Monday, February 27, 2012

Andrew Bacevich: Scoring the Global War on Terror

Earlier this week, Andrew Bacevich, a retired army colonel and professor at Boston University, wrote a very good piece for TomDispatch entitled "Scoring the Global War on Terror: from liberation to assassination in three quick rounds."  Here, Bacevich attempts to separate American foreign policy post 9/11--that is the Global War on Terror, and as the author calls it "the war formerly known as the global war on terrorism" or "WFKATGWOT"--into three distinct phases.
      The first phase, which Bacevich calls "Liberation," was dominated by the ideology and presence of Donald Rumsfeld, the Defense Secretary from 2001-2006.  During this phase, "a high tech American version of blitzkrieg" was the modus operandi, with Rumsfeld insisting that "U.S. forces were smarter and more agile than any adversary," and "to employ them in ways which took advantage of those qualities was to guarantee victory."  This view, called "shock and awe" by the media, led President Bush to hope he could "liberate (and of course dominate) the Islamic world through a series of short, quick thrusts."  Rumsfeld's ideology, however, was flawed, and after initial success in both Afghanistan and Iraq, the military found themselves mired in dual occupations and their assorted problems, because in neither case "were they able to finish off their opponent or even, in reality, sort out just who their opponent might be."
        The second phase, which Bacevich calls "Pacification," was dominated by Army General David Patreus and his counter insurgency, or COIN, doctrine.  COIN, "rather than trying to defeat the enemy," sought "the emergence of a viable and stable nation state."  After being applied to Iraq, in Bush's 2006 "surge," the Patreus method was trumpeted far and wide by the media, and inspired an ideology that global counter insurgency, or "GCOIN," should be the basis of U.S. National Security. Now, "rather than  employing "shock and awe" to liberate the Islamic World, U.S. forces would apply counterinsurgency doctrine to pacify it."
         When President Obama came in to office and turned to Afghanistan, the COIN ideology was in full force, and Patreus, now head of CENTCOM, advocated for a full counter-insurgency effort in Southwest Asia.  Despite hesitation on Obama's part, the troop levels in Afghanistan were significantly ramped up in 2009, most significantly at the end of the year, when the White House signed on to his own mini surge of 30,000 troops.  In Bob Woodward's book "Obama's Wars," this decision was portrayed as one made after a period of great frustration with Patreus and ilk from the President, who felt that he was being forced into a nation building mission that he didn't want.  But in the end, Obama signed off on the December 2009 troop increase, treating the Pentagon as just another political constituency that he had to appease.
         Since that time, however, any prospect of a successful "COIN" strategy in Afghanistan has fallen by the way side, victim of corruption in the Afghan power structure, regional turmoil in regards to Pakistan and Iran, and an over reliance on heavy-handed violence by the NATO forces.  
        The failure of the COIN doctrine in Afghanistan gives way to Bacevich's third, and current, phase, "Assassination."  He writes that this phase has been personified by Michael Vickers, the Pentagon's Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence.  Quiet and absent from the media lens, Vickers is a former CIA operative, and with Robert Gates' retirement, the Pentagon's last remaining holdover from the Bush administration.  Bacevich writes:
Even during the Bush era, Vickers never subscribed to expectations that the United States could liberate or pacify the Islamic world.  His preferred approach to the WFKATGWOT has been simplicity itself. “I just want to kill those guys,” he says -- “those guys” referring to members of al-Qaeda. Kill the people who want to kill Americans and don’t stop until they are all dead: this defines the Vickers strategy, which over the course of the Obama presidency has supplanted COIN as the latest variant of U.S. strategy.
At this point, it is worth quoting Bacevich at length on the state of current U.S. policy under Obama:
Round three of the WFKATGWOT is all about bending, breaking, and reinventing rules in ways thought to be advantageous to the United States.  Much as COIN supplanted “shock and awe,” a broad-gauged program of targeted assassination has now displaced COIN as the prevailing expression of the American way of war. 
The United States is finished with the business of sending large land armies to invade and occupy countries on the Eurasian mainland.  Robert Gates, when still Secretary of Defense, made the definitive statement on that subject.  The United States is now in the business of using missile-armed drones and special operations forces to eliminate anyone (not excluding U.S. citizens) the president of the United States decides has become an intolerable annoyance.  Under President Obama, such attacks have proliferated. 
This is America’s new MO.  Paraphrasing a warning issued by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a Washington Post dispatch succinctly summarized what it implied: “The United States reserved the right to attack anyone who it determined posed a direct threat to U.S. national security, anywhere in the world.”  

There are many important strands to draw out of Bacevich's writing.  One is the comparison to John F. Kennedy, who, like Obama, signed off on troop increases for a war he was hesitant about, and who, like Obama, was enamored by Green Beret's and targeted killings.  Another is the total disregard for diplomacy as a solution to geopolitical conflicts under Obama.  When the Secretary of State is boasting of an "attack anybody, anytime" mentality, you know diplomatic tracks are not being heavily pushed.  

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