Political Wrangling continues to muddy the waters of military actions. While we have the best trained, best equipped, and most Honorable Military on Earth, rivaled only by our allies, it is increasingly burdened with red tape and political correctness hampering its ability to do what needs to be done.
That confusion breeds misperceptions and calls for all or nothing political slogans. Unfortunately, the input of politicians rarely leads to solutions but most often to knee-jerk reactions made in frustration. The greater the interference by politicians, the more likely that Victory will be thwarted, as demonstrated by History. Hitler, Stalin, and McNamara all demonstrated that politicians make poor Generals, that their "decisions" more often lead to higher friendly body counts.
One obvious example is the debate of "Counter-Terrorism" vs. "Counter-Insurgency." Counter Insurgency is a type of warfare, of which the current American Strategy and Tactics are one type. On the opposite end of the spectrum in the same type of warfare is the Iranian model, as witnessed a little more than a year ago. It is the classic style of putting down an insurrection against tyranny: mass atrocity and brutal installation of fear in the population. It works quicker than does ours, but is certainly against all America stands for.
The glue in that mix is the Honorable conduct of warfare by US Forces. Afghans and Iraqis understand that there will be times that the wrong person is detained, and that when bullets start flying that bystanders will sometimes be hit. The difference is in what lengths a force will go to protect the civilian population (or target it), and what happens after the mistake is realized. US Forces make it right. The enemy having purposely targeted the civilians attempts to terrorize the survivors into submission.
Aggressive pursuit of those terrorists is as key an element of COIN, as is helping locals to succeed economically or educationally. It does absolutely no good to build a school, if the enemy makes it a coffin of kids. It provides a contrast in what the two sides believe, but the parents have still lost their children, far short of the dream of the first doctor in the family.
And a key part of COIN is reassuring potential allies that we'll be in it beside them long enough to get them on their feet to defend themselves. This is the current challenge in Afghanistan. The world has recently learned that the winning candidate that claimed he would make Afghanistan his "highest priority," was telling the military to draw up plans for withdrawal, long before the Politician in Chief was asked to commit the Troops needed to win. The Administration insistence on a July 2011 drawdown date means that commanders across Afghanistan must fight the argument of a retreating "ally," even while Afghans consider who will win in a post-US Afghanistan. All the money in the world can not change death.
For the village leader in Afghanistan, thinking of his 5 year plan of survival, he must weigh the Taliban threats to his kids against the American promise of education of them. If he believes the US is leaving next year, it doesn't matter how many judges, lawyers, and school teachers the US will fund. It only matters that next year the school will be a madrassa, with Taliban overlords and no one to protect the leader from their threats. It only matters that the Taliban will likely chop off his head for talking to the Coalition.
How do we win that battle for an allied village elder? We demonstrate that the enemy cannot hide from us, that he will die in his lair for threatening the elder. We demonstrate that when the enemy strikes, we'll risk our own hides to keep his village safe. We demonstrate that we aren't going anywhere until the threat of our common enemy is eliminated.
Killing the enemy is not the problem. Not proving that we can keep civilians safe is a problem. Proving that we can't promise to be beside them in a fight in 2012 is a problem. So long as the leaders are unsure who will win this war, who will be ready to protect them from attacks next week or next year, means those leaders will play both sides to keep their village safe. It takes a commitment.
But neither is the "kill 'em all" mentality of some frustrated with reports of excessive rules of engagement. Our Troops are quite adept at distinguishing threat/non-threat situations. The on-the-ground commander needs the latitude to run his battle, without permission of higher, but also without the urging of citizens to commit atrocity. MOST individuals in any Nation are simply trying to survive. Most just want the war over. Most just want the opportunity to feed their families, without Taliban atrocity.
Politicians have muddied the DoD budget to the point that it is difficult to discern what is allocated for buying ammunition in Afghanistan and what is allocated to purchase "green technology" to be installed at Camp Pendleton. That needs to get cleared up, but questions such as that asked by the Congressman from Arizona's 8th District only illuminates how out of touch politicians can be about warfare. ("General Petraeus, what are you doing to decrease the carbon footprint of warfare? ... Ever considered stabbing the enemy instead of shooting them?")