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SDSC Afghanistan Surge 2009 Transcript

SDSC Afghanistan Surge 2009 Transcript

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Published by Natalie Sambhi
ANU's Strategic and Defence Studies Centre hosted a symposium in 2009 on the Afghanistan Surge Strategy. Here is a transcript of the discussion contributed to by a range of high-ranking scholars, military personnel, bureaucrats and observers.
ANU's Strategic and Defence Studies Centre hosted a symposium in 2009 on the Afghanistan Surge Strategy. Here is a transcript of the discussion contributed to by a range of high-ranking scholars, military personnel, bureaucrats and observers.

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Published by: Natalie Sambhi on Mar 09, 2011
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Preparing for the Afghan Surge:Australian Interests and Strategy in Afghanistan
Edited Transcript of a conference by the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, ANU Old Parliament House, 5 March 2009
Morning Session: Coalition Strategic Objectives in Afghanistan
Graeme Dobell: All right well you’re all here to have fun, the man who has actually done all thework is Stephan, who is about to kick it off; Stephan.Stephan Frühling: Members of the diplomatic community, Senator Johnston, ladies and gentlemen,let me welcome you on behalf of the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the ANU to today’sconference on Australian interests and operational strategy in Afghanistan.The war in Afghanistan is now in its eighth year, and coalition combat units are now deployed inAfghanistan as long as US combat troops were deployed in South Vietnam, and yet the war isn’tcoming to an end yet. This is two years longer than the Second World War and soon twice as longas the First World War. For many of these years, Afghanistan was a holding action as the Coalitionconcentrated its efforts on Iraq, although that is now changing. But that doesn’t change the fact thatAfghanistan is a long war by any standards, and certainly by the standards of Western post-cold warsocieties and militaries. No one leaves a long war the way they entered it, be it governments,militaries, or societies at large, and nothing concentrates the mind like the imminent prospect of defeat; which the United States, and Britain, and the rest of the Coalition members faced in Iraq in2006.So if we think back eight years, theories that were fashionable in 2001 such as Rapid DecisiveOperations have long gone out of the window, and the long war is confronting policy makers andcommanders with some basic aspects of the Clausewitzian nature of war. And one of these aspectsis that ‘war is not merely an act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of politicalintercourse carried on with other means’. So policy changes war, but war also changes policy, andrarely does a country enter a long war with the same goals as it ends it in the end. And this is wherethe first half of today’s program is going to pick up. In a moment, Geoffrey Garrett, Klaus-PeterKlaiber, and Andrew Shearer will review and discuss the Coalition strategic objectives from a US,from a NATO, and from an Australian perspective. After morning tea, Frank Lewincamp willintroduce a wider discussion of what exactly Australia should today be seeking in Afghanistan inthe eighth year of the war.But long wars also highlight the importance of strategy as ‘the use of engagements for the object of the war’, because tactical excellence is simply not enough to win a long war, and certainly not a warin which Western force levels are always going to be much below what traditional metrics suggestare necessary. So in the US and British militaries, the experience in Iraq in particular has led inrecent years to a deep and sometimes remarkably self-critical introspection in terms of theiroperational and strategic approach to these kinds of conflicts. The result is the revival of the studyof counterinsurgency as an operational strategy in both countries, which has informed the surge inIraq, and is now informing the revision of Coalition strategy in Afghanistan.This context raises some important questions for Australia, in particular, how the ADF deploymentin Afghanistan, and especially the deployment to Or
n province, fit into this wider developingoperational level strategy. After the lunch break that operational aspect will be the focus of the
2second half of today’s session. Unfortunately there has been a change in the program in that session.The Australian Army has informed us that no serving Army member will be given approval toattend today’s event, because the policy response to a surge in Afghanistan is under considerationby government. Therefore, my colleague Daniel Marston will present on the counterinsurgencystrategy in Afghanistan as it is developing in US and UK thinking, before we move on to a widerround-table discussion introduced by Admiral Chris Barrie.Before we begin with that program though, let me make a few remarks on the somewhatidiosyncratic setup of this room. In order to allow an in-depth debate and to bring out the differentopinions as they exist on these quite important questions, we have invited this inner table of participants. At specific times, our able and very disciplined moderator Graeme Dobell will ask them to give their opinion on some issue or another. For the wider audience there will be theopportunity to participate but no requirement to do so, both during the panel Q & As and the widerround-table discussions. And finally we will produce an edited transcript of today’s discussions andI would like to ask everybody who wants to receive it by email, probably by early next week, todrop their business cards in the box provided at the end of the room. And with that, it’s my pleasureto hand over to Graeme.Graeme Dobell: Alright, if the first three could come and join us please; and I think ProfessorGarrett is going first.Geoffrey Garrett: It’s a real pleasure for me to be here today but I should make an importantobservation at the beginning. Unlike many people in this room I’m not an expert in national securitymatters, especially not in an operational sense. So there are two ways I can try to add some value tothis session – the first is to say some things at essentially the 10,000ft level about the US andAfghanistan; and the second thing is to be as brief as possible to leave more space for the rest of theconversations, so let me see if I can achieve that.Let me start at the very highest level, maybe now its 10,000 meters rather than 10,000ft. I think there are some profound ironies in the election of Barack Obama, but to my mind the biggest ironyconcerns the mismatch between the forces and expectations that got Obama elected and the way heis, and is likely to, govern, Obama rose to prominence as a result of his pristine anti-Iraq credentialsplus the fact that he gave a great speech in 2004 at the democratic national convention. He quicklythen became a global messiah , with the high-point being the quarter of a million Germans whocame to hear him speak in Berlin in July 2008.This is ironic because most of what we know about the Obama presidency now, as opposed to theObama candidacy, is that it is going to be much more domestically oriented than anyone wouldhave expected and the world wanted, and that the division of time and effort between economicsand national security has tilted much more heavily on the economic side than anyone would havethought.So here is a person that the world was looking to for a new kind of global leadership. But my senseabout the kind of leadership that Barack Obama wants to show the world is a leadership that says‘I’m going to lead by example at home, fixing my own house’, rather than being out there on theworld stage building new global coalitions to do new global things. Irrespective of how hard onewants to push that line, it’s just clear that the US’s focus at the moment, and the president’s focus, isobsessively concentrated on domestic economic issues. I was just reading an op-ed in the WallStreet Journal this morning, the headline of which is there is a 20% chance that the US is about toenter a depression, not just a recession. My sense is that will focus many minds.
3So that was my first point. My second point is that if Obama himself is going to be focused moredomestically than we might have expected, he knew he had to put together a very experiencedinternational team. I wouldn’t suggest that Obama in any sense is out-sourcing foreign policy, butcertainly if you look at his team the thing that one immediately notes is that there aren’t manyObama-maniacs in the Obama foreign policy team. In fact, the only one who was with Obama fromthe beginning, who made it to the end, is Susan Rice, Ambassador to the UN.The Obama foreign policy team is an all-star Clinton plus Republican team. What are they going todo? Well, it seems to me that Obama’s Afghanistan policy has more to do with winning an electionthan with what is the right policy in Afghanistan. Last northern summer, Obama was really facing achallenge: ‘I rode to the democratic nomination on the back of my pristine anti-Iraq credentials butnow I’ve got to convince the establishment and swing voters that I’m tough about national security’,So how did he do that? ”Less Iraq more Afghanistan”. It was the perfect political stratagem. It wasthe combination of that move plus McCain’s problems over ‘the fundamentally sound Americaneconomy’ followed by the subsequent Lehmann Brothers collapse that ultimately tipped the balancein Obama’s favour.So less Iraq, more Afghanistan made good political sense. The question is – is it good policy? Itseems to me that the key question that is now being asked more overtly in the US debate than it hasbeen for a while is -- what is the mission in Afghanistan? And the mission as it is being re-defineddoesn’t look like the same mission that the US and the allies had in 2001, which had a sort of visceral personal ‘lets get Osama’ flavour to it, but against a sort of pretty traditional ‘bad behaviourthat isn’t punished is rewarded, therefore we must punish bad behaviour’ backdrop. The badbehaviour was state sponsorship of terrorism in Afghanistan, so the US and the allies had toretaliate against Afghanistan’.The problem with that seven years later is, well, you’ve retaliated, so what are you doing now? Thebest place to look is the words at Robert Gates and Obama because the comprehensive policyreview is apparently ongoing but we don’t know what the result of that will be. So what have Gatesand Obama said?I was struck by Secretary of Defense Gates’ essay in Foreign Affairs January/February 2009. Hereare a couple of quotations from Secretary Gates that I think are interesting and instructive.“The United States’ ability to deal with future threats will depend on its performance in currentconflicts. To be blunt, to fail – or to be seen to fail – in either Iraq or Afghanistan, would be adisastrous blow to US credibility both among friends and our allies and among potential enemies.”That’s the first line in this Gates essay, it’s about credibility, not about winning on the ground, it’sabout how the world will view how we do.Then Gate’s had something to say about Afghanistan, and the first thing he wanted to say was thatin Afghanistan as president Bush announced last September, US troop levels are rising, with thelikelihood of more increases in the years ahead. So Obama Afghanistan policy is an extension of Busy policy and of course that in an important sense is personified by the continuation of Gates inhis role.But then Gates says because of its terrain, poverty, neighbourhood and tragic history, Afghanistanin many ways poses a more difficult challenge than Iraq. Now Obama has handed the Afghanistanbaton to Richard Holbrooke, and what did he say? Holbrooke said this is much harder than Iraq andwe have a big problem which is that we’re not so sure we can rely on the Afghani government, inparticular Karzai to help us through.

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