The Forces Shaping Transition in Afghanistan: 2014-2016
September 24, 2014
If there is any lesson I have learned during the time between Vietnam and the present, it is that we perpetually seek simplicity and good news in wars that are extraordinarily complex, and that we spin the facts into some simple justification of what we are already doing -- rather than honestly face the far more challenging mix of problems and risks that actually shape a conflict.
We have been asked to testify today about the third war in my lifetime where we are headed out of a conflict in ways where we deny or understate the risks, spin the facts to justify a rapid departure, and plan to act with no meaningful public debate over the strategic importance of our actions.
Our latest QDR, our strategic guidance, and the President’s recent West Point speech on strategy, virtually ignore the strategic importance of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia. Our Transition “plans” make no meaningful public discussion of the role of Pakistan – which many see as the real strategic center of gravity in the conflict – or of other outside powers.
To the extent we have a public strategy, it is one that involves less than a year in which we provide the minimum level of US advisory effort recommended by key officers like General Mattis, General Allen, and General Dunford. It will throw limited amounts of civil and military aid at Afghanistan without any public plan for shaping the future of Afghan forces and governance, without any indication that Afghanistan can make the reforms necessary for that funding to be effective, and in spite of clears warning from the recent data on the trends in the fighting, governance, and economy that our level of effort will be too limited, too short, and too lacking in structure to be effective.
We are also acting after we have progressively cut the amount of data we make public of the course of the fighting and the state of the Afghan economy, and have spun the data we do provide to support our present political goals. We focus on Afghan forces and the military dimension at the tactical level, and we understate or ignore massive uncertainties as to Afghan political unity and capability to govern. We talk about aid levels that are not based on concrete plans, costs, and any meaningful effectiveness measures.
We are also moving forward at a time when the war lacks lack the support of the American people, and most polls have shown for nearly two years that the war does not have public support from most of our key ISAF allies. (pp. 26-31 of report)