Sunday 29 May 2022 | 12:24 | SYDNEY

West Asia

The COIN proxy war

Stephan Fruehling is a lecturer in the Strategic and Defence Studies Program, ANU. Raoul Heinrichs' argument remains based on two fundamental but related misunderstandings, of counterinsurgency (COIN) and US strategy in Afghanistan. Raoul's statement that 'population-centric COIN in

The clickable Gulf

Aah, this is more like what I was looking for — some Gulf-specific online sources. Charles Burnard from the Royal United Services Institute writes: I’ve just noticed your call for good sources of Gulf Analysis. One that springs to mind, if you haven’t listed it already, is David Roberts

The great COIN toss

I've learned a lot from Stephan Fruehling in recent years. He's a former teacher of mine at ANU and a shrewd analyst of international and strategic affairs. But his recent criticisms of my sceptical take on counterinsurgency (COIN), however forcefully delivered, hit pretty wide of the mark.

The clickable Middle East

Thanks to those of you who responded to my call last Friday for online resources on Iraq and the Gulf. Here are some more links: Marc recommends The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research, and the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for

Blogging the Middle East

A Canberra public servant writes to ask me which online sources I consult for coverage of Iraq and the Gulf states. My paltry links are below, but since that region is certainly not my specialty, let me put a call out for some crowdsourcing. What are some of the best English-language sites you

Yemen: An Iranian under every bed?

To say that Yemen is a country under pressure is an understatement. Battling southern secessionists, a resurgent al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a rebellion in the north from the al-Houthi movement, declining oil reserves and water tables and a growing population, the government certainly has

COIN and its critics

Stephan Fruehling is a lecturer in the Strategic and Defence Studies Program, ANU. Raoul Heinrichs, for whom I have a great deal of personal respect, illustrates the misunderstandings and half-knowledge that pervade the Australian debate on counterinsurgency (COIN). His arguments are twofold

All COIN and no sense?

Military strategy, like most human enterprises, has fashions that come and go with changing political and technological circumstances. These tend to originate as innovative responses to thorny strategic problems that have defied resolution by more established means. Having produced a successful

Iraq: If it bleeds, it leads

Which these days is about the only reason Iraq knocks Afghanistan off the front pages, as the coverage of yesterday's twin suicide bombings showed. Interestingly, General Ray Odierno, the US commander in Iraq, gave a rather prescient interview to the BBC less than a week ago urging the world not

Afghanistan: 'Humility' is a relative term

Anthony Bubalo is quite right — Steve Coll's essay on Afghanistan is a serious challenge to those of us who favour a minimalist strategy in Afghanistan. For one thing, I'm going to be a little more careful in future with the argument that, even if Afghanistan is pacified, al Qaeda can simply

Recommended reading on Afghanistan

In an effort to contribute to The Interpreter's debate on Afghanistan, I want to draw attention to this article by Steve Coll. It does the best job I have seen of setting out the arguments in favour of continued US effort in Afghanistan, while recognising the difficulties and risks involved. 

Conservatives against Afghanistan

Andrew Sullivan has published an email from a reader putting what Sullivan calls 'the conservative case for cutting our losses' in Afghanistan: Critics of non-intervention tend to accuse their opponents of cynicism, cruelty, and brutality...But foreign policy realism is essentially grounded in

5-minute Lowy lunch: Cordesman

Yesterday the Lowy Institute hosted Professor Anthony Cordesman from the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, an authority on US national security who has made a very close study of the Afghanistan war. You can listen to his address here. In our interview I departed a

Boat people a symptom of Sri Lanka dark side

Gobie Rajalingam is co-convenor for the University of Sydney’s Sri Lanka Human Rights Project and an intern at the Lowy Institute. In the months following the Sri Lankan Government's declaration that the 26-year civil war was officially over, footage of alleged extra-judicial killings by Sri

Your depressing fact of the day

From Steve Clemons: The cost of America's military effort in Afghanistan is $65 billion per year -- and the price tag will probably go up when a new strategy is announced by President Obama.There have been many hundreds killed and thousands wounded there. But what gets me is that the entire

Afghanistan: Leaders have not earned our trust

Dr Andy Butfoy is a senior lecturer in international relations at Monash University. Much of the expert debate on Afghanistan has assumed that the lack of public support for the war is misplaced; the implication is that the public needs to be educated out of its scepticism, lest the war be lost

Cost and risk in Afghanistan

After just two instalments, the series of posts I promised about Afghanistan has stalled. It was a rash commitment to make, and given I can't fulfill it in good time, best to just go back to commenting in a more ad hoc way about Afghanistan.  To that end, a point about the 'surgical strike'

Afghanistan: Disunity at home

Events of the past week have illustrated just how difficult the political management of the Afghanistan coalition can be. As if fighting a resourceful, resolute and ruthless enemy were not enough (as the deaths of eight American soldiers and a number of civilians in a separate incident 

Afghanistan: More shoes on the ground?

Cynthia Banham's article in today's SMH about the need for more civilian aid and expertise raises some interesting points, but doesn't delve deeply enough on the real issue — how to implement an effective whole-of-government approach in an insecure environment.  While she points out that the

Afghan election an excuse for our own failings

Major Gen (Retd) Jim Molan is author of Running the War in Iraq. One of the most common justifications for those now questioning our commitment to Afghanistan is to subtly blame the recent election. US National Security Adviser Jim Jones, for instance, says the President wants 'to make sure this

Iran: A paper tiger?

Further to Sam's post concerning Amin Saikal's views about Iranian military capabilities, I must confess to thinking that he grossly overestimates Iran's abilities in event of a military confrontation.  Iraq's military capabilities were talked up in many circles prior to their engagement

Iran: Quid pro quo

In today's Age, Professor Amin Saikal lays out the security fears that he thinks might be motivating Iran's nuclear program: The US military build-up in the Gulf, invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, establishment of bases in Central Asia and unqualified support for Israel - as well as the latter

Iran: Oils aint oils

The record of sanctions regimes is mixed, to say the least. South Africa is often held up as the example of its successful implementation, whereas there are any number of unsuccessful ones, as this research illustrates. As for Iran, it would be fair to say that US sanctions to date have been

Rudd on Afghanistan aims

From a recent interview with CNN: HOST: What is your vision of success in Afghanistan? PM: Well, can I say this: my vision of success in Afghanistan is not the creation of a Jeffersonian democracy. Let us be clear about that. I think there's been a bit of misty-eyedness about this from time

Netanyahu and the Obamian knot

Nobody ever said achieving a solution to the Palestinian issue was going to be easy, and the Obama Administration has not been disappointed.  The US gave gave the Israelis very little wiggle room in addressing its demands for a halt to settlement growth, knowing that PM Netanyahu was holding

Playing defence in the Gulf

Rodger Shanahan has a point about the quixotic task Robert Gates has set himself in trying to promote security cooperation among Gulf states. There's clearly an element of self-interest there too, since the US can use such a plan to promote the sale of its missile defence systems. But if the Gulf

5-minute Lowy Lunch: DRC tragedy

Lyn Lusi is founder of HEAL Africa and helps run HEAL's medical centre in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country facing enormous humanitarian problems. She spoke to the Lowy Institute on Wednesday about gender-based violence as a tool of war in the DRC, and the role of the international

Reader riposte: Saudi arms

Paul Winter writes: Roggeveen misinterprets the Saudi arms purchase when he asserts that Saudi fighter purchases provide an excuse for the Russians to sell S-300 systems to Iran. The Saudis are not as overtly aggressive as Iran, which sponsors covert terror. They are not developing nuclear

The double digit threat

Major Gen (Retd) Jim Molan is author of Running the War in Iraq. Prompted by Sam's post on the Saudi Arms deal, let me venture into an area of expertise of which this ex-ground soldier admits to knowing very little. It is an area of extreme importance to Australia and the West and needs to be

Gulf: Bob Gates has a deal for YOU!

Further to Sam's recent post about US arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the creation of an Iranian bogeyman to boost US arms sales, it was interesting to note US Secretary of Defense Gates' views in a recent al-Jazeera interview that greater security cooperation between Gulf Arab states and with the

Afghanistan: It doesn't stack up (part 2)

I argued in the previous post that the most prominent political/strategic reason for the Afghanistan operation — counter-terrorism — is flawed. In future posts in this series, I'll look at some of the other arguments broadly in that category.  But moral and humanitarian arguments also have a

Afghanistan: It doesn't stack up (part 1)

The recent (mostly American) blog debate about the strategic justification for the Afghanistan war (see this site, and this one and this one and this one) has now hit the US media mainstream, with veteran Washington Post columnist George Will calling for a rapid withdrawal. The contrast with

India testing the heavy waters?

Just when the Obama Administration is getting serious about nuclear arms control and disarmament, is India going to spoil the show with a fresh round of nuclear tests? Retired senior weapons scientist K Santhanam has caused a stir this week by being the first participant in New Delhi’s 1998 tests

Caught in the storm

The Lowy Institute itself has been caught by the Australia-China diplomatic storm blowing out of Beijing and, via The Australian, the problem of mixed messages that some see as bedevilling the bilateral relationship. Though, it seems to me the official messages being sent by Beijing are pretty clear

Afghanistan: What if we win?

Richard Haass was a voice of reason in the Bush Administration and his NY Times op-ed on Afghanistan is admirably restrained about the importance of the mission.  He gets himself into a bit of a tangle with the whole war of choice/war of necessity distinction (going to war is always a choice,

Running out of time in Afghanistan

Major Gen (Retd) Jim Molan is author of Running the War in Iraq. I gave my views on current operations in south Helmand when they commenced with such media fanfare in early July, heralding them as part of a 'surge' of troops following Obama’s 'new' strategy and arrival of additional US forces

No democracy without demography

Two events on opposite sides of the world provide good examples of the central role statisticians play in developed democracies, and how hard it is for true democracy to develop where statisticians can't ply their trade. The recent electoral redistribution that has led to the axing of long-term

Iran: When will the neighbours pop in?

As this earlier post pointed out, reactions from Iran's Gulf Arab neighbours to the disputed 2009 presidential election were muted, to say the least. This reflects a general GCC policy of non-interference in the political affairs of neighbours, an understanding that autocracies passing judgement on

Thursday linkage: Afghanistan edition

I'll respond to Jim Molan's recent Afghanistan post soon, but first I wanted to share some of the Afghanistan reading I've discovered in the blogosphere and media lately. This list is weighted toward the sceptical view of the Afghanistan operation that I support, though I did link to a couple of

Afghanistan worth doing, even badly

Major Gen (Retd) Jim Molan is author of Running the War in Iraq. In response to Sam, both the 'how' and the 'why' are important in Afghanistan – it just depends on how much effort we put into each, and which part of each we address. If the 'why' question is focused on why we went there in the

Afghanistan: Time to belt up?

The Afghanistan debate between Jim Molan, myself and others (click on the 'read more in this debate' button above to see the whole thread) has drawn heavily on a London Review of Books article by Rory Stewart. Just to reinforce a point I made in one post about distinguishing between the 'how'

Maid in Saudi Arabia

A feature of all Gulf states is the preponderance of foreign (normally South Asian or Filipino) guest workers who tend to the needs of local nationals and well-to-do expats. But in a regional first, reports from Saudi Arabia advise that 30 Saudi women have begun working as housemaids (or 'Saudi

Our immodest Afghanistan project

It seems Jim Molan and I have been talking past each other. In his latest post, Jim says that, 'given that the probability of leaving seems to me to be very low, most of our brain power should be directed at how to proceed.' That means Jim wants to talk mostly about questions of 'how', whereas I

Afghanistan: On the right track

Major Gen (Retd) Jim Molan is author of Running the War in Iraq. The reasons Sam moved me to such annoyance are simple, and he mentions both of them in his riposte. The first is the proposition that you only need 20,000 troops to do anything in Afghanistan. We did have 20,000 troops there at

Soft power and marketing savvy

Rodger Shanahan's May 2008 post about tiny Qatar's attempts to achieve regional diplomatic stature prompted my short follow-up on the seemingly strange Qatari decision to order two, and possibly four, Boeing C-17 airlifters. These are very large aircraft, and Qatar is a small country with a

More on Afghanistan limits

I'm sorry to have moved Jim Molan to such fury with my post about Afghanistan, but I can't find anything in the Allan Mallison article he recommends that changes my mind. As with many such articles, the arguments are mostly about what the coalition needs to do to build a functioning, self-

Courting Syria

This blog from a year ago highlighted the efforts of the French to bring Syria in from the cold in an attempt to ameliorate its behaviour and as a way of providing an alternative conduit to the West. Twelve months on, little has changed in Syria's regional outlook but the country is now being

Fighting by the book

The Times brings you the former German rules of engagement for Afghanistan (they have since been updated): The seven-page pocket guide to combat tucked into the breast pocket of every German soldier offers such instructions as: 'Before opening fire you are expected to declare loudly, in

US-Israel: Constructive talks?

The construction business has never been one for the faint-hearted, but when it comes to Israeli settlements there is much more than money riding on the result. At the moment they are central not just to the outcome, but to the commencement of the Obama Administration's Middle East peace initiative

Reader ripostes: Limits in Afghanistan

Two readers have written in to comment on Sam's post on knowing our limits in Afghanistan. The first is from Major Gen (Retd) Jim Molan who is the author of Running the War in Iraq. Sam is away for a few days and will, no doubt, respond on return. Sam’s post on Afghanistan (widely quoting Rory