George Will’s excellent op-ed piece on Afghanistan may be forcing a debate over the role of counterinsurgency/armed nation-building as a component of American grand strategy.
Yesterday afternoon, the Small Wars Journal, a counterinsurgency blog, posted an email sent to Will by Gen. Charles Krulak, the 31st Commandant of the Marine Corps (.pdf). Krulak wrote that he was “in total agreement” with Will’s views, and wrote that “no desired end-state has ever been clearly articulated and no strategy formulated that would lead us to achieve even an ill defined end state.” Krulak concluded by urging that Will not to “be dismayed by the people who disagree with you. There are many retired and active-duty military who feel you hit the bull’s eye.”
Now LTC Paul Yingling has responded to Krulak, accusing him of advancing “incomprehensible” views and claiming that Krulak’s proposed “light footprint tactic has failed for the last eight years.” To which I would respond: “failed to do what?” Failed to create a functioning modern state in Afghanistan? Well, fair enough. But it’s by no means clear that our foreign policy must be targeted at creating such a state. In fact, if the ends of our foreign policy are to ensure the safety and security of the American people and the defense of the Constitution of the United States, it’s far from clear that we have “failed” in Afghanistan.
There is now a reasonably heated debate raging in the comments section to Yingling’s response, with Col. Gian Gentile and others advancing the argument that Yingling and others are mired in “the tactics, methods, principles, and catechisms of population centric counterinsurgency” while ignoring the much-more-important subject of strategy.
To the extent that Krulak’s email can bring into the debate those retired (or even active-duty) military officers who believe we’ve run off the rails, it may be a very important contribution. At this point, those who support the current approach have felt it right to participate in this debate, adding their voices to those of the civilians who are promoting the strategy. (Occasionally these people claim they are merely promoting the “doctrine,” and that their views do not bear on the debate over strategy. This is not persuasive.)
If Krulak is right in claiming that “there are many retired and active-duty military” who agree with George Will, it would be good to start hearing more from them.