Uber-hawk John Bolton takes to the pages of the LA Times today to trash the Obama/Petraeus strategy in Afghanistan. Neither counterterrorism nor counterinsurgency will work, he says, to meet the twin goals of crushing the Taliban and keeping Pakistani nuclear weapons safe:
Instead, we require a sustained military presence in Afghanistan devoted to the grim, relentless crushing of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, coupled with substantially enhanced Pakistani military pressure there. This means protracted military action, not social services, which Team Obama is thoroughly unwilling to endorse. It turns out, entirely predictably, that Afghanistan was not “the good war” after all.
This is no surprise coming from Bolton, but still: don’t even his neocon buddies ever get embarrassed by him? Maybe he should ask the Soviets how their “grim, relentless” campaign in Afghanistan did in the 80s? That is, if he can find any Soviets to ask. The Soviet Union outlasted the failure of their all-out war in Afghanistan by only a few years.
Bolton is probably right to think that both counterterrorism and counterinsurgency are unlikely to work. But we aren’t pursuing them because Obama is too much of a pussy to wage a real man’s war. We’re pursuing them because just about everyone in the U.S. military understands what Bolton doesn’t: all-out conventional war against insurgent foes like the Taliban and al-Qaeda is even more unlikely to work. What’s more, the theory of counterinsurgency isn’t based on the idea that economic progress will defang the insurgents themselves (Bolton: “Religious fanatics, and their grievances, do not arise from poverty or deprivation. Accordingly, their fanaticism is not susceptible to remedies based on economic determinism, whether of the crude Marxist variety or its community-organizer cousin. Their motives and hatreds will not disappear with prosperity or free elections.”). It’s based on the idea that it will reduce their support among the indigenous population, support that any insurgency needs to operate effectively. This is counterinsurgency 101, something that the military community hashed out years ago, but Bolton still doesn’t seem to get it. For him, it’s always the killing fields or nothing.