Senior military officials appeared before
Q. Among the flurry of largely negative articles about the way the war is going in
A. We're at one of those moments where it's very hard to tell whether things are going well or badly. Counterinsurgency always has this "darkest before the dawn" quality. When you start with a tough situation, you introduce reinforcements and you begin to contest insurgent control of population areas they now control, violence then rises. Enemy causalities go up, causalities to your own forces rise, casualties to civilians increase, general mayhem rises. If you succeed, you gain political control of these populations and violence eventually comes down. From an early increase in violence, you can't deduce that you're winning or that you're losing because you would see exactly the same thing either way at this point in the war.
Q. I heard a report recently on
A. The political alignment of the population is ultimately what the whole war is about. That's what determines victory or defeat in counterinsurgencies. I'm very skeptical, though, that in threatened parts of the country we can get the alignment first and provide the security second. The idea that the population will demand that we come in and provide security against the Taliban before we actually show up and do it strikes me as problematic. It's tremendously risky for the people to do that. The whole thrust of insurgent strategy in this kind of war is that they try to intimidate civilians through a shadow presence that the government and the Americans can't protect. And they use that intimidation of civilians to get the civilians to reject the government and align with the Taliban. At that point, the Taliban presence can become more and more persistent, permanent, and visible.
In an environment where we're worried about
Q. Why did General McChrystal announce recently that he's going to slow down the planned offensive until at least September?
A. One thing the Kandahari population has visibly expressed concern about is the introduction of Western troops and the violence that's likely to cause. Among a variety of factors that enter into General McChrystal's decision-making, one of them is presumably the expressed ambivalence of the local population in
Q. Is it because the people in
A. There's a lot of corruption in the leadership in
A. The way the decision looks to the average Kandahari presumably is, Option A: No American introduction of combat forces into
The whole point of insurgent strategy is to coerce the civilians into rejecting the government through a threat of violence. Typically, what counterinsurgents do is march in anyway, and they establish positive military control of the situation. This drives out the insurgency and its ability to threaten people progressively over time. It communicates to the civilian population that it's safe to act in accordance with its political preference and this is the government security force. But it's fairly unusual for the government to take a survey and a poll before entering the area with a clearing operation and ask the public: Do you want a clearance operation? And then decline to do it if the public says no.
A. My guess is that like every body else in this situation, he's not sure what the future holds, and he's hedging his bets.
Q. How much of this is due to the
A. An announcement has complex effects, some of which help but many of which hurt. One way in which it hurts is it reduces the credibility of American promises to prevail to stay long enough to beat the enemy. The speech didn't create this problem; it exacerbates it, but the problem is inherent in the situation in the area. Any non-American looking in at this situation from
The "rational observer" would say that "the probability that the Americans will leave looks higher to me now than it did before the West Point speech," but the rock bottom reality is he doesn't know. When you don't know, most people hedge their bets. I think what the date does is it causes them to hedge their bets more aggressively, and to shift their behavior in the direction of whatever looks best should the Americans leave.
Q. Will there be pressure on the president, when he looks up from the oil crisis in the
A. There are a lot of people that want to pin the administration down on this. The hearings in the
Q. Are they going to have that review in December? With the
A. They committed themselves to a December review, and the testimony before the
Q. Petraeus supports the July withdrawal right?
A. He supports the July withdrawal, but of course none of us know exactly what the July withdrawal means, so what he's supporting isn't as clear as it might be.
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