Click here to watch and listen to the entire panel’s discussion.
Yesterday, the American Security Project hosted a discussion on the legacies of U.S. policy in Afghanistan and Iraq. The discussion included a variety of experts, and was moderated by Seyom Brown and Robert H. Scales, co-editors of the book: U.S. Policy in Iraq and Afghanistan: Lessons and Legacies. The discussion resulted in a productive dialogue on U.S. strategy, and how to shape foreign policy and national security in the future.
The panel began the discussion with the goal of developing a more firm grasp of the implications of both wars on U.S. capabilities in military intervention. Seyom Brown defined the importance of state building in counter-insurgency operations. State building, argued Brown, would ultimately become a marginal value and large scale operations would not define U.S. foreign policy in the future. General Robert Scales offered an alternative viewpoint that military interventions were historically cyclical, and the United States would soon find itself in another involvement.
Dan Caldwell, a distinguished professor at Pepperdine University, elaborated on the use of forces structures and how the initial operations in Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban were conducted by mostly CIA personnel and Special Forces. Dr. Caldwell asserted that the success of the “light footprint” approach Afghanistan contributed to U.S. confidence in the revolution in military affairs (RMA), and influenced the initial scale of U.S. military intervention in Iraq.
Linda Robinson, an adjunct senior fellow at CFR, also discussed the relationship of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the near impossibility of fighting two wars at the same time. According to Ms. Robinson, the U.S. did not effectively engage in a diplomatic and political strategy for both wars. COIN operations could not be effective unless attached to this comprehensive strategy.
The panel continued the dialogue on political strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the importance of politics in strategy. Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at Brookings, asserted that a cautious approach to exercising leverage over Afghan elections would be essential to the ultimate outcome of the war. The articulation of this desired outcome, argued Stephen Biddle, was critical to developing a current strategy for Afghanistan. According to Biddle, an integral aspect of defining this outcome would be determining what kind of government the U.S. can ultimately accept for Afghanistan.
The panel’s discussion also included the importance of military personnel and strategy in the transition of security responsibility to the Afghan government. John Nagl claimed that deeper investments in civilian capacity would be critical to assisting security forces in the region. In addition to security, Marvin Weinbaum and Vanda Felbab-Brown asserted that the lack state building in U.S. strategy had also contributed to the problems of security and prevented a more effective form of independent governance in the country.
Providing security, the development of stronger institutions, and the lack of a comprehensive political strategy were all important lessons that the panel provided in the dialogue on both Iraq and Afghanistan. The derived consensus on lessons learned was the lack of long-term strategy in both wars and the need for a comprehensive strategy by the current administration.