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Saturday, October 03, 2015


Perhaps the most tragic thing about Afghanistan is that the president picked a useless objective and made the decision to lose it at the greatest possible cost.

But if debacle it becomes, it is necessary to qualify it by noting that the Armed Forces did not lose the fight. The men in uniform thrashed the Taliban every single time they met. It is the men in the suits who appear to have been beaten like a drum. Political leadership, not military prowess, is America’s Achilles’ Heel. Keith Nightingale writing in War on the Rocks tried to examine the question of why America keeps losing at the end of a unbroken string of tactical successes. ”Why is America tactically terrific but strategically slipshod?”

This is a puzzle I have always wondered about since I was a lieutenant on my first Vietnam tour and experienced consistent strategic failures through the several desert wars. How come the finest fighting force on the planet seems to be strategically bereft? In retrospect, we are always tactically overwhelming and strategically underwhelming.

One obvious answer is that strategy is the province of politicians. But there is more than ineptitude behind any answer to Nightingale’s question. It’s a question of incentives. Politicians often decide at some point it is wiser and indeed often “virtuous” to lose. Losing is their ticket to office, their qualification for a Nobel Peace Prize. It is a pathway to media sainthood.

Once they embrace those incentives operations are defunded, the logistics trail is taken apart, a “decent interval” is negotiated and things are allowed to run their course. Defeat follows not as defeat but as the successful outcome of strategy, however perverse that may sound....

The Special Forces might beat back the Taliban in Kunduz. But they’re not getting with the program. ”Amateurs talk about tactics, but professionals study the federal budget.”

Who said the Taliban were stupid?

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