November 03, 2009

Today's... I don't know what this is, frankly

At serious risk of breaking the stones-glass houses rule, I feel compelled to write something here about another Canadian military online essayist.

The fellow behind this post has more relevant experience, with the military, with Afghanistan, and probably with life in general than I do. So please take my criticism of his writing with that in mind. It's his attempt at a big solution piece on What to Do in Afghanistan. The synopsis:

First, get the world to legalize the consumption of heroin. Check.
Second, get Karzai and Abdullah to form a national unity government. Um, check.
Third, get the Karzai-Abdullah government to introduce conscription and mass-enrol Afghans into the army and police. (...)
Fourth, get Pakistan to "reclaim control" of its FATA territories. (!!!)
Fifth, get Afghan and Western forces to "consider the Durand line irrelevant" and chase Taliban onto Pakistani territory whenever required and thus deny them a safe haven. (!!!!!)

If you do all that, on a "tight and non-negotiable timetable" it will not mean victory, but you will have bought Afghans their "last, best chance," after which we can pull out.

I'm sorry, but reading that in this context is not unlike reading "first we need to breed a race of superponies. Then the superponies need to spawn a new breed of flying superponies. The flying superponies will need to be extremely small, so they can power all our electronic devices with their minds." It's nutty.

Now, obviously there's a couple ways to respond to the "five impossibilities before breakfast" piece, above, besides lamenting the state of Canadian military thinking. One is to assume actual thought went into this and conclude, "oh, that's the throwaway COA*," the planner's real preferred COA being, presumably, getting out. Or another way to put it would be, if this is the minimum requirements for success, then you're basically arguing that success is unachievable. Which is the actual effect of the piece, whatever the author's intent here.

Look, I'm in favour of military writers, and I love a good policy or strategy idea as much as the next guy. But I think we all need to ask ourselves before we stick our ideas out in public, "is what I'm advocating possible in the real world that I live in?" Because an impossible idea, and no idea at all, are functionally equivalent in this context.

UPDATE: Just to show that the Canadian military does not have a monopoly on Afghan-related flying pony fantasies, unnamed diplomats say Karzai now needs to jail his brother, his running mate, and the man who controls all the country's millions of Uzbeks. Best part is the quote: "the diplomat, like other officials, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the matter." Either that, or because he knows people would call him a "friggin loon": you pick...

*COA=Course of Action. "Throwaway COA" refers to the military staff practice of always presenting the commander with three options, even if the problem is clearly binary: the staff's preferred option, the one they consider suboptimal, and the throwaway. So given the problem of getting from point A to point B with only one road in between, COAs 1 and 2 might be "take the road," and "ask for helicopters," and the throwaway #3 will be "invent hovertanks", or something similar on the crazy scale.

Posted by BruceR at 08:58 AM