Monday, July 20, 2009

Can It Be Called Adaptation If It Is Slooooooooow?

The counterinsurgency manual, or the Petraeus playbook as I like to call it, emphasizes (and rightly so) the need to adapt quickly as the enemy is constantly developing new strategies and tactics. So, why, oh why, does it take so frickin' long for the US to do the basic stuff? In today's NY Times, there is an article describing an effort to "overhaul" the prisons in Afghanistan. They have realized that militants are recruiting detainees for the insurgency.

I am shocked! Ok, I am not, as I read about this just a few days ago in The Gamble. As part of Petraeus's new strategies and tactics in Iraq, his people took seriously the problem that detention was undermining the COIN effort, by alienating pretty much everyone on the ground, and included the realization that militants were recruiting detainees. Even if the US military never watched the typical prison movie or paid any attention to the US prison system, the folks in Afghanistan should have had a clue about what was working better in Iraq and stated reforming Bagram and all the rest a couple of years ago.

One of the central themes of Ricks's book is the need for time in COIN but also the reality that the political clock in DC has less time on it. So, wasting a couple of years is incredibly stupid, yet here we go again.

The experts on ISAF complain all the time that coordination is really difficult and not going so well, but how can we expect different countries to coordinate their efforts if the US takes years to learn lessons from one theatre to apply them to another?

Should I be more or less optimistic that the US is reforming its efforts and may become more effective, but only after so much lost time and blood? Since it is a Monday, I vote for less optimistic, as we continue to learn at a slower pace than our adversaries.

On the bright side, at least the US military is finally seeing that our values and our instrumental interests actually coincide, rather than conflict. Also, it shows that elections matter, as this is part of a process initiated by an early Obama executive order "to review policy options for detention, interrogation and rendition." I have harped on how slow Obama has been to reverse the worst Bush policies on justice issues, but here he jumped on the issue and it is starting to bear some fruit.

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