In the Arena

Demonstration Project

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This, by Thom Shanker of the NY Times, is a very good analysis of Stanley McChrystal’s strategy in the battle for Marjah. It is, to be sure, a new kind of warfare–a major battle as demonstration project–that isn’t counterinsurgency, but complements it. Helmand Province isn’t the center of gravity of the Taliban insurgency; Kandahar province next door is. But it is a perfect theater for the overwhelming force that the U.S. military can bring to bear in any set-piece battle–and Marjah is a discrete battle space, a hill that can be taken (and undoubtedly will, in the next week or so).

The tests of this strategy are two: Will this show of force intimidate the Taliban? And, more important, will the governance that follows the battle prove satisfactory? The obvious hope is that this winter offensive–which is off the usual Afghan fighting season–combined with the arrests of major Taliban military leaders and shadow governors in Pakistan will change the psychology of the Afghan fight, throwing the Taliban on the defensive…and then, perhaps, negotiations will be possible with some Taliban facti0ns to end this thing.

We’ll see. Optimism at this point seems foolish; but pessimism seems a bit reflexive, too. We’re at a new stage of this war. This year, culminating in the next Obama policy review in December, should tell us a great deal about what can and can’t be accomplished.