The Authority Gap or Why the Afghanistan Mission is Over

Anyone who has studied political theory knows that power and authority are the core concepts.  And authority since the rise of the nation state has revolved around the notion of legitimate force.  The modern nation state has been defined as having the monopoly of force.

In the 21st century, the challenges to the state have gone up dramatically in part by the proliferation of means to challenge such a monopoly.  And in nations with no state, the very possession of force is a means to try to achieve monopoly positions.

Enter Afghanistan and the muddled-headed thinking inside the Beltway.  The US and NATO operate in Afghanistan as a virtual state; seeking monopoly of force.  The diplomatic side needs an Afghan state and leadership to negotiate withdrawal, and needs opposition forces to look like political parties with whom one can negotiate in order to withdraw.

Both are really fictional.  The reality is that the current COIN strategy re-enforces tribal or perhaps regional militias, which in turn, undercuts the ability of the Afghan “state” to manage the country.  And the notion that a set of outside powers can pay for internal security forces, which exist as a function of external funding, should have been rejected with the Vietnam experience.  But here we are again, with the notion that externally funded forces will build a nation, can prevail.  So where is the money generated from a weak economy to pay for a large force structure designed to enforce the political will of whom exactly?

But inside the Beltway folks aren’t interested in political theory, they are interested in considering the next move in withdrawal or not.  This debate is really beside the point.  The Afghans as a collection of tribes are already determining their fate, and foreign paymasters will not determine it ultimately.  It will be determined by themselves, and the odds of nation state emerging which embraces something akin to Western values are certainly long.

Afghan real estate is currently used in the prosecution of some rather nasty folks who operate in Pakistan.  Undoubtedly, the elimination of Bin Laden, certainly a positive on any American’s scale of values, inevitably leads to another notch on the decline of US and Pakistan working realtionships.  The ability to use Afghan real estate for drone strikes on the wicked is on a short leash.  Time is not on this con-ops side.

The focus either for Afghanistan or Pakistan should be on building a force structure which allows the US to insert force or strikes as needed to deal with the terrorist threat.  Instead of spending dwindling treasure on an occupation without end, until it ends, we should recognize the lessons of political theory.  Force both enables and expresses political authority.  If an outside power is exercising force, it owns the authority conundrum.  Leveraging force delivered from outside a culture or geographical entity can assist a faction to become the leadership of a state.  It can not play that role, unless it sets up such a state itself.

And the logic of such intervention is precisely to do that.  In a revealing article, one analyst calls for the US to set up a CEO for Afghanistan.

Amazing in itself, but it does reflect the logic of the current US position.

Even more amazing are the assertions of US conservatives that withdrawing from Afghanistan is an “isolationist” position.  If withdrawing from Afghanistan is part of withdrawal from the world, this might be so.  But one could equally argue if the US does not withdraw from Afghanistan, there might be little left to allow the US to protect its core strategic interests world wide.

It is no accident that one of the most virulent critics of modern US Air Power – Senator McCain – who has embraced the ludicrous notion that the F-35 will cost more than a trillion dollars to support – is criticizing withdrawal from Afghanistan. Might folks like McCain explain how a foreign force creates legitimate Afghan national power?

And on the 4th of July one might remind such folks that our ancestors did not embrace such a concept.  Perhaps the Founders did not understand the nature of political power as well as the inside the Beltway boys and girls.





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