Exit Strategy

Colin Powell’s long-ago coinage of “exit strategy” has turned into a catch-phrase mantra, mindlessly repeated, and becoming a barrier to clear thinking.

What Powell really meant (or should have) was “success strategy.” It’s success in war that should pave the way to exit. Talk of exit makes no sense if divorced from considering the objectives that prompted our involvement in the first place.

In Vietnam, we never achieved a success strategy, but we did eventually stumble into an exit strategy – giving up. That’s always an available exit strategy in any human endeavor.

In President Obama’s December 1 Afghanistan speech, I did not hear much in the way of a success strategy. He seemed to say that we will make great efforts, and that our cause is right and just – and then, in 19 months, successful or not, we’ll stop. That’s the exit strategy.

But Obama’s speech did lay out a very clear success strategy – for our Taliban enemies. They no longer have to actually fight us. Surely now their sensible strategy is instead to bide their time; indeed, to give us a false impression that we’re actually winning, to festoon our exit road with flowers – fake ones of course. Nineteen months is not too long for them to wait.

For us, the President’s approach seems more like an anti-success strategy.

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6 Responses to “Exit Strategy”

  1. Brad Says:

    Several things come to mind about Afghanistan – and Vietnam for that matter.

    The biggest is that history has shown that it’s exceedingly difficult, if not downright impossible , for a conventional armed force to effectively engage an enemy that employs guerilla tactics.

    Further to that, politicians in their infinite wisdom usually insist on having a hand in the rules of engagement which more often than not leaves the conventional force having to fight with one hand tied behind it’s proverbial back.

    Afghanistan will turn out to be a quagmire for the countries who have troops there just as it was for the Russians, the Brits….. and so on.

  2. Lee Says:

    Deciding to exit Afghanistan/Pakistan might be the biggest step toward victory that we can take today.

    In terms of reducing the overall size and strength of the opposition, there is little reason to believe that military efforts in Pakistan will be any more successful than they were in Afghanistan and Iraq. Yes, we will have some success, we will kill many of the current leaders and we will create periods and areas of relative calm, but I fear that these victories will be temporary because enemy soldiers have fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, and friends; I fear that our enemies’ biggest recruiting tool is the death that we are responsible for, much as the deaths of our loved ones in our armed services only reinforce our will to win.

    Nor will much good come from inserting ourselves into internal feuds by selectively supporting those factions that we favor — think how ineffective and counterproductive Osama bin Laden’s support for John Kerry was. I have come to the conclusion that, to achieve lasting peace, we must show our enemies and especially their potential recruits the positive aspects of befriending us. First and foremost this means we need to listen better. What do the Taliban people want? (That old refrain that their ultimate goal is to destroy motherhood and apple pie is getting tired.) Where there is agreement, can we help them to achieve their goals? What can we do to reassure the people that we respect their rights to security and self-determination?

    Each time we send military might to yet another country we reinforce the belief that we are imperialists who can only be stopped militarily, and this too serves as an effective recruiting tool for our enemies. As such, simply deciding not to escalate in Pakistan might be the biggest step toward victory that we can take today.

  3. John Says:

    “The biggest is that history has shown that it’s exceedingly difficult, if not downright impossible , for a conventional armed force to effectively engage an enemy that employs guerilla tactics.”

    Guerillas are difficult to fight, but not impossible. Bear in mind that in two of the most succesful recent insurgencies (Vietnam, USSR / Afghanistan), the insugents were backed by a superpower with unlimited recesources.

    Though violence continues, guerillas have been largely beaten in Chechneya, The Phillipines, Columbia, Peru etc. Unfortunatly, some of the tactics used by the conventional forces were very brutal.

    The Phillipines maybe the best hope where the Islamic guerillas were either bought off, killed off, of given a degree of autonomy.

  4. Allen Barnes Says:

    I must agree Frank, the “exit strategy” makes little sense. Afghanistan has a long tradition of Islamic fundamentalism and probably remain so, no matter what we do. We can’t win this because the Taliban represents the views of most of the Afghan male people. The average Afghan probably has a dim view against their beloved county being occupied by Non-Islamic foreigners. Without the Afghan people behind us, we can’t possibly win the war.

    Sorry, I hate to point things out without a solution, but I really can’t see a solution to this one. Obama’s plan for Afghanistan will fail.

  5. bruce Says:

    Afghanistan is unimportant. Let it be. Russia, China, Iraq, and India can fight over it.

  6. John Says:

    Afghanistan is unimportant. Let it be. Russia, China, Iraq, and India can fight over it.

    Thatis true geographicaly, but not true is the need to avoid another failed state that turns into a “Jihadi state”.

    9-11 was the product of thousands of Jihadis operating freely and openly in Taliban controlled Afghanstan.

    Then factor in that may Muslim nations expelled potential problem people to Afghanistan and something very nasty was going to (and did) germinate.

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