20 October 2008

What the hell are we doing in Afghanistan?

Andrew Exum's excellent counterinsurgency blog brought this incredible Rolling Stone article by Nir Rosen into the spotlight.

Rosen writes of his experience as an embed with the Taliban.  In addition to some damn good storytelling (I could feel my own heart start to beat faster as Rosen recounts a time when he nearly met his doom when a rival Taliban group suspected Rosen of being a spy for the Afghan Army), his article raises a few questions as to just what the hell we are doing in Afghanistan.

Rosen's Afghanistan (the one of 2008) is an Afghanistan where the Taliban are able to move and operate with near impunity.  It is becoming clear that American and Coalition Forces in Afghanistan are treading water, if not flowing backwards with the rising tide of insurgency.

My old roommate from FAOBC (Field Artillery Officer Basic Course) and Fort Hood is currently serving in Afghanistan.  He writes home about once a month via email.  His messages have become more and more sobering over the past 4 months -- his unit has lost several soldiers, and "the bullets seem to get closer and closer every day, I swear to God they do."

It took America a few years to buy into classical counterinsurgency doctrine: securing the population, winning hearts and minds (God I hate that phrase!).  However, our classical counterinsurgency strategy does not seem to be working.  It's difficult to win hearts and minds when the Taliban is able to freely enter any village and cut off the head of the village elder whenever they please.  It's difficult to win hearts and minds when Coalition reconstruction efforts are woefully underfunded.

So if counterinsurgency strategy is not working, then what next?  COIN is often referred to as the graduate-level of warfare.  We recognized that brute force using only kinetic direct action was not going to solve the problem, so we moved to classical COIN.  Now even that appears to be failing.  What is the doctorate level of warfare?  Where do we go from here...?

13 October 2008

A muse rediscovered...

Something interesting happened last night.  I was hanging out at a friend of a friend's place, and I discovered a novel by one Mark Helprin, titled Winter's Tale.  I read a single passage: a short, one-page chapter somewhere in the middle of the book.  The author had written about the mysteries and magic of the universe and our existence.

What struck me was how damned good the prose was.  The writing was so compact and economical.  Each word was perfect.  He said what he wanted to say in exactly the number of words it required.  No more, no less.

I was thoroughly impressed, and it sparked in me that old desire -- the desire to do something great.  That's part of the reason why we write.  Or act.  Or draw.  Or paint.  Whether admitted to or not, there's a desire to do something noteworthy and great.  Something deserving of recognition.  Something to be remembered.  That desire was rekindled in me.

It's part jealousy.  I'm not sure if I could ever meet that standard of prose-writing.  If I could, it would take me a hell of a long time to ever climb that summit.  But one can always try.  Give it the ol' college try.

Long story short, it made me go back to my old writing and even rediscover this blog.  I remember when the words used to come so easily.  I used to be able to sit down in front of the TV with a good, gel pen and a legal pad, and be able to just spit out fragments or passages.  Now I wonder how much work and concentration it would require.  I feel like my creativity has atrophied, and that thought bothers me.  I'm disturbed by the fact that I allowed it to happen to myself.  I blame only myself for letting work consume my life...