Our guest blogger is Colin Cookman, a Research Assistant for National Security at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
In the latest joint publication of their respective think tanks, Defining Success in Afghanistan, the American Enterprise Institute’s Fred Kagan and the Institute for the Study of War’s Kimberly Kagan (along with coauthors Jeffrey Dressler and Carl Forsberg, whose report on Kandahar last year is recommended reading), have put forth a definition of success in Afghanistan. Here it is:
Success in Afghanistan is the establishment of a political order, security situation, and indigenous security force that is stable, viable, enduring, and able — with greatly reduced international support — to prevent Afghanistan from being a safe haven for international terrorists.
Succinct and comprehensive, certainly hard to object to, the writers deliver on their titular promise right from the start. Unfortunately, the rest of the report has scant to offer in terms of how to achieve that success, or meaningful assessments of its likelihood under the current approach.
This is not for lack of trying. The document details what the authors identify as considerable military successes over the past eighteen months of operations in Afghanistan. Changes in command structure and strategic focus are recounted; attacks on Taliban leadership and foot soldiers in the east and south are cited; the latest incarnation of local militia programs (pdf) comes in for heavy praise; momentum is asserted; the dangers of attempting any other approach are cautioned if not explicated.
Twenty-three pages into this, the authors pause to acknowledge that some readers may find some of this irrelevant to success as defined at the start of their paper. “The real question about the prospects of our success” for these skeptics, they write, would be whether “it is possible to help the Afghans develop any kind of government that will be stable, legitimate, and able to prevent the country from becoming again a sanctuary for terrorists.” Well, yes; none of the measures of progress identified thus far in fact contribute to that goal of a stable, viable, and enduring political order.
For skeptics, the Kagans and their co-authors offer in the remaining few pages of their report a guide through “The Way of the Pashtuns.” Correctly noting that Pashtun tribes have lost considerable cohesion and that tribal identity is not a decisive indicator of political behavior (a point better made in this paper from the Army’s Human Terrain System program), they identify the conflict between traditional systems of consensus decision-making and the heavily centralized executive system under which Afghanistan currently operates as a major de-legitimizing factor confronting the political order we are seeking to establish. This is an argument my colleague Caroline Wadhams and I have made previously in our May 2010 report on Afghan governance and elsewhere, so possibly I’m not the audience they have in mind when they argue that Afghans do, in fact, want to have some input into the decisions of their leadership. This desire for a more inclusive system of government and its existence in the past does not immediately offer a path forward, however, and the authors neglect to outline one. Read more