- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Glasser: Afghanistan is a very interesting question. Aside from the very early days of pushing the Taliban out, which obviously was a military operation, or the battle of Tora Bora or Shah-i-Kot, since then there have been military operations certainly, but how would we characterize in terms of as a war and then also what do we think of how the U.S. military presence there will be remembered as? Is it going be “we lost this war,” or is it that it was a violent political conflict that lasted for more than a decade and was unresolved?
Ricks: I’d like to start by asking the historian and the Marine.
Crist: I agree with General Dubik. We backed into this. That is the fundamental problem, is the long-term strategy for a host of different reasons. I think we’ll be remembered as in some cases of duplicating a lot of the problems we’ve made in our earlier wars, and then when we were faced with a crisis our natural inclination, particularly in the U.S. military, is to fall back on doctrine. We have a counterinsurgency doctrine — if it worked in Iraq then it’s going to work in Afghanistan. And so you just sort of take that and transplant it as if it’s sort of a manual on how you’re going to do that. And the problem with all these wars is that they are all dependent on the dynamics, and they’re completely different. And so our response is a huge surge. Maybe it was the right or wrong answer. I tend to think that it really ultimately didn’t solve much in Afghanistan, nothing like it did in Iraq, because the conditions were different.
Alford: First off, I think that we can look back in the future and say we succeeded. Not win but. . . . . Because I do believe that we’ve spent enough time there, and the transition we are getting ready to make is viable, I believe, from a partnered operational design to an advisory piece and really get out of the way and let them do it. I believe that their army — in particular their army — will be able to keep it stable enough for this new government to muddle its way through over the next few years. I think this third election — a lot of people say the second election in a new democracy is the most important — it’s the third election here. And if it goes and people look at it as somewhat legitimate, then they have a real chance, because the Taliban are not going to come together as an army and take Kabul.
Chandrasekaran: I think this in my view is going to likely wind up as some form of barely satisfactory arrangement of sort of mildly unsatisfactory stalemate that will not be seen as having been anywhere near worth the cost in dollars, and in lives, and in limbs.
Look, I spent a lot of time in places where we surged troops over the last several years. There is discrete impact. I’ve seen districts where security has improved. It’s incontrovertible. When you send in additional numbers of U.S. troops, good things generally follow — but for a discrete period of time. We didn’t achieve the sort of aggregate impact that we saw in Iraq. And we all know the reasons why. Ultimately, I step back and say it was not a wise expenditure of resources.
Stepping back even further, we fundamentally failed to grasp the politics of that country [Afghanistan]. Our solutions were simply not tailored to the environment. And ultimately I think in many parts of the country — it’s already happening — things will essentially revert back to their natural order. And a natural order that may well in many parts of the country be simply good enough for us. But could we have gotten to that natural order without having spent as many hundreds of billions of dollars and as many years as it has taken us to get there?
Alford: If we had had the courage to make the shift four or five years ago? Absolutely. We took some of the most decentralized people in the entire world and imposed one of the most centralized constitutions on them. It’s ludicrous that President Karzai appoints a district governor and a district police chief. I’m telling you, the people where I come from — Rome, Georgia — would rise up if the president appointed the county commissioner. It’s crazy.
Chandrasekaran: Look, look, people criticize the United States for going around the world and imposing democracy, and I think to myself, well only if we shared with people the sort of democracy that made our country great. The Afghan Constitution on paper centralizes power like no other state — I suppose like North Korea. I mean, it’s crazy.
(More to come-first, about Syria and Libya)