Vega argues, and makes a disturbingly good case, that the counterinsurgency model embraced by General McChrystal is far more ambitious than it sounds. It commits us to providing such a high level of so many public services for so long that we’d essentially have to rule the country as an imperial power—sending hundreds of thousands of troops to stay in Afghanistan, and more or less to run the place, for decades. He shows how some neoconservatives think this is just fine: they openly endorse the British imperial model. He judges, wryly, that few Americans will find this thrilling.
The memo is particularly good on how the counterinsurgency model locks us in to an objective of total victory. It defines all insurgents essentially as terrorists, leaves no room for the category “civil war,” can imagine no U.S. role in negotiating settlements short of annihilating all bad guys, and rules out crucial distinctions between the people we really do have an interest in fighting fiercely (Al Qaeda) and those we can perfectly well cut deals with (“the Taliban,” broadly understood). Wesley Clark’s peacekeeping model, on the other hand, would let us set big but limited goals and stop fighting when we reach them. Vega points out that the deals that General Petraeus cut with the Sunni Awakening in Iraq were, though we deny it linguistically, inconsistent with counterinsurgency doctrine, and much closer to peacekeeping.
Vega closes by pleading that we not let neoconservative appeals to manliness or courage lure us into this victory-or-death way of defining our objectives.
The truth is that there is nothing weak or inferior about the role our soldiers are playing in Afghanistan today. Throughout military history – from the borders of the Roman Empire to the walls of Constantinople, at the gates of Vienna and on the Hungarian plains, soldiers have stood on ramparts and watchtowers to guard their homes and countries against attack by foreign invaders – Goths, Huns, Mongols and Ottoman Turks. Standing guard to defend one’s home and country against attack is as heroic and honorable a task as any in military life.
The covert imperial ambitions of the Neoconservatives — ambitions that lead them to disparage anything except the total domination of another country and complete “victory” over any indigenous groups who refuse to submit to U.S. rule — do a profound disservice to America.
Let us say it clearly. A sensible and limited military mission is not the same as a surrender and a second attempt to expend American lives and resources in an arrogant attempt to transform a complex Muslim country into a pro-American utopia is not heroic, manly, brave or strategically wise.
I hope the President is listening.