I go back to this point in the McChrystal strategy review:
ISAF cannot succeed [my emphasis] without a corresponding cadre of civilian experts to support the change in strategy and capitalize on the expansion and acceleration of counterinsurgency efforts. Effective civilian capabilities and resourcing mechanisms are critical to achieving demonstrable progress. The relative level of civilian resources must be balanced with security forces, lest gains in security outpace civilian capacity for governance and economic improvements. In particular, ensuring alignment of resources for immediate and rapid expansion into newly secured areas will require integrated civil-military planning teams that establish mechanisms for rapid response. In addition, extensive work is required to ensure international and host nation partners are fully integrated.
And then you read about how somehow about 110-ish civilian advisers in late September grew to 575 now, and they’re not out in the places they need to be:
…Henry Crumpton, a former top C.I.A. and State Department official who is an informal adviser to General McChrystal, called those stepped-up efforts inadequate. “Right now, the overwhelming majority of civilians are in Kabul, and the overwhelming majority never leave their compounds,” said Mr. Crumpton, who recently returned from a trip to Afghanistan. “Our entire system of delivering aid is broken, and very little of the aid is getting to the Afghan people.”
And on top of that, John Nagl and Richard Fontaine say you don’t need to worry about Karzai’s stolen election, because Nouri al-Maliki was weak in Iraq before the surge made him eats his spinach; and in any event we should help “the Afghan government work at the local level.” I wonder who they think these local guys are. I spent a couple of days in Paktia Province about this time last year asking some farmers and shopkeepers about their local leaders and I heard that they were part of a chain of corruption that constantly kicks up to the Karzai government. Whether it’s true or not, it was the perception, at least in this one area — turtles all the way down, so to speak.
I gather what Nagl and Fontaine really mean is that we have a greater chance of influencing local leaders to do things the way we want. And that’s an idea with a pedigree from what they call “the analogous case of Iraq,” although they never explain why Iraq is indeed an analogous case. (Viewing Afghanistan through the prism of Iraq strikes me as a ticket to self-delusion.) So: maybe. But the point they need to explain — and don’t — is why what might be called the Locavore Option can salve this problem, identified by McChrystal in section 2-5 of his assessment:
The second threat, of a very different kind, is the crisis of popular confidence that springs from the weakness of GIRoA [Afghan government] institutions, the unpunished abuse of power by corrupt officials and power-brokers, a widespread sense of political disenfranchisement, and a longstanding lack of economic opportunity… These factors generate recruits for the insurgent groups, elevate local conflicts and power-broker disputes to a national level, degrade the people’s security and quality-of-life, and undermine international will.
So why will a focus on local improvements reverse that dynamic? I can see the argument that such improvements could deny the Taliban active or passive support. But that’s not the same thing as reversing the “weakness” of the Afghan government. Our options here are to bolster a government that stole an election, on the dubious presumption that such a government is interested in something beyond its power; or to Americanize the effort. This is not Iraq, which has lots and lots of infrastructure and money, where there are engineering projects to improve and an expectation on the part of the people that, say, they should have electricity all day. This is Afghanistan, a different thorny mess of problems, where we might be able to salve government weakness, but local improvements can’t be disconnected from the problems at the top.
If, when we say out in the hinterlands, “See? Look what we did together. You really ought to support the government,” what’s the response to, “You mean the government that stole the election? And needs massive American support for all this stuff we did? That you, and not they, led?” It sure can’t be, “But we had this theory, and it bore fruit in the analogous case of Iraq…”