, you may have to act to try and seal off support for the Taliban from elements in Pakistan, so as not to re-infect the wound.

    Finally, you need an element to provide something that you do not have now; something to make the báni israíl look to something better – money pointing to a better future. That is what they want, more than anything else. That will not come from America. America has only empty pockets and Chinese credit chits.

    And Dock – a thought for you – forget about ever capturing bin-Laden. In one of the very few prophecies revealed in the Torah Code, it states, “cursed is bin-Laden – vengeance is for the messiah.” Obama ain’t the messiah. Some lucky Jew, a descendant of King David himself, is going to do this bastard in. Americans will be deprived of that honor.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Dock –

    Dave is absolutely right. ‘Overwhelming force’ didn’t work in Iran…just as it didn’t work in Vietnam, and just as it didn’t work for the Soviets in Afghanistan.

    Overwhelming force DOES work in a ‘general war’ where massed force meets massed force. But overwhelming force does NOT work when the enemy refuses to meet that overwhelming force head-on…and that is precisely one of the major tenets of Sun Tzu’s Art of War:

    “In war, numbers alone confer no advantage.”

    “It is the rule in war, if ten times the enemy’s strength, surround them; if five times, attack them; if double, engage them; if equal, be able to divide them; if fewer, be able to evade them; if weaker, be able to avoid them.”

    “For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.”

    “Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.”

    “Thus it is that in war the victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory.”

    Dock, placing overwhelming force in Afghanistan is of NO USE when the enemy refuses to meet that overwhelming force…and so the enemy will not attack head-on, but will use oblique tactics to wear away our will and resources – a ‘war of a thousand cuts’, if you will.

    Our military in Afghanistan only enable political opportunities…but if those opportunities are not acted upon, it’s only a matter of time before we bring our troops home in ‘peace with honor’…otherwise known as ‘defeat’.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    To all, in the previous post –

    “Overwhelming force’ didn’t work in Iran” – ‘Iran’ should read ‘Iraq’.

    Sorry –

  • Arch Conservative

    One has to wonder if Obama’s decision to make a decision has anything to dow ith his sinking poll numbers…. well not really as anyone can see that’s clearly the reason why he’s decided to decide.

    It’s not just Afghinistan but also the economy. Obama, despite seeking and getting the job, does not really want to take ownership of any of our most pressing issues. For if he does then he can be legitimately held accountable for them. He’d much rather stay in cruise control campaign mode….giving pretty, pretty, speeches, holding staged pep rallies, having the MSM kiss his ass 24-7, enjoying high poll numbers based on nothing but the fact that he’s not George Bush.

    But it appears that all that is ending and there’s nothing he can do to stop it.We’re fast approaching a year on his watch and from where I sit we’re not even beginning to see the beginning signs of things getting better. Barry’s apparently gotten all the milage he’s going to get out of blaming Bush and the GOP(despite the fact that Congress has been controlled by the Dems for the last three years)

    Now Obama knows that yes….pimping is easy……when compared to being a messiah.

    Who knew that hope and change wouldn’t stand up to the harsh light of day……..MMMMM I did.

    Does Barry regret it all? Did he seriously think all the undeserved, media enduced adulation and adoration would go on forever? Did his faith in Alinsky lead him to believe that he could take this nation to a place it’s never been? Does he still to this day think he can wear the opposition down and get his way in the end?

    Does he even care at this point?

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    As Glenn almost points out in one of his rare moments of lucidity, more boots on the ground in Afghanistan means nothing but more targets and more of an irritant to the local population.

    As for Ruvy’s take on the Pashtun, he’s right that they are the key, but he’s wrong that local tribal warlords aren’t bribable. They were bribable 100 years ago and they are bribable today. Not the Pashtun, but the actual Afghans who are not paranoid and nuts, but nationalistic and opportunistic.

    Dave

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Why, gee, Dave, that was almost a compliment, wasn’t it? Almost! Makes me feel all giddy inside, y’know?

  • Baronius

    I disagree with Dock as well.

    Maybe an increase in troops will have benefits, such as demonstrating America’s commitment to victory. But our strategy has to revolve around helping/training the good guys to kill the bad guys. That’s a special forces job. Occupying and stabilizing a country is a big infantry job, and while it was necessary in Iraq, we shouldn’t try to do it in Afghanistan. Not just because of the size and terrain, but because our tribal allies would turn on us.

  • Deano

    You need to bear in mind what you want to achieve with your Afghan strategy. Noone is expecting, nor do you require, Afghanistan to become a model of efficiency, safety or tolerance….and it is unlikely to happen.

    What you want to achieve strategically is a tolerably stable working state – one with the ability to control its borders, police its countryside and rein in any potential problems such as terrorist training camps or lawless regions prone to irredentism or civil disorder.

    It probably doesn’t “have” to be a politically tolerant, incorruptible, “nice” country…at the end of the day you can probably get by with much less. It would be nice to have a stable, democratic Afghanistan…and I would like to win the lottery and retire next week but neither are likely to happen in the short term.

    So you make do. You tolerate a petty, semi-corrupt government that can barely control its provinces, and make the pay-offs and the deals you need to with the warlords, tribal and faction leaders that do have the real ability to project power into the provinces, the tribes and the clans. In the meantime you fight the insurgents, build roads and power infrastructure that starts to shift some elements of control and power back to the central government, build dependencies and alliances, train and educate police and army and build infrastructure to promote economic growth – because it provides jobs and opportunity and direction and removes a huge potential internal threat by re-directing poor, uneducated young men who would otherwise willingly pick up a gun or plant a roadside bomb if someone paid them to do so.

    In short – you apply COIN. Requiring overwhelming force is not the issue. Having a coherent strategic direction is.

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    has to revolve around helping/training the good guys to kill the bad guys.

    The error here is the naive notion that there are good guys and bad guys in Afghanistan.

    Dave

  • Baronius

    No naivete, Dave. The bad guys are the ones who try to kill us, and the good guys are the ones who try to kill them. You know, people talk about the Afghanistan war as if it were driven by imperialism, but the underlying thinking that went into it was largely isolationist. We were ok with the oppression of women and the destruction of Buddhas as long as the Taliban didn’t cross us, and we’ll be ok with whoever takes control of the country as long as the people who attacked us are dead. I don’t think that’s too idealistic or naive.

  • http://www.thecobraslair.com Cobra

    Piling on Dock some more…

    Of course President Obama was going to give deference on his trip to China. They hold the credit card for any US War operation.

    Dave, excellent points. The US Government was fully prepared to deal with the Taliban under both Clinton and Bush when it came to the trans-Afghan pipeline and Unocal Oil deals. There are different factions of the Taliban, and some have absolutely no connection with Al Qaeda.

    Dock wants to “add” 80,000 to 120,000 non-existant troops into Afghanistan. I say non-existant because we’re stretched too thinly as it is, with some of our existing troops serving up to FIVE tours of duty between Iraq and Afghanistan. Since we’re currently an ALL-VOLUNTEER armed forces, I would presume Dock favors the reinstatement of the DRAFT to compensate for the lack of American troops?

    –Cobra

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Here’s a different take on the Afghan operation and the social cost:
    Get Real on Afghanistan.

  • Matt Winchester

    Glenn- I think you are looking at sun-tzu from only the point of view of the ones fighting AGAINST the United States. The fact of the matter is his writings work both ways, and if you outnumber the enemy ten to one you can surround them. This tactic has historically been used to great effect in guerrilla warfare, the error lies in not massing the force to do so, not in fighting against a smaller force.

    With appropriate troop strength, it would be possible to move into an area, clear and secure it, LEAVE ENOUGH FORCE TO HOLD IT, and to move on to the next one. This is the problem with the type of half-measure warfare that has become so very popular in the western world- we want to wage war in half measures, relying solely upon superior technology and small forces so they will not have to stomach large losses from the comforts of our living room sofas.

    History has shown that the only militarily viable way to defeat a small number of militants on their own land is to move in with the forces necessary to root them out and hold the land securely. But with the lack of stomach and resolve of the vast majority of westerners this will never happen. It seems that we as a people have lost the will to do what it takes to win.

  • Clausewitz

    Using Sun Tzu to talk strategy in Afghanistan doesn’t make sense, because he was writing in an era of roughly symmetrical states. This is why there is relatively little detailed discussion of arms and tactics in Sun Tzu’s work.

    The Powell Doctrine is applicable (in Iraq or Afghanistan) if you are willing to move beyond limited war. Since war is merely politics by other means, one needs to ask what end (Ziele)are we seeking. If that end is elimination of further threats, then you have to clearly define what constitutes victory.

    If victory is setting the conditions within either country that support a stable government with capable security forces, then we should settle in for a generational period. If victory in Afghanistan is required immediately, then only warfare as seen during the Peloponnesian War is viable.

    In other words, every male of military age must be killed. The ancient Greeks were quite correct on this viewpoint. To paraphrase Thucydides, the strong do what they can and the weak endure what they must.

  • mrdockellis

    Clause,
    You’ve rightly nailed the horns of the dilemna, but still something must be done or else we’re just waiting around for the next 9-11. Sadly with nukes in Pakistan, 9-11 could be peanuts compared to what might be next. So the strategy is to take the fight to them, pin them down and try to set up hopefully somewhat legitimate governments. There’s no silver bullet.

    I wish this war against the jihadists was only for a generation, but alas it looks to go on for a lot longer. When you think about it, it has already been going on for more than a thousand years, ever since Mohammed marched back to Mecca at the head of an army and began cutting off the heads of the non-believers. This conflict makes the Hundred Years War look like a quickie.