The Best Defense

What was the name of that dry, hilly country between Pakistan and Iran?

By J. Dana Stuster
Best Defense jack of all trades

Analysts of the war in Afghanistan are sharply divided between cautious optimism and growing concern. The two panelists at the March 9 event held by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies on "U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan: The Way Forward" were Bill Roggio of The Long War Journal and Gilles Dorronsoro, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and they both fall into the latter camp. The resumption of the fighting season will determine which of these perspectives is more correct, but until then, here are four broad points where the two sides meet.

Sustainability is the key -- So can the much-touted gains in Helmand and Kandahar be sustained? Dorronsoro doesn't think so. He believes it was a mistake for the surge to emphasize the south while the Taliban's leadership is based elsewhere. "The moment Obama sent 40,000 troops to Kandahar, the surge was a defeat," he said, explaining that the Taliban is gaining in the northeast. He used his own metric of success: "can I take a taxi there?" According to Dorronsoro, that level of security is a long way off still, in both the south and the northeast. Roggio expressed his doubts in more measured terms, explaining, "The Taliban is patient," and despite efforts to cut off their financing, they can afford to wait because "the money always comes back." "And it's all about the money," Dorronsoro added, "The Taliban never have a problem finding men."

Deadlines are dangerous -- The current strategy has the goal of passing security responsibilities to the Afghan security forces in 2014, but stipulates that this will depend on conditions on the ground. Roggio said that the United States should plan on a longer commitment, maybe a decade. He was careful not to speculate on the means, "but we need to tell Afghanistan and Pakistan that we're not leaving," he said.

Negotiations with the Taliban should be on the table -- Though they agreed that we should be talking to the Taliban, Roggio and Dorronsoro expressed doubts that negotiations could yield an agreement that meets the necessary precondition that the Taliban disassociate itself from al Qaeda. For all the talk of the Taliban being ready to disown al Qaeda and accept a political settlement, Roggio says their signals are still mixed. Instead, the Taliban is pandering to its audience -- they may be ready to compromise when they speak to the ISAF or the Afghan government, but when they are talking to al Qaeda and other militant jihadi audiences, the message is reversed. "We need a commitment," Dorronsoro said. He is convinced that "the Taliban will go back to Kabul" and that the only issue is the means. The best-case scenario is a negotiated agreement where the Taliban can enter Afghan politics; the worst-case is more thorough, what Dorronsoro called a "Vietnam style" approach.

We need Pakistan on our side -- Safe havens for al Qaeda and the Taliban in northwest Pakistan remain the largest impediment to securing Afghanistan, but Pakistan has been reticent to act on these enclaves, with Inter-Services Intelligence going so far as to provide support to some of the Pakistani Taliban groups despite being a nominal ally of the United States. Dorronsoro believes that if the Pakistan isn't going to act, the United States should with an expanded drone program, damn the politics, full speed ahead. Lisa Curtis, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation who attended the event, cautioned against recklessness that could alienate Pakistan further, saying, "the situation in Pakistan is dire, probably worse than you're reading in the press." The best argument for Pakistani action, she continued, is what is occurring on their own soil, a sentiment echoed by Momina Bandey Rathore, a representative of the Pakistan Embassy, who said that Pakistanis are "paying the price" in military lives and popular fear. "We have done a bit, and we're ready to do more," she said. According to Roggio, this needs to start with the way Pakistan approaches domestic Pakistani Taliban groups. Pakistan, he explained, can't be selective in which Taliban they target, and must stop giving organizations that only target India and ISAF forces in Afghanistan, but not the Pakistani government, a free pass. It's unclear whether the Pakistani government has the credibility with its own public to do that, but geographically there's not a lot of choice. As Rathore observed, Pakistan "is there for keeps. We cannot go anywhere."

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The Best Defense

The Naval War College Review: Why Tom's harsh assessment is off target

By Cdr. Paul Giarra, USN (Ret.)
Best Defense officer of naval strategy

The short answer as to why you are wrong about the Naval War College Review is that, just as one example, even if the Review did nothing else but publish Jim Holmes's and Toshi Yoshihara's articles, it would be making a contribution of potentially historic consequence for strategists generally.

The longer answer: Listed below are some of the notable repetitive authors who appear in the Naval War College Review. I've selected them because they are friends and colleagues, but also because they illustrate one notable contribution of the NWCR: supporting the intellectual development of a cadre of serial thinkers. They publish elsewhere as well, and have notable careers separate from the Naval War College. Tom Mahnken is a great example of this, but the pattern repeats.

I've also highlighted the best two to four articles and reviews from each issue for the last 8 quarterly issues of the NWCR. This is not a scientific or even organized review, but it is indicative of the general excellence of the NWCR.

You will note that VADM Yoji Koda, Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force published a piece on the Korean Navy (The Emerging Republic of Korea Navy: A Japanese Perspective) in the Spring 2010 issue. In the Spring, 2005 issue, on the 100th anniversary of the end of the Russo-Japanese War, Yoji wrote one of the most impressive historical reviews of statesmanship and military operations I've ever read (The Russo-Japanese War: Primary Causes of Japanese Success). This is another example of what the NWCR does, providing a forum for serious papers by brilliant intellectuals who have gone to sea.

You might also consider that the depth, quality, and intellectual cadre represented in the pages of the NWCR tends to answer the perennial question of whether there is any thinking going on in the Navy. The problem, as I see it, is that sometimes the Fleet (and especially the programmers of people and platforms) are infuriatingly impervious to ideas that suggest that they do something different in what often is a very conservative, and sometimes blindered, professional society.

Lastly, whatever else might be said about the NWCR, it has to be considered in the last several years of rebuilding the Naval War College's reputation and connection to Washington under the leadership of VADM Phil Wisecup (recently promoted and re-assigned).

Holmes, James.

Why Doesn't America Have a Nelson? Does It Need One? Autumn 2005:15-24

"A Striking Thing": Leadership, Strategic Communications, and Roosevelt's Great White Fleet. Winter 2008:51-67

Holmes, James R., and Toshi Yoshihara

Taiwan: Melos or Pylos? Summer 2005:43-61

Japanese Maritime Thought: If Not Mahan, Who? Summer 2006:23-51

China and the United States in the Indian Ocean: An Emerging Strategic Triangle? Summer 2008:41-60

Thinking about the Unthinkable: Tokyo's Nuclear Option. Summer 2009:59-78

Hone, Thomas

The Effectiveness of the "Washington Treaty" Navy. November-December 1979:34-58

Fighting on Our Own Ground: The War of Production, 1920-1942. Spring 1992:93-107

Naval Reconstitution, Surge, and Mobilization: Once and Future. Summer 1994:67-85

Hone, Thomas C., and Mark D. Mandles

Managerial Style in the Interwar Navy: A Reappraisal. September-October 1980:88-101

Interwar Innovation in Three Navies: U.S. Navy, Royal Navy, Imperial Japanese Navy. Spring 1987:63-83

Hone, Thomas C., Norman Friedman, and Mark D. Mandeles

The Development of the Angled-Deck Aircraft Carrier: Innovation and Adaptation. Spring 2011:63-78

Mahnken, Thomas G.

Transforming the U.S. Armed Forces: Rhetoric or Reality? Summer 2001:85-99

Asymmetric Warfare at Sea: The Naval Battles off Guadalcanal, 1942-1943. Winter 2011:95-121

Yoshihara, Toshi

Chinese Missile Strategy and the U.S. Naval Presence in Japan: The Operational View from Beijing. Summer 2010:39-62

Spring 2011

Winter 2011

Autumn 2010

Summer 2010

Spring 2010

Winter 2010

Autumn 2009

Summer 2009

Paul Giarra is president of Global Strategies & Transformation, headquartered in northern Virginia. A defense analyst and strategic planner, he is a graduate of Harvard's last NROTC class, the U.S. Naval War College, and the Japanese National Institute for Defense Studies in Tokyo.

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