Assuming an Afghan Can Opener


According to General McChrystal’s assessment of the situation in Afghanistan:

ISAF’s center of gravity is the will and ability to provide for the needs of the population ‘by, with, and through’ the Afghan government. A foreign army alone cannot beat an insurgency; the insurgency in Afghanistan requires an Afghan solution. This is their war and, in the end, ISAF’s competency will prove less decisive than GIRoA’s; eventual success requires capable Afghan governance capabilities and security forces.

This seems very correct to me. But the rest of the stuff coming out of McChrystal’s camp doesn’t seem to me to really wrestle with it. As Peter Juul says, the strategy as a whole seems to cope with this problem in a manner reminiscent of the old joke about the economist who says he can solve the problem of how to open a can by assuming a can opener.

It’s become a bit commonplace to say we shouldn’t be thinking about resources until we’ve first thought through strategy. But maybe a better way of looking at it is that we ought to be accepting a limited degree of control over events. I don’t think it would make sense to kill a potentially successful state-building operation in Afghanistan merely for the lack of an extra combat brigade or two. But McChrystal is saying that that’s not actually the situation. It doesn’t make sense to say “if we had a capable and legitimate Afghan government then more troops would make the difference so therefore we should send more troops.” We should send more troops if doing so would make the difference in terms of Afghan government legitimacy. And I don’t see a clear argument saying that it would.