Sunday, September 05, 2010

Lessons from Afghanistan

Robert BlackwillImage via Wikipedia
Robert Blackwill, is a former U.S. Ambassador to India and was a member of the National Security Council during the Bush administration (with responsibility for Iraq). In a recent speech, Blackwill noted the following lessons that future policy makers should learn from America's Afghanistan experience:

  • Keep U.S. policy objectives feasible. No dreams allowed.
  • Take into account that local realities dominate global constructs.
  • Stay out of long ground wars in general, and especially stay out of long ground wars in Asia.
  • Reject the notion that America has the capability to socially engineer far-off societies fundamentally different from our own.
  • Be cautious about making counterinsurgency the U.S. Army's core competence. Interacting with exotic foreign cultures on the ground, not to say dramatically changing them, is not exactly America's comparative advantage.
  • Accept that diplomacy is almost always a better instrument of U.S. national purpose than the use of military force.
  • Remember that often purported worst case consequences of U.S. external behavior don't ever happen, not least because we remain the most powerful and resilient country on earth.

Also from Stephen M Walt, who is the source of the above summary of Robert Blackwill's speech, is a great piece on 10 Reasons Wars Last Too Long. One of the many insightful quotes from the essay is:

Great powers often stay in losing wars not because the stakes in a particular conflict are so large, but because they fear that withdrawal will have profound effects on their reputation and far-reaching repercussions elsewhere. The scholarly literature on this issue suggests that these concerns are usually exaggerated, but that doesn't stop pundits from making this claim and doesn't stop politicians from listening to it.

A further lesson (my own I suppose) is to recognise that the perceived dangers of backing out of an un-winnable war (in terms of loss of national prestige) are far greater than those associated with staying in one.

Source of Blackwill quote is from Stephen M Walt.

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