My Friday lunch companion, who had helped devise the surge strategy in Iraq, despaired of our Afghanistan policy. Somewhat dispersing my gloom comes now Eliot Cohen, author of the indispensable Supreme Command. He argues for an Afghan strategy that necessarily differs from the successful Iraq surge. Cohen maintains that Petraeus et al. still fight within the conventions of conventional warfare. While that works to an extent, a successful anti-Taliban strategy requires a "special kind of soldier" and a "special kind of civilian." The "greatest weakness of the [counterinsurgency] literature: It often lacks deep knowledge of the other side." Furthermore,
In every such war, the counterinsurgents learn the need for local knowlege: language first, and from it, all they can discover about authority structures, grievances, customs and local politics. The broad principles melt away because, as one colonel told me in 2008 while flying over eastern Afghanistan, the counterinsurgent soon realizes that "it's a valley-by-valley war."
The kind of specific knowledge needed does not lend itself to treatises, much less best sellers....
Making [counterinsurgency] work in real time, therefore, requires the right kinds of practioner, vast patience and local knowledge of a kind that is difficult to build up and easily perishable in large organizations. As Obama will discover, even setting the strategy seems easy by comparison.
Some other thoughts in this companion WaPo article, on a village by village strategy. There is no substitute for prudence: "reflective, patient, creative" soldiers and civilians.