Afghanistan: Whose War is This Anyway?

By Michael W. Wynne, 21st Secretary of the Air Force

War and politics in Afghanistan: a tough balancing act
credit photo: www.csmonitor.com

11/28/2010 – As our casualties mount and our allies begin to look for the sidelines, we are receiving seriously mixed messages about our so-called war that is “breaking our Army.”  Debate is strangely muted; partisans on both sides seem reticent to enter into debate, as if supporting commanders has become a litmus test for supporting defense.

The Romans understood the difference between management of political objectives by the viceroys and pro-consuls and the role of the legion.  We seem to be sending the legions into operation without providing political end states.  There was a movie for surfing enthusiasts called “Endless Summer.”  Afghanistan seems to be rolling out a movie called “Endless Transition” for the legion to play out.

Afghanistan seems to be rolling out a movie called “Endless Transition” for the legion to play out.

One wonders if the politicians have ceded control authority. Constitutionally, we recognize this as a fallacy, and the president is a constitutional scholar, and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, albeit before Woodward’s book was published.

With all of this, increasingly this is looking more and more like it is the Army’s war. With President Karzai calling for a ‘lightening up’ of our forces and the President of the United States acting in the role of the Commander in Chief setting a time frame for lightening up, we need to ask: ‘Whose war is this anyway?’

We have acceded to the war in Iraq being an Iraqi engagement; and have put into place rules of engagement and a timetable agreed to by both the Americans and the Iraqis. Listen to our Secretary of Defense, as he takes a little license with the State Department prerogatives and publically asks that the Iraqi government request an extension of US presence.

This is a change from my assumption in my previously published article “Iraq 2012.  In that note, I postulated that the US was too arrogant and the Iraqi people too proud to advance toward each other in a continued quest for a sustainable peace. Such agreement would allow for our Air Force to maintain Iraqi air sovereignty while theirs is built to partner and would allow the continued training of the Iraqi Army units. As a side benefit, continued presence would tamp down any aspirations for revolution and insurrection.

In any event, one has not heard the ground commander attempting to dictate a future. Admittedly this might be risky, but having civilian control of the military has been risky for the military since the founding of our nation. But here we need to worry that our end game in Afghanistan may well be perpetual war, or perhaps perpetual policing, not from a mutual understanding with a Sovereign Government in Afghanistan. Not in compliance with the Commander in Chief’s twelve-page single-spaced order illustrated in the book Obama’s War.  Perhaps this has been mislabeled; perhaps this is the Department of Defense’s war, or perhaps this is the Army’s war.

Credit photo: http://armylive.dodlive.mil

Let’s decide whose war this is, and get a plan that is agreed by both of the civilian leadership in the countries of record, the United States and Afghanistan.  Though there is a widespread understanding that America is not a dictatorial occupier, many are stipulating outcomes as if this was in fact the role.

Here we need to worry that our end game in Afghanistan may well be perpetual war, or perhaps perpetual policing, not from a mutual understanding with a Sovereign Government in Afghanistan.  (…)  Let’s decide whose war this is, and get a plan that is agreed by both of the civilian leadership in the countries of record, the United States and Afghanistan.

It is no wonder that NATO and our allies are beginning to sidle to the sidelines and in their own way may be encouraging such an agreement, as they may be hearing more in the press and in books than in staff meetings. Back room maneuvers to set unclear objectives is not a way to manage a termination process.

It has taken forty plus years to gain the trust and support of the American people behind our brave marines, soldiers, sailors, and airmen. I do worry as the Tea Partiers arrive without a defense platform that they might discover another out of control spending issue—Afghanistan/Pakistan—and assess blame to our military, as the politicos run for cover.

We are in real need of an executive written agreement, a precedent to a status of forces agreement on just how this engagement is to be conducted, and the Commanders need to act publicly to fulfill this joint agreement.  We do not need to see a playing out of a script of “Endless Transition” to an as yet unspecified end state.

I do worry as the Tea Partiers arrive without a defense platform that they might discover another out of control spending issue—Afghanistan/Pakistan—and assess blame to our military, as the politicos run for cover. We are in real need of an executive written agreement, a precedent to a status of forces agreement on just how this engagement is to be conducted, and the Commanders need to act publicly to fulfill this joint agreement.

"If everyone is thinking alike, someone isn’t thinking."

—General George Patton Jr.

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