Ride For The Brand

When I first started this blog I used to hammer away on a couple of themes which really bothered me. The first were Provincial Reconstruction Teams which I maintain are, by design, unable to accomplish their assigned mission. The second theme had to do with the reason we remain in Afghanistan. Our current mission is predicated on three goals; to deny al Qaeda safe haven, to reverse the momentum of the Taliban and to prevent the ability of insurgents to overthrow the government. As I have pointed out many times in the past there is no chance al Qaeda can or wants to re-establish themselves on Afghan soil and there is also no chance that anyone of the various insurgent groups who are fighting against the Karzai regime has the ability to win militarily.

These two themes are now hot news after President Karzai announced that it was time for PRT teams to go and the Center on International Cooperation released a report co-authored by Alex Strick van Linschoten and Flex Kuehn on separating the Taliban from al Qeada.  I have commented on Alex Strick van Linschoten before noting that he has a really cool name.  How can you go wrong reading something from a member of the Strick van Linschoten family?  And as a huge bonus Alex knows what he’s talking about being another member of the outside the wire tribe.

the vast majority of Afghans are young, poor, illiterate, and have never experienced a functional social order
the vast majority of Afghans are young, poor, illiterate, and have never experienced a functional social order

Jousha Foust posted on the PRT issue saying unequivocally that Karzai’s is right in his desire to rid himself of PRT’s and have that money flow through the Afghan government.  The problem is that anytime Karzai mentions the need to funnel money through his government a majority of my fellow citizen are convinced the money will just disappear. I’m no fan of the Karzai government but if someone could explain to me the difference between giving a member of the Afghan ruling elite a suitcase full of money to get something done or paying Tom Daschle’s wife a few million bucks to get a favorable ruling from the USG I’d love to hear it. From Hillary Clinton’s cattle futures swindle to our current treasury secretary dictating to the IRS when and how much he would pay in back taxes (until he was appointed to his present post) American politicians are as corrupt as Afghan politicians but more sophisticated.  The only other difference is that America has the largest economy in the world allowing our political class to enrich themselves and their families without killing economic growth.

Afghanistan has no economy so the corruption here kills any chance that outside capital will flow in the form of investments. The only major western company  stupid enough to invest money here is AOL but they are tapped out. And when contemplating corruption here remember the problem was partly created by us when we pushed Karzai to adopt SNTV . It is not going to change. But if we funneled every penny through the Afghan government who would get the blame when construction projects proved to be inferior, when money disappeared or when basic needs are not addressed? Wouldn’t it be to our advantage if every time the local people complained about reconstruction projects we could point to the billions we fed into the Kabul government and say  “go ask them – we gave them billions for this”?  It’s not like anyone has the slightest clue where all the money we have spent to date has gone anyway.  But we can’t change the way our government does business – too many rice bowls and too much money being made by special interests don’t you know.

Lashkar Gah Walmart
Lashkar Gah Walmart

What could and should change is our mission here.  As the Strick van Linschoten piece (PDF available here) convincingly argues the core reason for our continued fighting in Afghanistan is predicated on the stupid idea that if we leave al Qaeda will return.  I’ve been calling bullshit on that idea from the start and it is important for us to acknowledge that this concept is nonsense because it drives the mission statements of the military and other USG agencies who are in the fight.  We shouldn’t  act like we can tailor make solutions in the third world because we remain clueless about ground truth in every country except our own.  We will never have enough situational awareness to institute custom one-off solutions in every country where instability threatens good order and discipline.  This fact should serve as a wake up call to all Americans.

We spend billions and billions of dollars on “top secret America” and get next to nothing in return. Witness the fiasco of our current response in Egypt. The head of our Central Intelligence Agency stated that Mubarak would step down yesterday. He said that because he’s an idiot politician; a CIA Mandarin would never make that claim because he knows the CIA has rarely been right about anything important in its entire history. Don’t take my word for it read Legacy of Ashes and The Human Factor; books written by CIA agents disgusted with the waste, fraud and abuse organic to that dysfunctional agency. How do you explain the head of intelligence for this administration saying something as preposterous as the Muslim Brotherhood are “largely secular”? Our liberal elites and their hand maidens in the press think we’re stupid.

The military can accomplish a lot of things including sending small detachments deep into contested areas to do good deeds while supporting host nation security forces. It cannot change the nature of third world peoples or third world institutions nor should it be asked to
The military can accomplish a lot of things including sending small detachments deep into contested areas to do good deeds while supporting host nation security forces. It cannot change the nature of third world peoples or third world institutions nor should it be asked to

Back to the ISAF mission statement for Afghanistan – here it is:

ISAF, in support of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, conducts operations in Afghanistan to reduce the capability and will of the insurgency, support the growth in capacity and capability of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), and facilitate improvements in governance and socio-economic development, in order to provide a secure environment for sustainable stability that is observable to the population.

How does a military force “facilitate improvements in the governance and socio-economics development” of the second most corrupt country in the world?  How does a western secular military “provide a secure environment for sustainable stability that is observable to the population” in an Islamic Republic?  The ISAF military effort is reducing the capability and will of the insurgents and they are also, believe it or not, growing the capacity and capability of the ANSF. I see signs of that everywhere I go in this country. It is our political leaders who are squandering the opportunities the military has won them and rather then piss and moan about it I’m going to man up and offer a solution our government can use around the world to bring simplicity and clarity to America’s efforts to have everyone just get along.

These ten simple principals, distilled by Jim Owens who heads up the Center for Cowboy Ethics and Leadership, are all one needs to know about running their lives, a company, or the most powerful nation on earth.      Here they are:

1 Live each day with courage

2 Take pride in your work

3 Always finish what you start

4 Do what has to be done

5 Be tough, but fair

6 When you make a promise, keep it

7 Ride for the brand

8 Talk less and say more

9 Remember that some things aren’t for sale

10 Know where to draw the line

Courage, pride, keeping promises, draw the line and ride for the brand. These are principals which have never failed us in the past. Translated to the sophisticated world of geo-politics it means acknowledging we can’t export our ideas about democracy to peoples who have no desire for them. We have to keep our goals simple, clean and consistent. We stand for freedom. We stand behind people who desire freedom and will lend them a hand in every and all circumstances. We should have backed the citizens in Iran when they confronted that hideous regime, the government of Honduras when they tried to enforce their constitution be expelling a tyrant, the citizens of Egypt and Tunisia when they spontaneously rose to rid themselves of dictators. But we didn’t did we? Our political leaders tried to finesse these situations or ignored them or worked against them. Our political class aided and abetted by the Mandarins who populate the senior levels of  USG agencies honestly think they have the knowledge, ability, and situational awareness required to manage every crisis in a unique custom tailored manner.  But they don’t, they are fooling themselves, bankrupting our nation and breaking our military.

It doesn’t have to be that way – we don’t need cleaver solutions dreamed up by legions of credentialed smart fellers.  We need leadership which articulates in unambiguous language what America stands for and who she will back.  If you are with us we’ll back you with our military might (while it lasts) and favorable economic policies.  If you are not with us you’ll not get favorable trade deals in our markets. If you attack us or our allies we will come to your country and kill you. See how simple that is? Apply it to Pakistan right now. They are harboring bin Laden, Mullah Omar and the senior Taliban leadership while actively aiding the insurgents we are fighting and, adding insult to injury, they have one of our citizens who rates diplomatic immunity in jail. What are they getting in return?  Billions of aid dollars which we have to borrow from “our friends”  the Chinese. What should they get?  A blockade of their ports and the grounding of all air transport in their country would be a good start. You know why?  Because some things are not for sale and at some point we have to draw a line.

How would we supply the gigantic logistic effort in Afghanistan if we did that?  I don’t know and I am sure we probably couldn’t. Which means most of the bloated headquarter staffs and base infrastructure would have to go and the combat arms units who remain would have to live like my colleagues and I do on the economy. Right vs wrong; good vs evil – there nothing difficult about figuring these things out when you live each day with courage.

19 Replies to “Ride For The Brand”

  1. Thank you so much Sir! Thanks for your fatigueless work with this blog. Highest appreciated ! Take good care of you …

  2. You couldn’t be more right about the U.S. handling of Egypt – it is a national disgrace. My whole life I have heard about how inept and foolish Republicans were compared with Democrats in foreign policy. I have yet to see factual demonstration of this claim.

    In particular, Obama has misread and misplayed every aspect of the Middle Eastern drama. It is not a coincidence that so many (pro-U.S. or not explicitly anti-U.S.) nations see uprisings in the same six week time period. The protests in Egypt are carefully planned and choreographed. Obama says one thing, his advisors say another (publicly), and Egypt starts to burn. The National Intelligence Director states that the Muslim Brotherhood is a ‘secular’ organization. Perhaps, in the sense that they are not clergy, but they are certainly not secular in the same way as Americorps.

    The incompetence at the top is obvious and people who have waited for a generation or more for their shot at taking power in the Middle East are doing it right now, while the Americans are headed by a buffoon. Call Tunisia a trial balloon, if you will. The protests will not stop until the opposition sees that America will not tolerate any more of it. So far Obama is a willing accomplice and a disgrace to our nation.

  3. 1. Hope you are wrong on the scale of events in Egypt.
    2. Agree on the CIA.
    3. Another expression of the moneyed Eastern establishment.
    4. The same bunch that led our involvement into two world wars and a bunch of lesser enterprises.
    5. Anyway, Langley is another club for those folks.
    6. The contempt they are held in by other intelligence services is legendary.
    7. An amusing aside is the dismay, expressed by the British, at the dislike expressed by the current president.
    8. The British upper class have always despised everything American, but they still expect us to kiss their butts.
    9. One little chicken coming home to roost.
    10. In the meantime, the only intelligence capabilities we have that garner any respect are imagery and signals intercept.
    11. That’s NRO and NSA -not much to do with the CIA.
    12. When Operation Iraqi Freedom commenced, the commanders of the two units moving North had little idea of what they were facing.
    13. Am still waiting for someone to turn up with Bin Laden. Suspect he’ll die of old age -or, maybe, kidney failure.
    14. Hear echoes of General Butler’s perorations in your writing.
    15. The older I get, the more I tend to agree with them.
    V/R JWest

    1. I hope I’m wrong about Egypt too JR and you are correct about the SigInt and imagery. For whatever reason when I think CIA I think human intelligence and they have received billions to improve that capability and have failed to do so. I hear their Mandarins have really nice offices, plush dining rooms and great gyms so I guess not all the money was wasted.

  4. This is the best short essay Ive read on ‘what is our mission in Afghanistan”. Thanks for the read. Thanks also for the link to the Strick van Linschoten piece. I’ll pass along both. Thank you for your work.

    1. I do not think it is possible to go wrong reading a guy with a name like Strick van Linschoten – I’m going to have to look him up the next time I go to Kandahar to see Panjwayi Tim. Thanks for the support.

  5. “American politicians are as corrupt as Afghan politicians but more sophisticated. The only other difference is that America has the largest economy in the world allowing our political class to enrich themselves and their families without killing economic growth.”

    “It doesn’t have to be that way we don’t need cleaver solutions dreamed up by legions of credentialed fart smellers . I mean smart fellers. We need leadership…”

    TimSan.. great to hear a good rant again !! Thanks for the post !

  6. Dealing with Pakistan is really easy: “Hey Pakistan, remember that military spending we were going to give you? Well India has been a WAY better friend of ours so we’re going to give it to them instead. Oh, and some Anti-Ballistic Missile defense stuff too.” I bet Mullah Omar and Co. would suddenly be caught…

  7. Excellent analisys. I only wish I could express it the way you have. My experience over here has shaken my perception on american foreign policy and our proper role in the world. I appreciate your perspective as it is a part of that experience.

  8. I swear to God, Tim. I should just start printing these suckers and dragging them around with me, so I can read small snippets throughout the day.
    Good analysis. I hope your predictions about Egypt turn out to be incorrect. Elation now, could end up being WTF later on.
    As far as PRT –I can only liken them to Revelopment agencies. Only way bigger.

  9. I have done the PSD/convoy bit for a few companies in Iraq and Afghanistan. I have read blogs on both since I started doing that type of deal…I say that to add, this information is highly valuable to me and I have never read a blog with such insight and integrity. I want to thank you for that. I am a few weeks away from being back in Bedrock (I hope) and use this information to help my brain compute the larger picture. Excellent stuff from you and the posters here…….

  10. What do you disagree with about our approach to Egypt? Just curious.

    Also, DNI Clapper has already issued a clarification on his “largely non-secular” statement. He is on a roll — I feel bad for him.

  11. So, if one takes Alex’s proposal to conclusion to recognize the Taliban as a valid political party what next? Lets carry the action further and give Afghanistan a real advantage. How about providing Afghanistan a sea port, yes, redefine boundaries. Get rid of the Durand Line and allow Pashto tribes sovereignty over Pashto regions. Create Pashtunistan within Afghan government and make part of Afghanistan. Pakistan has played the part of spoiler for long enough. Remove the safe haven in Pakistan but support locals for creation of Pashtunistan within Afghanistan. Recall Ahmad Shah’s reign and the Durrani Empire from 1750’s, Afghanistan reached the Arabian sea. Next, make f-ing amends with Iran, these people do not want war and have a right to be pissed that our CIA supported British oil concerns over Iranian sovereignty in the 60’s. Remember the Shah of Iran? Classic “blow-back”. This would solve the supply issue. The region is flooded with energy reserves. Afghanistan and Iran have more in common than any red neck American can fathom. Courage to fight greed (a powerful force). Demand Saudi’s stop exporting terror religion. Once peace comes (within months) you can start a lucrative tourism business running rivers based out of the Taj.

  12. “Once peace comes (within months) you can start a lucrative tourism business running rivers based out of the Taj.”

    Hell yea, that’s what im talkin about !! We have already done one river trip in inflatable rafts, it was fun !! (of course, they need to be made of kevlar or something to avoid the pot shots from the lads in the hills.. )

  13. just posted a link to your post on facebook and will do so elsewhere. An excellent argument. Unfortunately, our establishment has been found to be wearing the Emperor’s new clothes. It is grinding itself into a Byzantine bureaucracy that gets nothing done except to line their own pockets.

    As to the ME, it takes half an hour for them to buy pomegranates, so why are we surprised that they screw up a change of figurehead in Egypt. If Washington hasn’t noticed, the Army is still in charge and are the “people’s friends”. Let’s see what happens when the next food riot occurs.Meet the new boss, same as the old boss, for now.

    In the meantime Hezbollah is now running Lebanon, Turkey is growing more Islamist, and Iraq is still a dysfunctional mess. The natives are restless throughout the region, as the Brits would have said 100 years ago. Nobody really makes anything in the ME, and now there is a rumor Saudi is running out of oil at twice the rate predicted, which may be the best news of all. Resource wealth has been the bane of many developing countries, which in fact is an oxymoron.

    The only developing countries I know of are China, India (slowly), Malaysia, and that’s about it. The rest of the world outside of the “West/Japan/Korea/etc” is pretty much in stasis. The defining feature of a functional economy/society would seem to be working toilets.

    Perhaps one day there will be strong industry and markets, but until they lift themselves out of poverty there will be no jobs nor hope. The hereafter is a powerful beacon under those conditions. China bootstrapped itself through a powerful dictatorship that employed capitalist tools and cheap, hard working labor. The ME would have to change the culture that has existed for at least 2,000 years to change this.It is what it is, so the real issue should be how to manage our relations with that part of the world.

    Good fences make good neighbors. Point our nukes at Pakistan and let them know it and tell them not to bother us. Support the green revolution in Iran quietly. Act as if our Constitution means what it says instead of finding ways around it and stop allowing the multinationals to dictate national policy. What’s good for GM is not necessarily good for the country. Perhaps then they might not have as much to hate. But as long as we export filth and import their drugs, their mullahs are going to have a field day. I propose sending Lady Gaga and Madonna on a goodwill tour of Pakistan as a start of our new national policy.

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