Strategika Podcast: Colonel Joseph Felter (Ret.) on a “Good Enough” Outcome in Afghanistan


joseph_felterOne of the pleasures of doing the Strategika podcast for the Hoover Institution is getting to talk not only to some of the world’s foremost military historians and strategic thinkers, but also to men and women who’ve served in the field of conflict. My guest on this episode, retired Colonel Joseph Felter, worked with both General Stanley McChrystal and General David Petraeus in Afghanistan, and now serves as a research fellow at Hoover and a senior research scholar at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford.

In this conversation, Colonel Felter gives us a sense of what constitutes a “good enough” outcome in Afghanistan once American troops leave, talks about how the departure of Western money from the country will compound the issues arising from the departure of Western troops, and provides some insights about Afghanistan that aren’t available to civilians who’ve only consumed the war through media coverage.

To download this podcast directly, click here.

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  1. user_86050 Inactive

    Great interview.

    Tired of war …

    Warfare is changing. In the past, the weak would never attack a stronger force for fear of a battle that would slaughter them. So, inferiors have learned a fairly simple and logical lesson … don’t get into a battle. Our enemies can methodically drain and weaken us. Call it low-level or low-intensity warfare, the principle is the same.

    You might ask, what’s the good of that? The inferior force may weaken us a little, but not to the point that they can do anything to capitalize on it. So what’s the point?

    Two useful effects of the low-intensity strategy. 

      1. It plays to the superiors’ audience back home … and raises the possibility that although we can’t be defeated, we can be maneuvered into a subconscious, de facto surrender. 
        1. It reduces our ability to fight someone else.

        Was anyone else (besides me) a little nervous when the American president, press, and political class immediately agreed that because America is weary of war, we’re not going to do anything to oppose Russia militarily? Obviously, our war-weariness made Russia’s calculations in the Ukraine a lot easier.

        • #1
      1. user_86050 Inactive

        We should not refer to Afghanistan as an on-going “war.” 

        We should think of Afghanistan as one front in our constant defense.

        • #2
      2. user_1938 Member

        What are the “hard-earned gains” Felter keeps referring to? What makes the current Taliban more dangerous than the many other terrorist organizations that hate America? Is the “nascent democracy” that spawned Hamid Karzai any friendlier and less dangerous to us? Is Afghanistan any more troublesome as a breeding ground for terrorists than Saudi Arabia and other supposed allies?

        “We’ve got to work on governance.” What about culture? In a democratic government, political actions supposedly represent popular will. So what good does promotion of democracy do for us if we are not also promoting Western values? Does it matter if half the population likes America if they are too afraid or otherwise unwilling to prevent their neighbors from training and funding terrorists?

        I’m not convinced that our presence in Afghanistan, politically restrained as it is by multiculturalists and surrounded by state-sponsored terrorism throughout the region, is efficient protection against another 9/11 event.

        • #3
      3. user_240173 Contributor

        KC Mulville:

        Was anyone else (besides me) a little nervous when the American president, press, and political class immediately agreed that because America is weary of war, we’re not going to do anything to oppose Russia militarily? Obviously, our war-weariness made Russia’s calculations in the Ukraine a lot easier.

        While I understand the sentiment, it’s hard not to lay such things out openly in a democracy.

        • #4
      4. Nick Stuart Inactive
        Nick Stuart

        Likely there are at least some Americans in addition to myself who are weary of our leaders taking us into wars they have no intention of pursuing to victory. Into which instead they pour away American blood and treasure in a dilatory and feckless manner for over a decade.

        If we stay in Afghanistan for 100 years, within six months of our departure it will be as if we were never there.

        We should have gone in, killed everyone who needed killing, broken everything that needed breaking, had a come to Jesus meeting with whatever tribal elders and warlords were left and told them “next time we come back, it’ll be with B-2s, cruise missiles, screw the civilian casualties, and we know where you live.” And left. Two years max, “hit it and quit it.”

        It should have been entirely a punitive expedition, skip the futile exercise in nation-building.

        All we’re doing now is wasting American lives. Since our political class clearly lacks the moral courage to fight to win, we need to contrive a way to leave as quickly as possible.

        • #5
      5. Skyler Coolidge

        1.  We invaded Afghanistan with a mere 2 brigades and then hired mercenaries.  That was a recipe for failure.

        2.  We put an emphasis on special forces, per the dogma from Rumsfeld/Cheney, and forgot that special forces can do small operations and can help train militaries but the very nature of special forces precludes them from occupying a nation. 

        3.  Afghanistan has been invaded over and over through the centuries and has lost again and again just like now, to their invaders only to have the invaders realize that there is no reason anyone should live there.  It is the definition of nowhere, right in the middle of nowhere.  There is nothing there, there is nothing to get to on the other side through its roads or rivers, and the people living there have done nothing to make the place worth keeping.

        4.  We have rewarded Afghans with arms and money after they supported the terrorists that attacked us.  Why would any nation on Earth be dissuaded from doing the same?  We don’t need their hearts and minds.  They have nothing to offer us (see #3 above), so we should have punished them severely, toppled their government, and then left.  Sticking around just let their government make us into their puppet government.

        • #6

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