If you do not know what “COINdista” means, read Safranski’s post. He sketches a short history of the counterinsurgency movement in words that are clear and understandable to those with no background in security issues. If you are looking for a quick summary of the debates that have consumed the defense community for the past decade, you will find nothing better than his article.
What matters is that in all the recent elections, Democrats have been clobbered by a “Revolt of the Moderates” – socially liberal, fiscally conservative, independent voters who came out in 2008 for Obama and are now shifting radically away from him. For the next year, politicians of both parties will be competing hard for this bloc which means “deficit hawks” will soar higher than defense hawks.America’s nine year drunken sailor spending spree is officially over.Defense experts have long known that the post-9/11, record DoD budget expenditures were not going to be politically sustainable forever and that either a drawdown of combat operations or cancellation of very big, very complicated and supremely expensive weapons platforms or some combination of both would eventually be needed. That eventuality is here and will increase in intensity over the next five years, barring an unexpected economic boom. Spending $60 billion annually on Afghanistan, a nation with a GDP of roughly $ 20 billion, for the next 7 years, is not going to be in the cards. Not at a time of 10 % unemployment, when the Congress will be forced to cut Medicare, education, veteran’s benefits, eliminate COLA’s on Social Security or raise the retirement age and income taxes. Who is going to want to ”own” an ambitious “nation-building” program at election time?
That COIN and the dynamics of democracy were on a crash course has been visible for some time. It was made quite clear to myself last February, when I read Lt. General David Barno‘s then-newly published testimony to the SASC on operations in Afghanistan. Included in Barno’s proposal was a time table for American operations in Afghanistan. It was a time table that extended all the the way until 2025.
While operationally sound, Barno’s proposal (which was developed with the help of COIN whiz David Kilcullen) was a political fantasy. As I stated at the time:
“T. Greer.” The Scholar’s Stage. 4 March 2009.
Between the years 2009 and 2025 the United States will have four Presidential elections and eight different Congresses. Each of the major parties will draft four different party platforms. In the Darwinian jungle of American electioneering, hundreds of pundits and politicians (or would-be politicians) will cycle through thousands of opinions and manifestos, intent on creating grievances that they need to solve.
This environment is not conducive — heck, it is downright toxic — to any prolonged counterinsurgency campaign.
To take a fairly recent example, Sean McFate’s call to purge the Afghanistan National Army is (to this citizen’s untrained eye) operationally sound. Yet however operationally sound it may or may not be, it could happen only in policy fantasy land. The ANA is the result of eight years of sweat and toil; you cannot simply scrap it and start all over as you would flip a switch. Who shall fork money over to ISAF to perform such a restructure? Which country is going to stay in Afghanistan for another eight years while the new ANA is formed, trained, and battle hardened? Most importantly, are the citizens of those states whose soldiers compose the ISAF ready to recommit themselves and their countrymen to a reboot of the entire project?
These questions were left untouched by McFate. Like most folks discussing COIN, small budgets, restless constituents, and domestic politcking belonged to a realm worlds away. This is no longer true. The time soon approaches when all members of the defense community will be forced to deal with Washington’s political realities – COINdistas included.
This new world, I think, will be the true testing ground of population centric counterinsurgency. Mark claims that COIN has proved itself “an excellent operational tool”. I am not so sure. Counterinsurgency is a tool excellent only to those with steady focus and a strong stomach – two traits modern democracies do not possess. Unless COIN practitioners can work around this and learn to wage war within the constraints imposed by mass democracy, COIN will remain inimical to the workings of modern America.