Rothstein and John Arquilla
revelation that U.S. officials knew that the war in Afghanistan was going
poorly and manipulated metrics to overstate successes is hardly a bombshell. We
have a history of such shenanigans. During the Vietnam War, President Johnson
and Gen. William Westmoreland inflated statistics, like “body counts,” to gain
support to continue the fighting.
particularly frustrating now, in what has become America’s longest war, is that
after 18 years, 2,400 U.S. military KIA, more than 100,000 Afghan deaths and
more than a trillion dollars spent, the Taliban now controls more territory and
has more political clout than at any time since they were driven from power
late in 2001.
math” is not the gravest issue; Deteriorating civil-military relations is.
breakdown in civil-military relations is revealed in these “Papers” by Douglas
Lute, the Army general who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar during
the Bush and Obama administrations. Mr. Lute states: “We were devoid of a
fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing….
What were we trying to do here?” These statements are mindboggling. Clarity of
purpose is essential for developing a military strategy to win any war.
lofty goal of creating a secure and democratic state proved more difficult than
expected. The greatest challenge for strategists is not designing a campaign to
achieve set goals, but to anticipate what is actually possible based on
inevitable political changes and newfound insights about the logic of the
that civilian leaders distanced themselves from the realities and limitations
of the use of force in this case. Even worse, the generals seem never to have
asked hard questions about how the chosen strategy would achieve their civilian
masters’ policy objectives.
disconnect is both a matter of bureaucratic preference and a by-product of
broader problems in contemporary American civil-military relations. The
increasing divide between the military and American society is most troubling
and may explain why our current wars do not end.
soldiers fought for “the cause and their comrades.” These motivating factors
were powerful. Citizen soldiers came from towns across the country, stayed for
the duration, and returned home soon after. Volunteers or draftees rather than
professional soldiers, they were still effective in defeating our enemies.
today? The American military is now a professional force comprised of all
volunteers. Since 9/11, most of the men and women in this voluntary force have
served repeated tours in combat zones. Most interesting, upon returning home,
these volunteers want to go back and risk life and limb even after it became
clear that the war objective was never properly articulated and support back
home was faltering.
they keep going back? To be sure, many said they would feel guilty if they did
not stay with their units and comrades. Also, they did not want to be part of
“the wreckage of a self-absorbed Facebook culture.” They are bothered by the
fact that few Americans seem willing to fight for their country. Today’s
professional soldiers feel that they no longer belong to the society that they
is also a more insidious motivation that permeates this all-volunteer force —
careerism. New commanders and young troops feel the need to show their seasoned
seniors that they are worthy. They must cut their teeth in combat. Promotions
are put at risk when a soldier hasn’t had a combat tour. Commanders jockey to
get their units into the fight.
that careerism, coupled with the increasing divide between soldiers and the
society they come from, sustain this era’s “forever wars.”
divide may be impossible. Few have seriously entertained reinstituting the
draft, although doing so would go a long way toward reuniting Americans with
return to the citizen-soldier ideal might also make for better policies and
strategies. Senior military leaders should have a role in shaping policy and
strategy. But they must insist on clarity regarding the purpose of a military
operation and object when in their judgment the use of force, the constraints
applied or the resources provided are unlikely to deliver the expressed policy
leaders still have the final word; yet what they say should be greatly shaped
by flinty-eyed military judgment and a public far more invested in the
discourse about issues of war and peace.
quagmire is just a symptom of the unhealthy state of American civil-military
relations. Fix that and forever wars will all end. More likely than not in victory.
Hy Rothstein and John Arquilla are professors
of defense analysis at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School. They co-edited
“Afghan Endgames: Strategy and Policy for America’s Longest War.”
Headline: What the 'Afghanistan Papers' actually reveal about 'forever wars'
Source: The Washington Times