Afghan Hounds

Stay!

Go!

They are both bad options.  So are the other alternatives.  And yet when it comes to Afghanistan, the American president is hounded by all sides.  Stop Dithering!  Get us out of there!  How dare you second guess a General!  Surge!

It’s like learning to drive with your mother.  Stop!  Slow!  Faster! Aaahhh!  Noooo!  Concentrate!  Relax!

Sometimes it’s okay to just watch things unfold for a while.  Remember: troops are on the ground under the still-new leadership of Stanley McChrystal.  US forces have expanded significantly since Obama took office.  McChrystal is executing a new counterinsurgency (“COIN”) strategy.  So why does it feel like we are a Napoleonic Imperial army poised on a battlefield, waiting for the decision to charge or retreat?

The reality is that the situation in Afghanistan is progressing day by day, with or without a “decision” by Obama.  This is not to say that the deliberations in the White House are unimportant, but rather that they need to be seen in context.  “Wait and see” is a perfectly valid short-term strategy for any leader; sometimes a situation develops in your favor once things are in play.  And they are very much in play in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

So what can interested citizens of the world do?  Read widely, listen to others and think deeply about one of the great strategic problems of modern geopolitical history.

The Cowboy has been trying to follow this advice, and he has come around to supporting the McChrystal troop request.  After attending a National Security Conference on the situation last week and speaking with thinkers far more thoughtful than the Cowboy, it seems that this is the least bad option with the best odds of a least bad outcome.

Who has influenced the Cowboy’s thinking?  Who does the Cowboy like other than his trusty steed, who can be relied upon for many things, but on whose geopolitical insights the Cowboy has belatedly learned to place less stock?

Zbigniew Brzezinsky is one of the great minds in political science, with the academic grounding, the intellectual chops, and the real world diplomatic experience to be able to analyze and synthesize a large amount of information and develop a thesis without trite hyperbole.  While the Cowboy’s horse may be better at wrangling a literal mustang, Brzezinsky would be the clear choice when wrangling a metaphorical one, like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for example.  Brzezinsky’s talk at a recent dinner was like the performance of a concert pianist (inside joke here).  The Cowboy shook his hand and greeted him like a 1960s teenage groupie backstage at a Beatles concert.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The Cowboy also enjoyed speaking recently with John Nagl, who wrote the US Army Counterinsurgency Field Manual together with David Petraeus.  Nagl is funny and approachable – always refreshing traits for a weary and humble Cowboy just off the trail.  Nagl’s story about appearing on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart in full uniform is amusing.  Nagl also shares the Cowboy’s conviction that a woman’s mother is a good leading indicator of future compatibility; lovely, smart and charming women tend to have lovely, smart and charming daughters – a hypothesis that has been tested at least once by the Cowboy (with positive results).  McChrystal is following the COIN Field Manual in Afghanistan with applicable variations from Iraq.  Remember that Iraq is a highly literate and urban population.  Afghanistan is the opposite.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

And finally, the Cowboy likes Stephen Biddle at the Council on Foreign Relations.  Stephen is very sharp, thoughtful and open.  The Cowboy has had a few conversations with him over the past year, and he is a very pleasant person with whom to discuss the waning of American hegemony or any other topic in international relations that might interest you.  If you happen to see him across the room at a cocktail party, I would encourage you to pass the voluptuous blonde and head right for this soft-spoken Harvard man in a tweed jacket.  (Although the Cowboy would look the blonde in her eyes, tip his hat and smile as he passed.)  As the Cowboy told Stephen last week, the world needs more thoughtful communicators like him in the public space, and he definitely needs to get out more.

(You can skip the intros and pick up Biddle at 3:10.)

Here are a few more links to get you up to speed:

Biddle in the New Republic

All about McChrystal

The Counterinsurgency Field Manual (Amazon, PDF – 13.8 MB)

The McChrystal request

The Cowboy’s past thoughts

A decision about the troop request will be announced by Obama next Tuesday night.  All of those Afghan hounds will undoubtedly persist until, and even after the announcement.  As for the Cowboy, he has made his call.

Woof!

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Published in: on November 24, 2009 at 18:06  Leave a Comment  
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