According to the December 28 New York Times, the Pentagon has finally made its moral and intellectual bankruptcy official. With regard to our failed war in Afghanistan, the Times reported that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph F. Dunford Jr., said that the Taliban “are not losing.” The general is correct. The Taliban are not losing because they have won. All that remains is working out the details of their assumption of power and our departure. To his credit, President Trump recognizes that reality.
But merely presiding over our defeat is apparently not enough for General Dunford. In a truly breathtaking admission of strategic incompetence and intellectual bankruptcy, the general went on to say according to the Times,
“If someone has a better idea than we have right now, which is to support the Afghans and put pressure on the terrorist groups in the region, I’m certainly open to dialogue on that,” General Dunford said at a panel sponsored by The Washington Post earlier this month.
Wow. I doubt Moltke Jr. or even Keitel, whom the Fuehrer described as having the mind of a hotel doorman, sank that low. Has General Dunford considered asking the chairwoman who cleans his office? Perhaps he could talk to his milkman or egg lady. Certainly his driver should be consulted; after all he has some idea where he is going, which general Dunford, after sixteen years of war and several thousand American dead, admittedly does not. In the long annals of military incompetence that’s still one for the history books. Clio should award General Dunford the Golden Trash Can, First Class, with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds.
Let us imagine, for a moment, that we are a Prussian officer sent to advise General Dunford on how to turn a lost war around (That’s what happens when you fart at the dinner table on board the Hohenzollern). Taking the General’s statement quoted above as a description of his strategy, we see that “supporting the Afghans” has no meaning because it is a war of Afghans against Afghans. As to “putting pressure on the terrorist groups”, “terrorists” simply means “the other side” and “pressure” means tactical pinpricks with no strategic impact. It is seldom possible to reverse strategic failure at the tactical level, and kleckern, nicht klotzen is a prescription for failure at all levels of war.
So to begin we need to shift our focus to a strategic level. I suspect even General Dunford knows that the Taliban’s strategic center of gravity is its support by Pakistan. Take that away, and the Taliban is walking on air. How might that be done? Recognize that so long as the current Afghan government is aligned with India, Pakistan has no choice but to support the Taliban. Pakistan’s threat is India, and Pakistan needs Afghanistan as an ally to offer it some strategic depth. Above all, it cannot have a hostile Afghanistan putting Pakistan in a two-front situation. So our first step is to give the current Afghan government a (secret, not public) ultimatum: cut all ties to India and become a loyal and subservient ally of Pakistan. If they won’t, our troops and money go home. The money, more than the troops, will concentrate their thinking.
When the Taliban sees this move and realizes the strategic threat it represents, offer them a peace that secures our limited objective while rewarding them. Our objective going into Afghanistan was to deprive Al Qaeda of a base. We have no quarrel with the Taliban per se. So, we offer to recognize a Taliban-led Afghanistan as long as they do not invite back groups that seek to attack the American homeland. Al Qaeda have worn out its welcome in Afghanistan before 9/11 and it now has more useful bases in other countries. Plus, the Taliban is already fighting ISIS within Afghanistan. As part of a peace deal, we could offer to support the Taliban in that fight, not with troops but with the all-important ammunition in 4GW, money.
I doubt General Dunford will be willing to heed Prussian advice. But if he’s asking the whole world for input, he might recall that these services send their best and brightest young officers to serve the members of The Joint Chiefs of Staff. As Chairman, he is well within his rights to say to those young officers, many who will have served in Afghanistan, what he said on the Post’s panel: if you’ve got better ideas than what we are now doing, please share them with me. I suspect he would to get some useful feedback, perhaps along the lines I’ve outlined here.
Or he could just ask the chairwoman. Even she is likely to come up with something better than doing more of what has not worked in sixteen years.
Interested in what Fourth Generation war in America might look like? Read Thomas Hobbes’ new future history, Victoria.