Folks We Should Listen To…

Retired Colonel Douglas Macgregor is one of the lone (but well-respected and honorable and knowledgeable) voices publicly casting doubts about our present course in Afghanistan. For those interested in alternative ideas to prolonged counterinsurgency, I suggest taking a look at Col. Macgregor’s recent paper, “Refusing Battle: The Strategic Alternative to Persistent Warfare.”  

Discussing our current national security environment, he offers this key insight:

In this volatile setting, direct American military involvement in conflicts where the United States itself is not attacked and its national prosperity is not at risk should be avoided. Otherwise, American military involvement could cause 21st Century conflicts to spin out of control and confront Americans with regional alliances designed to contain American military power;14 alliances that but for American military intervention would not exist.15 It is vital the United States not repeat the mistakes of the British Empire in 1914: over-estimate its national power by involving itself in a self defeating regional war it does not need to fight and precipitate its own economic and military decline. 


About michaelhastings

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4 Responses to Folks We Should Listen To…

  1. LauraMac09 says:

    The major difference, of course, is that Afghanistan was never the U.S.’s province. But the Ret. Col. makes a very important point. The U.S.’s efforts in Afghanistan (and Iraq) are taking a major toil on our resources (in lives and monetarily).
    We don’t seem to have any defined plan or policy for Afghanistan. I watch the news…what are our goals? Are we destroying an entire nation’s infrastructure and straining our own to find one man?
    And now that we are there, and it doesn’t seem that we will ever find that one man…what do we do now?
    Mainly, I am with you…we need to get out. But I also feel we have some responsibility to the Afghans.
    Will we repeat the mistakes of our past (ala Charlie’s War) AND those of Russia? What happens then to the Afghans?
    I will take a look at the Ret. Col.’s paper and I hope to find some answers to these questions.

    Thanks for posting.

  2. Michael Peck says:

    This is an old call for the U.S. to defend only its vital interests. Problem is, no can ever agree on what a vital interest is. Pat Buchanan thinks fighting Hitler was not a U.S. vital interest.

    By the way, did you look at Macgregor’s example of how the U.S. military would defend a vital interest? Russia invades Ukraine, and the U.S. and NATO send troops to defend it. So now we’re fighting Russia because Kiev is a vital interest. That’s going to be a tough sell on Main Street.

    • Michael Hastings says:


      Thanks for the comment.

      I read it as a call for what Macgregor advocates, a strategy “in which American military action is short, sharp, decisive and rare.” Rather than what we have now: long, indecisive, probably pointless. Our current strategy is so brilliant that it keeps us involved indefinitely in two wars where, as occupiers, we’re at a major disadvantage.

      Yes, Macgregor is sounding an old call. It probably seems a little dated, in that’s it not the hip new counterinsurgency-loving view that did us so well in Vietnam. I suppose it’s a call that’s even older than the isolationists in WWII. Don’t have to get to far away from 1776 to find Americans worrying about those pesky foreign entanglements.

      But defining what our vital national interest is is the critical question. In the case of Afghanistan, that debate hasn’t really happened. Obama’s new Afghan plan is a matter of re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. What’s needed is a look at the reasons that got us there to begin with–that is, to prevent future terrorist attacks on the U.S. Great, kill the terrorists, I agree. Then the question becomes: what is the best/most efficient/most effective way to prevent terrorists attacks from happening again? If your answer is: occupy and nation build a country in Central Asia, then the Obama plan makes sense. But I’ve talked to enough soldiers, officers, military planners who are skeptical, and I share that skepticism. If it’s in our vital national interest to kill Al-Qaeda terrorists, you don’t need 60,000 plus dudes to do that. Those who say we need a long term ground presence buy into this democracy building ideology, which I would have thought would’ve been discredited with what’s happened in Iraq. But democracy building lives on under the more “realistic” name of counterinsurgency.

      Do I think Kiev is a vital national interest? A good question, and I’d be interested in that hypothetical debate. But do you think spending $101 million to build a road from Khost to Gardez is in our vital national interest? Or perhaps the $20,000 mosque we’re building in the village of Terayzi near the Pakistan border?

      As for being a tough sell on Main Street–if the last eight years have taught me anything, it’s that it is pretty easy to sell a country on a war.


  3. jamesohearn says:

    If Afghanistan is a problem for the Colonel, I can only imagine what he thinks about Pakistan, because like it or not, Pakistan is going to be Obama’s Iraq. With every soldier shifted over to Afghanistan, thhis becomes more and more likely.

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