Petraeus is the New King of CIA

I’m loathe to make predictions about the future, but one that I might stick my neck out for is to suggest that the CIA might change quite significantly with General Petraeus at the helm. Stephen Walt might not think so, but where are we if we can’t disagree once in a while.

My thinking is that, throughout its history, the CIA has ignored significant wrongs in order to advance a specific short term goal. This has led to (sometimes unintended) longer term (negative) consequences.

They have word for it. They call it “blowback”. It nicely euphemizes the situations they create.

For example:

Take the current on-going war in Afghanistan. The country has been in a state of conflict, more or less, since 1979, when the Soviets invaded and proceeded to occupy, and hurriedly install a weak, fragile puppet state that collapsed on their leaving (notice a pattern?).

During that conflict, the CIA (tacitly) condoned the mujahideen‘s growing of opium. This was on the understanding that the Afghans would use the profits from the opium trade to fight the Soviets, stemming the red tide. They subverted a long term goal of limiting and controlling the flow of illicit drugs for a short term goal of defeating Stalin.

Ultimately, the Soviets decided Afghanistan was not really a fun place to hang out. (The locals have never taken kindly to being told what to do. Especially not by Outsiders—to wit: the Anglo-Afghan wars.)

This reliance on opium, developed during the 1980s, has led Afghanistan to become addicted to opium ever since. It’s not as simple as just saying that opium is a high-value crop, or any of that. (There are other, more wholesome, more valuable, and more easily cultivated alternatives.)

Long story short: the CIA is in a small way responsible for the opium situation in Afghanistan at present. (There, of course, many other factors, not least the weather!)

Enter David Petraeus

So what difference will Petraeus make?

I think that he has a more realistic view. In redrafting the American counterinsurgency rule book, he drew heavily on classical ideas that worked. While there is little evidence to demonstrate the success of the Field Manual, especially in Afghanistan*, Petraeus is someone who is not afraid of shaking up ideas.

The Field Manual was a radical departure from previous American thinking on counterinsurgency and counter-revolutionary war (that phrase was quashed by the CIA in the 1970s when they were supporting revolutionaries in South and Central America). It advocates a population-centric approach to matters.

Some have said that this is perhaps too focused on talking to locals. Spencer Ackerman half-joked recently that said that “the man who drinks the most tea with the most villagers will earn the most goodwill.” However, it is right, especially in Afghanistan*, that a more population-centric approach is necessary.

What’s vital about Petraeus is that he appears to be far more focused on the long-term, and the bigger picture.

That can only be a good thing.

Of course, it remains to be seen.

*This is as a result of (among other things) the field manual being too heavily predicated on evidence from Iraq.

No Fly Zones

I’m reasonably ashamed to admit that most Sundays I buy a copy of the Sunday Express (a conservative British newspaper, only slightly less right wing than the Daily Mail). Although I only buy it for the general knowledge crossword (if anyone can suggest a less inflammatory newspaper from which I might procure an hour or so of entertainment on a Sunday morning, I’d be grateful) I had a flick through the paper itself. There was a cartoon that made me chuckle.

It is entitled “No Fly-Zone” and features David Cameron holding a can of “United Nations Approved” fly spray and a fly swat chasing off a disgruntled, winged Gaddaffi. It made me laugh because it so clearly depicted how easy Western powers thought defeating Gaddaffi would be.

I think it’s best summed up, in this instant, by Think Strat’s Facebook status from a few days ago, which reads:

So, our strategy seems to be: 1) Pass a UNSC resolution > 2) ? > 3) Gaddafi gone! A new Libya!

That seems to sum up the thinking. But, the last time that NATO forces tried to win a war by bombing was in the Balkans, and even there success (defined by long-term stability) has been patchy.

Just Once, Let’s Know How We’re Getting Out, Before We Get In.

I was in a seminar a week or so ago, when the idea of a no-fly zone over Libya had just been “put on the table.” One of the main arguments against the NFZ in the seminar was that, it should not be imposed until the rebels come up with a viable alternative. At present, it seems that Think Strat’s assessment (see above) still holds. We know that we the Libyan people don’t want Gaddaffi in power any more, but (to the best of my knowledge, which is limited) we don’t know what they want instead.

I have never advocated it and, in fact, agree wholeheartedly with Patrick Porter’s assessment of 9th, March. Namely, “[a] widely touted no-fly zone over Libya would probably not be a surgical intervention that would trigger the overthrow of Gaddafi, but the first step towards entanglement, further escalation, and deeper conflict.”

So the question remains: Where does this end? And I don’t mean that it a crazy conspiracy theorist kind of sense. Rather, I mean, how do we know when we can stop bombing Benghazi, and lift the no-fly zone?

Answers on a postcard (or, if you’d prefer, in the comments), please.

How Can We Go About Changing the Supra-National World Order?

… Or: NATO Might be Dying, the UN Might be Impotent, But Might There be Another Way?

I was inspired by a quote in this post with the thought that in future, interventions should be unilateral in undertaking, multilateral in mandate.

The quote from Stephen Walt that triggered the thought was this:

If the Afghan war ends in a defeat or even some sort of messy compromise, then more people will ask if the Alliance ought to be in the nation-building business at all.

I’ve been following the “Decline of NATOdebate, off and on, for a while, since researching a paper on the possibility of the EU becoming a military superpower.

It’s been difficult for NATO to maintain a coherent and cohesive message (something that is vital in counterinsurgency) throughout its mission in Afghanistan. The mission is, according to Bob Woodward’s account of the debates within the White House around the situation in Afghanistan, becoming increasingly ‘Americanized’. Were it not for America’s ability to be largely self-reliant in terms of manpower, weapons systems and, crucially, strategic lift, there would be more call for NATO writ large to have a presence in Afghanistan.

As it is, according to NATO/ISAF’s ‘Placemat’ which gives the locations (by province) of ISAF deployments, helpfully very recently published, US troops out-number their British counterparts (who have the second most troops deployed) by almost 10:1, and account for 69% of all international forces in Afghanistan. Certain nations contribute infinitesimal numbers of troops, Austria (3), Iceland (5) and Ireland (7) to list just a few. Their commitment is clearly not present. I’m not suggesting in any way that this is a bad thing, or meaning it as a slight against them as nations. But counterinsurgency requires the full commitment of a large number of troops, operating under on exclusive mandate, and set of instructions.

Cultural Difficulties, Added Complexities

This hasn’t been happening. There are plenty of stories of the differing attitudes of the soldiers of NATO countries, embodied in this Telegraph article:

The Dutch approach to the war in Afghanistan is focused more on winning hearts and minds through development and diplomacy than on killing insurgents linked to the hardline Islamist Taliban regime, which was ousted in 2001.

That can make life a little complicated for the troops, some of whom suggest only half-jokingly that they envy US soldiers who, they believe, have more licence to “kick ass”.

Further to these individual cultural differences, there are also more institutionalized cultural discrepancies between NATO’s member states. They are known, rather charmingly, as “caveats”. They are limitations on the activities in which a given nation’s troops may be put to task. This piece (PDF) puts the problem very well. David Auerswald and Stephen Saideman suggest that “caveats have shifted the burden-sharing debate within NATO from budgets in the 1980s to body bags in the 21st century.” And Arnaud de Borchgrave points out in this article for UPI that the Americans, “British, Canadian and Dutch are the only national contingents under NATO command that are not handcuffed.”

Some of the caveats are inconsequential. Some of them are more serious in terms of the mission in Afghanistan. Perhaps the most pressing is that expressed in the concerns of former Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) General John Craddock, quoted by de Borchgrave as saying, “[s]ome governments say their troops cannot take part in any counter-narcotics operations.” This, of course, hamstrings NATO’s efforts as a whole in dealing with a problem that supplies the Taliban with “about $400 million a year from its opium poppy crop.” While insurgency is, according to Robert Taber at least, only occasionally economically focused, the narcotics trade still constitutes a large part of the problem in Afghanistan. Also, it is one that is specific to that country. Without these cultural differences (indeed, the nuances of individual countries should decide how they are deployed to intervene) contained within one entity, like NATO, a great deal of unity of direction could be achieved.

Imagine if the job of assigning interventions was multilateral, thereby offering a check against imperialism. Imagine if the job of intervention was then strictly unilateral, thereby discarding any issues of ‘caveats’ or ‘cultural differences’, even the language barrier would disappear. (Although the latter problem was delightfully parodied in No Man’s Land.)

With this thought, bringing together many of my other thoughts, the myriad pieces of the puzzle, I might be formulating something of a TPMB Grand Strategy. It is just the germ of an idea at present, and I don’t know that it would work. I would love to have you spread this idea around and pick holes in it, make it stronger and see if it doesn’t gain some traction.


As a brief post-script to this, I didn’t have time to read it before I posted this piece, but I remembered the headline: Sweden Plans to Start Withdrawal of Troops in 2012. When the Obama administration has announced a date of 2011. Is this not a clear case-in-point of the problems that exist in a multilateral occupying force? Surely for the draw-down date to be believable, although it is not really feasible or sensible, there must be agreement on when it will take place?