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Reader riposte: Win or lose in Afghanistan (2)

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19 June 2012 16:34

Anton Kuruc writes:

Greg Collins calls out Raoul Heinrichs for defeatist binary thinking without giving us an alternate basis to define military success and failure.

Working out who won and who lost a war is relatively easy. The adversary that achieves outcomes that most promote or protect his interests vis a vis his opponents has won the war. If the Taliban are part of a post Karzai Government then it will gain greater legitimacy, credibility and authority than it enjoyed prior to 9/11. Such an outcome is a victory for the Taliban.

The US will suffer a serious strategic defeat if the Taliban destabilises the region or allows rebuilding of terrorist training camps in Afghanistan. Such outcomes will be a significant defeat because they were the key strategic objectives the USA went to war in Afghanistan to avoid.

So what if the population is better educated, nourished, wealthier or healthier? Nation building is not a strategic success if it creates greater danger to regional stability.

Some want to define any outcome as a measure of military success, except for defeating the enemy and forcing our solution on our opponent. Victory doesn't mean the USA has to run an empire or vassal states, nor does it mean outrageous oppression or indiscriminate killing.

Germany and Japan were militarily defeated in World War II and the US forced new political structures on the defeated nations (West Germany, Austria and Japan). These countries are not part of a US empire nor are they vassal states. In both cases the US remained in control for years to enforce its political will AFTER a total military victory over the defeated countries. In Afghanistan the US/NATO is trying to enforce its will on a people that have not been defeated. This is a major reason why the effort will almost certainly fail.

In war there is only winning and losing – the outcome is almost always binary. One side emerges in an enhanced strategic situation. This is why strategic decision-making needs to be made with ruthless clarity and focus. The questions that need to be asked are: what resolution to a dispute is in our interests? And what method has the highest likelihood of achieving the outcome? The answer might or might not be to use the military to defeat the enemy and enforce democracy. But the questions must be asked.

Nation-building seems to be a 20th century American military construct with few historical antecedents prior to World War II. It used to be that the country that lost the war paid for its damages. It seems that the US introduced the peculiar idea of the winner pays war.

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