Those Ungovernable Areas

Earlier this year, the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) published a withering critique of the U.S. military’s counterinsurgency efforts in Afghanistan. The report generated much media attention because it was written by no less than the top intelligence officer in Afghanistan, Maj. Gen. Michael Flynn. Among the provocative statements in his assessment:

Eight years into the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. intelligence community is only marginally relevant to the overall strategy. Having focused the overwhelming majority of its collection efforts and analytical brainpower on insurgent groups, the vast intelligence apparatus is unable to answer fundamental questions about the environment in which U.S. and allied forces operate and the people they seek to persuade.

This alone would be obvious cause for concern. But as Michael Klare points out in this piece, counterinsurgency has become the favored strategy in the wider U.S. war against Al-Qaeda and Islamic extremism. And unlike Flynn’s highly publicized critique, the increased military emphasis on counterinsurgency, which has recently been codified in the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review, is happening with “little fanfare,” as Klare writes. He also notes the Obama Administration’s invoking of failed and fragile states, such as Yemen and Somalia, as the rationale for the new military strategy.

Leaving aside the concerns raised by Flynn’s critique (which no doubt has spurred the necessary reforms–one hopes), Klare makes a compelling argument that rests on this assertion:

There is no reason to doubt that Obama and Gates believe they are acting in the nation’s–and the world’s–best interest by advocating a strategy of global counterinsurgency. Such a strategy could conceivably prevent Al Qaeda from gaining a temporary foothold in some “ungovernable area” on the fringe of the Islamic world. But it will not eliminate the conditions that give rise to Islamist extremism, nor will it ensure lasting peace.

Sure would be nice if Klare’s analysis spurred a bloggy cross exchange over at CNAS. Folks, it’s good to get out of those silos now and again.

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