Afghanistan Objectives

There’s a pair of articles about strategic objectives in Afghanistan that I think are worth a gander. In the first the Christian Science Monitor urges Barack Obama to identify his objectives in Afghanistan:

By April, when Mr. Obama goes to a NATO summit, he must form a consensus on Afghanistan’s future to create a US path out of this historic quagmire country.

Before his election, Mr. Obama talked of a need for democracy in a land that had largely been ruled by kings, warlords, and Islamists before the 2001 US-led invasion. But that Bush-era goal of Western-style, peaceful government in a medieval and tribal culture seems far more fragile these days.


The idea of creating democracies in Muslim places as a bulwark against Islamic terrorism may be too costly, Obama seems to be saying. But then what kind of rule should the US help create in Afghanistan or other terrorist-laden places such as Somalia? Will he settle for dictators, like those in most Arab states?

The CSM editorial board also notes the lowering of expectations for Afghanistan accompanied by mixed messages from President Obama’s cabinet.

Fareed Zakaria endorses Robert Gates’s statement of our interests in Afghanistan:

It will help immeasurably if we keep in mind the basic objective of U.S. policy: “Our primary goal is to prevent Afghanistan from being used as a base for terrorists and extremists to
attack the United States and its allies,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates said last week. That is an admirably clear statement.

and urges the Obama Administration at least to be willing to sacrifice the Bush Administration’s goal of a liberal democracy in Afghanistan:

It is not that we don’t have other goals — education, female literacy, centralized control of government services, drug eradication, liberal democracy. But Afghanistan is one of the world’s poorest and most war-torn countries. At best, many of these objectives will be realized partially, over very long periods, and they should not be measured as part of military campaigns or political cycles.

He continues by producing a list of means that appear to me only peripherally related to his presumed objective at least one of which would seem to me to require pursuing liberal democracy as an objective:

Make the Afghan government credible. The central government is widely seen as weak, dysfunctional and utterly corrupt. Unfortunately, many of its most corrupt elements are allies of the West and have thus gained a kind of immunity.

The most immediate way to enhance the legitimacy of the Afghan government would be to ensure that presidential and local elections take place this year without disruption and that viable alternative candidates are free to campaign. But elections are only one form of political legitimacy. There should be a much broader effort to reach out to tribal leaders, hold local councils and build a more diverse base of support. The goal should not be a strong central government — Afghanistan is by nature decentralized — but a legitimate government with credibility and allies throughout the country.

I’d like to see two things from the Obama Administration on Afghanistan. The first is a clear, concise, unambiguous statement of our strategic objectives there. As the theatrical producer David Belasco said “If you can’t put your idea on the back of your business card, you don’t have a clear idea”. And it’s darned difficult to secure objectives you’re unable to identify.

For example, I’d accept Secretary of Defense Gates’s objective above.

The other thing I’d like to see is an explanation of how the tactics effect the strategy. President Obama has repeatedly spoken about increasing the number of U. S. troops in Afghanistan. I’d like to know how an additional 30,000 or 60,000 U. S. soldiers in Afghanistan will achieve our strategic objectives there.

FILED UNDER: Afghanistan War, Democracy, Terrorism, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , ,
Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.


  1. Franklin says:

    I think Dave pretty much nails it here.

  2. steve s says:

    So you guys are deleting comments you don’t like now? What is this, Free Republic?

  3. mannning says:

    Just how many troops per square mile would be needed to achieve Gates’ first objective in Afghanistan?

    Just how many other places in the world are we going to try to deny use of Muslim land to the AQ: all of North Africa and the Middle East? This fails on the number of troops required and the cost, I believe.

    I am afraid that our days of subjugation (liberation?), reconstruction and democratization of backward nations are coming to a whimpering close. We are running out of money. Perhaps a few bucks of aid would be in order, rather than billions for troops and all the rest.

  4. mike says:

    The problem with objectives is that if you set them, then you have to meet them and if you don’t then you look bad. If you have no idea what you are going to do in say post-war (Iraq) prior to and during the invasion, then no one can say you failed in the post-war, oh wait… nevermind. Keep it vague, declare it over and move on.

  5. Dave Schuler says:

    I haven’t deleted any comments from this thread or at any thread here at OTB or on my own blog.

  6. steve s says:

    If that’s your policy, then I believe you. My own memory is probably faulty.

  7. steve s says:

    Just how many troops per square mile would be needed to achieve Gates’ first objective in Afghanistan?

    According to counterinsurgency doctrine, to hold Afghanistan you’d need about 600,000 troops, I believe I read. At an annual cost somewhere around the cost of the Stimulus Package*. ‘Course, you’d only hold them until you left. I just deleted the rest of this post because it’s obvious Afghanistan is pointless. I don’t need to recite why.

    *(someone joked that we could get republicans to pay for some of our roads, schools, hospitals, and bridges, if we could only convince them to invade America.)

  8. steve s says:

    I am afraid that our days of subjugation (liberation?), reconstruction and democratization of backward nations are coming to a whimpering close. We are running out of money. Perhaps a few bucks of aid would be in order, rather than billions for troops and all the rest.
    Posted by mannning | February 2, 2009 | 05:16 pm | Permalink

    I’d heard Afghanistan described as the Graveyard of Empires, and I’m starting to worry we’ll be the third.

  9. mannning says:

    We have lost the original and blunt point: to get OBL. Now that is a clear objective!

    Of course, we cannot go into the area unilaterally, now can we? Or, will our new leader do it anyway? Will he order our forces into Pakistan’s tribal areas in strength to find OBL (I am guessing that we have had Special Forces in some numbers roaming around in there for a long time–without much success regarding OBL, but apparently huge successes in pointing Predators to the right houses for subchieftans.).

    I wonder whether we have done adequate recce into Iran for signs of OBL.