“How Are We Doing?”

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Air Force photo / Senior Airman Chris Willis

U.S. troops head out to help fix broken water wells in villages near Bagram air base in Afghanistan, Jan. 26.

Christopher Tuck has an article in the latest issue of Parameters, the U.S. Army’s professional journal, entitled Afghanistan: Strategy and War Termination.

A lecturer at the Department of Defence Studies at King’s College in London, he’s currently based at the United Kingdom’s Joint Services Command Staff College.

One of his specialties is what he calls “war termination,” and his piece makes for an interesting read.

But it was his final paragraph that seems – reading it the day after President Obama’s State of the Union address – especially apt:

The primary difficulty in Afghanistan is the problem of answering the question “how are we doing?” The complexity of the policy goals has made it difficult to discern whether the Coalition has been succeeding or not, and which of our ends, ways, and means has been successful. On its own, this problem might have resulted in an early end to the war; or, at least, a reassessment of ends, as well as relooking the ways and means. The answers to the remaining key war termination questions (is there an achievable peace, peace at what cost, and can the war be terminated) have resulted in a strategy of protraction in the hope that something positive will turn up. The value-based aspects of the war in Afghanistan made it difficult to consider any legitimate outcome other than total victory. The political costs of compromise have grown for those who initiated the war in terms of the domestic political credibility of Coalition decision-makers and the international prestige of the states involved. Even when willingness to compromise on specific goals has emerged, the United States government has demonstrated a lack of internal and external autonomy capable of constructing a viable alternative. Beating ourselves anew with the birch branches of Clausewitz will not produce miraculous solutions to these challenges. Indeed, these issues reinforce Colin Gray’s point that “strategic thinking is difficult; indeed, strategy is so difficult to do well that it is remarkable that it is ever practiced successfully.”